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April 2019: Springtime Run & Gun Yellowtail with Seasons Sportfishing

Spring is in the air and as the seasons turn, the stoke builds for Southern California anglers. Springtime fishing can turn in some awesome mixed bag fishing as the local Rock Cod season is reopened, warmer waters start to move in and with it, the gamefish. Notably, a local favorite, the Yellowtail.

As I started to plan out who to team up with for a locally focused April Student of Slay trip, I immediately knew who my first call was going to be.

I was genuinely super stoked to fish with Captain Jamie Thinnes of Seasons Sportfishing, a 4-pack charter operation with well over a decade of experience mastering our Southern California waters. I actually met and fished with Jamie the year and have kept in touch since. As a friendship started to grow, so did my respect for him not only as a great captain with a reputation for putting customers on fish but more so for his openness and willingness to help a learning novice fisherman (yours truly). He has always been extremely approachable and eager to talk shop about what he sees or things I should look for on my own trips. Truth be told, this knowledge I gained from fishing with and talking to Jamie is what planted the seed for these articles.

As the week of the trip had arrived, and it was time for us to lock in the details. Well, as luck would have it, the Southern California and Northern Baja bight was ripe with fishing opportunities. We mauled over our options and decided to chase the close range Yellowtail at the Coronado Islands, on Seasons’ 23 foot Parker Center console. Our plan was turning out to be a quintessential So-Cal style fishing trip where we would be running and gunning, throwing surface iron jigs to gamefish schools feeding on the surface.

With only my 9-foot Seeker jig stick in tow, I showed up to Seasons Sportfishing’s new home – Fisherman’s Landing.

“How we doing this morning gentlemen?” I asked Jamie and fellow Captain Ken who runs the Parker 2520. Seasons run 3 Parkers, “The Mothership” a 3420 XLD (of which only 12 were made), a 2520 pilothouse and our sled for the day, a 2300 center console. This badass fleet of fishy Parkers offers up unique experience and each boat serves a purpose depending on how you want to fish.

Seasons’ fleet ready to go to work

“Dude, I’m so ready for today! I legitimately woke up just frothing and super excited for this trip. I never get to do this, and I think this is the second, maybe the third time I’ve ever got to fish this boat” Captain Jamie exclaimed with a sincere tone of excitement as we loaded up and pushed off.

Leaving the harbor, I noticed both of us just taking in our surroundings. Looking and marveling at the legendary long range and sport boat fleet of San Diego. Turns out this wasn’t going to be the first time that we would both stop, or slow down just to take in our surroundings.

On our ride out, we were treated to some stunningly beautiful running conditions. Absolutely greasy flat seas, a soft marine layer that would burn off in a few short hours and good conversation had us to the islands before I knew it. As we approached, we readied our jig sticks, ourselves, and immediately Captain Jamie was in the gyros searching for bird life.

A classic So-Cal setup skiff perfect for throwing surface iron

Things started a bit slow as we crept through some of the typical Yellowtail hotspots. While taking quick tabs on our surroundings, it was hard not to notice how remarkably green the islands were. Traditionally, the Coronados have very little green vegetation but with all the rain we have received this winter, it looked like we had been transported to a completely spot. We pushed south towards the tip of the south island and Jamie spotted the first signal of birds coming together, working an area that tipped us to where the gamefish might be.

“Good signs of life in here, go ahead and jump up in the bow and try throwing your iron to see if you get any takers.” Jamie instructed.

Semi-luckily for me, no takers on my first couple of casts as I admittedly worked through some early season woes and had lost my touch in the offseason. No doubt there is a very a special finesse required to effectively casting a 9 or 10-foot jig stick with a conventional reel. But the juice is definitely worth the squeeze as the bite is absurdly fun and well rewarding for this classic So-Cal style of fishing.

“They’re rolling right over there! Right off the starboard bow!” The captain pointed out

Staying true to form, a wave of excitement and early season jitters hit me as I overzealously tried to throw my iron to the moon. Backlashed, perfect. Well, looks like I’m out on the first round but as I tended to the shitshow that was the birds nest in my reel, Jamie showed me how it’s done and got tight on our first fish of the day. Working it through a gauntlet of seals, I managed to stick the gaff in a nice islands grade Yellowtail just as a seal rushed from under the boat. A few more seconds in the water and we would have lost the first fish of the day.

After some quick celebrations and stashing the fish in the kill bag, we reset and refocused on getting back to the action. One of the big party boats had just pulled off the area. Captain Jamie wanted to wait it out for a second as he had a suspicion the fish hadn’t left and were still on the free chum. Sure enough, he was dead on and waiting it out for a few minutes paid off. Yellowtail started boiling off the side. This time I was going to slow myself down and make my cast count.

“I’m on! Took it on the second crank, basically as it hit the water. Yewww!!”

