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SPORTS WEEKEND | THE OUTDOORS

Anticipation Is Mounting as Yellowtail Begin to Stir

March 20, 1998|PETE THOMAS

Some fishermen can sense that it's about to happen. Others have already gotten a taste of it.

Spring is almost upon us and, despite the calendar, the ocean is showing signs of livening up, as it did last spring when a full-scale yellowtail invasion in late April was followed by albacore in May and yellowfin tuna in June and July in what was undoubtedly one of the most exciting saltwater fishing seasons on record.

"Most people aren't attune to it yet, but the season is here," said Ronnie Kovach, a radio personality (AM 1150) and fishing instructor who returned this week from a trip aboard the Pegasus out of Fisherman's Landing in San Diego.

While preparing his fish for the smoker, Kovach reported that all 20 passengers aboard the vessel bagged quick limits of yellowtail while fishing in an area 40 miles south of Point Loma. Bob Fletcher, president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, was in the same area aboard the Legend and reported similar success, his five-fish limit topped by a 16-pounder.

Skippers of both vessels metered several schools of yellowtail, each several hundred strong, in a fairly small area. Fletcher added that private boaters have reported large areas of yellowtail in various locations all the way down the peninsula.

"I also heard from the pilot of a spotter plane who works for a commercial fisherman that there are lots and lots of yellowtail at San Clemente Island, and nobody has even been out there yet," he said.

The yellowtail off northern Baja included two size classes, with 5- to 8-pound "firecrackers" mixed with 10- to 18-pound "teenagers," which are believed to be the same small fish that flooded Southland waters last April.

"They've grown up some," Kovach said.

Whether they've gotten any wiser will probably be determined in the coming weeks, when the water warms another degree or two and the fish cross the border and find all those baited hooks dangling in front of their faces.

EARLY ALBACORE?

Last spring and summer, Southland fishermen enjoyed the first significant albacore season in 10 years, while Central California anglers experienced one of the best seasons ever.

Will there be an encore performance by these high-spirited tuna?

Fletcher thinks so, based on rumors of albacore sightings by private yachters within a day's boat ride from San Diego. "There have been real persistent rumors, but no confirmation," he said. "I'm trying to get a confirmed report and if I get one, I'm going to try to get a boat to go looking for them. The water looks good enough--it's already 63 degrees out there."

Which is about what it was when the first albacore were caught last May.

FOOL'S GOLD?

Santa Ana River Lakes officials are offering anglers a chance to win $100,000 during its Berkley Power Bait Tagged Fish Extravaganza March 26-29. This is sure to generate a fair amount of chaos at the freeway-side ponds in Anaheim, but will someone actually walk away $100,000 richer?

Probably not.

Lake officials say 275 tagged rainbow trout and catfish--most with tags worth $5 to $500 and payable on the spot--will be stocked for what is being called "the mother of all tagged fish contests." Of those, there are 25 special tags, 10 of which qualify fishermen for a drawing from 250 envelopes, one of which contains a check for $100,000.

If none of those 10 fish are caught, which is likely considering that there are thousands of fish in the reservoir, then the first 10 of the 15 other specially tagged fish qualify for the drawing.

If none of those fish are caught, the first 10 of the 250 other tagged fish qualify. If only one tagged fish is caught in the four days, then that angler will get to draw 10 envelopes and hope that one will contain the $100,000.

If no tagged fish are caught, the house will draw 10 envelopes, and if any of them contain the $100,000, the money will go to charity.

"Either way, we're going to draw 10 envelopes," concessionaire Bill Andrews said.

There is another catch. For fishermen to qualify for the entire $100,000, they must first pick up a "double-down" coupon free of charge at a Turner's Outdoorsman store. Without one of these sponsor's coupons, the $100,000 is only worth $50,000.

"It's going to be an interesting four days," Andrews said.

It's going to be a circus.

THE CHUM LINE

* The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently opened the bidding for construction of an entertainment complex that would replace the current public launch ramp facility at Marina del Rey with waterfront restaurants, shops and a hotel. That such a plan is even being considered has recreational boaters irate.

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