• Published:April 21, 2017
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We needed a good season.

Nobody was talking about El Niño or the warm water that was about to bathe the West Coast.
There was no real hype as to what we were about to experience. We were coming out of a cold-water cycle and the fishing industry was hanging on by its fingernails.  

I had picked up a winter charter -- a feat in its own right -- and we found ourself at San Clemente Island, a Navy-owned island 50-plus miles off the coast of California. Aside from commercial lobster fishermen, nobody had been at the island much.

After rounding the east end of San Clemente, I started seeing what we simply call “life.” Big spots of bait breezing on the surface, dipping gulls, rafts of diving birds. Huge bait balls of Spanish mackerel filled the screen of my sounder. One of them had a bullseye shot through the middle of it and a couple little boomerangs. I quickly tied on some yo-yo irons -- small, heavy jigs made in Southern California -- and we were instantly bent on 12- to 16-pound yellowtail. The local fishing newspaper’s headline read: “Early Yellowtail: One Man Charters get the first Clemente yellows of the year.”

Fast-forward to that summer and the entire coast was awash with warm water and yellowtail, giant schools usually reserved for central Baja were literally everywhere. The first-ever wahoo were landed in California waters. The first blue marlin in decades was caught on the Bad Company. It all turned out to be a precursor to the best three seasons offshore anglers have ever seen in California.

Wahoo had never been caught here and thousands came over the rail in 2015. Bluefin over 200 pounds hadn’t been seen since the early 1900s when Zane Grey wrote about them in “Tales of Marlin and Tuna.” The summer of 2016 saw incredible fishing for 200-pound bluefin after the 100-pounders of 2015 made headlines. We were experiencing a literal 100-year-cycle event.  

Boats enjoyed Cabo-style marlin fishing releasing 20-plus billfish a day at the Channel Islands. Shortbill spearfish caught on the smallest of skiffs. Tuna on half-day boats. California boats were targeting blue marlin. Things got weird.
"California anglers are looking at this season being the perfect blend, both offshore and inshore."
-- Capt. Brandon Hayward
All of this is a long way to saying that 2014 to 2016 was the best fishing anyone alive has ever seen in the Southern California Bight. And anglers are chomping at the bit to see what 2017 has in store.  


I’ve said before that the George Santayana quote “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is up for interpretation when viewed through a fishing lens, but we can undoubtedly learn from landmark years of long ago, or the previous season.  

After a roller-derby whip into El Nino and hot water, local waters finally fell below 60 degrees this winter. NOAA predicted La Nina but is now saying La Nina is over, and that the chance of a return of El Nino is greater than 50 percent.  

Barbara Block, the Stanford professor who is considered the world’s scientific authority on bluefin tuna has gone on record saying that bluefin migration patterns have changed, and that 2017 is going to see an incredible biomass of Pacific bluefin tuna.  

But maybe they never left. Bluefin have been seen offshore all winter. The season went later than usual, thanks to the Tanner Bank producing bluefin into December.  

Sometimes what we see in March ends up being what the season is made out of. The first bluefin tuna of the year have been caught. Both 20- and 100-pound-class fish have given both party and private boaters shots. White seabass, which are one of the few species that don’t respond well to hot water and El Nino, put on the best late winter/early spring bite since the early 2000s.  

California anglers are looking at this season being the perfect blend, both offshore and inshore. Over the next few weeks I’ll be going in depth into this spring’s two biggest players in California waters, from rigging and reading conditions for white seabass, to how to cash in on this bluefin cycle.