By Dennis White
I started taking 5 day trips at 14 years of age and ever since then I have been “hooked”. I am always looking forward to the summer, when most long range boats offer 5 day trips. Some of my best fishing and memories have occurred while on 5 day trips. These trips are the pinnacle of West Coast Sport Fishing. I have never met anyone that did not enjoy their 5 day trip.
For example the Royal Polaris is 113 feet in length with a 29 foot beam and is powered by three 3412 Caterpillar diesels. With massive fuel, bait and refrigerated fish storage capacities, she is also equipped with all the latest navigational and fish-finding gear. There are 18 air-conditioned staterooms (some with private heads) and lounge seating for 30 people. There are comfortable lounging facilities on the upper deck for relaxing. Most boats have twin-bunk staterooms with sink, cabinet and night table with drawers, plus provisions for your clothing and personal items. There are a number of bathrooms and showers, all kept clean and neat. Long-range boats vary in size from boats in the 90-foot class, like the ROYAL STAR, to boats in the 110-foot class like the ROYAL POLARIS. There is always enough hot water to shower everyday. If you just want to relax and have a cocktail in the lounge most boats have a large screen T.V, and a DVD player with the latest movies. Satellite phones to check on the folks at home are available if need be. I think the accommodations are better than most hotels south of the boarder. These are absolutely the best sport fishers in the world. I encourage you to visit the websites of the long range fleet and look at their photo albums.
Most trips have fares that breakdown to $225.00 per day, which may seem like a lot of money. However, the breakdown of your daily average cost is an excellent deal. In addition to the ticket price there may be a fuel surcharge added to the cost on the day of departure and you will need to buy Mexican fishing permits. Figure about $200 dollars for the Mexican permits, fuel surcharge, and jackpot. When you return from your trip you will be asked to pay for any beer, bottled water, soda that you may have consumed. Cost is $1.00 dollar per drink, therefore; what you need to account for is contingent on how much you drink. Note: you can bring your own bottled water and booze. When paying your galley tab that’s when it’s time to tip the crew, at a minimum figure of 10 percent, and if you felt you had good service 20% or more. One more cost you may encounter is for fish processing. If you want to have it filleted or smoked there are processors that will do that for you at the landing. The cost for fish processing is around $1.00 per pound in the round. I have broken down the cost because I have seen anglers upset prior to getting on the boat for “unexpected” cost. Based on all of the aforementioned costs figure a total expenditure of $ 1500.00 for a 5 day long range trip
What’s included in the cost?
The trip fare includes meals, accommodations, expert advice and help.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are of the quality one would find in a top notch restaurant. Even with all the hardcore fishing, I manage to gain weight on these trips. Dinners include prime rib, steaks, chicken, roast pork, plus fish recipes made from fish that just came over the rail, prepared in various ways. Meals always include fresh baked breads, salads, vegetables, appetizers and desserts. If you have a special dietary need or desire they will make you anything you want or require if you give them advance notice. The meal schedule is usually posted in the galley for people that have special dietary needs so they can provide advance notice for special meals
Expert Advice and Help
The crews on long range boats include some of the best fishermen in the world, bar none. The experience and dedication is unparalleled. What I like most is that they all seem to be personable and generally nice guys\gals. The captains\owners take great pride in their crews, therefore jackasses don’t make it on these boats. All you need to do is ask for help and you will get it every time. It’s really difficult to articulate the greatness of long range crews; it’s something you have to experience for yourself. Their job is to make sure everyone is enjoying their vacation and catching lots of fish. They are really good at getting everyone on the same page at the rail. The crew will hold a tackle\fishing seminar on the 1st day of travel. If you’re a rookie be sure to raise your hand when they ask because they will answer. If you identify yourself as a “rookie” you will get allot of one on one help. They do not mind helping, all I can say is if you’re not sure about something just ask.
