Anglers Hammer Bluefin and Yellowfin

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The 22 anglers who journeyed out for a five-day long-range fishing adventure aboard Captain Mike Lackey’s Vagabond out of Point Loma Sportfishing in San Diego experienced wide-open action on quality bluefin and yellowfin tuna, along with a nice helping of good-size yellowtail, some keeper dorado, and even the catch of an unusual Pacific pomfret. Many in the group were from the long-standing Tiny’s and OneCoolTuna charter, and as such their angling experience allowed them to capitalize on the large volume of fish present.

Departure day saw the boat moving south, and on the second day we traveled through various fish-holding zones starting at 2 p.m., with the boat reaching appreciable numbers of fish at 4 p.m. The brief but good evening bite from 6 -7 p.m. on bluefin and yellowfin tuna was a good omen for the next two day’s worth of action.

The following day saw the boat total 38 bluefin tuna in the 20 to 35-pound class, and over 50 yellowfin tuna ranging from 15 to 30 pounds during several stops after trolling strikes, but the best was yet to come.

Fishing day three was a literal tuna explosion, with Captain Lackey locating a massive mixed school of fish that stayed with the boat for over seven hours. When the smoke cleared and the Vagabond headed north, there were over 280 yellowfin and 120 bluefin in the fish holds.

Most of the fish were caught on live sardines, with the bluefin tuna mantra of “bait selection, bait selection, bait selection,” again rewarding those anglers who carefully selected the absolute liveliest bait.

Anglers varied the bait-hooking method between nose-hooking, belly-hooking, and shoulder-hooking. Top terminal rig was a size 2/0 Owner Ringed Gorilla Hook with a four-foot section of 30 or 40-pound Berkley Pro-Spec Fluorocarbon leader material attached with a four-turn Surgeon’s Knot.

Some tuna were also caught on the iron, with a five-ounce blue mackerel color Williamson Herring Jig or a blue/chrome Tady 9 being among the most productive. In-between bait stops, the top trolling lure for bluefin was a black/purple Braid Little Speedy, with black/purple feathers getting some yellowfin, and even the purple mackerel-color Rapala X-Rap XR30MAG scoring a few tuna.
A handful of 10-pound class skipjack tuna were also brought aboard, evidence of the rapidly warming late summer water temperatures.

The final afternoon found us in the zone fished by the one-and-a-half day boats. Accordingly, about 50 plump yellowtail in the 14-22 pound class were found deep under floating kelp paddies. Best lure for the better-grade yellows was a blue/white or scrambled egg-color Sumo JR jig fished yo-yo style, with some taggable fish also hitting on live sardines.

Virtually every kelp paddy we passed held one or more dorado. Many of the dorado were of the small necktie grade and were released, but several dozen eight to 14-pounders were also caught, almost all on live sardines.

During our foray into tuna territory, many of the kelp paddies were loaded with literally thousands of small two-pound class yellowtail that ravenously attacked everything, which bodes very well for the future of the next few yellowtail seasons.

In the midst of the tuna frenzy, this writer allowed a Williamson Herring jig to sink deep, and got an unusual light bite. A short and lackluster fight yielded a three-pound class fish with lustrous black-chrome scales, with an overall shape like a pompano that I was almost sure was a pomfret. A quick check of my Peterson’s Field Guide confirmed the tentative ID of this relatively unusual midwater species, which increased my personal lifetime tally to 240 different species.

Bob Blum of Irvine is an experienced veteran of more than 40 long range trips. “The highlight of the trip was seeing my 14-year old grandson catch fish and handle himself as an equal on deck. I was also impressed with the small Penn 2-speed reels,” said Blum. “I caught nine yellowfin tuna, two yellowtail, four bluefin tuna, and four dorado. The crew of the Vagabond was top notch; always friendly and obviously enjoy their work.”

Jeff Squires of San Diego is also a highly experienced veteran of over 50 long-range trips, and considers this an especially good one. “I caught 15 yellowfin tuna [limits], two yellowtail, and eight bluefin tuna. This trip really showed that an epic bite is always possible,” said Squires. “The Vagabond always has the best crew, and Mike Lackey is truly the tuna king!”

Among the rod/reel demo sets were a “sneak preview” of the upcoming 2013-year model Penn Torque TRQLD2 series two-speed reels, which proved their mettle on a number of quality bluefin and yellowfin tuna. Also among the assortment were demo combos of the Penn Squall, Fathom, Torque, Spinfisher SSV, Baja Special, and International series reels.

Besides the two-speeds, the most popular setup for the bluefin was a Penn Fathom FTH25N Star Drag Reel
, with a 50-yard topshot of 40-pound Berkley Pro-Spec mono over 65-pound superbraid backing, and mounted on a Penn Bluewater Carnage CARBW700M rod. For the slightly smaller yellowfin, the favorite was a Penn Fathom FTH15 Star Drag Reel, with a 50-yard topshot of 30-pound Berkley Pro-Spec mono over 50-pound superbraid backing, and mounted on a CARBW700ML rod.

Captain Lackey observed, “I was hoping the action would be closer to home, but it started to get good at about 260 miles, and the big bite was at 280 miles. We had two bodies of water and a converging current. One body of water was cold and loaded with bait, and there was an over three-degree temperature break from 65 to 69 degrees in just one mile. All the life gathers as everything is sucked to one spot along a straight edge. These conditions give me great hope for the rest of the summer season. The big year class of juvenile yellowtail will be very good for next year.”

As always, deckhands John Bell, Gordon Lackey, Matt Paulson, and Scott Donald were a blur, untangling lines, gaffing fish, and generally keeping order among the mayhem of wildly biting fish. In the galley, Chef Craig Francis and helper Dan Kramer kept everyone extremely well-fed, and the only problem was way too much great food.

Overall jackpot winner Frank Rowe of Buena Park weighed in a 35.2-pound bluefin tuna, which earned him a Penn International 16VSX 2-speed reel, and a commemorative plaque. Winner of a Penn Fathom FTH25N reel for the largest fish on a demo outfit was Dave Carey of Atascadero for his 34.4 pound bluefin tuna. The largest yellowtail was a 22.2 pounder that earned Jimmy Beauchamp of Phoenix a Penn Baja Special 113HN reel, and the 14.2 pound dorado by John Beauchamp of Phoenix scored him a Penn Squall
SQL15 reel.

The coveted Flambeau “True Sportsman Award” as voted by the crew of the Vagabond went to Jeff Maxwell, who also scored the Flying Fisherman “Master Jig Caster” award for the largest fish on a casting lure. The Flambeau “Hero Fish” award went to Adam Roscow of Irvine.

Next year’s Penn excursion aboard the Vagabond will go from July 24-29, 2013; contact the Vagabond at (619) 224-6500 for more information.
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Steven Carson, Director of Penn Fishing University seminar series is a member of the California Outdoors Hall of Fame [2009], and was named among “Top 30 anglers in the West” by Western Outdoors Publications [2005. His columns and articles have been published in numerous daily newspapers, outdoor-related publications, and online forums. Carson has personally caught 240 different fish species on rod and reel.

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