Bluefin Tuna Bonanza in Southern California

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Bluefin tuna is one massive fish and can be a real thrill to pull into your boat, making a highlight story to tell your buddies when it’s your shot to givbe a good fish story, not to mention all the good eats you will be gobblin’ down for the next week or so.

I want to share this great article found at:http://www.sportfishingmag.com/bluefin-tuna-fishing-california#page-2

 Bluefin Tuna Bonanza in Southern California

The Golden State’s southern coast is bursting with bluefin tuna, some massive in size, and anglers are reaping the benefits.

The remarkable story of Southern California’s 2015 and ’16 bluefin tuna seasons unfolds in chapters, each revealing new twists in tackle and techniques — methods that constantly evolved as schools of large, powerful Pacific bluefin roamed off the coast, adopting new feeding habits, becoming increasingly wary and growing to nearly 300 pounds.

From run‑and‑gun‑style fishing to trolling with kites, from casting poppers and jigs to live-baiting with mackerel and squid, tactics and gear changed rapidly.

Perhaps most important, this story might not be over, as reports at press time indicate the schools of big tuna are still around, having wintered far offshore. Lessons learned over the past two years could pay dividends as anglers get another chance to target the fish of a lifetime if and when these tuna move closer to the coast. To set the facts straight, neither 2015 nor 2016 was the best year on record when it came to numbers of Pacific bluefin tuna caught by California recreational anglers. In 2013, for example, passenger boats reported landing 63,702 fish, according to records maintained by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, keep in mind that most of the fish in 2013 were less than 50 pounds and fairly easy to land, and there was a 10-fish daily bag limit. In addition, the CDFW records do not include private‑boat catches.bluefin-tuna-school-in-water

In 2015, the first year of the state’s two-fish daily per person limit for bluefin tuna, a reported 21,345 bluefin were caught, and in 2016 it was down to 9,306 fish. Yet the 2016 season set the benchmark for size. “The bluefin tuna fishery was off the charts for quality,” says Steve Crooke, a retired marine biologist with the CDFW. “The size of the fish definitely affects the numbers of fish that are landed.”

The loss rate was high. Many anglers were undergunned and ill-prepared for the size of these tuna. Crooke himself went zero for four on big bluefin one day last September while fishing aboard the party boat Cortez at Desperation Reef off the east end of San Clemente Island.

Private-boat anglers have an advantage over the passenger-boat fleet when it comes to landing big tuna. With a private boat, you can chase the fish and use boat-handling techniques to land it more quickly versus a stationary boat full of other anglers.

Great Bluefin Tuna Fishing Started in 2015

The big-bluefin bonanza began in May 2015, with schools found between the coast and San Clemente Island. Good fishing carried through December for anglers who ventured out to distant banks — Cortez (about 110 miles from Point Loma) and Tanner (about 120 miles from Point Loma). Rough weather in late winter and early spring eventually kept anglers away from the fish, so effectively tracking the schools became nearly impossible.

big-tuna-catchAnglers rediscovered the fish in June 2016 around the offshore banks just below the Mexican border. But they soon swung up the coast. By late July, the bluefin were within easy reach of ports such as San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, Oceanside Harbor, Dana Point Harbor, Long Beach Harbor and even Marina del Rey.

In June, 50- to 80-pounders were the norm. But by July, many fish broke the century mark. Later in the summer, 200-pound-plus fish began to show. By fall, anglers were landing fish nearing 300 pounds.

On many days, the waters were literally bursting with bluefin. Huge schools churned the water into an acre or more of roaring foam, annihilating densely packed baitballs, then sinking away, leaving the surface water a milky turquoise and glittering with scales of the departed prey.

“When you see those ‘foamers,’ it’s one of the most exciting forms of fishing you can experience,” says Ben Secrest, vice president of marketing for Accurate Fishing Products. Secrest and Accurate owner David Nilsen joined me aboard my boat in late July, and we found those rampaging schools. We landed a 100-pounder, but lost a bigger tuna when the fish chewed through the 60-pound fluorocarbon leader. That was just the start last year for Team Accurate, which scored several big bluefin, including a season-best 274-pounder.

To the delight of anglers, these schools of Pacific bluefin tuna stayed fairly close to the Southern California coast from midsummer into early winter. This is the story of last year and what experts forecast for the season ahead.

High Numbers of Bluefin Tuna

Although the number of fish anglers have been able to land is down from previous years, the sheer volume of Pacific bluefin tuna off the coast of Southern California seems to defy science. Conservation organizations warn of dwindling stocks, and the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned to declare the Pacific bluefin tuna an endangered species, but Southern California anglers have seen more of these fish than anyone can recall.

“We saw quite a few schools of bluefin tuna, many more than we have observed in the past,” says Chugey Sepulveda, Ph.D., director and senior scientist for the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research in Oceanside, California.

Sepulveda is careful to qualify his statement. “From our perspective, it’s difficult to know how many were here as we only observe surface fish and several schools are observed more than once,” he adds. “Thankfully, the schools stuck around and gave everyone a great season.”
Indeed, many anglers who had never previously caught bluefin were bringing in a big fish or two. Perennial high-liners, such as Greg Stotesbury, national sales manager for AFTCO, enjoyed immense success. In 2015, Stotesbury and crew caught 30 bluefin up to 131 pounds, and in 2016, that number grew to 40 fish up to 205 pounds.
More Red Crabs Equals More Bluefin Tuna
Conventional scientific thinking held that this population of bluefin tuna typically migrated in a counterclockwise rotational pattern around the North Pacific, moving up the West Coast of North America and across to Japan, eventually circling back to North America.
Yet, these fish seem to have taken up residence off the southern coast of the Golden State. What’s holding them here? Two words: red crabs.
The bluefin schools seem to aggregate in areas that have moderate to heavy red crab density, according to Sepulveda. A super abundance of these pelagic crustaceans (also known as tuna crabs) appears to have provided a steady food supply.
What brings the red crabs to this coast is anyone’s guess, but these mini-lobsterlike creatures form massive schools that can stretch for miles, marking so distinctly on fish finders that the shoals of biomass look like the ocean floor.Sometimes the crabs wash ashore, blanketing beaches and clogging harbors. More often you find them offshore, hovering anywhere from the surface down to the thermocline, and there’s no doubt that bluefin feed heavily upon them.
“We’ve cut open the stomachs of bluefin we’ve caught and found them jammed with half-digested red crabs,” says Dave Pfeiffer, president and CEO at Shimano America.
That’s not to say that bluefin feed exclusively on red crabs. To the contrary, anglers have hooked them on a wide range of baits and lures — and virtually none on red crabs — but the crabs seem to be providing the staple diet that keeps the tuna from leaving.

You may not get the world record biggest blufin tuna ever caught, but it will sure feel like it at the time you haul one of these beasts in.

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