FeatureArticle: Eldorado

Eldorado strikes red gold at San Nicolas Island

BY PAUL LEBOWITZ/WON Staff WriterPublished: Apr 10, 2019

New 40-fathom depth limit line gives up the goods

LONG BEACH — Captain Jeff Villapando of the Eldorado could do no wrong. Every time he moved the big, 85-foot sportfisher, he and his anglers hit the jackpot on big San Nicolas Island reds, aggressive lingcod and fat chucklehead.

That’s what fresh turf will do for you. Villapando was fishing the newly opened 20- to 40-fathom depths, closed for some two decades as part of the Cowcod Conservation Area.

“In that 20- to 40-fathom range the rockfish are almost double the size of those in the 20-fathom range. The quantity too. It’s not hard to get limits with all the new water we get to fish,” he said. 


SO EXCITED — First time sportboat angler Amanda Monroy with a red. She tore it up on the bow. “I can’t wait to go again,” she said.

The evening prior, as Tyler Morgon of Lakewood and his group of fourteen refinery worker friends and a scattering of other anglers stepped aboard the Eldorado under an air of expectancy, there’d been some question whether the boat would make it to San Nic. The weather had been up a bit, making it look likely a diversion to Santa Barbara Island was in the cards, but as the night progressed the forecast backed off.

“I said man, that’s going to be doable, might as well go,” Villapando said. San Nic offers more area, more consistency, more options to fish than SBI.

Villapando waved at his chart, where a scattering of symbols denoted where he’d already fished this young season. Then he pointed to a virgin area. “We have a new area to fish. I’m excited about it,” he said.

He’s in his first year running the Eldorado out of Long Beach Sportfishing at Berth 55, the landing so conveniently located next to the 710 Freeway (parking is free too), but he has a lifetime’s worth of experience. Before the trip departed, landing and boat owner Steve Fukuto said he first recognized Villapando’s skill in 1996, back when Villapando was a deckhand. Villapando ran the Liberty before it moved down to Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego, and also took a turn at the helm of the Native Sun. But it was upon his return from his dream job in Alaska at the Waterfall Resort that he ran second ticket on the Eldo before taking over as the boat’s regular captain.

“He caught enough halibut and salmon he was ready to for Southern California sportfishing again. It’s funny how you go full circle on things, you get this itch to do your dream job and you do it, then come back to where you started,” Fukuto said.

happybirthdayHAPPY BIRTHDAY — Mary Cochran of Torrance with her birthday lingcod, the avid angler’s first, and it came aboard the Eldorado at San Nic.

He continued, “There are three things about fishing. Great fishing, great crew, and a good boat. Two of those things you can control.”

He has. Villapando and his crew are top-notch, and the Eldorado, about 50 years old, is in beautiful shape, well maintained, clean and capable, with a range that can take it overnight to Catalina, Clemente, SBI, Santa Cruz and the Tanner Bank — wherever the fish are biting, although the boat spends a lot of its time as the easiest ticket to San Nic. There are bunks for 40 (the Eldorado commonly runs limited load with 35 anglers), and the online, advance fare for most San Nic overnight trips as of press time was an easy $170, a bargain.

Most anglers are concerned first of all with how a boat fishes, and the Eldorado does that well, with a spacious, flat deck all around and a predictable sternward drift and big bait slammers, but there are welcome luxuries as well. The boat has satellite TV, perfect entertainment for the ride out and back, and a self-serve soda fountain, unusual features on an overnight boat.

Eventually the anglers sorted themselves out and drifted off to their bunks for the ride out. They awoke the next morning already at anchor and ready to fish whitefish and sheephead not far from the kelp line.

“We like to start our days at San Nic there. Once the sun comes up they usually start stacking up, it gets wide open, it’s easy limits for the guys who want them. It’s something to catch, it gets them warmed up and used to setting hooks,” Villapando said.

The ideal whitefish setup in that shallower water was a #2 hook and an 8- to 12-ounce sinker on a 25- to 30-pound outfit. Villapando said the whitefish are often “island grade,” big ones, but on this trip the boat couldn’t get away from the smaller models.

Before long Villapando pointed the Eldorado offshore to deeper water, right in the 35- to 38-fathom range, about a 40-minute ride and a great chance to grab a breakfast burrito and some coffee in the well-run galley.

nashvillekissNASHVILLE KISS — Joe Collins of Nashville, Tenn. battled the heaviest fish of the recent Eldorado trip. It ran about 15 pounds. Collins is a big guy, it looks small in his hands.

For rockfish as deep as 40 fathoms, the captain recommends anglers bring 2 to 3 setups. “In case you get fouled you have a back-up,” he said. He’s an advocate for bringing a 30- to 40-pound outfit for your heavier rockfish setup, for shrimp flies, a jig or a gangion with sardines on 2/0 to 3/0 hooks.

“It’s all about how you fish in rotation and stay out of everyone’s way and you’ll be successful. Make sure you follow your lines,” he said.

Morgon, an Eldorado regular, was among the first to hook up, reeling in a solid vermillion. Meanwhile, his friend Amanda Monroy of Long Beach set up shop on the bow. It was her first time on a sportfisher, and she was excited, shortly pulling up red after red and then adding a lingcod. “I love it, I can’t wait to go again,” she said.

Joe Collins of Nashville battled the best fish of the day, a hefty lingcod. “When it started running I knew it was big. I hoped I didn’t lose it, the adrenaline was flowing,” he said.

Mary Cochran, fishing with her husband on her birthday, caught another lingcod, the first for the avid ocean angler. “It’s what I wanted for my birthday,” she said happily.

Villapando reset the drift a couple times, and each time the big vermillions, chucklehead and a nice sample of lingcod bit. Chris Stovers of Ridgecrest noticed.

“The captain was great, he was acknowledging everyone when they caught a fish and gave pointers when needed. The best part is he placed us on fish every time. I told my wife I would like to go again real soon out of Long Beach and I would like to go to San Diego when they relocate for the summer fishing season. Fortunately for me she said go for it!” he said.

Before long the boat was limited out. It wasn’t quite noon. “Today everybody worked together and made it work. I think we had another extraordinary day of fishing, quantity wise and quality wise, mostly vermillions. It doesn’t get much better than it was today, I couldn’t ask for much more,” he said.

As he turned the Eldorado for home, Villapando was looking forward to the warmer water and exotics like yellowtail to come. “I’m always looking for exotics. Conditions have to be right. When they’re around I’ll be on them. Last year towards the end of the season we had a good snap of yellows. It was a great combo, morning yellows, get a few, then fishing rockfish to finish our day. I’ll go wherever they are biting, as soon as they show up in numbers we’ll be wherever they are,” he said.

For more information or to book a trip on the Eldorado, visit or call (424) 2-ELDO-85. The boat is located at Long Beach Sportfishing, Berth 55, which is also home to the 3/4-day boat Victory and the full-day Catalina boat the Ahra-Ahn, as well as a number of 6-pack charter fishing and dive boats.


THE ELDORADO AVERAGE — Tyler Morgon of Lakewood (left) with a standard jumbo vermillion pulled out of the newly opened 20- to 40-fathom zone at San Nicolas Island. Eldorado Captain Jeff Villapando said the fish he’s getting now are abundant and twice the size of those in the old 20-fathom zone.

THE ELDORADO READIES for a San Nic overnight trip. The boat is online for departure at 8:30 p.m. nearly every day of the fishing season.

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