The Long Range fleet in San Diego typically offer 5 day trips from late spring through September with a couple of trips offered around the new year. Target species include the following: albacore, bluefin, yellowfin tuna, yellowtail, dorado, calico and white sea bass. Fishing locations for 5 day trips can vary with the following among the most popular destinations: Offshore San Diego and Northern Baja; Guadalupe, Cedros, and San Benito Islands; San Pablo, and Hippolito Bays. The non summer trips typically concentrate on yellowtail either coastal or at the islands. The summer trips usually fish offshore for tuna, however; they often finish off trips with one day of yellowtail fishing at the islands.
Offshore fishing primarily targets tuna, however; kelp paddies that are found offshore often hold yellowtail and dorado in addition to tuna. In the summer months the offshore areas typically produce fish in the following sizes albacore 5-45lb, bluefin 10-150lb, yellowtail 3-50lb, dorado 5-30lb, and “schoolie” yellowfin under 100lbs. If you’re offshore be sure to have your trolling rig ready along with the rest of your rods rigged for live bait fishing (25-60lb gear). Usually there are 5 man troll teams that are rotated each time there is a jig strike. The boat is stopped when there is a jig strike, good meter marks, a kelp paddy is spotted, or some breezing tuna are spotted. When the boat is stopped the crew will begin chumming live bait (lots of it). Hopefully at this point the water will erupt with hungry tuna that eat anything that hits the surface of the water. That’s when it’s time to have one of your live bait rigs ready, which ever one the crew has recommended as I can not predict the size and species that you will be encountering.
Picking a setup\bait:
Try to match your bait with the hook and line you’re going to use. i.e. if you have small anchovies don’t use a 4/0 hook and 80lb line. You want the bait to swim freely while hooked, not dragging. Once you have determined the tackle you’re going to use the next step is selecting a bait. This is the most important step, do not grab the 1st one that’s available, look for one that’s swimming faster than the rest and is not red around the nose or fins. In general try to select the healthiest bait in the tank even if it takes a bit longer. Handling your bait: hold it gently in your hand do not squeeze it, if you drop it get another bait.
Hooking your bait
There are a Varity of baits you may have available such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, squid, and strip (chunk) baits.
Anchovies: I like to collar hook my chovies if fly lining, they tend to swim better when hooked this way. To collar hook gently slide the point of the hook on the inside where the gill plate ends and push in just below the “meat” in an upward motion towards the tail. If you are not familiar with this process have a crewmember show you. Nose hooking will work well if there is a strong current or you are using a little weight. Usually nothing larger than a 1/0 hook will be needed for anchovies
Sardines: If fly lining I prefer “ass hooking” them. They will swim better when hooked this way, they tend to swim down and out. However, if you are fishing any weight or there is a strong current nose hooking would be best. To “ass hook” put the hook through just above the anal fin, deep enough so it does not tear off when casting. Nose hooking: just forward of the sardine’s eye there is a small soft spot that appears to made just for the purpose of hooking, right through there and it’s ready to go. Typically 2/0-4/0 hooks work best with sardines
Mackerel: The Mackerel is a hardy fish, if fishing for tuna or yellowtail nose hooking will work fine. The mackerel can be nose hooked just forward the eye
When should I use weight?
I do not like to fish any weight when offshore, however; there are conditions that require using a little weight. Sometimes the fish are down deep and only one or two are being hooked when stopping on deep meter marks; this would be a good time to use enough weight to get down to where the marks are. Another example would be a ripping current with bait that’s not swimming well. Try to fish the least amount of weight to get your bait in the “strike zone”. When forced to use weight I use sliding egg sinkers anywhere from 1/4-4 oz depending on bait and conditions. Some use rubber stoppers with their sliding sinkers to keep the sinker a few feet form the bait. I have had much success without the stopper, therefore; I do not feel it’s necessary. I do not use rubber core sinkers either, I feel they twist the line and promote tangles. Many anglers do use rubber cores and they will work, it’s just a matter of preference.
Baited up now what?
