It’s been an amazing year for fishing in Southern California. After several seasons of bust conditions, sportboats going back to the bank, tackle manufacturers fading away, and endless wind, this one seemed to make up for it in spades. Some added boats to their fleet and Captains rose out of retirement to fill in and join the bounty. Fundamentally things had changed and those who took full advantage expanded on new ideas. Lobster charters and all night seabass trips kept boats busy and helped revive a seemingly dead industry. Visiting the San Diego Landings it was a relief to see the crowded bustle and excitement that reminded me of years gone by.
It all started with the yellowtail, and I was pleasantly surprised to hook and land one at Catalina on January 4th on my first trip of this year. Little did I know this was just the beginning, and in a few short months the forks would transform the Coronado’s into something out of a storybook chapter titled “The Good Old Days”. San Clemente Island went off to epic proportions, but was inconsistent enough to keep things interesting. In fact, all the local islands had their share of good yellowtail fishing, and it continues now in October with a powerful cutoff low spinning off the coast.
Of course you know I am going to mention the seabass, and what an incredible show they put on all up and down the bight in 2013. Epic bites at Tijuana Flats, Huntington Beach, Oxnard and Ventura, Catalina, the Channel Islands and San Nicolas Island. For me and my Captain On Board clients it was one for the history books. In the last 6 years I have been able to string together limit style seabass trips and help scores of anglers catch their 1st (and 2nd AND 3rd) seabass ever, but this year it was all about the tankers. The sheer size of the seabass this year boggled the mind. There is nothing more satisfying for me than gaffing that first seabass for someone that has been trying for years to check seabass off their wish list, but to have it be a 50-60lb slob is just amazing. Even my wife got into the action, hooking and landing a coastal tanker on the Huntington Beach bite on light tackle. She is still smiling over that one.
In the midst of all this action the bluefin slid up the coast and even I had no idea they would stay and put on such a show. While some did (and still are) complain about the lack of albacore the bft’s more than made up for it in my opinion. For a non El Nino year we had an amazing amount of dorado show up locally, and absolute tonnage of yellowtail on the kelps. Late in the season the yellowfin showed and are still biting today, but is was the shot at a bluefin over 100lbs that kept San Diego landing parking lots full. I expected the axe to fall at anytime, thinking things were too good to be true, but it never really did. It would be really good for a while then shut down, only to get good again unexpectedly. While all of this fantastic offshore fishing was happening, something nobody predicted slid in and took us all by surprise.
“Boys, we have a normal billfish season upon us!” Even as guys were pulling into the harbor with their 2nd and 3rd marlin flags flying most were skeptical, but it kept on going. Swordfish never really bit but there were plenty around and several hooked. “Good Karma” got one, and a couple stick boats put up scores. Certainly not the best marlin season in history but way better than recent years. Mike “Beak” Hurt released 7 striped marlin on one trip, and Andy on the “Mirage” topped that with 8 releases not long after. For those still doubting this was a “real” marlin season, I disagree. As an interesting side note we had short billed spearfish in the mix. One was caught and I was intrigued, then 5, then 10 and it started to get interesting. No way to know for sure how many were caught total, as small center consoles and private skiffs were getting them as well as the prominent marlin guys. No doubt some spearfish were caught that were never reported.
This season saw its share of oddities to go along with the spearfish. Early in the season an abnormal amount of opah were hooked and landed. The albacore did show and a couple handfulls were caught. A giant (and controversial) mako was taken that made headlines, followed by others (over 1,000lbs) that smartly got less publicity. The big threshers never showed in volume but pups were being caught on piers up and down the coast. Giant oarfish are washing up on beaches as I write this, more than enough to get the attention of scientists and biologists. Possibly the most amazing thing has been the abundance of squid almost everywhere, all year long. This is a trend than has repeated itself for the last several years but I am still in awe. Launch ramps were full on weekend with private boaters eager to get out and sample the possibilities, and afternoons saw guys telling stories of strange sighting and stellar catches. A great year indeed.