Winter bluefin found across Southern California

SAN DIEGO— Bluefin tuna biting in the middle of February are providing anglers with a chance at quite an unexpected treat. Things went up over the top the weekend of Feb. 15 and 16 though with good numbers of bluefin tuna entering the offshore fishing picture in areas ranging from the waters a short way outside of Newport Beach on down to the lower end of the 9 Mile Bank off San Diego.

Most of the bluefin have been in the 20 to 80 pound range with there also being some unconfirmed radio chatter about a 225 pound bluefin being caught on Feb. 15. The best bluefin area is 2 to 5 miles outside of Newport Beach with additional bluefin sightings being reported by boats fishing 2 to 5 miles off the City of San Clemente, 2 to 5 miles off San Onofre, 2 to 5 miles off Oceanside and at both the upper and lower ends of the 9 Mile Bank.

The bluefin have been located by finding spots of breaking fish that are often marked by diving birds. Some of the first schools of bluefin were reported by boats out on whale watching trips while watching whales and porpoise/dolphin in areas where there was a lot of bait. The bluefin have been hooked in a variety of ways with most of the action coming in areas where breaking fish are showing. There have been reports of bluefin hooked on slow trolled mackerel, slow trolled sardines, poppers and surface iron with slow trolled mackerel reported to be working the best.

Sportboats fishing down the Mexican coast at the High Spot area outside of Punta Colnett have been fishing the area on what are mostly 1.5 day trips and have been doing well on a mix of reds, rockfish, lingcod, bonito and yellowtail.

The yellowtail being caught on the Punta Colnett area trips have been going up into the 20-plus pound class.

Boats fishing for reds and rockfish around Los Coronado Islands continue to do very well and have also been catching an occasional bonus lingcod. Good areas for the bottom fishing include hard bottom areas to the north, northeast and northwest of North Island while working in 25 to 55 fathoms of water. Also productive has been fishing the lower end of the 9 Mile Bank while keeping on the Mexico side of the border and fishing in the 60 to 80 fathom depths. Another good rockfish zone around Los Coronado Islands has been fishing spots along the South Kelp Ridge below South Island in the 20 to 40 fathom depths.

An ongoing reminder to anglers is that the annual two-month rockfish/groundfish closure on the U.S. side of the Mexico border remains in effect until March 1, 2020. With the rockfish/groundfish closure still in effect, Southern California anglers fishing in US waters continue to focus their efforts on species that are still open to fishing and there has been good action for a mix of sand bass, calico bass, perch and sculpin along with a few halibut and an occasional flurry of yellowtail action.

Productive areas for bass and sculpin have been the Imperial Beach Pipeline, the area above the Imperial Beach Pier while fishing in 7 to 8 fathoms of water, the hard bottom areas to the southeast of the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, the hard bottom to the north and northwest of Buoy #5 at Point Loma, the Point Loma Pipeline, the Jetty Kelp outside of Mission Bay, the Variety Kelp while fishing below the MLPA closure zone at the lower end of La Jolla, the upper end of La Jolla, the Anderson and Buccaneer Pipelines, the artificial reefs outside of Oceanside and Box Canyon.

Areas producing some halibut action along the San Diego County coast are 180 to 220 feet of water outside of the Oceanside Pier, the sandy bottom areas adjacent to the structure of the Yukon shipwreck off Mission Beach, the sandy bottom adjacent to the structure of the sunken NEL Tower off Mission Beach and the zone between the Imperial Beach Pier and Tijuana River. San Diego Bay is another place where some halibut have been biting as well.

The showings of yellowtail along the San Diego County coast remain unpredictable and inconsistent. The most recent showings of yellowtail have been found in an area ranging from outside of Mission Bay on up to the lower part of the MLPA closure zone at the lower end of La Jolla. Locating bait in this sector can be an indicator of a place where yellowtail might show. There has also been a lot of bait off Imperial Beach and there have been occasional showings of yellowtail found around the bait schools off Imperial Beach. A good depth range to try and locate yellowtail has been in 18 to 30 fathoms of water.

The coastal yellowtail have been mostly 18 to 25 pound fish and yellows have been located by finding sonar marks, meter marks and spots of working birds. Once located, yo-yo iron, surface iron, mackerel and sardines have all been working for the yellowtail with surface iron working the best.

Good choices for yo-yo iron include Salas 6X and 6X Jr. jigs in blue and white and scrambled egg colors. Good choices for surface iron include Salas 7X lights and Tady 45’s in blue and white, mint and sardine colors. The sardines and mackerel have worked while slow trolled, flylined and fished deep with a dropper loop rig. There are reports of mackerel being caught for bait in about 40-50 feet of water off the Mission Bay jetties.

With bluefin tuna in the picture during the middle of February, it looks like we could be headed for a very interesting 2020 fishing season. 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 called 976-Bite which can be found at Vanian also provides anglers with a personal fish report service over the telephone at 619-226-8218. He always welcomes your fish reports at that same phone number or at

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