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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Thursday, June 20, 2019
500 giant seabass


Big bluefin bite!
As I look at my week ahead I see I can pull off a fishing day for a Wednesday evening departure and Friday morning return. As the week had progressed, a passable offshore forecast morphed into a glass calm one. Checking the boat schedules reveals a very light trip aboard the Condor with a definite go tag. It's just past the new moon too – game on!

On board are captains Jimmy Merrill, Curtis Vanderhoef and night driver Mike Feiberg, crewmen Corey Crumbel and Greg Fell. We visit the Everingham bait receivers and load up both tanks and slammer with nice sardine with some small mackie mixed in. It's there that young angler Kiyan Moein hammers 4 grumpy sandbass on swimbaits.


gavinquin
GAVIN QUIN'S 140-pound bluefin aboard the Condor was the first and biggest of the bunch. Crewman Max Kerr steadies the fish.

At dawn, we're still looking for a spot of fish to stop on. The weather is glass calm, paddies and scraps are everywhere. Not a fish in sight, so we keep looking, along with the Constitution, Pacific Queen, New Lo-An, and Tomahawk.


We stop several times on various sign for nothing, but mostly we keep on moving.


Just past 11 a.m. and finally a spot of fish stays up until we get to it, rather than sinking out. As we slide toward the cavorting fish, all looking a bit on the too big side, anglers fire off irons and poppers. The middle sinks out as we slide toward it.


Then a chunk pops back up along the starboard. Young Kihan's dad Hamid's popper gets blown up on in the midst, but remains floating on top.


Two more splash simultaneously on the port side. Kiyan's Coltsniper gets a lick but is instantly undone. His friend Gavin Quinn is bit on bait right next to him.


He's fishing bait on a leader of Blackwater 50 on 65-pound Izor Brutally Strong braid and a small circle hook. Ultimately he and his Penn Fathom 30II paired with an old school Kennedy Fisher stick win the battle with the squirrely and tough bluefin. We're on the board in a big way. Quinn's big fish tapes out to 140 pounds!


However, it's discovered that his rather small circle hook is all opened up, just barely hung in there.


The crew gills and guts the fish before it goes into the hold. Its stomach is found to be jammed full of stuff, mostly red crabs, with a minor amount of micro fin-bait and some odds 'n ends.


firstfish
FIRST FISH! — Sandbass at the bait receivers for Kiyan Moein.

Fellow angler "Custom Bob" is aboard and discusses the risk one takes, fishing those smaller hooks. Morning has become afternoon, and it's pretty darned slow, but as the afternoon ages the area steadily comes to life. First an occasional breezer now and then becomes breezers and spots of breaking fish in every direction. The bulk of it is small tuna, and it looks tiny — many splashes just barely bigger than decent bass might make.


Some spots show accessory big boys mixed in — some show as 60s while others have much bigger fish. We throw everything at it, spot after spot for no takers at all. The fish won't stick under the boat and quickly disappear soon after we arrive.


After a couple hours of this, all for not a sniff, finally someone hangs a fish — then another, then nothing more.


The two fish turn out to be 3 – a nice yellowtail, a second smaller one and a solid bonito. We're about 50 miles from the dock and 25 offshore.


But with spots of the small tuna everywhere around the boat, including a large spot which hangs just outside casting range, finally a layer of tuna stick under the boat. However, they remain in a sleepy looking flat layer down at 40 fathoms.


We sit for 45 minutes for nothing, watching the minutes tick by as breezers breeze near and far around us. Some are anxious to move on.


But the meter shows those bigger blues under the boat starting to move up and down through the water column. They appear to be waking up. Then there's a splash as one hits the surface, a big one.


A few minutes later, fresh one! Someone finally hooks a fish. Then another hangs on a Flat-Fall. The Flat-Fall one would prove to be snagged by the breast and our only fish on the iron. A few minutes later, another hookup!


It's about 5 p.m. when things get started, finally. We go with a steady 1 to 4 fish hooked at all times. When the first hits the deck finally, the grade is 90 pounds.


Those getting bit are fishing lively baits on 40 pound and super small circles. I go there for a couple of casts before I can't do it any longer. In this bite, there are fish commonly well over the 100-pound mark, some over twice that. I just can't be that guy fishing too light with several other fish going all around the boat, all likely personal bests for those who've hooked them.


Mostly I fish 50 and a heavy wire 1/0, knowing how fish can suddenly get stupid now and again during a stop, especially as the sun sets. I'm hoping as its angle lowers so will the big bluefins’ standards.


Now and again a big fish flashes by the stern. Steadily fish start to make it on deck and the grade's solid — 80 to 100 pounders. The crew is on top of it and despite a couple hairy tangles, the salvage rate is phenomenal, given the light gear and large size.


Each fish takes about an hour to finish, some considerably longer. Every additional minute on the line adds additional risk of something going wrong.


As it grows dark, ultimately a dozen of these big fish are put on deck, far more than half of those hooked. Perhaps only six or eight end up earning their freedom, so 40-pound and tiny circle hooks basically worked.


They never do bite heftier hooks for the likes of Bob and I.


Under the lights the night freaks start to rise from the depths to lurk in their halo — wads of micro-bait, red crabs, salps and comb jellies — other weird little critters too. We transition to the glow iron and sinker rigs but no Flat-Fall or sinker bite develops after dark.


Would I recommend going to the gear that worked? Absolutely! Given the same scenario again, would I do it myself? If I were you, absolutely — but me, I'm hard headed so probably not. It's likely the same for Custom Bob.


We'll both be right back out there for sure.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat 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: merit@wonews.com.


smallhooksworked
SMALL HOOKS WORKED but barely. The left one got a 140 pounder to gaff. However the one on the right is a new one from the same pack.

bigbluefinpiling
BIG BLUEFIN PILING up on the Condor's deck. The grade was 80 to 100 pounds on this stop. They took almost an hour to coax into eating a few sardines instead of just the small stuff they were full of — red crabs, tiny fin-bait.

* * *

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