Author: Colby Uva
A First Impression Of Southern California Winter Fishing
'slow fishing' here would surprise you
Coming from from South Florida, SOCAL fishing has intrigued me for years. Its completely different and the culture has a different vibe to it. Everything about SOCAL fishing is mysterious. It might be the cold dark water, the Kelp forests that promise bountiful catches, or the opportunities to take epic journeys on the Long Range fleet targeting yellowfin tuna.
"Slow they say... just as they are saying this a cart of tuna arrives, then the next one, then the next one... I am absolutely stunned"
Winter fishing in SOCAL is the "slow" time of the year. In South Florida the winter is actually one of the best times of the year ( Winter Fishing In Miami). Here it seems like things really slow down, but slow fishing here would surprise you. This time of the year, most of the fleet are getting ready for the spring time. This is the time they do all of their maintenance so they don't miss a second of the bite in the spring and the summer.
Most boats in Point Loma (San Diego) use the winter as a time to prepare for a spectacular and adventurous spring season. Walking down the dock you may see 20 boats in the middle of maintenance. That does not mean that the stop fishing completely. Some boats still run 1/2 and 1.5 day trips during this time of the year. They are targeting Halibut, Rockfish, as well as Yellowtail and Calicos. No one seems to think this type of fishing this time of the year is spectacular. But as a fishermen you need something to feed your itch right?
There are a few operations that do the long range tuna operation all year long. These boats including the Independence, The American Angler, The Red Rooster, The Royal Polaris, and the Shogun make long trips this time of the year to fish the legendary “Hurricane Banks”. From the dock this is a four day run, but well worth the time.
After a tip from a a friend who travels with his wife once a year to fish on the Independence (they also fish for a few weeks on the Reward Fleet in Miami, Fl). I made my way down to the dock to see the unloading of the Independence.
It was 5 am and foggy. (This time of year there seems to be fog every other day in San Diego, one day it is beautiful out and the next day you can barely see through the fog.). Anyways, the Indepdence reaches the dock at around 5am and there is a sight to be seen. The whole dock turns alive.
There are 3 fish processing companies lined up to unload all of the fish coming off of the trips. The dock hands run down to bring carts down to the boat. The first thing to come off is the people followed by the gear. It is a show to see, the guys on the dock know what they are doing.
The anglers line up in the small square in front of H&M landing. Talking about the trip, almost not happy to be back on dry land. These are real fishermen here, they have just arrive from and 18 day to Clarion Island.
I walk up to a group of anglers and ask how the trip was. Slow they say, disappointing another one says. Just as they are saying this, the first cart of Tuna makes its way up the dock. Then the next one, then the next one, then the next one. I am absolutely stunned. The tunas keep coming.
A true tuna long range tuna fisherman is in pursuit of a cow. Talk amongst the anglers is usually geared towards that 200Lb + fish. The rest are fun, but the cows are what they are after. These are seasoned tuna fishermen. Many take this trip at least once or twice a year and have been doing so for 10-15 years.
I get a tip from the dock hands that the next day is going to be made up of 4 boats arriving. This is exciting and I can’t wait to make my way back to the dock for the next day.
The next morning the boats arrive slightly later, anglers arrive from a 15 day, a 7 day, and a 2 day. The 2 day trip fished for bluefin tuna in the closer and colder waters. The fish range anywhere from 30-60 Lbs, they have not found their 100LB+ fish that they were looking for, but they will still be eating well.
I make my way down the dock to the 15 day trip. Jeff, the owner is standing on the deck waiting for the boat to come in. Jeff is about 6’ 4’’ and a presence on the dock. He owns both H&M Landing as well as Loma Point, and two boats the Royal Polaris (Double Check Name) & The Shogun.
Jeff runs his operation like a well oiled machine, the boats he says run 325 days a year. It has taken Jeff years to build this operation, but you can tell that they catch fish, especially as the fish start coming off the deck.
Jeff stands on the dock with a wheelbarrow to load each fish, he directly supervises the process to make sure that each fish is properly placed in the wheelbarrow to ensure the quality of the meat for his customers.
The fish from the first few days have been frozen solid to ensure quality, the rest have been stored in the boats fish hold at very cool temperatures.
Jeff personally helps unload every single fish that comes off the boat and then meets the anglers at the top of the landing where the weighing and sorting has begun. The boat has had a “Slow Trip” but there are at least 5 fish over 200 Lbs, and oh so many more over 100Lbs. It is quite the scene on the dock.
I work my way down to the Red Rooster III. She has just returned from a 7 day trip to Puerto Vallarta. This trip was pretty interesting. It allowed the anglers to meet the boat down in PV. The anglers simply loaded their things on the boat in San Diego and then flew down to meet the boat, then flew back after 4 days of fishing.
Again this boat describes their trip as “slow” but there are some very nice tunas in the Mix, several that are at least 200. There are also a mixed bag of snappers and pompano. The boat has made a stop at a rock formation called Corbatena rock down in Mexico.
Corbatena rock is a lighthouse 35 miles offshore of Banderas Bay Mexico that is surrounded by extremely deep water. This light house and rock formation is home to a number of species of snapper that like to act like pelagic and will eat a whole live goggle eye without a second thought.
After talking to the anglers on the red rooster, they have been using 100 Lb fluorocarbon fishing line for most of cow yellowfin tuna. On a very slow day one of the anglers mentions that he used 40Lb fluorocarbonand hooked a cow tuna (200+Lbs), he said there was not a chance, but he was glad to have hooked the monster as it made the slow day just that much more entertaining.
Another cool thing that happened while checking out the Red Rooster III was seeing Peter J ( a local artist) practice the Japanese art form of Gyotaku with some of the fish that were brought in. Below is the result of him printing one of the snappers from this trip.
For anglers who are interested in winter fishing in San Diego, don’t let the “slow fishing” stop you from coming by. Slow fishing here is better then a good day of fishing almost anywhere.
The Bays In The Winter In San Diego
A number of landbased fishermen line the shores of mission bay this time of year to target a variety of species. The fisherman below had a 6 rod spread using 50 Lb braid and was using clams to target bass, white seabass, and bat rays.
If you are planning on fishing from land or on a small boat this time of year in San Diego there are plenty of fish to be caught. Most anglers target “Spotties” or spotted bass this time of year in Mission Bay.
Spotties and Calico bass are very similar, however the bay is more known for the Spotted Bass this time of year. Anglers are throwing soft plastics at the bass for the most part.
Overall, my first take on the winter fishery in San Diego, is that this is considered slow. If this is considered slow, I can’t wait to see the Spring and the Summer.
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