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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Captain Merit McCrea is our Saltwater Editor. He covers the Southern California beat for Western Outdoor News.McCrea has been an active USCG licensed captain since 1978. For more than two decades he owned and operated partyboats. He served as a Sportfishing Association of California Board Member and is well-connected within the industry.


In 2000 he transitioned into academia, earned several academic honors and now concurrently works as a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute with the Milton Love Lab. His skills include: ecology, fisheries, marine management, technical mapping (GIS), statistical analysis, oceanographic processes, ichthyology, technical writing, modern technological application, data management, small business management, experimental design, mathematical modeling, research diving and journalism.


A resident of Santa Barbara, McCrea is also a skilled boat operator including trailer boats, larger single screw, twin screw and water-jet driven vessels. He can find fish, run a rod and reel and is the current IGFA all-tackle world record holder for catch and release calico bass. Recreationally he has a passion for fishing and hunting.


It is his desire as your Saltwater Editor to assure that we support our advertisers that support us. He can be reached by voice or text at (805) 687-3474 or via email at merit@wonews.com


Let’s go deeper, skipper!
I heard it first this past June, when Capt. Louie Zimm texted a note to me and Capt. Ken Franke, President of the Sportfishing Association of California, with a photo of his hand-written notes, fresh from Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC). It read simply:

“75 fathom Rec.


Scorpion fish all year.


40 f line CCA Rec and Com


1 lingcod south of 40º 10’ "


However, this was just the first major step in the process. The advice of the Council still had to be reviewed and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service. So we had to keep it on the DL. Of course, the rumors have been flying through the fleet for months now — PFMC meetings are public.


At the most recent PFMC meeting this past week, the word was the new regulations were well on their way to implementation and come March 1, next year, we will once again have access to rockfish and other “federally managed groundfish” out to the PFMC 75-fathom point-to-point line.


Plus, a new PFMC line, roughly along the 40-fathom isobath inside the Cow Cod Conservation Area (CCA — San Nicolas Island, Santa Barbara Island, Hidden Reef, Cortes and Tanner banks) is drafted and we will be able to fish and possess rockfish and such while fishing inside that line. This represents a vast increase in the accessible area of the CCA.


In my early 20s, looking like a high school kid, running the Condor to fish cods out west of San Miguel Island daily, I got lots of advice from the old ganion-plunging codsters. In particular, I frequently heard this one bit of advice — “Let’s go deeper, skipper!” Of course, from up in the bow, those slinging jigs and plastics pushed for the shallow water. But it was true. The bigger fish bit codster’s ganions better out deep.


It was monster reds, and bocaccio, chillies and yellowtail. Huge olives, too. Out there one left the smaller blues behind. Many rockfish species start their lives living shallow and as they grow and mature, work their way into deeper water.


This new access to the new 40 line in the CCA and 75-line elsewhere is a major development, all the way around.


In recent months we’ve had the opportunity to participate in hook and line collection of rockfish out past the current 60-fathom line. Several other fleet vessels have worked with research teams in the deeper waters of the CCA.


For fish like chili peppers, their adult range barely starts at 60 fathoms, and there are major reefs that now hold them by the thousands in 65 and 70 fathoms, many well within 1/2-day range.


Places like Santa Barbara Island will gain a major back-up plan, should the game fish bite prove picky. The change will make SBI a much more viable option for yellowtail and seabass. If cappy swings and misses on the big game, anglers can be confident of making a catch anyway.


How did we get this back?


Fisheries management coupled with new research results, worked. The first piece is simple. We gave the fish a break and populations recovered. The second piece required innovation, research and positive results.


On the science end the progress was two-fold. Firstly, a lot more work was done to more confidently assess the populations of certain overfished species. When you don’t know much, you have to be precautionary and assume the most conservative numbers. Scien­tists learned more, discovered faster recovery rates and gained greater confidence in their numbers.


The second piece happened very close to home and has to do with developing and proving ways to successfully release rockfish — rather than floating them off into never, never land.


It was during the Channel Islands MPA process in 1998 when I first noted to Bob Fletcher, then SAC President, Patty Wolf — DFG, and several others, the assumption that a caught rockfish was a dead rockfish might be wrong, and we could release them with an inverted, old-school, wire milk crate by merely sinking them back to depth — recompressing them.


Previously, scientists tagging rockfish had been successfully “venting floaters” using hypodermic needles, out to 30 fathoms or so. But we’d had problems with some species, like vermillion. Their insides trapped the air in many small chambers.


