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On-th-Spot: Options

WON On-the-Spot: Catalina night ops aboard the Options

BY PAUL LEBOWITZ/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jun 26, 2019

Red-eye rendezvous

seabasswentonSEABASS WENT ON the snap for a WON Catalina charter aboard the Options, and Accurate Fishing VP Justin Poe reeled in this one using a Tern 500 TwinStarDrag reel. WON PHOTO PAUL LEBOWITZ


The anchor clanked as it paid out, and then the roar of the big diesels faded into the night. The 50-foot Options 6-pack out of Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach settled in against the barely glimpsed outline of Catalina’s rugged far side. The lights went out one by one until the only glow came from the submerged incandescence of the squid light. We were in West Cove in search of late June seabass, and the experienced Options crew that knows every inch of the island’s coastline was on fish, so expectations were high. It was a Wednesday night and we had the place to ourselves.


Anglers filed onto the spacious aft fishing deck with an expectant hush. First came Cliff Allen of Allen GMC and his sons Mason, 18, an Orange Coast College freshman trying out for the football team, and Cooper, 15, a talented young golfer and San Clemente High student.


Justin Poe, Vice President of Accurate Fishing Products was next, with new reels to test before their commercial introduction (When will they be announced? When they’re ready. WON will have the details). Chuck Buhagiar, WON’s Marketing and Sales Director, and myself, a WON editor rounded out the party.


Capt. Wes Flesch appeared at the back of the bridge while his experienced deckhands, Jiro Spagnolini and Hunter Barrett, rigged the boat rods, high quality Phenix sticks matched with Accurate reels, armed with white irons. Flesch explained the plan.


First, he and his crew would brail squid, then it would be time for the test of endurance to start. We’d fish all night and through the gray and deep into the next day.


It didn’t take long until the squirts were dancing in the glow cast by the squid light. Flesch and Barrett worked the brail and by 9 p.m. the tank was topped off. Meanwhile, our group took up station around the deck, some on the 4 deadstick boat rods outfitted with tough 80-pound line — Flesch explained that when there’s live squid in the dark, the fish don’t care about line size — while a couple others worked jigs off the aft rail on likewise heavy string.


fruitsofa
THE FRUITS OF a spectacular trip, from left: Mason Allen, Justin Poe of Accurate Fishing, Cliff Allen of Allen GMC, Cooper Allen with his first-ever white seabass, and WON Ad Sales and Marketing Director Chuck Buhagiar.

There was an interesting Options wrinkle with the Tady seabass jigs. Each one was rigged on the top split ring with a Gamakatsu Assist Hook 510, the 4/0 size. “We killed the yellows on the assist hooks last time,” Flesch said as Barrett threaded a squid onto the assist hook and another two on the large Siwash swinging on the bottom of the jig.


I’d just dropped back down to the bottom after replacing the squid on my iron and was holding the rod when it loaded up. The pressure was relentless and powerful, and the fish took me up the port side. It charged the anchor, and that’s when Barrett took over and Flesch sank a gaff into a long, lean 30-pound class yellow.


We looked and sure enough, the Gamakatsu Assist Hook was decorating the big yellowtail’s lip, and that would be the case for every successive one. The event woke everyone into alertness for a time, but the hours droned on with no activity save for an occasional interrupting barracuda. First one young Allen headed to his bunk, and then the other, as the minutes slowly ticked by deep in the night. We armed ourselves against the night’s chill with coffee, and stoically settled in.


The change came suddenly. Poe hooked up as did the elder Allen, and everyone else reeled in to give the fish the right of way. It was chaos in the night, a school rolling through, more yellows, and the battles in the dark came in close quarters. Poe got his in the boat but Allen was unlucky, losing his to the reef.


The action brought Mason Allen back on deck and the young man wrangled his own big yellow, and then flush with victory, returned to his bunk.


