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Sports Weekend | OUTDOORS

It's Great for the Fishermen but Rotten to the Albacore

July 06, 2001|PETE THOMAS

For those keeping score, the number of albacore that lost their independence to Southland sport fishermen this year, before the Fourth of July, was at least 18,805.

That was the tally on one- and 1 1/2-day boats out of San Diego's three primary landings. It does not take into account the albacore landed aboard multi-day vessels, nor does it include those caught by private boaters or taken aboard vessels running out of Morro Bay and beyond.

It is, however, an indication that a season that traditionally doesn't begin until July 4 has started with a bang.

"It would have been even better, but we had that long period where the wind didn't blow and the water jumped up," said Steve Crooke, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

Indeed, were it not for about a three-week period during which sea surface temperatures rose from the low 60s to about 70 degrees, sending the longfin tuna elsewhere, dock totals probably would be much greater.

Albacore fanatics feared the worst--a quick end to an early season--when that happened. But their drags have been singing anew for the last several days, thanks to a return of prevailing westerlies and an upwelling of cooler water that has enticed new schools of the Southland's favorite game fish.

Said John Yamate, manager of San Diego's Seaforth Sportfishing: "The water temperature is much closer to normal for this time of year [about 64 degrees, nearly ideal for albacore] and there's a lot of fish around right now."

As he said that, Tuesday at mid-morning, his skippers were calling in the season's first good run of bluefin tuna, which were mixed with the albacore.

The prime fishing grounds for the day boats have been either about 55 miles south of Point Loma or, more recently, in U.S. waters east of the Butterfly Bank.

The albacore have been averaging a smallish 10 pounds and the bluefin a much heftier 20-40.

The 1 1/2-day boats are covering twice the distance and encountering more and larger albacore, and more bluefin. The bonus has been unusually large yellowtail--mostly 10- to 20-pounders--gathered beneath floating kelp paddies.

For what it's worth: San Diego's albacore score as of July 3 last year was 11,780. The previous year, during La Nina, it was 25,451. That turned out to be a record season as sport anglers from Morro Bay to San Diego decked a whopping 254,983 albacore.

More numbers: Besides albacore, anglers aboard San Diego's one- and 1 1/2-day sport boats, as of July 3, had logged 8,078 yellowtail, 97 bluefin tuna, 23 dorado and two yellowfin tuna.

Last year at the same time, the score was 12,952 yellowtail and 2,443 bluefin. In 1999 it was 5,435 yellowtail, 428 bluefin, 16 bigeye and 5,357 yellowfin.

Thunderbird makes splash: It's not often you see albacore in the Marina del Rey fish count. In fact, Rick Oefinger, owner of Marina del Rey Sportfishing with 30 years of experience in the industry, said he can't recall one ever being caught aboard a sportfishing vessel based in the marina.

History was made, then, when a vessel returned Wednesday night from an area between San Clemente and the San Nicolas islands with 73 albacore averaging a juicy 20 pounds.

"That's why we got an island boat [last winter]," Oefinger said of the Thunderbird, which previously had run out of Davey's Locker in Newport Beach.

The boat was supposed to make another run Wednesday night, fishing Thursday, but access to the marina was blocked by Fourth of July revelers, keeping the anglers at bay. The Thunderbird is on a nightly schedule, targeting albacore at the offshore banks and other game fish at the Channel Islands. Details: (310) 822-3625.

Oxnard/Morro Bay: The Cat Special out of Cisco's in Oxnard reported a count of 70 albacore before noon Thursday from an area 50 to 60 miles offshore. Capt. John Fuqua wouldn't be specific about the location, but judging from the size of the fish--15- to 30-pounders--he was probably near where the Thunderbird had been Wednesday.

Virg's Landing in Morro Bay, meanwhile, has been getting its share of Southern California customers since a crew trip two weeks ago produced 80 albacore in an area only 13 miles offshore. Since then, fishermen aboard the Admiral and Princess have had their hands full with the tuna on calm days, fishing 20-30 miles out, and with the weather on rough days.

News and Notes

* Local bite: The sand bass invasion is complete and the tasty little game fish are carpeting patches of ocean floor from Oceanside to Santa Monica Bay. Ten-fish limits or near limits have been the rule this week aboard day and twilight vessels.

* Catalina bite: Independence Day signals the traditional start of the local striped marlin season, but while a few have been seen, none have been brought into Avalon Seafood, the official weigh station on Santa Catalina Island.

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