Then Dr. Chris Lowe at CSULB had been able to tag and release a few rockfish from as deep as 740 feet out at platform Gail, in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel. His acoustic “pinger” tags showed these fish had almost all survived. Yet they hadn’t been able to catch and tag very many in that first season.


The following season I was recruited to assist in this effort. We tagged a bunch. We eventually started to experiment, releasing fish too small to tag, with the basket — as well as a few with tags too. It worked! Two of his grad-students began projects to quantify how well simple recompression worked.

Independently, at least one other lab up north tested rockfish barotrauma recovery with recompression in tanks. Results were positive.


Now with 18 years of conservation, improved data on stock levels and a proven way to release rockfish from deep water, we’ve been given the go-ahead to try fishing ever deeper depths. In SoCal, the huge CCA backs up conservation measures elsewhere in the Bight.


Up north the Central Coast will start their 2019 season with access out to the PFMC 50 line. The North Central region — San Francisco — will open a month earlier than previously, and a level deeper — out to their PFMC 40 lines.


But here’s the rub. Firstly, it’s not yet. We’ll be fishing out this season as we have been. The changes are planned to become effective in March of 2019.


Then, it will be important to be aware, simply staying in “the right depth” won’t keep you legal. You’ll have to know the point-to-point boundaries or fish well shallower than their nominative 40- or 75-fathom depths. Inside the CCA the line will no longer be defined expressly by depth (currently 20 fathoms or 120 feet). Instead, it’ll be defined by the PFMC CCA 40-fathom point-to-point lines that will be published.


Secondly, you have to descend all deep water fish you release — no floaters! If sportboats trail strings of floating fish up-drift for the birds to pick at, we can be assured access to fish deeper waters will end. Plus, there’s the risk of getting a ticket for wastage of game, and perhaps, over-limits or even take of prohibited species.


So if you see bad actors being bad, hammer them first. Be­cause if we don’t, it could cost us all. What others do may be none of your business — until it is!


Don’t know how to release rockfish? Search “rockfish barotrauma” online and you’ll find a spiffy video on it.


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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: merit@wonews.com.



•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Name that spot
When it comes to the spots anglers like to wax knowingly the names of, it sounds like number babble — shibboleths uttered to elevate the utteror to that rarified level of knowledge of all pursuits piscatorial. Was it the Butterfly? ‘Shroom? 43 or Cross or Corner. Maybe the 60? Or was it south, perhaps the 295 or 213. Maybe the 101 and out to the 425 was the hot spot. Some names are easy to see the source of, like the Tanner Bank or Cortes Bank, but what about The Nine on the Cortes? Or was it The Nine on the Tanner? And where did these names come from?

First there are the number and shape names. Then there are the mileage names for banks. There are the chart named banks and rocks, many of which are “misfortune” names. Then there are some which defy sleuthing entirely, or are sourced in humor. How many Castle Rocks, Bird Rocks, Seal Rocks, Deep Holes and White Rocks are there anyway? And what about “Ship” Rock — was that really what the first sailors who encountered its dew drop covered facade called it?


Names by number and shape


With regard to the number names and shape names, like the Butterfly, most all stem from a common single source. It started in fish boat wheelhouses over the VHF back in the days before GPS. It was way back somewhere between the course and time days, the ancient ADF, the LORAN A followed by the LORAN C era.


U.S. Charts charted U.S. waters. But there was one which stretched far into Mexican waters at a usable resolution — NOAA paper or raster chart number 18022. The NOAA ENC versions won’t work for this.


As far as tuna go, within a mile or 3 will put you in the right area to start looking. Of course, modern weekend warriors have gotten it all out of context, plug in coordinates and zoom to the dot, then sit there wondering what’s next. Drop ’em boys, we’re here!


It’s 18022 we all had, and that’s where the numbers came from. It was just easier to pick out the nearest depth record and relay that over the radio or on the dock — shoot past North Island, about 180 degrees from Point Loma at about 40 miles by the “425” on “The Chart,” — “we started on the 101 inside of that and finished up there yesterday.”


Then somewhere toward the latter part of the LORAN C era, some recognized much larger scale shapes cast by the 500 fathom curve. That chart has isoclines drawn in at 100, 500 and 1,000 fathoms. Thus the Butterfly and Mushroom were coined for the image the 500 fathom curve drew on NOAA chart 18022. Some stuff was easy on the chart, like the Dumping Grounds, aka The Dumper. It was a violet square labeled “ CHEMICAL MUNITIONS DUMPING AREA DISUSED (see note E)


A look at the Cortes Bank shows a 9 fathom high spot to the north west of the main reef, but other larger scale charts may show a 7 instead. Indeed, a few of the number names come from other charts, whichever one was in the most prevalent use for the area, back in the time of paper.


