It’s Albacore Season

The albacore season has officially opened in San Diego. Known as the “chicken of the sea,” albacore tuna or the “abbie,” is pound for pound the toughest most tenacious fighting fish in the season. It is also delicious. For those of you unfamiliar with the special experience of hooking, fighting, and landing such a fine game fish, let me explain why this is so exciting.

I was lucky enough to have booked a chartered fishing trip six months ago through my friend Steph on the Pacific Dawn with skipper-owner Pat Cavanaugh for a one-and-a-half-day overnight fishing trip July 9. The albacore only recently migrated to be within reach of the San Diego fishing boats in Mexican waters. The experienced but youthful Captain Cavanaugh, went to great lengths to locate the “abbies” about 40 miles out of port and with the aide of accomplished decks hands, Mike, Apollo, and Opie, the 18 anglers on board had action. The 60-foot “Pac Dawn” has spacious, nicely arranged bunks in air-conditioned sleeping quarters. There was a large refrigerated hold for the well-handled catch, large bait tanks and three good meals were prepared by the chef.

Our trip saw a cloudy to partially cloudy warm day, along with gentle deep blue seas off the misty-looking Ensenada coast. Monofilament line had been selected with precision for each reel; girth and length of pole matched for purpose to fit each reel, be it for trolling spaghettini-size 80-pound test all the way down to vermicelli-size 15-pound test for more delicate casting and picky fish. By looking at the columns of racked rods & reels, I could tell I was out of our league. I had fished for albacore over 40 years ago, which gave me only a slight advantage over the three rookies on board. Luckily I had brought a leather-belted rod holder to brace the action of a bending pole that allowed me to eventually land one 32- and a 25-pounder, both healthy gleaming fish.

The action went like this: I hunched forward, jamming the rod’s butt into my navel-high holder with my left hand fully extended straining to keep the rod from dipping over the rail and into the sea and the right hand wildly cranking the reel. Tuna pull well. It is hard to describe; you really should experience it, but suffice to say you have a violent tug-o-war with a creature that wants to pull away desperately like a swimming chunky bullet. I heaved my spine up straight to lift the now loaded rod with arms straining, then quickly turned the reel handle to take in line as I lowered the pole suddenly to the boat’s rail only to lose back that well-struggled yardage of monofilament to the tuna. It would pull so hard the drag of the reel automatically released line so it did not snap. Better to lose line than to lose fish I kept telling my back. After a good 15 (that felt like 45) minutes, the deckhand gaffed and boated my fish.

My smile lasted longer than my aching back and forearms.

This kind of fishing takes some getting accustomed to. First, you must properly tie the hook and any fluorocarbon leader. And when the cry “hook-up” is heard, you dash to find your rod, scramble to the bait tank to grab and secure a reluctant sardine, cast it out from the boat – careful not to cross your line with other fishers with whom you are in competition – and then hope a cruising and “boiling” tuna eats your swimming bait which you free-spool out into the current. There is definitely an element of luck but the more experienced fisherman with the proper equipment always seem to catch more fish. Our boat averaged 2.5 albacore per angler. That is not a huge score but a decent one and everyone caught fish and had a unique experience at sea.

The tuna season is just beginning in San Diego. There are albacore, yellow fin and an occasional big-eye and blue fin to be caught. There are two ways to go, either charter or an open boat. The former must be planned in advance and the latter takes a phone call to schedule. I suggest you try fishing for tuna this season. The fish cannot be beat for flavor and when you go you’ll meet colorful, knowledgeable staff, crew members, and other fishermen who are more than happy to coach you. Everyone wants you to catch a fish on his boat as long as he gets his first. Tuna fishing is primarily a guys-type trip but ladies are welcome and we had one dad/daughter team on our boat. She caught two.

Local Ocean: Capt Luke Stamatis with the Stardust at Sea Landing said they are catching some nice calico bass and rockfish. The kelp off shore is good this year and provides a good fishery.

Eastern Sierra: Crowley and Upper Owens is fishing very well with plenty of trout. On August 11th there is the new “Crowley Classic” this year.

Contacts:

Pacific Dawn, www.pacificdawn.com or 619-269-2186;

Steph, a fishing trip or great catered BBQ – www.simplymarvelousbbq.com;

San Diego & Fisherman’s Landing – 619-221-8500;

Oxnard &Captain Hook’s Sportfishing – 805-382-6233 (still getting some giant squid);

Sea Landing & The Stardust – 805-963-3564 or www.stardustfishing.com;

Eastern Sierra – www.driftfish@qnet.com .