Waterman's Journal

Jul 25, 2012

The Long Range Experience - Part I

The Long Range Experience - Part I
by Colin Sarfeh

The long range adventure is an experience unlike any other in big game fishing – to some West Coast fishermen it is even considered the pinnacle of our sport. Growing up in Southern California, I have always been pardoned to my local fishery and intrigued by the long range scene. I found it fascinating as a kid that boats leaving out of San Diego, would travel for days to put their passengers in line to catching a fish of a lifetime. Yellowfin Tuna to over 300-pounds, Wahoo the size small billfish, and goliath bottom-dwellers straight out of the Stone Age, were just some of the impressive catch that I would constantly see in newspapers, magazines, and, throughout the past decade or so, all over the internet.

In October 2009, I took my first true long range venture – a ten day voyage aboard Red Rooster III , where we headed to points south of San Diego, and I recorded my personal best tuna to that date. I fell in love with being out at sea for an extended period of time, and the squirrely 89-pound Yellowfin that I caught ignited a burning passion in me to one day catch the ever-coveted “Cow” – a Yellowfin Tuna of over 200-pounds.

Below: Accurate Reels armed for monster tuna // A typical long range tackle rack

Catching a cow is quite the commitment; it requires heavy-duty tackle, a lot of gear, and usually, from a long range perspective anyways, a trip of two weeks or more. There is a lot of preparation involved as well: servicing your reels, learning spectra to mono or mono to fluoro connections, rigging your tackle, choosing the right hook for the job, etc. That being said, all of the preparation in the world does not guarantee you a 200-pound fish. I’ve met guys that have been going on these trips for years, and have caught many great fish, but none surpassing the double-century mark. On the other hand, many long range rookies have struck good fortune and bagged a cow or two on their very first voyage.

When I was asked by the owners of EXCEL , a 124-foot luxury long range sportfisher, to join them on their first long trip of the 2012 season, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This 16-day adventure (with fly-back option from Cabo San Lucas) sponsored by ACCURATE REELS was their commemorative “maiden voyage” under new ownership, and I was honored to jump on board as a co-sponsor and representative of PELAGIC GEAR for the trip.

Below: _EXCEL's _lengthy beam provides plenty of space to accomodate 20-plus passengers at the rail

The trip started off on the right foot during a gorgeous March afternoon in San Diego. Before setting sail, a champagne toast was given by new EXCEL co-owner, “Big Al” Gross, in commemoration of the boat’s new ownership, and as a sign of respect for the boat’s previous (and legendary) owners. Ingrid Poole – former EXCEL owner and wife of the late, great, long range pioneer, Bill Poole – was on hand for the celebration. It was a great moment for the fleet, and with such an incredible atmosphere, it set the tone for the voyage ahead.

Below: Al Gross raises a toast before setting sail // Ingrid Poole spoke as well

At around 15:00 on Tuesday, March 27th, we set sail, first making the necessary stop at the San Diego bait receivers where hundreds of scoops of sardines went into bait wells and “slammers” to be used during the trip. The Everingham Bros. Bait Co. does an incredible job of keeping tabs on how long a certain bait pen has been “cured” to ensure that each boat that goes through is presented with the opportunity to select the best batch of bait possible. Most long range skippers will agree: these voyages can be made or broken at the receivers, depending on the quality of bait. From there we headed out of the harbor, past the Coronado Islands, and set a course for Mexico’s Revillagigedo Archipelago or the further-out Hurricane Bank, some 1,100-miles from San Diego.

Below: Clarion Island is the main attraction for "cow hunters" at The Revs

Pelagic Pro Team Captain, Justin Fleck, was our skipper for the trip, and quickly informed our twenty-seven passengers to relax for the evening – we had four full days of travel ahead of us before wetting a line. That length of travel before fishing might seem like much to some; to others, the time spent traveling hosts moments of opportunity to perfectly fine-tune gear. Seminars were given each day by crew members to go over such things as types of fishing, rigging, fishing techniques, safety practices, etc.