Names by misfortune


The Cortes Bank was named in 1853 by Capt. TP Cropper of the side-wheel steamship Cortes. However, it was surveyed some few years later and recorded incorrectly as the Cortez Bank, which it remained for some years until corrected.


The high spot on the bank breaks in most sea conditions, being covered by just a few feet of water — a condition the crew of the clipper ship Stillwell S. Bishop discovered quite by surprise and to their dismay when they struck the rock in 1855, lending the ship’s name to that rock for posterity.


It was gold rush era boot maker Nathan Richardson, who hauled himself out on an outcrop west of San Miguel Island in 1851 after the ship he was sailing on sank nearby. Being one of the very few who survived the sinking, the rock was named in his honor.


Names by distance and fictitious features


There are a number of banks named for their distance from the port who’s fishing fleet were most likely to visit, like the 60-mile, 14- and 9-mile banks. In addition, there’re names like The Cross, which is a San Diego name for where the intersection of the 32 and 118 lines meet.


Of course, there’s no specific persistent fish attracting feature to that. It illustrates the relevance of the other hot spots too. Many of the open ocean names are simply a shorthand for passing on where the fishy waters were most recently. Most often there’s nothing intrinsically special to the fish about the named zone and you’re a fool to sit there and soak on nothing just because you’re on the numbers. You need to start your looking 5 miles or more before you get to the promised land. Those pelagics may move daily as they follow bait and good water.


Another example of this is The Corner, which is simply where the line equidistant from the nearest Mexican and U.S. landfall makes a sharp turn to the southwest near the 43. The 43 actually is a fish attracting physical feature. It’s a very tall seamount coming within a few hundred feet of the surface.


Mysteries


While the origins of the names of the Rodriguez Sea­mount and San Juan Seamount seem to remain a mystery, it’s worth noting that many banks have dual names. They have a their fishing seafaring name and a name given by seasick academics out for our 3 weeks at sea each summer. South, offshore of Baja the academics gave every bank they charted the name of some famous historical mathematician or scientist, or maybe that of a revered scientific explorer. Thus the Shimada Seamount is the same place as the Hurricane Bank.


While the Potato Bank looks like a potato on the chart, the Cherry Bank, not so much like a cherry. It seems to me, as one of the last major virgin rockfish zones, not heavily fished until perhaps the mid 1980s, that’s how it got its mostly misogynistic name. As I recall, it was those mid-winter San Pedro/Long Beach long distance rockcod specials which popularized that name for the previously too-far-to-bother-with deep drop high spot. And it stuck.


Maybe naming offshore banks after Leibniz and Einstein and Johannes Kepler is preferred to the names conjured by folks who named the fish we caught like Dr. Suess did — one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.


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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: merit@wonews.com. 


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Where are them keepers?
Where are all those 14-inch-plus calico then Fish and Game Com­mission President Mike Sutton promised us back in 2014? We would let them go and let them grow. Then there would be more and bigger bass he promised.

Well, the DFW biologists had actually recommended a 13-inch limit, so they kinda knew a 14-inch limit would likely come with some fishery costs. But back then, Sutton, a biologist himself and a brilliant one at that, advocated strongly against the staff recommendation and for going the “extra mile” — 14 inches! And the rest of the commissioners heard him and supported it.


Legalcalico
LEGAL CALICO BASS caught near Two Harbors, Catalina, aboard the Triton out of L.A. Harbor Sportfishing. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS


The abundant science on kelp bass pins the average 12 incher — the previous minimum size limit, at 6.5 years old. A 14 incher averages 8.5 years old. So the expectation might be a couple years down the road, say by 2016 or 2017, the hit the local party boat fleet and anglers took to let them grow would be over, or at least clearly showing signs of getting over.


Now here it is 2018, fully 4 years later and we’re still keeping very few, yet releasing them by hundreds daily. The only area where 1/2- and 3/4-day anglers are keeping very many in local waters is San Diego, finally. Even there though, the ratio of 14-inch and over bass to those 12 to 13.99 inches is perhaps 1 in 5 at best.


The way the biologists figure out the maximum return for forbearance — that is, releasing smaller fish so they can grow, involves modeling with math. Conceptually it’s easy, but quickly gets complicated in practice.


