Feature Article: WON Chief Charter

Calm between two storms gives up bluefin and more for WON/Chief 2018 charter

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Dec 20, 2018

SAN DIEGO — Changing weather plays havoc with winter fishing schedules so it was very lucky that the trip planned for the 90-foot sportfisher, Chief, for the 2018 WON charter slipped in between two storms.

While the trip had to be delayed a couple of days, the choice to wait gave perfect weather conditions for the entire run to the Cortes Bank.

Originally slated as freezer filler with a run to rockfish-land below Ensenada, Mexico, offshore from Punta Colonet, a decision to run offshore and fish bluefin changed all that.

chiefsexcellentcrewCHIEF'S EXCELLENT CREW, comprised of, left to right, Mike Meyers, Cpt. Sonny Haendiges, Cpt. Paul Silbert, Daniel Meyers, and Blake “Nurse” Byrd.

The weather delay to a Sunday evening departure had Owner/Operator, Captain Rick Russel, ask WON to notify anglers that Chief would be leaving as early as 5:00 p.m. to get out to the tuna grounds as early as possible. And bring heavy gear, just in case.

When the time came to board, Chief had already been fueled up and the bait tanks loaded with small, medium and larger sardines for the trip. And all the anglers scheduled for the charter were on board and stowing gear before the sun was fully set in the west.

Bunk assignments tested on last year’s charter were dispensed with and everyone found their own spot below deck. Rods were racked, tackle boxes placed, and sign-ins completed when the skipper called for a meeting in the galley to discuss the plan for the next two days.

While night driver Captain Paul Silbert took Chief out of the harbor it was evident that the seas had yet to calm from the storm of the days prior.

“We are going to have some rough water during the night, but the next two days look great,” prefaced Cpt. Russel.

“No one has fished the bank in the last few days and we hope the fish are still where they were before this last storm. We’ll start early, around 4 a.m., at Cortes and see what we can find,” explained the skipper before launching into the required safety briefing.

BIG TUNA FOR Liam Egan, right, with Captain Russel on the gaff. Liam fished with dad, Billy Egan, for several bonito and bluefin during the WON-Chief 2018 charter.

Once the skipper stepped aside it was time to hand out the hook packs brought along for each angler, supplied by trip sponsor VMC. The rolls of Sufix monofilament and J-braid were put to use reloading reels and the spools of Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon were shared among the group. A pair of $250 Costa Sunglasses were given to the boat’s skipper, Captain Rick Russel and another set aside for the angler landing the heaviest fish of the charter.

Some of the regulars with WON charters came out for the Chief Charter including Penny Fager and John Srack, Joanne Hoffman and Greg Marshall, Fred Roberts, Andrew Hampton, and Gary Albright to name a few.

Western Outdoor News was also well represented with not only this reporter aboard, but WON associate Ted Reed, former WON Editor Pat McDonell, and WON Tournament Operations Director, Billy Egan and son Liam, aboard for the 2-1/2-day trip.

With tuna there are no guarantees and the 62-degree water did not appear to be favorable. No biters took offerings prior to sunrise and shortly after, Chief went on the hunt.

Stopping on marks on the sonar anglers spent the day trying for action as Cpt. Russel squared off a pattern search all across the bank.

“I’m going to make a move up into the shallower water for some rockfish, bonito, and maybe yellowtail,” called the skipper around noon.

An hour or so later a drift was set up and several larger-model bonito began to hit the deck. Young-angler Liam Egan found a feisty bony as did several other anglers at the stop.

FIRST BLUEFIN FOR Greg Marshall, right. Greg performs the traditional ritual of the first tuna, while Captain Russel displays his jackpot winning catch and WON’s Billy Egan, left, is amazed to see the action.

But it was Oceanside local and all-around great guy, Doug Bertics, who scored the real prize of the day. Soaking a ‘dine and changing his bait often led Bertics to hook-up and land the sole yellowtail for the trip. At the time, the energy on Chief had been flagging and all that shifted when jigs and baits were tossed out in earnest, with anglers trying for a forktail of their own.

Cpt. Russel called out that he was moving Chief back over to the tuna grounds in time for the expected bluefin sunset bite. Immediately upon entering the zone sonar marks showed that the skipper had made the right call.

In short order the boat was on the slide and two fish took baits run out behind Chief. One fish was quickly lost in the excitement but the other came over the rail for lady-angler, Penny Fager. Young Liam Egan found his first bluefin tuna and boated it after just a few minutes fight.

A spotty bite continued through sunset with a couple fish hanging at a time. With darkness full around the boat the bite fell off and anglers wandered in to dinner or switched out to heavy rigs and 500g glow Flat-Falls, or SK night glow jigs. Those that chose dinner were treated to another great meal by Chief cook, Mike Myers.

