July 2019: On the Hunt for Local “Cow” Bluefin using New Tactics
Despite the onslaught of summer traffic and local beaches being infiltrated by the many summer visitors, July is one of my favorite months in San Diego. The stereotypical 70 something and sunny weather become a day in day out consistent and longer days make for superb summertime fishing. For those of us lucky enough to call San Diego our home waters, I will sound like a broken record here, but these are undoubtedly the “good ole days” of tuna fishing.
So, I feel that I may run the risk of some redundancy in storytelling, but I just can’t help myself. I’m back home chasing the species that keeps me up at night and fuels my passion for long days – Bluefin. Specifically, the number one on my hit list, a “cow” tuna which we define in our fishery as anything over 200 pounds. From my understanding, these fish used to be an anomaly that up until the last several years, wasn’t caught or seen for nearly a century.
But no time for a history lesson, let’s fast forward to the present day. These fish have flooded our coast and driven an all-time buzz amongst obsessed offshore anglers. One of which is a well-known and familiar face, Ali Hussainy. Who many will recognize as Co-Host of Local Knowledge fishing show, President of BDOutdoors, and staple of our community. Ali is without a doubt one of the most passionate tuna fisherman I know and just like you see on the show, a full-blown Bluefin fiend.
“Hey Ali, this is probably a stretch on short notice but wanted to see if you were available for a cow hunt this weekend? Planning to do the next article/journal post about chasing big BFT from a private boat and would be stoked to have you as part!” – I pitched him.
Initially, my thinking was to have him out on my boat to help familiarize and break her in for exactly what she’s built for (slaying local gamefish), but when presented the opportunity to fish on the Local Knowledge sled, I couldn’t in my right mind turn that down. I’m a bit of a boat nerd and the 34-foot, grey SeaVee that’s decked to the nines to kill fish is top of the dream list. Not to mention the triple Evinrude 300 propelled this rocket ship to the fishing grounds in record time.
Once we neared the zone, we shut down and started to make our final preparations. Since there wasn’t even a wisp of wind, we blew up a helium balloon to attach to our kite. The game plan was to hang dead flying fish on the surface over “foamers” of Bluefin Tuna. Well as most days go (insert sarcasm here), just as soon we finished our rigging a decent spot of fish showed off the side. The first bunch was up and down quickly and didn’t present us with a worthwhile shot. So upward and onward.
“I’m going to jump up top and when we find a school, I want one guy to get ready and get the kite out to the first clip. The second guy gets the flyer ready and in the clip. Then we will get them both out and away from the boat over the fish.” Captain Ali prepped us.
We cruised around the zone slowly before spotting a nice school of tuna up feeding on the surface. As we approached, we deployed our kite and took note of the grade. Looked like mostly like 80-100-pound grade but no doubt some jumbos were mixed in. But our first challenge of the day arose simultaneously as we snuck up on the school. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said there was zero wind. Even with the balloon attached to the top of the kite, we struggled to get the large locally caught flying fish out from the boat and within striking distance in these conditions.
So, we had to adjust and improvise a bit.
“There’s no way the kite is going to out far enough huh? Let’s do this, let’s fill another balloon with helium and attach it directly to the line. Then we can move up-swell from them and I’ll position the boat so that we drag the flyer over top” Ali suggested.
The first school we found sunk out as we adjusted our game plan but luckily another, wider spread spot appeared in the distance. We approached it slowly and methodically up-swell. Once we got our heading, I started to release the line with balloon and flyer attached. Sure enough, the flying fish held right on the surface and as we slowly idled forward, it “skipped” perfectly. There was no way this presentation wasn’t going to get bit if we got inside the foamer.
As we watched our bait enter the outer edge of the boil, I felt my adrenaline starting to pump. It reminded me a lot of the high of bowhunting when you watch a deer approach and get within range. It was go-time and we all watched like a hawk.
Just as a little south swell roller passed through, we saw it. The balloon plummeted to the surface, I began to wind as fast as I could, and Ali sped the boat up until we were tight. And we were tight!
It can be a little misleading with the heavy rod and line setup but we knew pretty quickly the first fish wasn’t the cow we were after. However, I had never fought from a harness before so thought it would be a good experience to learn another technique. Plus, I think it’s a lot more intimate to stand up with the fish during the fight versus setting in the rod holder and winding. But that’s just one kook’s opinion.
Despite not being a monster fish, this Bluefin still pulled like a freight train and once it was straight up and down, the fish made me work (sweat for sure) to bring him to gaff. I was coached through the fight, sitting into the harness, and short pumping him to the boat. Very early into our day and our target species was in the boat. Albeit not the desired jumbo grade we sought, but I will never complain about catching a 70-80ish pound Bluefin. The ultimate consolation prize in my book.
“Alright let’s go get another! Max and Clark, you guys are definitely up next!” – I rejoiced as we began to relocate the school.
Luckily for us, the fish were incredibly active up on the surface and furthermore, stayed up for more than enough time to set up a proper presentation of our baits. Round 2 came in the bat of an eye and now with a little breeze, we could deploy the kite making it quicker and easier to reset after each bite.
Rinse and repeat. Ali got us over another great school of tuna and up goes the kite with the bait just skimming the surface. This time the school was directly beside the boat and no more than 20 or so yards off the boat. The flyer took about two skips before a very nice, big grade tuna blew up on it. The fish attacked our bait with such force and aggression that it knocked the bait 4-5 feet in the air. Missed it. It landed on the surface and no exaggeration, as soon as it hit the water again, the same fish came back and missed again!