Once you’re baited up look for an open spot on the stern on the “windy side” of the boat. Gently cast your bait out and let him run, do not just strip out line. Depending on conditions you will more than likely have to follow your bait down the rail while letting him swim away from the boat. If your bait does not swim or swims back to the boat select another bait. Once you get bit you do not need to let the fish eat the bait very long, a couple of seconds should do, put the reel in gear when the line comes tight and set the hook. Many people get excited at this point and lose focus, be sure to listen to things going on around you. A few examples would be someone directing you to go under or someone yelling coming down, teamwork is essential. Always give the guy with the fish the “right of way” and that favor will be reciprocated.
While trolling offshore the crew and passengers are always looking for small patches of floating kelp (kelp paddies). I like to call them motels; more times than not kelp paddies are holding fish that are willing to become passengers on the boat. If someone says, “Kelp paddy,” grab your rod and head to the bait tank and wait. You want your bait to be first in the water when sliding on a kelp paddy. I usually fish nothing lighter than 40lb on kelp paddies; typically you will catch yellowtail, dorado, and tuna on the kelps. I like the heavier stuff for the following reasons: 1. If the whole boat hooks up on yellows they all seem to head for the same patch of kelp and they are not going to be stopped on 25lb gear. This will avoid casualties. 2. You never know what is going to pop up; sometimes big schools of bluefin sit under the paddies. 3. The kelp paddy fish are not usually line shy.
The Islands and Bays
Typically the islands and bays are a favorite destination for yellowtail, calico, White, and black Sea Bass. However, Guadalupe Island is an excellent place to catch yellowfin tuna up to 120lbs and trophy sized yellowtail in the 30-90lb class. The “Lupe”, Isla de Guadalupe is also home to the most prolific populations of White Sharks in the world. The island lies 160 miles off the coast of Baja California and is about 200 miles southwest of San Diego. My last trip to Guadalupe I lost 5 tuna is one day at the boat to White Sharks up to 15 feet in length. .
Cedros, San Benito Islands; San Pablo and Hippolito Bays may have the best yellowtail fishing in the world, 300 fish days are common. In addition to excellent fishing the islands and bays offer sceneries that are awesome. There are massive kelp beds in crystal clear water loaded with marine life. The types of fishing done at these locations are iron fishing surface and yo-yoing, swim baits, dropper loop, and live bait..
Dropper Loop Fishing:
Dropper loop fishing is an option when the boat is anchored on a “high spot” or a reef; typical depths are 70-200 feet. A dropper loop is a large loop tied above the sinker, the hook is tied to the loop, and the amount of weight varies on depth and current. Use torpedo sinkers anywhere from 4-16 ounces, the hooks should be anywhere from 5/0-8/0 and up. Use your heavy rig, something like a trolling outfit with 80lb and a stiff rod, 2 speed reels are nice but not needed.
Your target species are yellowtail, black, white seabass, and grouper. All the aforementioned target species will be near the bottom. Therefore, you should be fishing within 10 feet of the bottom. Drop your bait to the bottom and wind up a few cranks. I fish in free spool keeping tension on the spool. When there is a strike, I let the fish run for three seconds or so then I go into gear and pull hard to keep the fish from going into the reef. Many guys fish in gear and that works too but I prefer free spool.
Productive baits on the dropper loop include mackerel, sardines and strip baits (squid, whitefish, and mackerel). I like using live mackerel over the others because you eliminate many of the small “trash” fish. . When using live mackerel you may want to clip its tail down, just clip an inch off of one or both ends of its tail to slow it up. Mackerel can be used on hooks sized 5/0-8/0. If you fish sardines or strip baits you will have whitefish and smaller fish picking at it constantly. When fishing the dropper loop you should always hook your live baits in the nose, but strip baits should only be hooked on one end leaving a long piece to flap in the current. Avoid balling up your strip bait, it’s okay if the hook is showing. Dropper looping is effective anytime throughout the day and especially at night. Conditions will play a factor whether or not the fish are on the bite. Do not be afraid to be the only one trying it, I have sparked some outstanding fishing by trying this while the entire boat fly lined for tuna.