Yellowtail are notoriously strong fighters from the time they’re hooked until in the boat. The one on the end of my line was certainly testament to this but knowing the risks of letting the fight linger too long around the islands, I put some heat on the fish. Sure enough, my efforts weren’t enough. I was sealed, as the line was ripped from reel straight away from the back of the boat. To add insult to injury, the bastard surfaced with a really nice grade fish and my mint colored Tady 45 iron that now will only see one day worth of action. Unfortunately, that’s the name of the game here some days but I was able to quickly turn things around and redeem myself.

With a short lull in the fishing, Jamie and I couldn’t help but stop to just take in how truly amazing the conditions and the serenity of the sea were in that moment. You could have convinced me that it was the middle of July. Conditions were shaping up to be all time.

Sticking to our initial program of running and gunning, we again sought out birds and surface activity through the gyros. It didn’t take us long to refind another school as I tossed my iron on a pile of rolling yellows. After getting bumped on the first couple of cranks, I noticed I had a follower. So I gave a couple quick reels to provoke a reaction bite. And reaction bite I received, as the fish came out of the water to destroy the kicking surface iron. The incredible topwater bite was short lived as I was once again swindled by a lurking seal within 30 seconds of being tight on the fish.

“Hold on! We’re running this one down and getting our jig back.” Jamie instructed as he kicked the Parker in gear and we pursued the thief.

“Eventually he has to come up for air so just stay tight and let me know where he’s going. We can’t afford to lose another jig since we only have a couple left.”

“He’s right under us on the port side. He’s still got it in his mouth” I noted.

Sure enough, after a pretty short pursuit, he spit what was left of the fish with my surface iron still hooked and salvaged.

“You’re definitely going to put that one in the story right?” Jamie joked as we laughed at our half-won victory.

“Oh, that’s 100% going in for sure. And that’s new a trick I’ll definitely be using in the future!”

The day quickly waned on, and we both stayed true to our strategy of throwing the iron while bouncing around after surface fish. We worked through several stops with steady but by no means wide open fishing. What turned out to be our last fish of the day was also the most exciting. Jamie threw his jig into an area that the fish had just been rolling on the surface. I kind of watched out of the corner of my eye as I heard “I’m bit” shortly followed by “he dropped it”. That, of course, perked my attention as I fully focused on the action off the bow. Just as I looked out into the stunningly clear blue water, I saw the unmistakable flashing of the following Yellowtail. So did the captain as he continued to wind through towards the boat. After at least 15-20 feet of chasing by the aggravated follower, we both watched the fish finally commit and crush the iron just off the side of the boat.

Like clockwork, we stuck a gaff in the final fish of the day, just barely beating another looming sea dog in search of a free meal. Celebrations ensued followed by another moment of slowing down and appreciating our incredible day at sea.

“Man, this one was good for the soul. Seriously thank you for coming out and I’m actually really stoked it ended up being just us. I never get to do this anymore and reenergizes me for this season. Days like this make me appreciate being able to do what I do on the water every day.”

No thanks needed Captain Jamie as this will no doubt go down as a lasting fishing memory. Not because it was the absolute best fishing either of us had ever had. Not because we were treated to perfect summer-like weather conditions the entire day. But because to me, this day epitomizes what fishing should be. No pressure or expectations to get on full limits. No agenda besides being in the moment and taking advantage of the endless learning opportunities on the sea. Just two guys who were super stoked and fortunate to be in the place we were, fishing purely for fun.

Just like all my time spent with Jamie, I learned invaluable lessons that inevitably will push my progression as an angler. This day was no exception. Amongst work, business, family life, and favorite travel spots, we, of course, talked fishing that included a lot of Q&A from me. But what I took as the biggest lesson(s) are the intangibles that come from Jamie’s decades of fishing experience.

  • Appreciation for the water and learning to slow yourself down to read it.
  • Patience. Both to stick with the program and tactics (in this case – throwing surface iron) you set out to achieve for each trip but also the patience to not bail on a spot when the initial signs of life dry up. Numerous times today I caught myself thinking – “it’s time to reset & chase” but Jamie’s experience proved me wrong and sticking around yielded results almost every time.
  • Maybe most importantly – Not taking any days on the water for granted. From my time with him, I consider Jamie the humble master and it would be hard to believe that’s not contagious. It makes you sincerely appreciate any time spent on the ocean with fishing just being a bonus. Albeit, a very rad bonus.

Don’t be surprised if you read another story about another trip with Jamie and Seasons Sportfishing. We were already scheming our next trip out before reaching the dock. Signing off on this one with a tremendous amount of gratitude for starting this journey and already meeting some extremely quality humans, that I’m proud to claim as great new friends.

One comment on “Student of Slay – A Quintessential So-Cal Islands Trip

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