Basically one figures out how many die from one year to the next, applies that loss, adds the growth for the year to the survivors and heads on to doing the same for the following year.


So say you start with 100 bass, and that’s okay because we just want to figure out the best size limit. We want the size limit that gives us the most weight of fish in the bag, given starting with a set number of fish.


We determine the death rate due to “natural causes” — almost always due to being eaten by something else. This is reduced to a formula which varies by the fish’s age. That’s because the small ones have a higher chance of getting eaten than the bigger ones.


Then you consider your 100 bass, and apply this likelihood of getting chomped — we’ll call it “M” because that’s what we always call natural mortality when it comes to fish. And you roll with that scenario through several seasons as your babies grow, until you decide to tinker with adding fishing. We’ll call getting caught and kept “F,” for the same reason.


Applying M and F together after a certain age, year after year allows you to add up the total weight of bass you sack before all 100 are gone. By trying different size limits you can easily figure out the right age and size to get the most pounds out of the fishery.


There is one thing that instantly pops out at you about this. It’s the clear scientific understanding and acceptance of the competition with all the perpetrators of “natural mortality” — seals, sea lions and so forth. That’s exactly the way it’s modeled. There is no sea lion-angler kumbaya harmony involved when it comes to fishery science.


There’s another more subtle thing about this that drives sea lion lovers absolutely wild. The primary assumption being made is the goal to maximize sustainable fishery production while treating “M” as a loss to be avoided.


Therein lies the crux dividing conservation minded fishers from “the conservationists,” — or, in more formal terms, utilitarian conservation from natural ecosystem conservation. “Natural” means without humans.


But back to nuts and bolts. The solution to this calculus, and it actually is calculus for once, is 12 or 13 inches. That provides the most meat. Any larger the minimum size and we start to give more calico bass to the harbor seals and such than we get back.


With a 12-inch limit we keep more fish at a smaller average size. At 13 we keep fewer but bigger ones, but the total weight of bass bagged is similar. At 14 inches, average bass are bigger yet but the competing charismatic megafauna end up with more pounds and anglers less.


Modeling gets more challenging and less precise with regard to estimating the total bass biomass in the Bight. Fortunately, the minimum size keeps bass growing regardless. It’s a powerful conservation tool, provided released fish live. Bass do.


The 5-fish possession limit keeps the harvest rate F in check for those fish of legal size. It prevents absolute slaughter when the bite is on.


Then there’s the question of keeping enough spawning age fish in the population to provide baby fish for the future. Bass first spawn at about 11 inches, and of course only a fraction of the keepers are caught each season, so there should be plenty of larger ones in the population.


Here’s the deal, and most hardcore watermen have a sense of it already. Bass, as well as many other marine creatures, are broadcast spawners, sending out hundreds of thousands, even millions of eggs or larvae per female each season. Survivorship is both incredibly small — less than 1 in 1,000 survive their first season, and highly variable from season to season. Larval survivorship is often dictated by things as capricious as the timing and intensity of spring winds.


While doubling the biomass of spawning age bass might double egg production, natural conditions might swing survival to the 1-inch size a hundred fold. Spawning population biomass ends up being somewhat trivial, unless it gets so low the boys can no longer find the girls reliably (Allee effects).


When it comes to sand bass, many arrive from Mexico, sporadically leaving settlers behind on our local coastal reefs. Bay bass went along for the regulatory ride simply because our regulations cover all bass together.


Why 14 inches then? It seems DFW biologists may have been more right than even they themselves had imagined when they called for a 13-inch limit. Now 4 years later, party boat anglers bag a few keepers at 14-plus and release 12- to 13-inch shorts by the hundreds. More keepers next year? Maybe not.


It was the political will of marine megafauna conservationists that put now-retired Commissioner Sutton on the Commission in the first place. Political power matters and marine mammals had an advocate at the table.


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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: merit@wonews.com.


•    •    •    •    •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.



California Youth Adventures aboard the Sum Fun!
It's midday Saturday when Wendy Tochi and I arrive at Dana Wharf Sportfishing. As Tochi goes to park the car, I cruise into the Dana Wharf landing office to inquire about the Sum Fun charter — kinda clueless as ever, not knowing who's in charge. The line for the afternoon half-day and whale watch stretches out the front door, so I find the only desk not currently taxed to the max and ask if they know what's up. It happens to be the Catalina Express desk, but that doesn't stop me. Of course, they have no clue either. Just then, Dr. Mike Woo with California Youth Adventures spots me and saves the day.

cyagroupphoto
CYA GROUP PHOTO — The California Youth Adventure p.m. half-day trip aboard the Sum Fun was a huge success. These youths scrambled to grab the first bass they could get a hold of out of their bags before fillet time, not an easy task for some — check out those looks on their faces!


