Here are five tips to help anglers catch more of Southern California's popular offshore species this fall:
1. Do Your Homework
Before you can successfully catch tuna, 'tails and dorado around kelp paddies, you have to find them. And this can be a real challenge on the open ocean. Savvy anglers know that offshore banks and canyons cause currents and upwellings that can concentrate paddies. Well-known offshore banks like the 277, 43, 181, 182, 209 and 302 fathom spots are all fertile hunting grounds, as are the many high spots from Catalina Island to below the Mexican border. Check fishing websites, visit tackle stores and call buddies to find out all you can about where paddy hunting has been good.
2. Be the Early Bird
If your intelligence indicates you should be hunting a bank 40 miles from port, you want to leave early enough to be there with the sunrise. The first boat to visit a particular kelp paddy usually enjoys the best fishing. The more paddies you hit early in the day, the better. This is especially true on busy weekends. Leaving early also allows you to run past your target zone and begin your search heading back toward the coast. The first light creeping over the eastern horizon provides some of the best paddy-spotting conditions of the day.
3. Keep Your Eyes Open
Since fall fishing success usually revolves around spotting kelp paddies, everybody on board should be actively involved in the hunt. This means every set of eyes should be trained on the water. A high vantage point, such as a flybridge or tuna tower, can help you spot floating kelp from a much greater distance. A good pair of 7x50 marine binoculars is also indispensable. In addition to paddies, you should watch for working or sitting birds, jumping dolphin (which can accompany yellowfin tuna), fish boiling on baitfish, and other boats that have stopped.
4. Make the Right Approach
Most boaters approach way too close to paddies and mistakenly believe they must cast their baits right on the kelp to get bit. Instead, approach the paddy from upwind and set up so you drift past about 75 feet away. If the fish are there, they'll come out for your live, fly-lined sardines, anchovies or mackerel. A few pieces of live or cut chum help, plus you'll stand a better chance of keeping determined yellowtail from burrowing back into the weeds, something they're very good at. If you keep a steady trickle of chum going, the fish will often stay with the boat for long drifts.
5. Slow Down and Troll
Some boaters think that by cruising at 20 knots they'll cover more water and have a better chance of finding paddies and fish. This just increases the chance you'll drive past productive kelps without ever seeing them. When you get in your prime hunting zone, settle in to a nice 6- to 7-knot speed and put some jigs out. Trolling feathers or lipped diving plugs, such as Rapalas and Yo-Zuris, will often pick up cruising fish while you're hunting. If you're lucky, this can turn into to an open-water bait bite. Sometimes getting a jig strike is the first indicator you're getting close to a paddy, so take a look around you before going back on the hunt. Pulling a jig is also a great way to scout out small kelps to see if there are any fish home before investing any live bait: Troll past 10 yards away and see if you get slammed.