Rod: Seeker 655 XH or equivalent, a 5-6 foot rod that can handle 80-100lb line
Reel: Shimano Tiaga 30 LRS, TLD 20,30,50 2 speed, Penn 50S, 50SW
Surface Iron Fishing:
This is one of the most exciting ways to fish; many times you will see the fish “blow out” on your jig. You can use a rod anywhere from 7-10 feet long, however; the longer your rod is the greater your casting range will be. Typically 30lb line and 3-4 oz jigs with treble hooks work best. I like to watch for boils then cast the jig into the feeding fish, let it sink a couple of feet and start your retrieve. Sometimes mixing the retrieval speeds medium to fast will trigger a strike. If you see a big yellow pop up behind your jig stay cool and keep winding. Even when it strikes, wind even faster until the drag is slipping then you can raise your rod up. If you raise your rod up immediately when a fish strikes you will most likely not hook that fish. Bill Dance probably would not catch many yellowtail with that wild swing he uses while bass fishing. The key is to keep constant pressure on the line and this can only be accomplished by continuing to wind after the strike. I have seen just about everything caught on the surface iron except rockfish. However; mostly the surface iron is used for yellowtail and bass. Note: I would refrain from fishing the surface iron on a kelp paddy until I was sure there were not any dorado around. dorado are notorious for “throwing” the jig back at the boat at a high speed, I have seen more than a few injuries as a result of fishing the surface iron for dorado.
Rod: Seeker M870-8 or equivalent, a 7 – 10 foot rod that will handle 30lb line
Reel: Shimano Tor\Trini 20\30, Newell 300 series, Penn 500 series & 535/545, 4/0 narrow.
Jigs: Tady 45s or Tady 9s in various colors blue & white, scramble egg, Lime, blue & chrome.
Yo-yoing is done drifting or anchored in water from 70-200 feet over a reef. Depending on currents and depths usually a 4-6oz jig works well on a 40-60lb rig. The technique entails dropping your jig to the bottom and winding as fast as you can until you’re about half way to the surface, then dropping it back down until you get stopped by a “freight train”. You will need to fish a tight drag and pull hard as these fish will try to saw you off on the reef. Tighten your drag as much as you can without it being “stupid tight”, you need to put as much pressure on the line as you can without it breaking. One mistake many anglers make while fishing the “iron” is: when they are winding and feel a strike, they “swing” (hit) the fish. Never swing on the fish, when you feel it get heavy as you’re winding, keep winding until the drag starts to slip, then if you like you can “hit” it. However, I do not feel striking the fish is necessary. Personally I like to fish the heavier gear like 60lb. I get bit as much or more than the guys that fish 30lb. The difference is I land a much higher percentage of fish. A siwash or a treble hook is okay, however; my preference is for the siwash. I feel there is less of a chance of the hook pulling out with the siwash. The Tady 4/0 with white in the color pattern, blue, brown or lime seems to work well.
Rod: Seeker 665H or equivalent 6-6 1/2 foot rod that will handle 40/60lb line
Reel: Shimano Trinidad 40 or Torium 30, Newell 300-500 series,Penn 4/0
Jigs: Tady 4/0, Tady BA, Tady A1, or equivalent size and weight. Color patterns: Green\Yellow, Blue\White, Scrambled Egg, Green Sardine.
Swim baits are most effective when fishing the islands or high spots. I like to fish swim baits in water less than 80 feet for calico bass and yellowtail. The 7 inch bodies in green or brown with 3 or 4oz shad heads works best. Swim baits can be fished right on the surface with a fast retrieve or off of the bottom with a slow retrieve. Soft plastics are universal and will entice anything from tuna to rockfish that’s what I like about fishing them.
Use your light setup:
Rod: Seeker BCSW 808-8′ T or equivalent 7-8 foot rod that will handle 20\25lb test line
Reel:Shimano Tor\Trini 20, Newell 200 series, Penn 500 series & 535.