“You can’t catch these fish. They’re too big and everything is stacked against you — the reef, the kelp, the dark,” Capt. Flesch said, and everyone understood. Each ’tail landed was a victory to cherish. Eventually we’d beat the odds, going 5 for 7, and not a one under 30 pounds on the scale.


It was coming up on 3 a.m., it was cold and damp and the night felt impossibly long. Finally, the moment we’d waited for as tankers chugged through our pattern Hoovering up squid. First, Buhagiar hooked up, and his fish led him on a harrowing nighttime tour of the Options deck, and then Poe again on another of his prototype Accurate reels. Young Cooper dueled a big seabass and won, capturing his first, and stood proudly beaming. Like the others, every fight had its anxious moments, but eventually the gaffs had their way.


squidopsSQUID OPS MEAN fishing in the dark under the occasional red glow of headlamps. Here, deckhand Hunter Barrett shows off the first big yellowtail of the night.

With seabass finally onboard, the deck slowly emptied. I was tired but determined to stick it out with Spagnolini and Flesch in the hopes the seabass would make another march. The minutes to gray light crawled by, and Poe of Accurate reappeared just as the sky began to brighten.


If you’re a game fish you bite at gray light, Flesch said, and he was proven right when another big 30-plus-pound yellow crashed the dropper loop I was minding. The trip was already a spectacular success, par for the course with the Options, yet we had hours of daylight to see if we could rack anything else.


Flesch toured the island, putting us on one beach after another in search of the cherry on top, maybe a legal halibut or two for the Catalina slam, or some of the smaller surface yellows that had been in the counts. We dredged up short ’buts, tangled with more ”cuda and churned through an ocean of small calicos.


Mason Allen connected with a giant somewhere along the way, and the fight was epic, as he eventually wrestled a soupfin shark into submission, a memorable catch for the young man. Time was growing short as Flesch steered us to another of his secret spots, and got on the blower to say he was marking seabass that someone should catch.


We worked sliding sinker rigs and jig ’n squids, and small cali cos ravaged all of our baits until I got lucky and reeled in the trip capper, another nice seabass.


woneditorpaul
WON EDITOR Paul Lebowitz, seems a little happy with his seabass and yellowtail.

It was time for the sportfisher to head back to the dock at Pierpoint Landing. When Spagnolini and Barrett laid out our fish to prep them for cutting (Spagnolini does the carving, and he’s an artist who doesn’t waste even a scrap), it was quite a sight. We had 5 yellows, the biggest of which scaled out at a hefty 34 pounds, and 4 fat white seabass, each one larger than the yellows.


“I’m thrilled my sons had such a good time, with Cooper catching his first-ever seabass and Mason pulling in a big yellow. That’s all that matters to me,” said Cliff Allen.


Poe of Accurate was thrilled to catch a couple of hearty game fish on the company’s new gear, which worked flawlessly.


Capt. Flesch summed up the trip as an excellent one, saying the high-end tackle provided by boat sponsors Accurate Fishing, Phenix Rods, and Gamakatsu hooks is a big factor in their success.


For more information or to book the Options, visit OptionsFishing.com. Plan on booking well in advance, this is a popular boat that runs nearly every day. Overnight trips to Catalina are a reasonable $1,800, just $300 each for 6 anglers, plus tips and you bring your own food and drink. Santa Barbara Island is $2,000; San Clemente Island is $2,200, San Nic is $2,300, and offshore is $2,000 plus depending on distance travelled.


gamakatsuwitassistGAMAKATSU WITH THE ASSIST — The Options crew rigs their Tady seabass jigs with a free-swinging Gamakatsu Assist Hook 510 in the 4/0 size coming off the top ring. They thread live squid onto it as well as the large Siwash on the bottom. Nearly every time the fish impales itself on the assist hook. It seems to greatly improve the hook-up ratio.

options6pak
THE OPTIONS 6-pack out of Pierpoint Landing, 50 feet of performance sportfishing, comes outfitted with top quality Accurate reels mounted on Phenix rods, and just the right Gamakatsu hooks.

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