Below: Crewmembers load thousands of sardine bait into the boat's massive bait wells

Jack Nilsen of Accurate Reels was on board for the 16-day adventure. He and Gary Gillingham brought roughly $75,000 worth of reel and rod set-ups for passenger’s use; everything from high-speed, narrow reels perfect for grinding jigs or casting bait to Wahoo, to heavy-duty, 50W-sized reels with their patented “Twin Drag” gear system meant for putting the heat on big tuna. I got the opportunity to test drive many of Accurate’s reels in various applications, and I must say that they performed up to the task of the high-intensity, long range environment – very smooth, high-quality reels indeed.

NOTE: for those that have considered long range fishing, but are hesitant because of maybe not having the necessary gear, I would highly recommend a charter like the one Accurate puts on. One can essentially walk on board with nothing but your personal clothing and other miscellaneous items and get fully geared up and ready to go because of the amount of tackle brought on board. Just a thought for those looking for an excuse to go…


Below: Captain Justin Fleck // Mike Pritchard gives a seminar on how to use the fighting harness // Accurate Reels aplenty


Pelagic Gear handed out many giveaways during the trip. Each passenger received a Pelagic “goody” bag that included t-shirts, hats, visors, stickers, drink coozies, and keychains; and there were daily incentive prizes for the chance to win shorts, gloves, sun shirts, and even jackets. SEAGUAR provided a healthy selection of fluorocarbon leader, which proved to be a big advantage during times of “pick” fishing, and GAMAKATSU donated a fine array of hooks for use in all applications during the trip. Their Ringed Super Nautilus circle hooks and Live Bait HD J-hooks were put to good use by many anglers on board, catching their fair share of personal best fish while put to the test during hot and heavy, wide-open action.

To take your mind off your tackle, one can watch satellite TV in the comfortable salon and lounge, enjoy the ocean’s scenery with a refreshment ( EXCEL carries BALLAST POINT on board, one of San Diego’s premier Craft Breweries) while getting some sun on EXCEL ’s spacious upper or back decks, or play cards with new friends.

Below: Happy passengers show off their prizes // Got to love watching the big game while at sea - NCAA March Madness was the main event

Three meals, a mid-morning snack, and afternoon hors d'oeuvres were served daily by Chef Jason Fleck, twin brother of Capt. Justin. Meals included cooked-to-order eggs for breakfast, gigantic sandwiches, burgers, or salads for lunch, and gourmet fish, beef, or chicken presentations for dinner, and are just a sampling of some of the extraordinary dishes produced by Chef Jason. Not to mention the impressive sushi displays, delicious desserts, or prime finger foods offered-up as nourishment during a hard day’s fishing. All-in-all, expect to put on a couple of pounds during your long range adventure – these meals are hard to pass up!

Below: An impressive sushi spread and a pork chop dinner were just a sampling of the delicious meals served on EXCEL

By the fourth day of travel, your gear is dialed-in and the anticipation begins to boil over, as you realize that the next morning you could potentially be tussling with the biggest fish of your life.

We arrived at our first destination, the Hurricane Bank, at roughly 03:00 on Sunday, April 1st. Hurricane Bank, lies west of Mexico’s Revillagigedo Archipelago, and is an underwater seamount that rises from the depths to fewer than 100 fathoms. The upwellings from the Pacific’s currents bring rich nutrients to the area creating the perfect ecosystem for predatory gamefish to thrive. Wahoo and Yellowfin Tuna are abundant here and did not disappoint during our time spent at The ‘Cane.

The tuna started biting as soon as the anchor went down – in the dark. Justin Medeiros, a first time long ranger, dropped a Salas PL68 heavy, glow-in-the-dark jig down into the abyss. As he started to wind in his lure, the line came tight, rod bent over, and Justin was pulled hard into the rail by a monster fish. Half an hour later, hooting and hollering resonated on the EXCEL ’s back deck as a crewmembers Jake, Brandon, and Mike welcomed the first fish of the trip on board – a cow! Justin’s fish weighed in at 214-pounds on the boats certified scales.

