It takes a confluence of events to fish the highest spots between California and Hawaii. The Cortez and Tanner banks sit just far enough from the Southern California coast -- roughly 100 miles -- that the run sits on the cusp of being too far for most private boats. But when Santa Ana winds bring a light flow from the east to go with a long period swell (or no swell at all) crews begin to ponder a run to the bank. Toss in water temps in the high 60s and biting late-season yellowfin and bluefin tuna and thoughts shift from "Maybe we should..." to "We're going."
Running to these banks mean using SST forecasting tools in combination with weather. When the seven-day forecast calls for light winds or no winds and swell intervals outside 10 to 12 seconds, it's time to start planning. When the forecast holds -- like it did in mid-November -- captains of smaller boats are advised to also check water temperatures before make a concrete plan to fill the tanks and head way offshore.
So what's the difference from fishing the Tanner or Cortez banks versus the offshore fishing in summer and early fall? Which many called the best Southern California fishing season in the last 20 years.
"When you fish the Tanner [or Cortez] you are not driving around in open water, you are driving right to the bank(s), where biting fish are waiting," says Curtis Owens, who has fished the bite twice in as many weeks, once on the 44-foot Pacifica Andrea, and this past Tuesday on his 28-foot Farallon, All In.
"It comes down to weather. We looked at the Buoyweather forecast for Tuesday, and I couldn't believe it was calling for 1 knot of wind," says Owens. "And that's what it was -- it was like a millpond."
The water temperature on Tanner Bank, which has been the hotspot this month is staying right at 67 degrees. Which means not just the bluefin tuna are loving the bank, but also the warmer-water loving yellowfin tuna.
While jumping on one of SoCal's big sportboats with 20 to 30 other anglers is one option to fishing these outer banks (if one of the few boats that are still running this late in the season are online), fishing the highest of offshore spots on a smaller skiff represents the ultimate thrill in Southern California offshore fishing. It's a lot more fun to be out there alone.
Aside from checking the weather reports and water structure and saving a sick day for a possible midweek run, here is a quick checklist to get yourself read to fish the banks.
Whether leaving from San Pedro or San Diego, it's still in the 100-mile range, one-way. (The Cortez is 96 miles from San Pedro, 111 miles from San Diego.) Add in plenty of jockeying around when figuring if your boat has the fuel range to safely fish. Only top off point: Avalon, Catalina Island.
LEAVE WITH A FULL BLADDER
If you're short on fuel capacity fill up a fuel bladder for some added security. A 50-gallon bladder can spell the difference between a great day and a disaster. When you get to the banks, use the bladder to top off your tanks. When the bladder is empty, it can be rolled up and stowed.
MAKE A PITSTOP
San Clemente Island is a strategic stopover point, especially for the closer Tanner Bank, which is just 35 miles west of San Clemente Island. Checking to see if the Navy has San Clemente Island's Pyramid Cove open can be added to the list. www.scisland.org
FISH LIGHTER LINE
Offshore tuna fishing in thousands of feet of water often has the fish come right the corner, turning the water into a Jacuzzi just a few feet off the stern. That's not how it works in shallow water. Tanner's high spot is around 80 feet, Cortez is less than 10. These are touchy tuna, where 15- to 25-pound test gets the most bites when coupled with smaller hooks and lively sardines.
KNOW THE REGULATIONS
Both the Cortez and Tanner fall in the Cowcod Conservation Zone. No bottom fishing outside of 20 fathoms (120 feet of water) and if fishing for tuna outside of 20 fathoms, no bottom fish can be onboard.
To save yourself even more fuel, make sure to check the latest conditions and pick the best spot to find your fish.