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Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Man down!
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Pacific bluefin tuna not to be listed

Bluefin will be Bluefin
I had to see it firsthand. So it was time to call around and find a boat definitely bound for the bluefin grounds, and one that still had an open spot. It was the Toro — the Toronado. Captain Raymond Lagmay got my call as the boat passed by Avalon on the way in — it was a turn-and-burn evening, and the boat would get in just in time to head right back out.

ANY GIVEN DAY you can see a similar scene of bluefin blowing out. It’s a thrill just to see it and be there, knowing you have a chance. Back when they could, seiners would have had this kind of thing mopped up or driven down, inside a week’s time.

Fellow Love Lab research diver Connor Jainese would meet me at the dock at 9 p.m. When we got to Pierpoint Landing, parking was easy, as the folks fishing the previous overnight trip were just pulling out of the lot. Guys with their gear were already lined up along the boardwalk railing, waiting to be given the go-ahead to head on down the ramp. You could feel the excitement. It was worth the price of admission just for the chance to see 200 pounders cavorting out of the water.

A look around the rail and racks showed a wide variety of tackle types, from tragically under-gunned to completely dialed in. And the 30 of us were all on a mission together, bound for the San Clemente Island tuna grounds.

There, the set-up was yellow­fin and seiners thick just off the front side of the island, and big bluefin boiling just around the back. Dawn was gorgeous, flat, God beams streaming across the skies, gold-framed tropic clouds and the sun peaking from behind. But not much happening fish-wise just yet.

There were several million dollars in yacht craft, each with a small black dot trailing off to leeward — a Yummee Flyer trailing kite. Several other sportboats were on scene too, all hoping for the big bite.

Capt. Lagmay scoured the seas, sky and sonar for signs of bluefin. Early in the dawn we drifted the heavy gear, Flat-Falls, even heavy PL 68-style glow. No takers. So we ended up on the move, looking for sign.

unbelievableUNBELIEVABLE! DO YOU know this boat? They rushed in on us, and on by, seeing three other yachts running for a foamer to the west.

First we slid on one mark for no bites, then another breezer/puddler spot and finally drew our first hook-up, actually two, but one was on and gone so quickly, it hardly counted.

It was Shawn Yamamoto who put the first fish on deck, a 41 pounder on 60-pound and a fat circle hook/live sardine combo. Then we were off, in search of tuna, again.

There were ever more marks and spots to check out. Sometime around 9 a.m., we had moved up west a little. Multiple spots of fish could be spotted at the surface, a breezer here, a few puddlers there. There was no shortage of spots to try for.

A pair of huge foamers showed to the northeast a half-mile off. As we made our way over, the two nearly merged into a giant mass of frothing fish. As we pulled in, it separated into several closely-spaced, tight spots of fish, high and dry, classic bluefin style.

I tossed the Flat-Fall just in front of the moving mass, and fish bolted from just under the surface as the iron splashed down. An angler, Eric, fishing the fray in the stern, hooked up on 20-pound gear, his Calstar stick arched high, no rail fishing for him. No takers for me.

Early in the fight, some Donzi-driving maniac drove right over the hooked fish in his fervor to access the foaming mass of tuna on our chum.

Lagmay was on the P.A. encouraging the offender to back off — politely though. Of course, a couple of our complement took the opportunity to make it ugly, shouting much more obnoxiously from up on deck.

As a result of the initial chaos of boats and lines and confusion, a massive ball of braid and mono and hooks would adorn Eric’s line. During the final moments, the Toronado crew dutifully slid the spaghetti mass down his line as he drew the 30 pounder into gaff range.

A few stops later, fish would come crashing up the chum line once again, a pair of monsters cavort from the wake, behind the several “small” 40- to 80-pound class footballs in the wake. Still no bites.

SHAWN YAMAMOTO WITH the first fish of the day. Toronado deckhands “Salt Slayer” Chris and Sean Hagerty are on the gaffs.

Capt. Bruce Wisberger connects, fishing a cut-down Saber 540 and Penn Fathom 25N2-speed, spooled with 65 braid and a 20-pound mono/fluoro topshot — an old school rod and new school reel combo. His hefty sardine had been baited on a tiny No. 2 classic live bait hook. He would get the 40-pound fish, which would be the last one hooked for the day.

We would slide in on multiple spots of fish, plenty to see, lots of 40 pounders, numbers of 100s and a few truly huge behemoths too. But no more biters. We just couldn’t twist their fins and make them bite, no matter how hard we tried. And stepping down to lighter line had worked, but with monster fish rampaging around, at what cost might it come?

About noon we began to work back southeast. Then around 1 p.m., it was time to push it for the barn in earnest.

Passing by the east end of San Clemente Island, we slid on another foamer in tight to the island. Bonito, said Lagmay, but clearly really big ones. Farther along we went through the purse seine fleet, working the off-color, hot and strangely green water between Clemente and Catalina — wrapping tonnage of yellow-fin tuna.

The food and company was great and so was the scenery. Honestly, I had come primarily to see the epic scene, and have a slim chance at hooking one of those brute bluefin being caught. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. In this bite, it’s about the thrill of being in the game. Anyone expecting to be the lucky angler to hook and land a monster had better line up multiple trips and have the right tackle.

* * *

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

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