By: Bob Vanian
Yellowtail have brought some unseasonably springlike fishing to the winter months, as San Diego area anglers have been able to travel to Ensenada, Mexico or La Jolla to get a chance at catching a good-sized yellowtail.
The yellowtail bite going on outside Ensenada has been far better than the yellowtail bite at La Jolla, but both destinations have offered a shot at quality-size catches in the 15- to 35-pound range.
Capt. Louie Prieto, of the 23-foot Parker charter boat It’s 4 Reels out of Marina Coral in Ensenada, has been fishing the yellowtail bite outside Ensenada over the past few weeks. On his most recent trip, he reported the best bite of the season: Four anglers aboard caught 15 yellowtail out of 25 hook-ups. They were good-sized yellowtail, ranging from 15 to 33 pounds.
The yellowtail have been biting for anglers fishing around Bajo San Miguel outside of Ensenada, which is also known as San Miguel Reef.
Prieto has found success using yo-yo iron. He reported that Salas 6X and 7X Jr. jigs worked well on their last trip, while using all-white or blue-and-white colors.
They were getting bit on a variety of retrieve patterns. Prieto said that some of their bites came on the sink, and some came while fast-grinding the jig directly to the surface from the bottom.
A third method that has also proved successful is to rapidly retrieve the jig off the bottom to the middle depths, and then let the jig sink back down to the bottom — before doing another short retrieve. This repeated wind and sink technique allows anglers to thoroughly work the lower half of the water column.
Prieto said the typical pattern of the bite has been for the yellows to be biting between 7 and 10 a.m.
Private boater Mike Kraus of Black Jack fished a recent trip to Bajo San Miguel and found excellent yellowtail fishing. Kraus and his friend Dave caught eight yellowtail ranging from 24 to 26 pounds in a short amount of fishing time.
Kraus said it was an early morning bite, and that they fished until 9 a.m. They were all done and tied up back at the dock at 9:30 a.m.
Kraus reported that they found their fish from stopping on meter marks and spots of working birds. Their fish were biting on yo-yoed iron that was being fished 50 to 100 feet below the surface. Kraus made the comment that it “doesn’t get much better.”
Anglers aboard boats and kayaks fishing outside the upper end of La Jolla have also reported some action on good-sized yellowtail, but the pace of the bite has generally been scratchy. The technique has been to look for a meter mark or other signs of life, and then stop and fish with yo-yoed iron.
A good depth range has been 14 to 18 fathoms. If you are fortunate enough to be at the right spot at the right time, when the deep-swimming fish come through, you might get the opportunity to catch a good-sized yellowtail.
Morning hours have been the most productive. The water temperature has been running from 56 to 58 degrees, and it is thought that the yellowtail bite may get a whole lot better once the temperature gets up around 60 degrees.
Private boaters and kayak anglers who have been willing to devote an entire trip to being focused on the prospect of catching a nice yellowtail have accounted for most of the action at La Jolla — but New Seaforth out of Seaforth Sportfishing made a recent trip that included one yellowtail catch out of four hookups.
A few boats have done some scouting for yellowtail around Los Coronados islands, and they have found slow yellowtail fishing in the 56- to 58-degree water that is being reported throughout the region. Look for a better chance at finding yellowtail activity around Los Coronados once the water warms up a few degrees.
While it might be a bit early for yellowtail, the waters around Los Coronados islands have been producing good action on a variety of bottomfish species — with reds, salmon grouper and lingcod highlighting the catches. Productive areas have included the lower end of the 9-Mile Bank on the Mexican side of the border, and the hard-bottom areas to the north of Coronado del Norte (North Island).
A tip on specifically targeting lingcod: Use a sand dab for bait on the bottom hook of your gangion.
On a recent trip to fish the waters around Los Coronados aboard San Diego, out of Seaforth Sportfishing, 21 anglers returned with two lingcod, 132 rockfish, 67 reds and nine sheephead.
Anglers fishing the San Diego region who stay on the California side of the Mexican border have had to fish under the restrictions imposed by a two-month-long rockfish/groundfish closure, which will stay in effect until March 1. To comply with the provisions of the closure, anglers have been fishing for species that remain open to fishing — and they have been catching a mix of sand bass, calico bass and sculpin, along with an occasional bonus yellowtail or halibut.
The yellowtail have come from the upper end of La Jolla, as mentioned. The halibut have been coming from drifting sandy bottom areas that are adjacent to the hard-bottom and structure spots, where one might be fishing for bass and sculpin.
Productive hard-bottom and structure areas for sand bass, calico bass and sculpin along the San Diego County coast — from south to north — include the Imperial Beach Pipeline, the kelp stringers off Imperial Beach, the hard-bottom area southeast of the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, the hard-bottom area northwest of Buoy #3 at Point Loma, the Jetty Kelp outside of Mission Bay, the hard-bottom area off Pacific Beach located below the Marine Life Protection Act closure area, the Anderson and Buccaneer Pipelines and the artificial reefs outside Oceanside Harbor.
Capt. Joe Cacciola of Sea Star out of Helgren’s Sportfishing reported that they have been fishing the artificial reefs above Oceanside Harbor and the Anderson and Buccaneer pipelines. Catches have mostly been a mix of sand bass, calico bass and sculpin.
He suggested using strips of fresh frozen squid, fresh dead squid or live anchovies for bait. For best results, the squid should be of a grade that is suitable for human consumption. Places to find this grade of squid include Asian grocery stores.
The winter months are capable of providing unseasonably good fishing that would make one think that spring has arrived before its March 20 calendar date. Being able to catch large yellowtail in February certainly gives a person reason to be optimistic about the fishing season that lies ahead.
Keep on fishing, and I hope to see you out on the water!
Bob Vanian is the voice, writer and researcher of the San Diego-based Internet fish report service 976-Bite at 976bite.com. Vanian also provides anglers with a personal fish report service over the phone at (619) 226-8218. He always welcomes your fish reports at that same phone number, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.