He points out two folks in hunter-orange caps, paperwork-in-hand just outside. How could I have missed them. They have a stack of orange hats and a sign-in sheet. It turns out to be Tom Knie and his granddaughter, and a few parents have arrived to drop off their kids for the trip.


Slowly I begin to put the pieces together. You see, I was just tagging along with Wendy and knew little more than the name of the group and that it was a kids trip. This was actually the same group Howard Coolidge with Friends of Rollo had told me about way back in early March at the Long Beach Fred Hall show. They had put in a request for funding to help pay for the trip and in the end, had managed to put it all together, garnering support from various sources including major support from FOR.


Soon we are out on the water, with a group of rent rod-wielding youngsters. The Sum Fun crew, Zack and Jason, and ourselves have our work cut out for us. Capt. Brian Woolley himself is at the helm.


As we pull in off a Salt Creek kelp bed, the water is blue and 72 degrees. One of the guys sprinkles a few of the beautiful large anchovies along the weeds. Bass literally erupt from the surface. A few smaller scooters join in. The anchor slides over and we settle back into a wide-open, every-bait-bit-upon-hitting-the-water bite. The only difference between a bad bait at the end of a short cast and a good one on a long one is the size of the bass that bites it.


Suddenly it's clear. If you can pick a bait and cast, the chances of pulling a limit of keepers is high. But no matter what, hundreds of bass will be caught. The kids have a blast. It's chaos —dangling bass to be unhooked and released, kids pulling, fish caught in kelp, kids needing help getting tossed back out.


natesyellowtail
NATE'S YELLOWTAIL — Izorline's Wendy Tochihara tossed the anchovy out and handed Nate the rod. He hooked this Dana Wharf 1/2-day yellow, which of course hid in the weeds.


A few minutes later one can see the blue-green backs of several hamachi-grade yellows squirting around among the bass. Then, young Nate has one on. Soon it's in the net buried in a ball of grass. Dragging it closer, Woolley nets it, ball and all. Yellowtail, too!


The bite goes on for about an hour, and with the fish still pretty active, Woolley has a plan now that our charges have been initiated and are effectively baiting their own hooks and casting for themselves if we can't get there fast enough.


We make a short move. Our next stop is near a wash rock, and we've beaten an advancing line of green water working its way along the inshore area. We toss the baits back into the whitewater and hand off the rods, getting everybody out there as quickly as we can. Soon, it's bigger bass coming out to play, fish to 4 pounds or so.


Among the anchovies are a few 6- or 7-inch sardines. Zack tosses back each one as it comes up and the big bass come out and tackle them. The kids take turns wrestling the big checkerboards to the boat. It's awesome!


One more stop out in open water and suddenly the afternoon is gone. Half-day is over and it's time to head for the barn. The kids line up at the fillet board to have their fish cleaned. Every kid has 2 to 4 nice keepers. One or two actually have a limit.


The most popular cut ends up being gill and gut! They're so excited to show their parents what they've caught, they want to make sure the fish stay looking intact.


It's a sure bet these kids will remember this trip for a long time to come. So will we.


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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: merit@wonews.com.


sumfuncrewman
SUM FUN CREWMAN Zack with the assist on this dandy boiler rock bass.


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


California cow bluefin, the new dynamic
The gist of this story is: cow-class bluefin tuna are regulars. And those that target, catch. It was midweek when I first saw the photos. Capt. Markus Medak and crew had risen to the task, boating 7 tuna on a 1.5-day California U.S. waters trip, ranging from 170 to 208 pounds. Three of those were over the 200-pound mark, making them "cows."


bringanothergaff
BRING ANOTHER GAFF! — Two deckhands hang onto Josh Anguillano’s 205 after one gaff broke.


Not only that, but a closer look at the photos revealed three of those lucky anglers were Santa Barbara locals I knew, and two were SEA Landing crew. There was Martin Carbajal, Josh Anguillano and Randy Graham's son Sage, each straining to prop up bluefin whose tails towered over their heads.


