August 15, 2011

Tuna, 'tails and biscuits bite for RRIII
by Rich Holland

Plan falls right in place for Seaguar trip
The Red Rooster III rolled right down the line towards San Benitos Isles with a new plan in place after reports of sharks, cold water and a tough bite evaporated any thought of heading to Guadalupe Island on the 5-day trip sponsored by Seaguar, Newell, Yo-Zuri, Hayabusa and Catchy Tackle. Captain Andy Cates' plotted course would lead us to great fishing for yellowtail and bluefin tuna, with some surprises along the way.

Chartermaster Richard Hightower, the mostly retired mastermind of H&H Marketing, is not the kind to try and control the direction of a trip, trusting instead to the long range captains' experience and vast information network to put him in the right place to use his Newell Reels to throw his trusty Sea Strike 33 jig.

Hightower does put together one of the best goody bags in the business and this time they included 40 and 50-pound leader spools of Seaguar FluoroPremiere fluorocarbon, a Sea Strike 33 in one of the hot new colors, packs of 2/0 and 4/0 Hayabusa hooks in both circle and j-hook configurations, stickers and long sleeve Seaguar tees and short sleeve Newell tees in the right sizes. Not to mention hats and visors from Seaguar, too, and lots of brand new Newell Reels and Seaguar's new Kanzeh braided line were raffled off.

The giveaways were heavy with Seaguar product in part because the trip also had serious representation from Seaguar's headquarters in New York, with marketing man Gerry Benedicto and vice-president John De Vries making their first and second long range trips, respectively.

The next morning we hit the good water above the Cedros/Benitos line about 8:30 and just like Cates said there were dorado, yellowtail and yellowfin tuna to be found on the kelp paddies. But also just like Cates said, paddies were hard to come by and the pickings were slight, although the action was welcome. The best fish landed was a dandy dodo caught off a paddy by Bendy White of Santa Barbara.

The following current wasn't as strong as Cates hoped, however, and it wasn't until the middle of the afternoon heading on towards evening that the 105-foot Red Rooster III slid into the Gap between the east and west isles of San Benitos. Here another prediction was true -- the yellowtail in the area were feeding on the plentiful squid. Not the Humboldts, but the more normal arrow squid we're so used to using as bait for yellowtail and seabass in our home waters.

Huge piles of terns and gulls gave away the location of the yellows, sea lions and cormorants that had the squid balled up on the surface. Cates set the big boat up for a drift and hookups were instant on the sardines and yo-yo iron. I tossed a scrambled egg heavy and it sank a mere 30 feet before a yellow stopped it cold. The chummed 'dines started to get some big yellowtail splashing on the surface and the surface iron bite produced, too.

All you had to do was land the iron next to one of the big brown squid marks up on the surface. While this writer and Brandon Hayward, my more than able replacement as saltwater editor for the old weekly rag, got our share, it was Jim Loiselle of Murrieta who was truly on fire, landing 7 out of 9 hookups on a collector's jig -- a big white Powerhouse.

By now squid was also available for bait as second skipper Julio Ochoa only had to worry about not blowing his back out it was so easy to fill the big bag on a braille scoop with the squid squished up close to the surface. When the bite started to fade with the sunlight, 90 yellowtail were on the boat for 23 anglers.

The beautiful weather made a dinner run to Cedro as easy as chomping down on Stan Paurazas and Chapman Murphey's great chow. Great eats aren't rare on the big boats, but these guys didn't miss the whole time. I particularly recommend Stan's grilled yellowtail salad.

Something else was on the menu early the next morning -- seabass. We set up on the spot that night, but the current never got right until just after 5 in the morning. I went with the Newell 631 in the 3:1 gearing with 60-pound Yo-Zuri done up in a dropper loop rig with an Aki hook at the end of doubled line. A handful of yellowtail were already on the deck when I got bit about 5:30. It was a real strong fish, which made it seem like "just another yellowtail."

You should have seen Julio scramble for a gaff when at the first flash of color in the deck lights the big fish flashed bronze and Andy shouted, "It's a biscuit!" It was, indeed, a 44.8-pound beauty soon followed up by Ron Lloyd of Pleasanton's 40 pounder.

Now when I just said Andy shouted, I must say that really only raised his voice to an insistent pitch. After all these years running a long range boat Capt. Andy Cates has to be one of the most level-headed skippers ever to work a deck. His composure and dry humor keep the frustration level down and the productivity up. That would all come in handy not much later.

There was a ton of bait up around the Salt Mine area of Cedros and both our boat and several skiffs from the local Cedros Island Adventures chased boiling fish around with good success all morning. The afternoon may have even been better up around Augustine. Sardines, squid, yo-yo jig, surface iron -- if you worked it, you caught fish.

Gerry Benedicto caught on kick to using the conventional gear and Hightower kept even more hooked up by handing off a fish whenever Gerry didn't have one of his one. "Old pro" John De Vries traded between camera and rod and reel to capture fish and images.

There was a great group aboard, a mixture of regulars and newcomers that included the Goka brothers Richard and Bob, who brought out their friend Paul Markovitz from the Fresno area to get in on the action. Chris Johnson of Carpinteria and Carl Schielzeth of Westminster were familiar faces, while longtime chartermaster in his own right John Loftus was out with his grandaughter Katie Lloyd, whose dad got the seabass. Bill Rogers was a newcomer from Santa Barbara who learned quickly. Steve Davis was another SB angler on the trip, while Ken Engelbach of Paso Robles and Glenn Moore of Northridge were seasoned old timers. Chuck Lair of Moreno Valley was the hot hand at the nightly poker table and would get the biggest yellowtail of the trip, a 36.5-pound beauty on a sardine. Don Evans and son Rowdy came all the way from Naples, Florida to enjoy the action.

Conditions were changing quickly with the currents pulled by the rapidly approaching full moon and only Augustine gave up any yellowtail the next day at Cedros, prompting another later afternoon at Benitos that helped save the day.

The next morning we were on the tuna grounds with the rest of the long range fleet and the time was ticking off with only a fish here and a fish there when Cates slid the Rooster into the right school of "baby giant" bluefin tuna. The good captain had gone out of his way to prepare us for the size of the fish -- 10 to 15 pounders -- but the group seemed to care more about the eagerness of the tuna and soon took a liking to the fact that any sardine that swam more than 10 feet wouldn't ever make it to 11 without getting eaten. The crew and Hayward showed off their casting and hooking skills, the school stuck -- the trip was made -- life was good. And then we had to go home. But there's always next time and if the next time was on the beautifully maintained and operated Red Rooster III, I for one would be happy.

Rich Holland
Aliso Viejo , CA