The Fish Sniffer - A Jackpot Bluefin On The Condor
A Jackpot Bluefin On The Condor

Written By: Dan Otis, January 4, 2014
Species: Tuna Dorado
Location: San Diego,

A Jackpot Bluefin On The Condor

My wife Judy and I were planning a trip from Folsom down to my home town of San Diego for a football game on October 4. Our son is on the University of Nevada team and they were playing my alma mater, San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium.

We got to go to that! My nephew Larry in San Diego told me the fish counts included tuna, yellowtail and dorado, and a few bluefin also. It had been at least 5 years since I had fished out of S.D., so I was a little rusty and had to think about what to bring, including rods, reels, boots, tackle box, and cooler.

We saw an exciting football game at Qualcomm on Friday night, and had a good visit with family and friends. The overnight fishing trips were not doing nearly as well as the 1.5 day trips, so I decided to squeeze the longer one in. The boat would not get back until 9am Wednesday morning, and my flight home was that afternoon.

I took Judy to the airport on Monday afternoon for her return flight, then I got on the Condor out of Fisherman’s Landing Monday at 8pm for a 1.5 day trip. This was a new boat for me, so I was quietly checking things out.

The light load of 25 folks was a good start. The boat was big, with a nice layout. The crew seemed professional, and when skipper Scott Meisel hopped onto the bait barge and got real picky about which bait pens to use, I was impressed.

He gave us the usual talk in the galley and said we might stop at the tuna pens for bluefin at grey light on our way south, or keep going (110 -120 mi) to an area that was good for a mixed bag. If the boat was still underway at 7am, we would know which.

When 7am came and the boat was still underway, it was time for a big breakfast burrito and hot coffee. It was a great start to the day! It was nice not to have to jump out of the bunk and run to the rail. At 8am we pulled up on the first kelp paddy of many for the day, all loaded with firecracker yellowtail, from 6-10 lbs.

I had an instant hookup on the first big sardine I tossed off the stern, with a dorado doing flips at the end of my line. It was the first fish on the boat, and one of only a few dorado caught all day.

By 8:30 I had my limit of yellows, along with some other folks. The yellows were THICK under every paddy we stopped on, all day long. They were so thick that with yellows swarming our baits, Scott would tell us to wind in after a few minutes to move on and look for other fish.

The day was shorts and t-shirts weather, and with a great burger from Christophe (yes, a French chef- on a fishing boat!) an ice-cold beer and fish everywhere, it made for a beautiful day on the water. Paddy hopping on fairly smooth seas with a little wind chop and a light swell.

It was yellowtail all day, with some dorado and yellowfin tuna mixed in to keep it interesting. One bluefin in the afternoon kept it real interesting. Capt. Scott never gave up looking for yellowfin and bluefin. We trolled west, east and south, and not just trolling north for home late in the day like some would do.

Running out of daylight, the last stop was worth the wait. Just when we were giving up someone yelled “boil” and big bluefin were crashing the surface, hitting the chum line and working their way toward the boat. Big splashes, like a 250 lb. guy doing belly flops. Hookups started, and it was on!

The skipper yelled out to use our heaviest gear, nothing less than 40#. Snap went my 40# line on my first hookup. I stuffed my rod in the rack, and grabbed the stick with the 50 lb. Shimano TLD 25 lever drag, already rigged with a 3/0 live bait hook. The 50 lb. rig I almost didn’t bring, but my San Diego friend Bub told me I should.

I cast out a big lively sardine and it was on. Line spinning off the reel, I gave it a 5 count and threw the drag lever into gear and watched as the fish just kept on going. It didn’t even slow down when I ratcheted up the drag again and again. A hundred yards out and then he went down.

Then the real battle started. The battle took me up to the bow, where I fought it with no one near me, reaching out and going back and forth across the anchor mounted on the bow to one side of the boat and then the other. The rod bent double, fish not moving an inch, immediately taking back every foot I could gain on it. Capt. Scott came by, and I asked if there was a trick to getting the fish coming up. He just laughed.

After 20 or more minutes, with dark approaching, I felt like a wuss, since others had gotten their fish in. This better be a big fish to justify taking so long. Fifteen minutes later it was dark, and I hadn’t even seen color yet. One or two other fish were also still on.

Apparently, bluefin can find each other in the dark and wrap lines, as mine and the only other fish still on found each other when dark fell. Under a spotlight held by the skipper on the bridge, everyone could see that my fish was really good sized. It was just beyond reach of the gaff, and now tangled with the other fish still hanging.

I thought I was done for, after all that work. But deckhand Rob worked on the tangle while we lifted the two fish in unison, and in a few minutes my fish was in reach of the gaff. When the fish hit the deck, Rob yelled out that it was the jackpot fish.

I felt joy and relief. I wasn’t a wuss after all! I was glad the day was done, because I was DONE, no matter what time it was. That fish kicked my butt more than any fish I ever caught before, including a 275 lb. marlin. The crew estimated the bluefin at 60+ lbs. Good for the jackpot (split with the crew of course) without the need for any comparisons.

I left a cold rainy San Diego the next day to fly home (what timing!)with 50 lbs. of fillets in my wheeled ice chest and slept good on my flight back to Sacramento.

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