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Anglers Look at Dorado Catch as Proof This El Nino Is for Real

June 27, 1997|PETE THOMAS

Clouds will be bursting like giant water balloons for much of the winter in some areas of the world, causing widespread flooding, destruction and even death.

In other areas there will be no clouds to speak of, only drought and famine.

So say scientists, anyway, who are predicting an El Nino phenomenon powerful enough to change weather patterns and wreak all sorts of havoc, much as the El Nino of 1982-83 did.

Torrential rains that winter sent homes sliding down hillsides throughout the Southland. Huge waves battered the coast. Worldwide, the change in the weather was blamed for 1,500 deaths and $8 billion in damage.

None of this is good news, of course, as we brace for another El Nino.

But there are those looking on the bright side. Namely, fishermen. They are well aware that the summers of 1982 and '83 produced some of the best fishing ever off the Southland coast.

The warmer water, an El Nino trademark, brought yellowfin tuna into areas they would otherwise not visit (they were being caught on four-hour twilight trips out of Oceanside).

Tropical red crabs washed up on our beaches. Jumbo squid, another rare visitor measuring about three feet, flooded our coastal waters. Dorado, normally caught well south of the border, were practically jumping into boats as far north as Newport Beach. A marlin was caught off San Francisco.

"I remember 1982 and it was just a killer summer," says Art Taylor, 40, longtime skipper of the Searcher out of San Diego. "We had albacore that year and the long-range fishing was just phenomenal. I recall finishing up a three-day trip. We were just off La Jolla and we were getting yellowfin, bigeye [tuna] . . . you name it.

"Then [the summer of] 1983 was just as good, except we didn't have the albacore."

Scientists base their El Nino prediction largely on results obtained from sophisticated computer models, and through satellite technology. We will have to wait until fall or even winter, they say, to see how accurate their predictions are.

But fishermen, whose only tools are rods and reels and an assortment of tackle, are convinced that this El Nino is already the real deal. And it's hard to argue with them, given the unusual sequence of events taking place offshore.

First came the albacore, after a 10-year absence. Anglers welcomed them with open arms--and sharp and shiny hooks. A strong albacore run preceded the El Nino winter of 1982-83.

Then came the yellowfin tuna, tropical and sub-tropical fish that have been making themselves at home in various offshore locales that have warmed to a very un-Southern California-like 75 degrees.

Then came yellowtail and large bonito, which are breezing about closer to shore in incredible numbers, from below the Mexican border all the way to Santa Barbara.

The clincher, if one were needed, was the absurd catch last week of a 15-pound dorado off Venice Beach. Dorado typically prefer clear, blue offshore water in the 75- to 80-degree range. Now nearly two dozen mahi-mahi, as these colorful fish are called in Hawaii, have been pulled from the, cough, Santa Monica Bay.

"I've never heard of that before, not since I can remember," says Rick Oefinger, 41, owner of the Del Mar and New Del Mar out of Del Rey Sportfishing in Marina del Rey. Oefinger has been fishing the bay for 27 years.

"The passengers? Oh, they're stoked," he adds. "We were out the other day and we hung seven fish at the same time, and they were jumping all over the place. It's like something you would see on a long-range trip or in Loreto [in Baja California] or someplace."

As if all this isn't bizarre enough, there are unconfirmed reports of a sea monster-sized giant squid rising from the deep and wrapping its tentacles around a commercial fisherman's boat, and holding onto it for more than an hour before finally letting go.

"[The captain] was afraid to do anything with it because he was afraid to [tick] it off, because with one move the squid could easily sink his boat," said an employee at Port Hueneme Sportfishing, who would only give his first name, Bruce.

Bruce says he heard the frightened fisherman describing what was happening to another fisherman over the marine radio late one night a few days ago. "He was talking about being held at bay by this thing, describing its eyes, which were about 20 feet apart. And he sounded serious, like it really was happening."

And to think El Nino hasn't even flexed its muscles yet.

PASS THE TARTAR SAUCE

Giant squid do indeed exist. National Fisherman, a commercial fishing monthly, recently reported that scientists trolling a net at about 1,400 feet off New Zealand brought up a giant squid measuring 26 feet and weighing nearly a ton.

According to the boat's skipper, the monster mollusk would yield calamari rings "the size of toilet seats."

OUT OF THE BLUE . . .

It's a little early (what isn't this year?) but blue whales are back in the nutrient-rich Santa Barbara Channel, en masse, gorging on tiny krill, for the fifth time in six summers.

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