November 2020: Pure Bluefin Pandemonium at So-Cal’s Legendary Offshore Banks: Cortez & Tanner
“When one door closes, another door opens.”
I’m sure you all have heard that ole’ chestnut once or twice but, it usually does carry some merit to life’s more impromptu opportunities. Which, if you know me, then you know I’m a through and through, purebred opportunist. My biggest weakness is saying no, and I am no doubt a sucker for a good time or adventure. So, when plans fell through on a swordfishing trip, another door opened up.
This particular door pointed us west. Way west, to the land of giants. A LONG run to the offshore banks of Cortez and Tanner. Where more than 100 miles off the coast of California, two underwater sea-mounts rise from 6000+ feet to just over 65 feet deep of water. This natural feature, like many of our other pinnacles in the Pacific, creates a spot of upwelling and offshore structure that’s perfect for sea life to congregate.
So with good reports of giant bluefin on the chew, a perfect pre-low-pressure storm window, and a legendary crew – there was no way I was passing this opportunity up!
Like many of our mornings go, we fueled up, grabbed sandwiches, adequate (or copious depending on who’s counting) amounts of beers, loaded 300+ lbs. of ice, and stocked up on all the day’s provisions needed at Dana Landing. Then just as we were about to push off, Ali glanced at a final text and looked over at us.
“Cool if we add another and Duane jumps on with us?”
Duane Mellor, a.k.a. Duane Diego, is without a doubt one of the most iconic captains on the West coast. Or any coast for that matter after being recognized as Top Charter Captains of 2019. So without hesitation, we agreed that the extra 20 minutes as well worth the wait. So now, with our crew at full strength, we battened down the hatches and settled in as we raced the 100 some miles west at Mach 10 on the Local Knowledge SeaVee 340z.
We couldn’t have got luckier weather-wise with all-time conditions as we enjoyed the calm before the storm, lake-like seas. After 3 hours of shooting the breeze, we arrived at the zone and sprung into action to start our big bluefin hunt. There were a few extra preparations required as this trip had a specific purpose. Cameraman, editor, and overall rad human Ryan Baechel accompanied us to document our day as part of the BD Outdoors project with Yeti. So we readied baits, kites, rigging, rods – the whole deal for filming and fishing.
The goal was to film on-water bluefin tuna fishing using the now-standard tactic of flying a rigged frozen flying fish under a kite and balloon. Hopefully, get some good shots of big fish blowing up on the bait, coming over the rail of the boat, and the on-water handling after the catch to ensure the best eats. Pretty straightforward and easy on paper but even in my limited experience with these things, the stars rarely align when the cameras are rolling.
Keyword rarely – not never.
So our day began with Captain Ali giving Ryan and the future audience the rundown on our game plan, what we were looking for, and how we deploy the flying fish under the kite once we set up on a school. It’s going to end up being a really rad 3-part series with Yeti that will help anglers with some pointers on rigging, catching, and ultimately cleaning & cooking Bluefin Tuna.
Then right on queue as we were rolling, we started seeing some signal of fish. Both as meter marks under the boat and as a spot of “breezers” on the surface Duane eyed off the side. So we turned upswell, positioned ourselves alongside where we spotted the breezing tuna, and fired out a rigged and ready to be bit, G-Fly flying fish.
Our bait skipped out off the side boat, looking as natural as possible and creating a presentation of “If you see that, how does that not get bit?”. A valid question from Captain Ali, and although it wasn’t an insta-bite, our flying fish did its job with a big bluefin blowing up the flying fish a couple minutes later. I waited for the indicator to dip and then started to crank the handle as fast as I could with the crew cheering on “wind wind wind wind!”. We were tight, and I went to work on a California Bluefin Tuna.
By no means the “jumbo” grade tuna we were targeting but a respectable 80ish something pound butterball to get us on the board. And most importantly, got us all the video content needed for our project. So now, just a little past high noon, we were in bonus time with the pressure off and morale all time. It’s in these moments that I find true bliss on the water. Just out there to fish. No strings attached or need to perform – purely there for the love of the sport.
The day was young and although the main mission was accomplished, little did we know that our fishing adventure had hardly begun.
What went down next was nothing short of pure bluefin pandemonium. Unlike anything, I’ve ever been a part of or seen first hand. We rolled over another massive school of fish but this time the sounder lit up and didn’t stop. Loaded with heavily arched marks, tall-tale of bigger grade fish.
Kite up. Camera rolling. Bait out. Now the real fun began.
First up – legendary international snowboarding superstar, “Dorado” Dave Downing. No more than 30 yards off the side of the boat, the fluttering flying fish was quickly smashed by a big bluefin, leaving a circle of white water in its wake from the violent blowup. Dave was bit, and his battle begun. It’s always fun to fish with Dave as not only is he a genuinely good human, but always stoked to be on the water and part of any bite. So pumped to watch him pull on a big fish, of course smiling ear to ear. But just being an observer was short lived.
Next up – I somehow got pushed back up the rotation, and before I could even begin to make a counter-argument against my position, my bait was crushed. As fast as you could get the kite back to the clip and another bait clipped on, you were bit. It was insanity. This one ripping string off of a 50 wide reel, even with heaps of drag as though it were in free spool. I slid up the rail and joined Dave in the bow.
I tried to focus on the task at hand and tune out the other distractions but, I couldn’t help but overhear more commotion coming from the back.
“No way. Are you bit?” Ali asked.
“Hell yeah I’m bit!!” Duane volleyed back immediately.
“Wowww… Triples! That’s what we were looking for.”
The absurdity of what was going down was truly hard to fathom. Even after seeing it with my own two eyes and being there firsthand, that day can only be described as unreal. Every single bait out was bit almost instantly. The brief seconds I did take a chance to slow down and take it all in, were only further mind-blowing capped with an absolutely stunning sunset. Bonds built in these moments are not easily broken and truly are worth a lifetime. I feel sincerely blessed to be lucky enough to be part of such a “sacred” experience at sea.
So our final tally wound up at a perfect 7 for 7. And no doubt, we could have kept that magical ripper bite going but with the last reds of daylight fading to dark and no more room to store another fish on ice, we packed up and took off for the long ride home.
Sometimes the stars do align perfectly and even on those days there plenty of lessons & obeservations to soak in. On this trip we had:
* The right crew. Every one of us was stoked to be part of this epic bite and worked hard to make it happen. Even guys like Duane & Ali who have caught A LOT of tuna were still genuinely ecstatic to partake in such an epic day.
*The right time. The low-pressure system sliding down combined with a couple days past full moon and fantastic water conditions made the day ripe for Bluefin hunting.
*The right gear. Making a 100+ mile run to go battle big Bluefin Tuna is not for the faint of heart nor the underprepared. We had the right boat with Ali’s Local Knowledge SeaVee paired with top-level fishing equipment and arguable the most essential piece – the right bait. We were able to capitalize on the good hand that we were dealt.
I can’t wait to share the video portion from this day to further share the moment with everyone. No doubt I’m one extremely lucky SOB and very grateful to have opportunities like these. Days like this only fuel the fire for a passion that’s already burning red hot!