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October 13, 2010

SoCal Harvest Time

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

By Joe Mahler /

Live Bait
When you get a jig strike, you want to get a few pieces of live chum and hooked, fly-lined baits in the water as soon as possible. Albacore and yellowfin tuna will usually follow the hooked fish toward the boat, and the idea is to intercept them. Getting a bait in the water fast is more important than bringing in the trolling lines, so just let them sink.

Live-bait selection is critical, and the old saying is that you want the bait you can't catch. The best sardines or anchovies are light green and slimy to the touch. Hook the bait crossways through the nose (or under the collar for anchovies), and make a gentle lob cast behind the boat. Let the bait swim freely; the hot bait that peels away from the boat is usually the one that gets hit. When you feel a fish grab your bait, count to three and lock up the reel.

Paddy Fishing
Kelp paddies are like gold in the fall. Although yellowtail and dorado can be caught on blind jig strikes, they are most fre-quently taken on one of these floating mats of kelp. Yellowfin tuna and albacore also swim in the vicinity of paddies, attracted by the baitfish seeking some sort of shelter in the open water. I've even hooked striped marlin while casting live bait near a paddy.

Often anglers make the mistake of thinking they have to put the bait right on the kelp, as if the fish were hiding under it. Instead, position the boat to drift past the kelp about 75 to 100 feet off your stern. If you hook up, apply plenty of pressure to keep the fish away from the kelp; yellowtail in particular will head for the safety of structure.

Paddies are also great places to go deep, either with live bait or a heavy iron jig. You can get a sardine or anchovy deep by tying a 1- to 2-ounce torpedo sinker in line with the bait. Or try dropping a heavy chrome or blue-and-white iron down 100 feet and winding it yo-yo-style toward the surface. Crank as fast as you can; you will never outrun a hungry yellowtail, tuna or dorado.

Slow-trolling with live bait is a tactic vastly underutilized by offshore fishermen. If you still see signs of life (boils, dipping birds) around after you land a fish, don't leave right away to resume the troll. Drop a couple of nose-hooked sardines way behind the boat, and cover some water at idle speed. Keep your reel in free-spool, and control the bait with thumb pressure. You can often reacquire the school this way. Likewise, you should never leave a productive kelp paddy without first slow-trolling a large circle around it.

Working the Dolphin
The past couple of fall seasons have provided Southern California anglers with the chance to target yellowfin tuna on pods of common dolphin. This has to be one of the most exciting ways for private boaters to fish, chasing down jumping dolphin and racing to get into position.

When the yellowfin are on the dolphin, target the tuna by trolling or with live bait. Trollers are usually limited to working the edges of the dolphin pod and occasionally cutting across the leading edge of the group to intercept the fish below.

The tuna are generally ahead of the visible dolphin, so bait fishermen need to get far enough ahead to shut down the boat and get live baits in the water. If everything goes according to plan and the pod crosses close enough behind your stern, a hungry tuna will inhale every live bait. If the dolphin change course and veer off in a different direction (as they often do), you need to reel in, fire up and try again.