While it was still pitch black, the beginning of a new day was starting to make its presence felt. I was standing on the dock at Point Loma in San Diego as cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks were funneling into the nearly filled parking lot. All were loaded with rods, reels and absurd amounts of fishing tackle. The long-range fishing boat Independence was back at port from a 10-day escapade and as the impressive vessel was being unloaded, we were anxiously looking forward for our adventure to commence.
As we patiently waited for the anglers and all of their tackle and equipment to be unloaded, the veterans of past trips knew exactly what to expect next. The first timers however, were dumbfounded as thousands of pounds of fish were unloaded from the vessel’s massive fish hold. Monster yellowfin tuna were lined up for display along the rail, while wahoo and dolphin were stacked by the dozens. Trophy yellowtail rounded out the catch and by prearrangement, there were several fish processors waiting at the dock. None of the newbie’s had ever seen so many trophy pelagics in their entire lives! I could only hope that we would be as lucky and do as well. From my past experiences I knew that the odds were in our favor.
The ‘tails you target in the Pacific are members of the jack family and grow to an astounding 100-pounds!
When it’s time to depart, Independence heads straight for the all important bait barge. This facility is the largest of its kind, and it’s here where the livewells of the Independence are loaded with approximately 20,000 frisky offerings. Heading south from San Diego, it’s not unusual to motor for a full day or two before reaching the grounds. During this period, the captain or co-captain will give a briefing on the rules of the boat as well as information about the onboard safety features. There will also be an extensive time period devoted to rigging techniques for the targeted species, and all of the rigging options that exist. This downtime allows anxious anglers to assemble rods and reels. If you do not have your own gear, or chose not to bring your own equipment, Independence offers loaner outfits at no charge. These are not your typical rod and reel outfits found on East Coast party boats, rather excellent quality and well maintained equipment that is perfectly suited for back-breaking battles with powerful yellowfin tuna and rocket-propelled wahoo. Heck, with Seeker rods and two-speed reels of various sizes, the loaner gear may very well be better than yours!
In The Crosshairs
Our captain was constantly scanning the radar, sonars and sounders for signs of life while underway. Suddenly, a voice called out over the loudspeakers. Has he seen something? Birds diving? Tuna busting? One of the deckhands scoops a dozen baits from the livewell and tosses them overboard as sacrificial offerings. Nothing yet. Another dozen. Nothing. Then, in the blink of an eye the area erupts into a boiling mass of whitewater and commotion. A huge school of brilliantly colored neon blue, green and gold streaks dart toward the bait at an incredible rate. Within seconds, reels are screaming, rods are bent double over and 25-pound dolphin are brought over the rail at a prodigious rate. The drumbeat of thumping tails on the deck is like music to our ears. Then the frenzy is all over just as quickly as it started.
The yellowtail we are familiar with in South Florida are members of the snapper family. A trophy yellowtail, commonly referred to as a “flag,” weighs in around four to six-pounds. These tasty critters are abundant, relatively easy to catch and make for excellent table fare. The ‘tails you target in the Pacific are members of the jack family and grow to an astounding 100-pounds! They are also abundant and make excellent table fare, but are obviously much more difficult to catch.
When targeting California yellowtail one technique that consistently produces fantastic results is commonly referred to as “throwing iron.” This technique involves metal jigs of various sizes, colors and weights. The heavier jigs fall deeper in the water column and are quickly retrieved back towards the surface with a yo-yo action. If you don’t get a hit by the time you’re halfway up, drop it down and start all over again. These fish are tough, strong battlers that won’t quit until they are brought onboard.
Wahoo are generally encountered when trolling from spot to spot and as you probably already know, these silver and blue-striped drag racers have an extremely powerful initial run. When someone hooks up on the troll, three things happen simultaneously. While the other trollers are anticipating a strike, the mates start live chumming to attract nearby fish into the area. In a calm but chaotic procession, everyone else rushes to the rods that are rigged with wahoo bombs and raider jigs and as the boat slows, a bombardment of metal is tossed out and worked back.
Bomb jigs typically weigh six to eight-ounces and are outfitted with a bullet head, multi colored Mylar/plastic skirt, and a spinner blade attached to the hook. A raider jig is a flat, multi-colored single hook jig of similar weight. Both come rigged with wire cable and both of these offerings entice savage strikes from these striped speedsters. If you don’t get any strikes and you’re about to re-cast, leave your jig in the water for a few seconds. Wahoo are notorious for literally chasing jigs out of the water. The deckhands have plenty of stories about fierce wahoo jumping right into the boat!
Yellowfin tuna, whether they are 20-pound schoolies or triple-digit cows, are many anglers’ prime target when venturing across the country to partake on such an angling adventure. These trophy gamesters are targeted with live baits free-lined as far beyond the boat as possible. When deploying your offering it is extremely important that you keep in contact with your bait as it swims away. If your line crosses over someone else’s, shout “under me” or “over you” and then move accordingly. Follow your bait. “No angles – No tangles.”
When a powerful yellowfin tuna engulfs your bait, you will know it. The line will start peeling off your reel at an alarming rate. Again, it is extremely important that you follow your fish. Tuna are unbelievably strong, so you can expect 50 to 300-yards or more of line to be ripped off your spool in an amazingly short period of time. Short, steady pumps will start refilling your spool and after several more runs of shorter durations, your fish should be boatside. This is the most critical part of the fight. Your line will be straight up and down and your rod bent in an arc that you are sure will snap at any moment. Will the line break…the hook pull…the knots hold?
As your Pacific prize circles, you can easily be pinned to the rail for quite some time. It’s not uncommon for anglers to be dragged several times across the stern and up and down the side of the boat. Finally, your struggle pays off and your trophy is now in clear sight. The fish is gaffed and brought onto the boat and you emerge from your exhausting ordeal victorious.
Last, but certainly not least is the crew. The Independence crew, like all long-range crews, is extremely efficient, friendly and the most knowledgeable, helpful, angler-oriented group you will ever have the good fortune to meet. They are always ready to help and there is no need to ask, as they seem to sense when their aid is needed. Spending 10 or more days at sea, often the hands down favorite crewmember is the chef. In a surprisingly small galley, he and an assistant create the opportunity for everyone to eat five times a day. Breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and then a sumptuous dinner served every night. On top of this all bread, cakes, cookies and pies are freshly baked each day and this does not include the dedicated area where there are always filled trays of fresh fruit, candy, chocolate, packaged treats and much more. No, this isn’t a culinary adventure – it’s a long-range fishing trip Cali-style!
Unfortunately, most East Coast anglers aren’t familiar with this unique fishing opportunity. If you decide to embark on a 10-day long-range expedition out of San Diego, it’s almost impossible not to have a successful trip. You will see spectacular sunrises and sunsets, barren rock formations that are surrounded by nothing but vast expanses of open ocean and ancient lava formations home only to seabirds and seals. Trust me, if you try it once you’ll be hooked for life! No one goes long-range fishing only once.
The Independence is one of many long-range boats in San Diego, but recently launched in 2004, it’s one of the newest, fastest and most superbly equipped. With a length of 112-feet and a beam of 32-feet, this ship is more than capable of handling and subduing the biggest fish and roughest seas of the bountiful Pacific Ocean. With a range of 6,000-miles and 38-ton fish hold capacity, Independence satisfies even the most demanding anglers.
Point Loma Sportfishing