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October 10, 2013

California Yellowtail Can't Resist a Heavy Metal Jig

The Yo-Yo yellows feed ravenously along the southern coast of California.


If you’re not within casting distance, get on the throttle and run to the fish. Success lies in reaching the action as soon as possible. Don’t worry about spooking the fish. Slide your boat into bird action and drop metal jigs down at least 100 feet, if not to the bottom.

When word on a yellowtail bite gets out, it’s not unusual to have scores of private boaters charging after flocks of diving terns, and some skippers get fixated on the birds, ignoring other boats. Keep safety in mind during run-and-gun fishing to avoid collisions.

Keep It Simple

Working the jig yo-yo style is pretty simple: Point the rod tip down and wind the jig up vertically at a fast clip. Don’t worry about imparting any action or the lure spinning on the way up. Yellows are like house cats — they home in on any fast-moving object and can’t resist pouncing. Retrieve the lure too slowly, and these fish will ignore it. 

Many times yellows strike within the first four or five turns of the reel handle. Other times, they might follow the jig all the way to the surface before nailing it. My son, Joshua, hooked his largest yellowtail ever — a 40-pounder — just as he was about to lift the jig from the water. The bruiser ’tail, accompanied by three other fish, followed the lure all the way to the boat before deciding to inhale it. Thus, it’s important to continue your retrieve until the lure is out of the water.

Wind Away

Sometimes yellowtail grab the jig as it ­descends in what Southern ­California ­anglers call “getting bit on the drop.” Whether the strike occurs on the drop or on the retrieve, it’s critical to keep the rod tip pointed at the fish and turn the reel handle as fast as you can. 

First, this takes up the stretch in the monofilament line, which can be substantial at 80 to 100 feet. Second, yellowtail often grab prey sideways, so when you get a stop, continue to wind down; this pulls the hooks into the corner of the fish’s mouth. Once you stop getting line — or when the line begins to pour off the spool — you can bring the rod tip up to fight the fish.

A yellowtail’s powerful first run is virtually unstoppable. The good news is that this style of yo-yo fishing takes place in open water, so you can let the yellow burn line without the normal fear of the fish muscling its way into a kelp bed, wreck or reef. On the other hand, multiple hookups demand attentive anglers and close teamwork to prevent cutoffs.

Be cautious as the yellow nears the boat: If the jig rips free under pressure, it becomes a hook-studded projectile. Make sure everyone wears eye protection, such as sunglasses with impact-resistant lenses.

Once the fish is on the gaff, turn on the clicker and flip the reel into free spool. It’s also a good idea to extract the metal jig before letting the fish flop on the deck. This prevents chipping and gouging the boat’s interior, and also keeps the hooks from swinging around and finding an angler’s foot or leg.

Dropping heavy metal jigs down deep when you see fish breaking on the surface might seem counterintuitive, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of fishing yo-yo iron for California yellows