Below: Justin Medeiros with his first-ever cow yellowfin // Crewmember Brandon Wilske welcomes a wahoo aboard

Our first day on the Bank proved to be the most action packed of the three days spent at this remote destination. Tuna of 50-240 pounds bit consistently in the morning and evening which provided great action for all anglers on board, and Wahoo fishing was intense during certain periods of the day. When the tuna fishing slowed down after the morning bite, Capt. Fleck would troll for Wahoo while looking for more schools of tuna. During one troll stop in particular, the Wahoo charged the boat, leaving Excel’s anglers struggling to keep up with the pace and ferocity in which these fish bit. The razor-jawed skinnies bit so fast that many lost their cast jigs or wahoo bombs before the consternated angler could even put their reels in gear. The fish that were hooked wreaked havoc on deck, and, in typical Wahoo fashion, crossed, tangled, and sawed-off many, many lines.

This author had one ‘hoo that bit a Salas 6X Jr. “Tar Baby” jig at mid-ship, port side. Before I knew it, I was running around the stern corners and all the way up to the starboard bow before the fish eventually sounded and settled into a steady fight. The noise was unforgettable as my line ripped through the ocean’s surface trying to follow suit with the Lamborghini-laced Wahoo. Magically and much to the delight of my fellow fisherman, I was somehow able to maneuver my way through everyone else’s line without causing a tangle, which eventually led to landing my career-best Wahoo – a solid 65-pounder.

Below: Team Pelagic's Colin Sarfeh and crewmember Joel Fleck pose with a prize wahoo // This yellowfin passed the test

Tuna fishing was productive this first day with various different methods. Fly-lining a lively sardine well away from the boat could entice a bite at any moment, and those that dedicated themselves to “chunking” were often rewarded with a solid take. In fact, the second cow of the day, a healthy 216-pounder, came to Sam Raiter on a chunk of Skipjack Tuna. Sam fished his chunk on a 6/0 Gamakatsu Ringed Super Nautilus hook tied off to a 130-pound Seaguar Flourocarbon leader backed by 130-pound Jerry Brown Spectra.

Another effective method of tuna fishing was on the kite. Long range boats have adopted this east coast style of fishing by presenting baits on the surface of the water. Finicky tuna that can be seen boiling around the boat, but not taking any hooked bait, are usually tempted to take the surface presentation, as was the case for us on this first day of fishing. Around mid-afternoon, newly-inducted “Cow Club” member, Justin Medeiros, who earlier boated his first 200-pound tuna, was up on the kite. Justin’s “double trouble” sardine offering was annihilated by another monster, and an hour later, this first time long ranger had his second cow Yellowfin on board – an impressive 232-pounder.

Below: Sam Raiter's chunky yellowfin // Rookie long ranger, Justin Medeiros, with his second cow in one day

Our first day of fishing ended just how it started, with another cow coming on board. Just before dark, Pete Corselli got a solid hook-up on a fly-lined sardine. While most anglers retired to the salon for a delicious pork tenderloin dinner, Pete fought his fish up on the starboard bow. With two crewmembers and a couple videographers by his side, Pete, however, did not feel left alone. Forty-five minutes later, Pete prevailed and his 225-pound cow Yellowfin was gaffed and hoisted over the rails. The celebrity moment continued for Pete as his fish was weighed and photographed while the final glimmer of sun sank into the Pacific, marking the end of a great start to fishing aboard the EXCEL .

Below: The final moments of Pete Corselli's yellowfin bout // The end result

__ _Photos by Jack Nilsen (Accurate Reels), Jason Fleck (Excel Sportfishing), and Colin Sarfeh (Pelagic Gear) _


Coming soon in Part II of 'The Long Range Experience'...

More exciting action aboard the 124-foot EXCEL , as we make the transition from Hurricane Bank to the famous giant yellowfin grounds surrounding Mexico's Clarion Island.

The Long Range Chronicles: Part II

The Long Range Chronicles: Part III