Knots to know
1. The Uni or San Diego Jam knot for anything heavier than 30lb
2. Uni to Uni for top shot connections or a bimini twist with a worm knot.
3. Dropper Loop
At a bare minimum you will need at least 5 setups. Note: The landings will rent you setups. Check with each boat for pricing. If I could only bring 5 setups they would include the following:
Setup 1: Light live bait\swim baits (20\25lb mono)
Rod: Seeker BCSW 808-8′ T or equivalent 7-8 foot rod that will handle 20\25lb test line
Reel:Shimano Tor\Trini 20, Newell 200 series, Penn 500 series & 535
Setup 2: Bait and surface jigs (30lb mono)
Rod: Seeker M870-8 or equivalent 7 1/2 – 9 foot rod that will handle 30lb line
Reel: Shimano Tor\Trini 30, Newell 300 series, Penn 500 series & 535/545, 4/0 narrow.
Setup 3: Bait and Yo-Yoing (jigs) (40/50lb mono)
Rod: Seeker 665H or equivalent 6-6 1/2 foot rod that will handle 40/50lb line
Reel Shimano Trinidad 40 or Torium 30, Newell 300-500 series,Penn 4/0
Setup 4: Heavy bait rig (50\60lb mono 80lb spectra)
Rod: Seeker 660H or equivalent 5 1/2-6 foot rod that can handle 50\60lb line
Real: Shimano TLD 20, 30 2 speed, Newell 500 Series,Penn 30T & 30S,
Setup 5: 80lb Trolling and dropper loop (80 top-shot/135 Spectra back)
Rod: Seeker 655 XH or equivalent 5-6 foot rod that can handle 80-100lb line
Reel: Shimano Tiaga 30 LRS, TLD 50 2 speed, Penn 50S, 50SW
I have listed a couple of manufactures that I use; I am not suggesting that nothing else will work. Anything equivalent to what I have suggested will work.
Hooks: Owner Gorilla 2 dozen each size – 4/0, 5/0, and 1 dozen size 8/0
Live bait hooks Owner Flyliner 3 dozen each 2, 1/0, 2/0,
Circle hooks: Owner Mutu 1 dozen each size – 2/0, 4/0, 1 dozen size 6/0
Big game hooks: 2 – Mustad 7691 size 7/0
Weights: 2 dozen assorted 1-4oz. sliders,
4 each – 4oz., 8oz., 12oz., 16oz. Torpedoes
15 Tady 45s and 9s in various colors blue & white, scramble egg, Lime, blue & chrome
15 Tady 4/0s and Tady BAs in blue & white, scramble egg, blue & chrome
Swim baits: 30 Seven inch tails in various colors and 2-6 oz shad heads
Trolling: 1 each tuna clones Mexican flag, Zucchini, black & purple
Squid jigs: 2 in your favorite size and color
Leader material: 30, 40, 50, 60lb fluorocarbon if you want to fish fluorocarbon… I do not use it myself
Swivels: ½ dozen – 4/0 black McMahon
Sabiki rigs for catching bait 2 size # 4 or # 2
Extra Line: Enough to respool all of your rigs except maybe the trolling outfit. Note: they have line on the boat but it’s cheaper to bring your own.
What to bring?
1. Deck boots
3. 2 pair of socks, underwear, t-shirts for each day.
4. 2 pair of sweats or shorts for dinner\lounging
5. Couple of pairs of jeans and shorts to wear on the deck.
6. Personal toiletries: tooth brush, tooth paste, mouth wash and deodorant
7. Bottled water for your stateroom is nice.
8. Some guys bring a book; I personally never find the time to read on these trips.
9. Medications you may need. If you are on a certain medication or have a serious medical condition I encourage you let the captain know prior to departure. They like to know in case there is an emergency so the appropriate action can be taken.
10. Sandals for lounging in the galley.
11. Sun glasses and sunscreen.