However, turns out it was a bad day to be a dead flying fish. Another Bluefin rushed in and inhaled the popsicle flyer. Clark was on and fish number two was on the line.
“Let’s get greedy here boys. Clark are you ok back there? What’s your fishing doing?” Ali asked.
“Yeah, all good back here. The fish is just straight off of our stern here and kind of just swimming along with us, slowly taking a little line but mostly swimming with us.” Clark noted.
“Ok, Max and Jordan, you guys get the second setup rigged and the other flyer ready to go. Clark I’m going to slowly move us back to this school and see if we can’t get another.”
So, we towed one tuna back over to the school and once again, got another bait out.
“That looks perfect if you guys can get that another 50 percent farther, we’re going to get bit on another.” – Ali predicted.
Sure, enough we bounced our third flying fish into the middle of the foaming tuna and boom – DOUBLES! We were treated to watching another incredible bite right in front of our eyes. Max wound tight and I couldn’t believe it, but we were doubled up on fish number two and fish number three.
“This is how all of our trips go, I swear. Everything always works out perfectly just like this.” Captain Ali joked sarcastically as we all continued to work together to get the fish in the boat.
Clark’s fish was pretty well worn out from being drug around and Clark putting the wood to it in the harness setup. Max continued to work on his up on the starboard bow. Fish two was at color and as Ali leadered it to position it, I stuck a gaff in the side of the head. Another gaff in and fish number two was officially on the deck and notched toward our count. Two for two.
Now all eyes and efforts were on Max in the front. His fish came up fast and was at color straight off the bow. It was just out of reach of Clark’s gaff. But after its last-ditch effort ripping off a little line, the biggest of the three Bluefin came up over the rail. Again, not one of the 200 plus pound cows we were initially after but a respectable 80 something pound tuna was on the board. No shame in that game and we were officially three for three to start.
“What time is it? It can’t even be noon, yet right? I love when we can get greedy like that and it actually works out!” – Ali emphasized.
“Seriously, I could do this all day every day! Watching that bite is absolutely insane. Totally addicted to this flying fish program now. Thank you again for having us out and showing us the ropes here.” I said with an unmistakable stoke in my voice.
For the sake of not rambling, I’m going to fast forward a little bit as I could easily go on and on about how epic the morning was. About how my already well-seeded Bluefin addiction was now fueled by a new drug in the form of fishing the flyers under the kite. But like all good things, our morning streak had to come to an end. Unfortunately, it ended on a fish that looked like what we set out for. A big one blew up on our bait, unbuttoning the line from the kite clip and as we cranked the handle and sped the boat up to eliminate the slack, we never came tight on that fish.
After some choice expletives and a collective sigh of disappointment, we moved on. So did the fish apparently as slack tide hit, they disappeared. Not from the zone altogether, as we marked plenty but from the surface. Which our game plan was tailored to. So, we looked at a couple of different nearby areas, but with the addition of some other boats, it was likely impossible or going to be extremely difficult to replicate our strategy from the morning. So, as a last-ditch effort, we retraced our steps to see if anything was happening there. Nothing was so the group decision was to buzz to the barn and call it an early day.
Well, the story doesn’t quite end there and for any of us who are lucky to spend a good amount of days on the water already know – the one consistent in fishing seems to be the inconsistency. You never know what you might see on the ocean and where you might see.
As we blasted in at 38-40 knots, we came up on a popular, very local fishing bank to find a pleasant surprise. A massive stretch of tuna boiling on the surface, legitimately a quarter to half a mile wide. We slowed and started evaluating on approach.
“Whoa, ok – let’s get that kite back up and ready. There’s some nice jumbo grade fish in this mix. I can’t believe this, I’ve never seen the big ones in this close!” Ali exclaimed.
So back to the program. We missed our mark on the first setup as the fish juked us a bit and our drift went too far past. So we circled to try again. Just like Keyser Soze (ref: The Usual Suspects), poof – they were gone.
Since it was the end of our day and end of our bait let’s just put it out there and see if we can drum up some good luck. Max and I put our last flyer out to the side of the boat where the school sank out, giving steady hand pulls on the line to “let them know it’s there”. Sure enough – out of the depths, another decent (not cow) grade Bluefin Tuna rolled on the bait and pulled the indictor under the water.
“Wind! Wind! Wind!” I chanted.
Max reacted quickly and cranked the handle as quick as he could but spoiler alert, we somehow didn’t connect on another. There went our last flying fish bait and likely a wrap on the day. However, it was hard to be disappointed after the morning’s showing. Plus, I had a new trick on how to target these oftentimes picky Bluefin bastards.
So what did I learn from this trip that I plan to carry forward for my future Bluefin fishing adventures:
- Committing to the Gameplan – we didn’t get live bait, or bring an excessive amount of rods, or search and stop on paddies en route. Things I typically have a habit of doing. We were fully committed to the dead flying fish program and it paid off.
- Being Coachable – one thing I believe I do well but since these were familiar waters and familiar target species I tried to be hyper attentive to this. Paying attention to every little detail (like rigging) and being proactive to ask where or how I’m needed.
- Teamwork – and having the confidence in the group you are fishing with. No more is this important than private boat fishing with a small group that’s targeting potentially trophy species. Know your role and again, be coachable so that you maximize every single opportunity that’s given.