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Feature Article: WON/Ranger 85 Charter

WON/Ranger 85 charter rocks the reds!

BY DENNIS YAMAMOTO/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 22, 2019

Captain Jacob Hensley takes the anglers of this WON charter to the promised land of giant vermillions and chuckles

OXNARD — Captain Frank Ursutti’s Ranger 85 is a great fishing platform with a unique layout of bunks, three staterooms and a lower lounge below the spacious galley seating. The two-man staterooms appropriately named Albacore, Bluefin and Yellowtail are comfy and have TV monitors as well as sinks.


This “make up” 2-day, freezer-filler trip was originally scheduled to depart in May; however, nasty winds caused the charter to be postponed until November because the vessel was running tuna trips out of H&M Landing in San Diego during the summer months. The weather forecast was for two days of mild winds and calm seas. Many of the original anglers that signed up remained on the final manifest.


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SOME OF THE giant reds, chucks and boccaccio taken by the anglers of the Ranger 85 / WON charter. Photo by Jake Hemsley.

All the WON anglers were given a couple of packs of VMC hooks on the boat. Also provided for the anglers to utilize was Daiwa 50-pound J-Braid, Sufix monofilament in 20-, 25-, 30- and 40-pound Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon leaders to spool onto their reels as needed. Daiwa also provided Lexa 400 reels, a spinning reel, and appropriate matching rods for all anglers to try out during the trip. The 28 anxious anglers patiently listened to Captain Jake Hensley’s safety seminar as well as a detailed description of the plans for the next two days.


As the crew loaded lively sardines into the bait tanks, I felt like I was on an airplane with Capt. Jake’s in-depth lessons on safety with life jackets, fire extinguishers, exit strategy and everything you needed to know while on the Pacific Ocean.


The fishing plan was to procure a load of live squid from a friend and try for some of the nicer grade of yellowtail at Santa Rosa Island before testing the deeper depths of San Miguel Island for its bounty of giant reds, chuckleheads, lingcod, sheephead, whitefish and a plethora of other tasty bottom grabbers.


Wow, calm seas cannot properly describe the glassy conditions that we woke up to in the morning while searching the various haunts of Santa Rosa for the elusive “mossback” yellows that inhabit the island. Alas, this day proved that nothing is guaranteed with yellows even though we had the ideal-sized “candy bait” squirting in 2 of our 4 bait tanks.


So off we went to San Miguel to try for excellent table fare, which can be cooked in dozens of ways to make for a healthy and delicious meal for the entire family.


This being my first trip to this famous island, I have heard the many horror stories of the weather and how it can be extremely hard to fish in the adverse conditions there. I had to laugh to myself as we made several drifts over clouds of bottom fish, because no matter which side of the boat I dropped my rig, it usually ended up under the boat. As it turned out, the water was so flat with no wind and little current that we were kind of slowly spinning in circles.


anothergiantsheepheadANOTHER HULKING SHEEPHEAD caught by Julian Leon with Luke Pfeifer handling the gaff.

As anglers dropped their 16-ounce double hooked rigs or jigs to the bottom, there were immediate shouts of “fresh one!” and “hook-up!” all around the boat. Gorgeous vermillion rockfish (reds), chuckleheads, starry rockfish, boccaccio and an occasional lingcod were flying over the rail or being gaffed because it was too heavy to lift. Now these were not the garden-variety rockfish, but giants that pro­bably averaged about 4 pounds and ranged from an honest 2 to 6-plus pounds each. I’ve never seen the quality this consistent for rockfish with just a sprink­ling of small ones that would be just fine on other trips.


With only a few moves to reset, the entire boat had full limits of 10 rockfish each by a little after noon. This was after chasing the yellows at Santa Rosa first! Number one on the sign up list for this trip, Fred Roberts hooked into a drag-screaming fish that took him down the length of the Ranger 85. He mentioned that he thought he had a 50-pound lingcod on the other end of his line. Alas, it turned out to be a 7-foot long soupfin shark that ate his $20 jig ’n squid.


Captain Hensley made the move to shallower water to specifically target lingcod, sheephead and whitefish to round out limits for day one. A modicum of success ensued as the passengers decked a good amount of whitefish, 15 legal lingcod and a couple of sheephead. Being in shallower water, we easily released quite a few large reds, chuckleheads and more as our day-one limit had already been achieved.


As the wind picked up, Capt. Hensley was going to try to end the day drifting for halibut in a protected bay, however, the cold northwest wind began to really howl, which made the drifts impossible.


After a delicious pork chop dinner with rice, veggies, salad and bun by cook Sam Soloman, several of us took hot showers and hit the bunks early after an arduous day of fishing and catching.


Day two broke with a surprising amount of wind and swell that was not in the forecast, however, fishing was still very “do-able.” While traveling back out to the fishing pinnacles, Sam served a delicious breakfast of biscuits, sausage patties, gravy and eggs.


Targeting the giant reds again proved to be futile when the clouds of them refused to bite on a couple of fast drifts.


An adjustment to a little different area proved to be beneficial as we began to once again deck the reds, chuckles, blue bass, olive rockfish, barber poles, starry rockfish, sculpin, lings, johnny bass and many species I could not identify. The quality was not as great as day one, but still really good. A pair of the 4 sheephead decked were really nice ones that may have pushed into the high teens to 20 pounds. Another 18 lings were added to the tally for day two as limits of rockfish were once again reached by noon.


All in all, the trip was a huge success as everyone went home with bags full of tasty filets to fill their freezers.


The winners of the raffle for $50 Turner’s Outdoorsman gift cards were John Herweg, Jerry McReynolds, Tim Cline and Randy Lidtke. Many of those I spoke with conveyed their thanks to WON for a great trip and said they couldn’t wait until next year! I would like to add that the crew was extremely professional at getting out tangles and making sure that there was very little waste, as they kept track of each fish that made it to the sacks. Thanks to Captains Jacob Hensley and Jeff Bunde, deckhands Paul Beyer, Zach Pfeifer, Ryan Stack, Luke Pfeifer and cook Sam Soloman.


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THE AUTHOR WITH a brace of quality vermillion rockfish and chucklehead rockfish. Photo by deck boss Paul Beyer

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HOT STICK WAYNE Sidlin of Menefee shows one of his two-day limit of lingcod taken on an Ahi jig in chrome and prism tipped with live squid. Pinhead extraordinaire Luke Pfeifer mugs this photographer.

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DECK BOSS PAUL Beyer gaffed this gorgeous lingcod for Jerry McReynolds in the bow of the Ranger 85.


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PAT GAGNON FROM beautiful downtown Burbank proudly shows off one of the biggest lingcod of the trip — Zach Pfeifer on the gaff.

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