July 27th, 2013 – Tuna Pens for Bluefin

In a relatively unplanned adventure, Jason and I decided to head down for a shot at some of the Bluefin Tuna that had been swimming up closer to San Diego.  It was also his first overnight on a new-to-him boat.  There was plenty of adventure highlighted with some nice bluefin on the deck.


This was part fishing trip part adventure.  The first longer trip in Jason’s new boat; a sweet custom Ketenburg from the 70’s.  It is dialed with all kinds of electronics and has a very wide beam.  The tuna pens are for tuna aquaculture.  Sein neters cat huge schools of tuna and put them in the floating pens.  The pens are circular and maybe 150′ across.  They have large nets and the tuna just swim in circles.  The pen operators tow the full pens to one of a number of spots where they get large and are sold commercially.  So, there are tuna in the pens and tuna not in the pens.  As they like to school together, the pens seem to be a magnet for the free swimming ones.  So, the plan is to fish near the pens to try and get the free ones.  The plan is no secret.

Planning was last minute, but after a trip to the grocery store we left Mission Bay in the early evening.  We got a scoop of large and tired sardines; the recent water rolling didn’t help them either.

The seas down were short period, but not too bad.  Beam to, so we rolled a bit, but the boat is very comfortable.  We didn’t get going early enough to do any trolling on the way down, but it was nice to be out.  By 10pm or so, we could already see a lot of commercial looking boats on radar.  These turned out to be tuna boats towing the pens to the Coronado Islands.  A bit after midnight, we were close.  The plan was to drift until 5am or so and then head in close to the tuna pens.  The bite had been over early in the days before.

First trip excitement made it hard to sleep.  We didn’t get as early of a start in the morning as we wanted, but we were at the pens by about 7:30am.  The San Diego fleet was there in full force.  At least 5 of the sport boats and 30-40 private boaters.


We ended up with three bluefin on deck.  Played with some squid the night before and had a little blue shark annoy us.

Right away we had meter marks everywhere as we got close to the pens.  There was plenty of fish.  We trolled for about 10 minutes to get close to a pen and then let out live bait.  Long soaks were working in the past days.  With the wind still blowing 8-10, we were drifting right along.

Action was slow, and no one around us was getting bit.  We were metering constant fish at 150-300′ deep (wished I had remembered to back some weights).  I grabbed my yo-yo rig, put a magic metal jig on and dropped it down.  I think it was in the 250-300′ deep range when I put it in gear.  I got maybe a half crank and was bit.  5 minutes later we had a 15# bluefin on the deck, bled and in the bag.  That felt good.

It felt good to have the fish after the long trip, but this was my biggest trip since back surgery.  I was being very careful, and had no pain.  Almost like I am recovering.

Things stayed slow for a while and we didn’t see any other boats getting bit.  I started to look for another rig to put a deep jig on and saw two huge boils near the boat.  Two bait rigs were hit.  Jason put them both in gear and one broke off right away.  The other was on.  about 30 minutes later we had a 35# bluefin on the deck (See pictures).

The rest of the drifts were slow.  We were still metering fish, but it seemed that the bite was off.  Around 11am we decided to head north.  We pointed the boat toward the 425 and put out a trolling spread.  It took a bit to figure out the outriggers and we ran home.  We saw some paddies and metered fish, but nothing would bite.  Jason’s boat has proper 360 degree sonar, the kind that drops down thru the hull.  We saw fish by the paddies and tried, but nothing was biting.

We kept plugging along alternating naps.  It was a nice ride.

Just north of the 425, we got a jig stop.  It brought in a 12# bluefin.  We were seeing a large volume of fish and we were getting closer to home.  This is a good sign of things to come.

We got in tired and slept well that night.  The trip was a success for the boat, the adventure and we got bluefin!

Based on catch reports, we didn’t do bad either.  Particularly if you consider that we had a very late start in the morning.

I don’t know the total distance, but it was probably close to 150 miles after chasing some birds and paddies.



Once we got away from the coast and headed south, the water quality was great. There was a strong band of cooler water up to about 10 miles offshore. This was due to the winds the week before.  On the ride home it settled down north of the Coronado Islands.


This tide information is for San Diego and we were over 60 miles away, but it gives the general picture.
Tides for July 27th, 2013


Late July after the water rolled means fog.  We didn’t see much sun and the wind was up a bit.  We saw 8-15knts of breeze the whole time.  Not quite snotty, but not calm either.  There was a short period wind swell from the blow up north that had things a little less than comfortable.  Overcast and breezy, but not stormy.  The little boats didn’t look comfortable.



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