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Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
A story that must be told
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
What does winning look like?

Bluefin on the chew
This past Sunday, the bluefin tuna out past San Clemente Island went on a full-bore bite, and I was there to see it. But, this story starts with the yellowfin tuna biting at pretty much limits-level all last week

With the Chief scheduled to run all through late fall and winter each Friday evening, I was angling to get aboard and check out the operation. Even with wide-open fishing and being a weekend open-party trip, this time of year, trips tend to have plenty of spaces available, even late in the week.

CAPT. JAY SABERON covering the bow with multiple hook-ups going.

But to my surprise, by Thursday evening, even with full limit yellowfin counts rolling in all week long, very few anglers had signed up, and the trip never even got enough to go! Crazy, but that’s fall fishing. It’s the best time of year for offshore fishing: excellent bites and lots of opportunity.

So, I checked the schedules online and found the New Lo-An had a bluefin-or-bust, bring-the-big-stuff trip departing that evening, and they had only 11 on the books. The boat’s owner, Capt. Markus Medak, said it was a definite “go.” And by evening, the boat had gathered up a few more last-minute, leaving the dock with 25 of 32 spots filled.

The funny thing is, with chances at California cows, and bluefin being bluefin, the gear one brings for a 1.5-dayer these days is darned near (within a stick or two) of what one might bring on a long-range trip. By the time I thought I was geared to go, I had stacked up sticks from 25-pound class to 130. I had heavy-metal rigged glow Flat-Falls and even PL 68s on down to #4 circle hooks. It was a cartful of crap.

Gone are the days of three sticks and a handful of hooks plus an iron or two for local offshore fishing. It’s crazy the quality available in our local pelagic waters.

With huge bluefin a possibility, and the best shot being in the wee hours of the a.m., the New Lo-An’s crew had already baited up. In fact, they had gone out and made a tank-full of big mackerel, too. Impressive! At departure time we shot out of the bay, turned northwest and never looked back. By 4 a.m. we were out past the island’s east end several miles and on fish.

Capt. Adam Williams pulled the throttles back and advised heavy gear, minimum 60-pound, but the bigger the better, and the heavy glow iron, Flat-Falls and such. The fish bent rods almost immediately. These were bluefin, and nice ones, 40 to 70 pounds!


Doug Gray put the first one on deck. They bit hard for a few minutes before moving on and we pulled a half-dozen. Back on the move, another stop in the dark kicked out another handful. They were biting! But soon the horizon lightened and a quiet period followed.

After covering quite a bit of water and moving several miles back closer to the island, it was nearly noon when things heated up again. This time it was fly-lined sardines on 40- and 50- pound fluoro leaders. In fact, those fishing 30-pound had the edge on hook-ups, but it was a dangerous proposal, often ending in disaster. The grade was just a little on the large size for it, as I discovered first-hand.

The fish came charging for two or three stops, bit quickly and moved on, or settled in under the boat, but not biting. Each time we hooked several and landed a couple to a handful.

At about 3 p.m. one of these stops went ballistic. The first five or six rods bent, as on previous stops. But it didn’t stop there. Soon, half the boat was hung, a dozen or more going! And this time they ate 40-pound-plus easily.

Capt. Williams called in Wes Flesch on the Options. It was on! Soon the Ranger 85 and the Aztec were both stopped nearby, too. With blood flowing from the scuppers and fish all over the back deck, it appeared we were close to limits! But we had backed off just a little too early, and when the dust cleared and the fish were counted, we found we were still just six fish short of having limits for all aboard.

Some anglers had burned though as many as six or seven hook-ups to land a fish or two so far. These were big fish. A 40 pounder was a peanut and 50 to 60 was the standard. Mixed into our catch was a single yellowfin tuna of similar grade.

LORY HEATH AND Dr. Rob Tressler with crewman Markus Hawthorne.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for the be­hemoths that we knew were in the area, and picked a few more 50s along the way, even into the dark.

The boat’s crew was impressive. On deck, licensed captains Jay Saberon and Matt Oberhaus with deckhand Markus Hawthorn spiked and bled each fish as it came aboard. Each was automatically gill and gutted before going into the hold. After the evening fish break-out for photos and sorting, all those not being filleted were put gently back into cold hold.

At dawn, back at the dock, the fish were carefully unloaded, making sure not to flex and soften their now nicely firmed flesh. I’ve never seen fish come out so beautifully at the end of a trip. With just 24 hours — sashimi grade, firm, great color, no veins, awesome.

Matty Mayo, in the galley, had served up homemade corned beef hash with big chunks of meat, and browned crispy potato, double sausage patties and eggs for breakfast. Lunch was clam chowder, home-style seared chicken and avo salad with fried rice on the side. Dinner was pork loin, seared tuna, veggies and a classic bread pudding for dessert. This was a 1.5 dayer!

* * *

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:

GAFF! A BURLY bluefin jukes the hook, which found its mark a few laps later.

HAMMERED! — Something’s missing here, thanks to a toothy hammerhead.

HEADED HOME ON the New Lo-An. The catch up on deck to be sorted lined both rails and across the stern.

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