When I showed up to run relief aboard the Coral Sea for Capt. Sal Silva Friday morning, there were the two of them, Martin and Josh, were getting the rig ready for the run. I would get the full low-down on the bite for sure! In fact, Josh had made bluefin poke for lunch, and I got to taste the fish too.


At first all I got was the short version. Then Capt. Markus Medak called Saturday afternoon as we were running down the line and the boys were cutting cod limits for our 25 ang­lers. He filled in a few skipped details, like, they were anchor fishing when a number of those fish were hooked.


Hmmmm, after our anglers had left, I grilled them a bit more. Ultimately, Martine-mailed over a full minute-by-minute on the bite. Most importantly, I have to say, it was a story of gearing for, baiting for and fishing for 150 to 300 pounders. It wasn't at all about just having them come through while targeting a smaller grade of fish.


It was rail rods, 100-pound and 2-speeds. Martin brought a Ken's Custom Reels blueprinted Accurate ATD30 loaded with 130-pound braid with a 100-pound Izor XXX topshot on a 208 United Composites 7-foot rail rod. Josh had a similarly blueprinted ATD30 loaded with 100-pound, 100-pound First String on a Calstar 6465 XH. Young Sage had the "light" rod, a United Composites Predator with a Talica 16 II, loaded with 80-pound Izor braid with a topshot of 60-pound First String and a 3-foot leader of Seaguar 80-pound fluoro.


At the bait receiver, they spent the time to jig plenty of mackerel, stocking the tank with the bigger live baits.


Martin said, "We got to the fishing grounds at 3 a.m. sitting on the anchor (on the 43) and slowly tossing out sardines." Some fished live bait with rubber banded 8-ounce torpedoes while others fished the Flat-Fall iron. There were 17 anglers aboard.


Martin continued, "First fish was hooked at 5 a.m. on the Flat-Fall — was lost within 4 seconds due to a bad knot. Second fish was hooked at 5:15 on a mackerel on the long soak with torpedo. That fish was caught after a 1-hour battle, handing it off back and forth with the deckhands who did an amazing job."


It was a few minutes past 6 when fish began launching clear out of the water around the boat — 6:20 lightning and thunder and a monsoonal downpour drenches everyone. It was 6:35 when the big behemoths erupted right behind the boat, just 40 feet off the stern.


Martin said, "I start cranking as fast as I can on the mackerel I had shoulder hooked on the fly-line and my bait starts to skip the surface as it approaches the tuna feeding frenzy. Right before I get to the tuna jumping, it happens. A tuna comes out of the water engulfing my bait. My line comes tight and my reel starts screaming line out."


At that moment, Sage tosses out and is bit instantly on the big mack and 80 fluoro. Ultimately 5 of the monsters were on at once! It was 45 minutes later when gaffs sunk into Martin's 208, his first-ever tuna it would seem — a cow!


Sage, at 110 pounds, is outweighed by his 182 he would land a half-hour later on the lighter line.


Things simmer down on the 43 and they are off in-search-of — dragging the Yummee Flyer below a kite. "We must have seen 6 fish blow up on it before we even hooked one," said Martin, and it was a young man in the 3rd grade, out with his dad, who was up on rotation. He and his dad worked on that fish to exhaustion, then crew took turns finishing it off.


A little more searching, blow-ups on the kite bait for nada, stops on crashing fish, all around the boat, then a bit longer move on radio fish puts them in the new area just before 6 p.m. They slide in. Medak sees a big mark on the meter and calls out to drop in.


Josh grabs his Flat-Fall rod, running forward, dumps the sardine Flat-Fall over the rail and free-spools down, down, down... Following his line down the rail as the boat coasts to a stop. It goes slack. He winds down hard and fast. Then his line screams off the spool. The battle lasts for 45 minutes, with a Navy bombing exercise booming in the background and sending the big fish into paroxysms each time.


His fish comes up hot, breaks a gaff, leaving just two crewmen hanging over the rail stuck into the thrashing cow as another is brought, then a fourth. Josh's 205 was the final fish for the day.


Martin had great things to say about the crew, their skillful negotiation of the various hazards involved in handling these brutish fish on heavy tackle, their handling of the catch and of course, Chef Larry's fine cuisine. The total tally was 7 tuna from 170 to 208 pounds with only 2 fish lost.


Tuna times have indeed changed here in SoCal. It's a whole new world, more like Islas Tres Marias than what we were previously accustomed to out on our local offshore waters. Zane Grey had it right, over 100 years ago. His big bluefin big tackle stories have come to life once again.


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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: merit@wonews.com.


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