Waterman's Journal

Aug 30, 2012

The Long Range Experience - Part II

The Long Range Experience - Part II
by Colin Sarfeh

In Part I of 'The Long Range Experience', we went through what it is like during the first leg of your long range adventure - the travel days, the tackle requirements, the rigging, the incredible cuisine, etc. - and ended by recapping the first full day of fishing aboard EXCEL . The first day saw great action with four cows, or Yellowfin Tuna over 200-pounds, come aboard, as well as some intense, wide-open wahoo fishing. Read 'The Long Range Experience - Part I' .

On days two and three of fishing, we were presented with tougher conditions; slack currents made it tough to get a bait out away from the boat to “the zone”. Many nice tuna could be seen boiling a few hundred feet away from our vessel – however, enticing a bite was a different story.

Long range captains are savvy to these types of scenarios and will do whatever it takes to put their anglers on fish and show them the trip of a lifetime. Captain Fleck is an innovator and decided to give slow trolling “Yummee Flyers” from the kite a try. Flying fish are a favored food source of mid to large sized tuna, and the Yummee Flyer is a lifelike, plastic imitation flying fish lure. By slow trolling these baits from the kite, the Flyer essentially mimicked a flying fish skirting along the surface. The results were outstanding to say the least, and because of Capt. Justin’s quick thinking, he turned a slow (by long range standards) couple of days into successful outcomes.

Although no 200-pounders were caught with this method, many fish in the 120-170 pound class were landed, as well as a handful of good-sized wahoo.

Below: Team Pelagic's Colin Sarfeh with a good-sized Yummee Flyer-caught yellowfin // _Excel _co-owner, Al Downing, displays thick wahoo

With the change of conditions – the lack of decent current and the little sign of cow yellowfin – Capt. Justin decided to move us in to Clarion Island. The overnight trek would put us in-line for an 08:00 arrival the next morning, where we would check in with the Mexican Navy to receive our permits and wrist bands that allowed us access to fish the “Buffer Zone” surrounding Clarion.

Although, San Diego Long Range boats are allowed to anchor up overnight in the shallows, fishing must be done outside the 12-mile “Buffer Zone”. This restriction was created by Mexican Government a few years back to protect the inshore fishery around the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a group of four volcanic islands southwest of Cabo San Lucas consisting of Islas San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida, and Clarion. The Revs are long known to yield incredible numbers of large Yellowfin Tuna and have been host to the previous long-standing IGFA world-record 388-pound, 12-ounce Yellowfin caught by Curt Weisenhutter at San Benedicto in 1977.

Below: A beam of sun shines down on "big fish" island // The "spires" of Clarion - can you spot "King Kong"?

Once cleared by Mexican Navy we trolled around the Buffer Zone in search of Wahoo, as the tuna fishing is best in the early morning hours and again later in the afternoon. It didn’t take long for one of the trollers to go off, a much-welcomed sound to the ears of EXCEL’s anglers. Jig-casting fishermen were quick to the draw in deploying their heavy iron lures. The skinnies were there and willing to bite – one by one anglers would let out the “wahoo grunt”, signaling that their jig had been stopped mid-grind by a hungry ‘hoo.

Below: Second Skipper, Mike Ramirez, shows off Bob Bauers wahoo // _EXCEL _Captain, Justin Fleck (right) and Gary Gillingham of Accurate Reels with a nice 'hoo

The rails lit up with adrenaline-rushed anglers running this way and that, trying to chase down the tiger-striped assailant on the end their line. This wolf pack of frenzied Wahoo put a beating on our tackle. Many jigs were bit off before even being put into gear and wound on, leaving the helpless angler with nothing but 3-feet of frayed line and out $13.00. Despite the bite offs, the saw offs, the tangles, the missed attempts, and any other profanity causing situation, we managed to put a lot of quality fish on deck, truly a “bingo” stop for wahoo.

Below: The group all smiles after a hot wahoo stop // Yacoob Vahed caught this beauty on a pink/black/gold wahoo "bomb"

Having had our fill of wahoo for the day, Capt. Fleck opted to drift for tuna to see if some life would formulate underneath EXCEL’s enormous hull. This move turned out to be a good one for all aboard. Not more than ten minutes after shutting the motors down, we got our first biter – a solid 90-pound Yellowfin hit the decks. From there we maintained a steady pick of three to four fish hooked throughout the day. These fish were mixed in size from 50 up to 120-pounds, with two stand-out cows coming over the rails. Sam Raiter boated his second 200+-pound tuna for the trip, and long-range rookie, Eric Maulhardt, defeated a feisty 239-pounder after an hour-long battle that took him around the boat twice.

Below: Sam Raiter's 2nd cow // Eric Maulhardt with his giant // _EXCEL _crewmembers have their work cut out for them bringing this cow over the rails

Soon, the sun set behind Clarion Island, lighting up the sky in brilliant colors. This gorgeous sunset signaled the end to a successful first day at the big-fish island. Chef Jason served up a sensational coconut-crusted wahoo dinner with asparagus and wild rice. This dish was absolutely delicious, and the feast was topped off with fresh-made apple pie. Needless to say, all slept well that night…

Below: An amazing coconut-crusted wahoo dinner prepared by Chef Jason Fleck // Clarion Island sunset

The next morning I had an epiphany. By Encarta’s Dictionary definition, an epiphany is “a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence”. As fishermen, most of us know that there is always a “learning moment” to be had through both successes and failures, and that we should always be watching our surroundings – what’s going on both in and out of the water.

Below: _EXCEL _co-owner, Big Al Gross, and crewman, Brandon Wilske, show off a lit up Pink Pargo // Accurate's Jack Nilsen in the action with a nice yellowfin

That morning I watched Southern California lobstermen, Terry Mines and Mark Bithell, simultaneously bait “salami” mackerel in hopes of big tuna (Note: The term “salami” is a reference for mackerel over two-pounds found in the waters surrounding the islands). After a long, fifteen-minute soak, Terry began slowly winding in his bait. I slid over next to him on the rail and tried starting a conversation about using the big mackerel as bait.

“Any nibbles, amigo?”

“No. It’s time for a fresh bait.” Before Terry could spit out his next thoughts, his arms shot forward and line started screaming off his reel - something big had taken his bait. Soon, Terry was pulled into a stern corner and he settled into a steady battle.

Below: The author with a smaller grade yellowfin tuna // Anglers hope for a big morning bite while fishing off the stern of EXCEL

In the midst of Terry’s mayhem, Mark found himself in a similar situation, as his rod was significantly bent by another big tuna. A crewman by his side asked if he was using a sardine or salami when he got bit.

“I was winding in my salami after a long soak and got absolutely hammered!” LIGHT BULB…

These big baits take off like rockets when first put on a hook. But when they get far out and away from the boat, they sometimes become lethargic, just barely pulling steady line off your free-spooled reel. By “swimming” your bait back to the boat with a slow retrieve, you can up the odds of getting a bite. That is exactly what happened with Terry and Mark – they were rewarded with 210 and 196-pound Yellowfin, respectfully – and exactly what I was going to try to do the next morning...

Below: Terry Mines (left) and Mark Bithell with their near twin tuna // A feisty hooked yellowfin breaches the surface

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

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

The final two days of fishing aboard _EXCEL _hosts some of the most exciting action to be had on the trip - more giant yellowfin come aboard and the wahoo are biting anything in front of their mouths. Does the author score a cow? Stay tuned to find out...

The Long Range Chronicles: Part I

The Long Range Chronicles: Part III