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October 13, 2010

SoCal Harvest Time

Fall in Southern California offers bountiful offshore fishing for tuna, yellowtail and dorado

trolling by Mahler
By Joe Mahler /

Bank On Variety
All this makes it hard to predict what fall 2010 will serve up for Southern California anglers. Fishermen targeting offshore banks, ridges and high spots could be tangling with albacore and bluefin long into the fall. Or conditions could straighten out and allow yellowfin, dorado and yellowtail to invade these areas and switch the game to warm-water action. It's also possible we could enjoy a mixed bag, catching albacore, yellowfin, yellowtail and dorado on the same trip.

There are a variety of techniques anglers use to target these fish when they move within range of popular southern marinas like Dana Wharf, Oceanside and San Diego; all can be effective depending on conditions on a given day. But the first thing anglers must do is locate fish in the vast expanse of open ocean.
When targeting pelagics, top skippers fish "the edge" - which is roughly any location where two different conditions come together. This could be an edge between cooler and warmer water, which tends to corral schools of baitfish and separate species of game fish based on their temperature preferences. It could be a kelp paddy bobbing up and down on the swells, serving as a hiding place for forage and a fast-food rest stop for hungry tuna, yellowtail and dorado. Even schools of anchovies, sauries or sardines in open water represent an edge of sorts because they represent something different in a vast tract of featureless ocean.

Ocean floor topography has a lot to do with creating these different types of sought-after edges. Undersea canyons, ridges and pinnacles create currents and nutrient-rich upwellings, so anglers often focus efforts over well-known high spots (named for the depth in fathoms) like the 209, 181, 182, 302, 425 and 390, as well as bottom features like the Hidden Bank, San Salvador Knoll, Upper Finger and Butterfly.

Trolling is one of the easiest and most productive ways to target offshore fish. It allows you to cover large areas while searching for birds, jumping tuna, surface-rippling bait or floating kelp paddies, so you're always fishing. Popular tuna feathers like Sevenstrand Tuna Clones and Zuker's jigs are effective on all offshore species when trolled at 6 to 8 knots on the third wake back. The venerable wooden cedar plug - which looks like nothing more than a stick with a large single hook in it - is especially deadly on albacore and yellowfin tuna. Because most private boaters troll with the hopes of finding and catching fish on live bait, we use heavy gear to bring the school to the boat quickly and usually don't mess around with outriggers, birds, spreader bars or other trolling paraphernalia.

When you see the right signs but fish seem reluctant to rise to the jigs, try trolling diving or swimming plugs like Rapala Count Down 14s and 18s or MirrOlure 113MRs. These lures are best trolled slightly slower, from 4 to 6 knots.

Darker colors, such as green-and-black, purple-and-black and root beer, are usually most effective in the morning and evening and on overcast days. On bright days and during midday, anglers turn to brighter lure colors like Mexican flag, zucchini and chartreuse to get bit.