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SPORTS WEEKEND | OUTDOORS

Albacore Lure the Madding Crowd

June 06, 1997|PETE THOMAS

Landing operators can't wipe the smiles from their faces. Skippers haven't had to deal with so much activity on their decks since longer than many of them can remember.

But they're loving every minute of it.

Fishermen are flocking to the waterfront, boarding overnight boats and setting out to see for themselves if this albacore run--the first locally in more than a decade--is indeed for real.

Just how crazy is it?

"I caught my first albacore the other day and it was awesome. Awesome!" says Dennis Spike of Tarzana. "There were ski boats way out there with all the fishing boats, you know, like the stuff you see at Castaic [Lake] pulling skiers. Everyone was out there. It looked like something you would see in a Mad magazine fishing centerfold."

Yes, the albacore everyone thought would stay just long enough to provide a taste of the way things used to be, when they would show like clockwork for two months every summer, are still around after a surprise appearance three weeks ago.

This despite offshore water temperatures running at about 70 degrees, well above the 62 to 66 this species of tuna prefers. But there apparently are enough avenues of cooler, purplish-blue water to keep the albacore passing through.

The Aztec returned to Long Beach Sportfishing on Wednesday with 51 albacore in the 15-pound range and a bonus catch of 11 much larger bluefin tuna. The Searcher, on its last trip out of Redondo Sportfishing before moving to San Diego for the summer, came back Wednesday with 79 albacore for only 13 passengers. Vessels from Redondo Beach to San Diego were averaging 30-40 albacore a trip.

Reached via sideband radio Thursday morning, Tommy Rothery of the Polaris Supreme out of San Diego told Philip Friedman of 976-TUNA: "Gosh, it's not even 9 [a.m.] and we already have 35 albacore. It's some of the best fishing we've had in the past week."

At 2:37 p.m. Thursday, Buzz Brizendine of the Prowler reported via radio: "Choppy, sloppy weather and albacore boiling on corner. . . . We've got 60-plus for the day."

Surprisingly, there may be even more albacore around than previously believed.

Rothery said another skipper had told him over the radio that he had located schools of albacore and bluefin while on a multiday trip near Guadalupe Island off Baja California, landing about 20 fish.

The albacore being targeted are in U.S. waters, mostly at an area around what is called the Butterfly Bank, about 70 miles southwest of Los Angeles Harbor, 40 miles west of Point Loma.

"This is a different area of fish and it sounds like the door's open for more stuff to move inside here," Rothery said of the Baja schools.

Meanwhile, the Southland overnight fleet is making do with what is available closer to home, which for the time being is plenty for everyone.

"Right now, we're all out there," says Don Ashley, owner of Long Beach Sportfishing. "Boats from Oceanside, Newport, Long Beach and even Redondo are out there, fishing side by side with the San Diego boats."

ADD ALBACORE

The traditional migration pattern for albacore, once they reach the West Coast, is to turn left and travel north.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the fish have surfaced off Central California.

Eight anglers aboard the Admiral, on an exploratory trip out of Virg's Landing in Morro Bay, caught eight albacore last Saturday, the largest an 18-pounder. Anglers on private boats out of Half Moon Bay reported a combined catch of about 30 longfins.

"The wind blew like hell Sunday and the privateers got blown off the water," says Harold Davis, a longtime tuna fisherman who owns Davis Boats in Morro Bay.

No surprise. Mother Nature does a much better job of protecting the tuna up there. Nevertheless, with albacore in the vicinity, the effort will be made whenever possible.

The Princess, out of Virg's, has a boat scheduled to leave tonight and return early Sunday morning. Cost is $135. Details: (805) 772-1222.

THE HEAT IS ON

Experts say we will not feel the effects of a predicted El Nino weather phenomenon--which results in much warmer water off our coast, bringing in all sorts of exotic species of fish--until midsummer or later.

If that is the case, what the heck is going on now?

"The water is already ridiculous," Ashley points out. "It's 75 degrees at Oceanside, and it's 73 practically everywhere else. Hell, it's 71 degrees up in Ventura."

The reason for that, many believe, is merely the lack of persistent westerly winds, which bring cooler water toward the surface.

Whatever the reason, exotics are already beginning to show. A dorado was caught aboard San Diego's Holiday the other day, and a few yellowfin tuna, which prefer water of 75-80 degrees, already have been caught.

And Friedman, on a twilight trip with his kids aboard the City of Long Beach the other night, spotted a large sea turtle.

"One thing I haven't seen, which is odd, is marlin," Ashley says. "I thought the first marlin would be caught last week. This weekend, if it isn't too rough, someone is going to catch a marlin."

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