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FAIR GAME PETE THOMAS

Tuna are calling: Catch us if you can

June 29, 2004|PETE THOMAS

ONE REPORT SHOUTS, "Tuna! Tuna! Tuna!" Another calls it the best week for yellowfin in two years and exclaims, "We probably caught more tuna in the last few days than in the last two years combined."

I telephone a third East Cape fleet operator for verification and he's speechless -- his mouth stuffed with sashimi.

Rancho Leonero Resort owner John Ireland confirms the tuna invasion that began two weeks ago in the southern Gulf of California is one of the most prolific in recent memory. The fish are bigger than the albacore off the coast of San Diego. The yellowfin average 20 to 25 pounds but many exceed 50 pounds and some top 150.

Marathon tug of wars under a blazing sun are testing anglers' mettle. Tyler Smith of Newbury Park landed a 125-pounder on 30-pound-test near Cerralvo Island after a 3 1/2-hour struggle. He returned to the beach in a daze and drenched with sweat.

"He was shaking and twitching," says Jonathan Roldan of Tail Hunters Fishing and Adventures, which books trips from Las Arenas southeast of La Paz. "It took five guys to lift the tuna into his arms [for a photo] because he kept dropping it."

The fish have been feeding, often beneath porpoise, over a 60-mile area between Cerralvo Island and the East Cape town of La Ribera. Ireland says his boat captains encounter yellowfin as close as 10 miles offshore. "Normally it's the first people on the school who are the ones who catch them, then as more boats come it drives [the school] down," he says. "Now they're so spread out over such a large area, everybody's getting them."

It's early for such a strong bite, but not surprising. Water has warmed to 85 degrees in places and is teeming with bait fish and larger Humboldt squid. Marlin, dorado and even wahoo are on a feeding binge. Tuna and some marlin should be biting throughout summer.

"There's really nothing not biting now," Ireland says after a 45-minute fight with a 65-pound dorado. "Of 80 boat departures in a week's period, we had 332 tuna but also 57 striped marlin and lots of big dorado."

Gary Graham, whose Baja on the Fly guide service caters to fly fishermen, says two of his clients, using his Baja wasabi fly -- what else? -- spent several hours traveling with porpoise and returned with "enough sashimi to feed the full hotel at cocktail hour."

Roldan describes the bite: "While we were outside searching for big dorado and all these stray marlin, the porpoise school delivered like the Pony Express! Fish came crashing through the schools! Thirty- to 100-pound tuna grabbing air and taking down baits and burning drags! It was incredible to see porpoise jumping and huge Volkswagen tuna coming out of the water and rolling in the chum lines!"

Having been amid such a frenzy only once, in the same general area, hooked to what seemed a motorized 100-pound anvil, eyes burning with sweat and muscles throbbing with pain, I can relate. Makes me twitch just thinking about it.

To e-mail Pete Thomas or read his previous columns, go to latimes.com /petethomas.

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