The anglers on deck met with an exercise in futility. No fish, despite heavy marks all night, would take any offerings. Night driver Cpt. Silbert stood the watch as Chief drifted through the dead calm sea, covering very little area overnight. A short poker tournament proved whose skills were superior and most aboard retired to their bunks shortly after.

PAT McDONELL, FORMER WON editor, left, with a beast of a bonito, gaffed by Chief Captain Rick Russel, right.

Since Captain Rick Russel took ownership of Chief in January of this year, not much has changed with the boat, though the experienced captain has developed one heck of a crew. At every turn the crew was on hand to set up rigs and work with tangled anglers. Even cook Meyers and second captain Silbert jumped in whenever needed.

“Our plans are to keep the boat down south and once we have done our maintenance, continue to fish all year out of Point Loma Sportfishing,” beamed Cpt. Russel.

As 5:30 a.m. approached on day two, the quiet of the beautiful calm, clear day was broken as engines were started and warmed, then put into gear, running to a set of coordinates Capt. Russel had set the night before.

Sure enough, no sooner had Chief pulled within range of the spot designated when marks flooded the sonar screen.

Easing engines and the call came to let some baits back and the fight was on. Sliding baits back the first in the water were bit as grey-light turned to the most beautiful, brilliant blues, yellows, and oranges of any at-sea sunrise. With the sun came the fish.

The daylight showed Fred Roberts and Andrew Hampton landing cookie cutter 25-pound bluefin like pros. The two handled their fish in short order on lighter tackle after soaking fly-lined sardines on smaller sized hooks.

WON associate Ted Reed and both young anglers, Jake Stoermer and Liam Egan, landed bluefin during the morning bite as did Joanne Hoffman and several other anglers.

fatherandsonmarkFATHER AND SON, Mark Stoermer, left and young angler Jake Stoermer, right, both took home bluefin caught while fishing the WON/Chief 2018 charter.

Seemingly, the fish took a lunch break and the mid-day doldrums became a real thing. For the next four hours, Chief was running the pattern again and finding little-to-nothing to write home about.

Just before 3:00 p.m. the call came to let out baits into the slide as a school had been found at last. Quickly a few rods bent, and fish were hanging. The unbelievably skillful crew managed to undo the macramé of tangled lines as fish ran anglers up and down the rails. Laguna Niguel angler, Ralph Farr, connected with two perfect bookend bluefin and put them in the RSW fish hold after a short fight at the rail.

Action continued through the afternoon with schools moving off and being found once again with the WON/Chief charter anglers picking off a few fish from each.

As the sun set and darkness began to close in, bluefin continued to take baits and Greg Marshall at last connected with his first bluefin. The fish was not an easy one to land and the angler gave it his all, running along the “hot rail” with Captain Russel and deck crewmen at his side.

“I really wanted this one because Joanne had two on board already,” beamed Marshall as he watched the gaff go in. Shortly after, with full dark now showing, Marshall performed the ritual of the first tuna bravely at the stern.

“Lines up, it’s time to head for home,” came the call after Marshall’s fish was stowed with the rest of the catch from that stop.

The counts of 60 bluefin, 28 bonito, and 1 yellowtail, showed a successful run to the Cortes bank and it was Greg Marshall’s last fish of the trip that proved to be the largest bluefin, giving him the jackpot and the $250 Costa Sunglasses awarded by WON.

“As soon as we return from this trip, we will begin pulling up floorboards and redoing all the flooring and floor covers throughout. Then we will redo the heads and the salon to fix and freshen-up all the common areas,” concluded Chief’s owner/operator.

Ambitious plans needed for Chief to take on the role of a quality open party boat with trips up to four-days length slated for the new year. Capt. Russel has set up to be at all three of the upcoming Fred Hall shows to tell their story and book trips.

If the weather and the fish cooperate in the coming year, the newly refurbished Chief will be the boat to get aboard when fishing out of Point Loma Sportfishing.

Contact info:

Chief Sportfishing:, (949) 441-9638

Point Loma Sportfishing: ; 1403 Scott Street, San Diego 92106; (619) 223-1627

dougberticsforkieDOUG BERTICS’ FORKIE turned out to be the sole yellowtail taken during the 2018 WON-Chief charter.

matchedpairofMATCHED PAIR OF bluefin taken by Fred Roberts, left, gaffed by Blake “Nurse” Byrd, angler Andrew Hampton, and Mike Meyers on the gaff, right.

BIG FISH HONORS went to Greg Marshal, right for his largest bluefin of the charter. WON staff writer Bob Semerau presents the winner with a pair of Costa Sunglasses valued at $250 for his winning catch.

deckhandsonnyDECKHAND SONNY HAENDIGES, left, displays one of the big bluefin caught by lady-angler Joanne Hoffman, right.

HALF THE CATCH is on deck and ready for the filet table as Chief heads for home after the second day fishing the Cortez Bank.

MIKE MEYERS COOKS aboard Chief, serving up meals like this pulled pork dish. Captain Russel looks on from behind, right.

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