Umarex Gauntlet



Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Second day advantage pays off

Second day advantage pays off
I was aboard the Legend Izorline sponsored 2.5-day and this how it went down.

Thursday evening, we have 29 anglers aboard the Legend as we depart for the Everingham bait receivers. I've brought gear for any eventuality, from kelp paddy yellows, to micro-bait yellowfin foamers, to bluefin of any grade on out to 300 pounders on kite and flying fish. It's two armfuls of rods and reels, like I was headed out on a 16 dayer or something.

But it's almost instantly apparent that our best option for both days will be finding that magic kelp and loading up on yellowtail. Friday morning finds us down the Mexican coast some 25 miles or so offshore. It's a torturous morning for the crew, as our kelp spotter swings in the crows nest for hours straining to find a few shards and even fewer fish.

THE DREAM PADDY had drifted 8 miles south overnight. Bagged and tagged with everything from a simple spar to a satellite beacon relaying its coordinates in real time, Saturday morning saw 4 boats having run over 100 miles to fish side-by-each, with a 5th nearby.

It's a full court press with 4 or 5 boats in sight all heading south on parallel courses spaced 3 or 4 miles apart, in-search-of...

Mid morning we pull up on a kelp, decent sized. Capt. Chuck Taft announces on the PA it's loaded but he thinks it's already been hit earlier in the day. We'll try it nevertheless — see if we get lucky. The crew drops a flag in it — Chris Vollrath and Dominic Spinuzza. Capt. Steve Taft, Chuck's son, Spike's grandson is aboard as well, a third generation SoCal Sportboat skipper. Ed is in the galley.

We pick a fish or two, couple of dorado, a yellowtail.

We try a few other scraps then come upon another decent kelp. It's all tagged up. A small buoy marks it already, as well as a GPS beacon. It's also loaded. But it's already been milked that morning too. So we get a fish or two.

From there we head south another almost 30 miles for nearly nothing, few kelps, even fewer fish. Working offshore and then back north finds no love for us and sunset finds us back at the second of the two kelps that were really holding. The Excalibur is nearby also as is one other bigger boat, the Red Rooster III I believe.

The crew had added a flag to the kelp on our first pass that morning, and now we add a strobe. The sea anchor is put out so we stay stuck in the flow tracking with the kelp as it makes more than a knot in the current.

To this point we have a grand total of 7 fish in the hold, including 2 dorado, a skipjack on the troll and 4 yellows. It's been a long tough day with Ed's meals and snacks as the day's highlights.

I'm up soaking glow iron until 11 p.m. before throwing in the towel, and setting the alarm for 0400.

I arrive back on deck to find 3 or 4 dozen flying fish on the calm side of the boat. There are also a pair of yellowtail cruising together around the rig. I put a glow iron back out on the big gear and stuff the rod but in the hawse pipe, leaving it to jig with the bob of the boat.

Having spent an inordinate amount of time in past years on deckwatch, observing flying fish in the lights, I have a good idea what they're there for, the tiny red polychaete worms that jet around under the lights and the other littler planktonic weirdos that show up.

Although I've never heard of it before, I dig out the tiniest of the lucky Luras made, the ones with 6, no. 14 sized flies we use for nabbing anchovies, hook and line. It works.

hillayardsmarlinHILLYARD'S MARLIN — With Steve, George and Stan Hillyard. This fish was the result of a lucky jig-strike and the Hillyards were well rewarded for their tenacity at the stern, keeping a line in when few others would. The fish was taken on a Mexican flag pattern trolling jig on Izor 80-pound on a Penn red 6/0 and a Calstar rod. PHOTO BY CAS PUIZ

Flyers come up to it and spread their wings as they look at the rig, then I'm bit. But of course the hooks are a bit small and so I flip them up, liftpole style, in hopes they don't tear off before clearing the rail. About half make it aboard and I put three on before the bite backs off as grey light approaches and those yellows get a little too lively for the pack of flyers.

This morning the trap has been set. We pull the parachute back in and stand by for better light. In the meantime one angler nabs 2 of the 4 yellows that were chasing the flyers around.

The previously empty deck comes alive with sleepy anglers. Just after the chute is in a herd of 150 or so yellows and a pair of dorado flash by in the light's glow but do not bite.

A half-hour goes by before it's fully light. A competitor's approaching bow grows larger to the north. We make our move, pulling in on the kelp. The Excalibur is not far behind, as they spent the night nearby drifting and running back up wind from time to time to stay close by.

As the lines go out, chaos erupts, "hook up, hook up, hook up." It's worked and although after a full day of building tension, all anglers are a little on the over excited side, tangling, busting off, sawing off, etc. we ultimately extract a deck box full of yellowtail and some dorado too.

The second pass... We're all a bit more dialed in. The bite is good, but not frantic, eating the 40 no problem. In the meantime there are now 4 boats on scene, including the Grande and Ocean Odyssey.

We're taking turns at the magic kelp and the bite, of course, peters out. As we work our way toward finding that other kelp we pass the Red Rooster III as they fish a small piece of weed.

THE CATCH — The aftermath of battle with the carcasses of the defeated stacked like cordwood 'round Legend's rail.

We clearly get first crack at kelp no. 2 also. Wide open! It's kill time. At the end of it we have a grand total of 134 yellowtail, 14 dorado, the one skipjack — a dandy, by the way, and those 3 flyers, just in case. It's still early, but by then we know that's our day and we're extremely grateful for our good fortune.

Spirits are high. Meanwhile Dominic spends a second day in the tower searching the waves for every little shred of kelp we might try. There aren't many and those few only produce a couple more fish, mostly dorado.

By late afternoon we're pretty much pointed for the barn trying for first look in daylight at the upper area while making progress in the right direction, coming from way south. It's about here where we'd had a short strike Friday.

It happens again. I head across the stern toward the rod, just as I get there it's bit again! And it sticks this time. I unclip the rod. Line is pouring off the old Penn 6/0 now. George Hillyard, nephew of Steve Hillyard, who had put the line out is first to arrive. I hand him the rod and tell him it's something substantial, perhaps a marlin.

The line is headed back in the wake, slightly left — and watching far left I see the fish hit the surface for the first time — marlin! Five leaps later, the fish is up the starboard rail headed for the bow. Taft maneuvers the big boat to best advantage, keeping the line long and taught.

It's still on — hasn't thrown the hook. We're actually going to get it! Steve Hillyard takes up position on the bow flanked by the full crew complement. Fellow angler Cas Puiz captures the entire fight on video.

Steve passes the rod back to George, and now at much closer range, the big fish rockets out of the water several more times.

Now nearly exhausted the billfish is near gaff range but stays upright until its final moments. The 90 pounder ultimately comes aboard — a nice capper to a trip that easily might have been much less without the perseverance of all aboard. It's clear our success on day 2 is largely due to some good choices and set-up on day 1.

* * *

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

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