Slow Pitch Jigging Bluefin Tuna out of San Diego, CA
We went to San Diego to experience first-hand dropping our jigs in the Pacific Ocean with the hopes of getting tight to bluefin tuna. Back in October of 2021 after many conversations with who we call our West Coast ambassador; Corey Byther, we zeroed in on booking a 3-day trip from April 22-25, 2022 aboard the Polaris Supreme. At some point in April the bluefin tuna that have been frequenting this pass increasingly begin migrating themselves northward. There was a chance when we booked this trip back in October that we would be too early for the season and we wouldn’t see any fish. Luckily, around the end of March reports of bluefin tuna began coming in and we were told that our timing seemed to be perfect.
One observation about what is happening in this fishery is that it is incredible! The bluefin tuna have only recently began inhabiting these waters in such great numbers. Although there is an equally incredible fleet of charter boats in San Diego harbors, the spots on these boats fill up and must be booked well in advanced.
We were recommended to book a 3-day on the Polaris Supreme and the choice did not disappoint! The newly renovated boat equipped with comfortable amenities was also equipped with a stellar captain and crew. Upon arriving to San Diego 2-days in advance to give us some time to familiarize ourselves with the fishing scene we soon began to find out that the Polaris Supreme was THE boat to be on and had THE captain at the helm. Captain Aliyar. But, before I get into the trip itself I really want to share a bit of our trip preparation as well as, what we experienced going to the local tackle shops and trying to figure out where slow pitch jigging these tuna is at.
We are fortunate enough at Johnny Jigs to be in touch with so many anglers around the country. There were many conversations with anglers both on the west coast as well as the northeast that we took advantage of trying to understand jigging for tuna so we could be ready to catch some but, more importantly do it with slow pitch jigs and a slow pitch rod and reel system.
There are several challenges with slow pitch jigging larger grade fish that need to be better understood. The rod is a tool to perform the jig not fight the fish. Will the rod blow up if you pin it to the rail? At what point will the rod blow up if you are pumping on an 80lb fish? 100lb? 150lb? What about the line? We like thin diameter 8 strand braid to help increase our ability to stay vertical and pitch the jig. If you know anything about bluefin tuna fishing historically relatively heavy line is used 65lb-100lb braid and 80lb-200lb fluoro leaders. But, then we learned that when “fly lining” or “flat lining” as we call it in Florida a live bait anglers are using 40lb fluoro on large grade fish – Okay, that was a glimmer of hope!
So Johnny, Will, & Myself (Chris Doyle) while keeping in mind we were flying across the country attempted to bring a spread of gear from what we would like to use to make it work to what we may have to use to successfully land a few fish. Personally, I brought only 2 rods and 2 reels which definitely gave me anxiety due to the lack of options. However, I had Johnny and Will with me as well who had 3 rods and reels each and I knew in a pinch we are okay with communally sharing our gear. I had an Accurate Boss Valiant single speed 500N spooled with 40lb J-Braid 8X multicolor with an 80lb fluoro top shot that I put on a Temple Reef Grand Cru Power 3 and I had a Maxel Rage 90N spooled with 65lb Berkley X9 with an 80lb fluoro top shot that I put on a JigStar Twisted Sista. I also brought a Johnny Jigs Pro Jigger Power 4 that unfortunately, got damaged by TSA on the flight over. I tied 3 dozen single assist hooks using our very own 5/0 and 6/0 slow pitch jigging hooks with a 1mm Dyneema cord made by New England Ropes designed for high performance sailing. The jigs I brought ranged from 150g – 400g and I brough as much variety as I could while bringing multiples in Torpedos and Tuna Teasers while also keeping the total jig bag weight to 20lbs to I could reasonably travel with it. We did publish a pretty comprehensive breakdown on our gear in a 2-part series on our YouTube channel JohnnyJigsTV.
Like I said, we had many conversations with numerous anglers and to be honest and went back and forth from being securely confident and cautiously skeptical. Fear of the Unknown, we have to learn to love it!
Arriving in San Diego was incredible, what a beautiful place! We stayed in a hotel on Shelter Island which put us right next to one of the hot spots at the entrance of San Diego Bay where we found the likes of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle and Mitch’s Seafood. The Polaris Supreme is docked to the north in Mission Bay at Seaforth Landing. Both spots offered numerous complimentary boats fully rigged to accommodate a full on experience for chasing bluefin tuna as well as going after yellowtail, ling cod, and rockfish.
The whole process of getting on to the boat to leave the dock was surprisingly painless. They are a well oiled machine over there and have system in place which you fall right into to complete your check in, obtain appropriate fishing licenses, and get your gear organized on the boat. We were greeted by an eager to help crew and fellow anglers that just like in Florida, were all ready to leave our day to day lives behind and talk only fishing for the next 3 consecutive days.
The main goal for this trip having 3 days at sea was to find the bluefin tuna which the crew seemed confident of. The reports were positive and the boat has been consistently getting on fish every trip. We pulled off the dock at about 9am on the morning of April 22, 2022. Somewhere just south of Tijuana by 2pm, we were already marking our first schools of fish. The chase was on.
I am going to try to not be totally long winded as I can be and keep it to the basic highlights. We published a beautiful 40 minute YouTube video on our experience on JohnnyJigsTV.
The Captain and Crew jumped into hunt mode as the Captain paid attention to the sonar and communicated to crew and anglers what he was seeing the fish do. As we observed the majority of anglers congregate off the stern of the boat to feed their sardines out the back as the boat continued to retain a slow forward movement we had to figure out our attack plan for getting our jigs down. Quick!!
Well, if the boat is sliding forward and the captain is attempting to get on top of or ideally in front of the fish and have them run under us – our thinking was to get on the bow of the boat (which is a very common practiced tactic in our home South Florida waters) and launch our jigs ahead of the boat and work at getting them down to the depth of the fish and save as much vertical alignment as possible to begin pitching and fluttering the jig.
One thing we saw clearly now that this trip is under our belt is that the daytime bluefin fishing can easily be much trickier than the night-time targeting. There were far fewer daytime bites on this particular trip. Another thing that we took away with us that slow pitch jigging these fish – attempting to get your jig to pitch and flutter - proved to be extremely effective at these difficult to target daytime schools of bluefin tuna. The challenge of not having any control of the helm and having to adapt to the boat still having forward momentum as you try to get the jig down where the captain is calling the fish out 50 feet down to 300 feet deep underneath the boat – having enough vertical presentation to then pitch and slack your line to get the flutter. When executed correctly, your jig was in the zone the fishing were coming through – and it was irresistible! We were able to get our first bluefins on the boat and felt a lot of emotions of relief, intrigue about what we were experiencing, and excitement to do it some more!
The sun set on a wavy and moderately windy Pacific Coast horizon as we steamed deeper in to Mexican waters. The chef served up food that we are still raving about and we filled our bellies with calories that were about to be scorched because the night time bite we got into is one that is just difficult to put into words other than – it’s the one you dream of.
Because the boat looks like a sports stadium on the water with all of its lights, a school of tuna can be attracted to anchoring themselves under the vessel – this is what proceeded to happen on our first night. What ended up happening wasn’t much slow pitch jigging, although I started to look for the opportunity to stop my jigs descent and get a pitch and flutter out of it but, what usually happened was –drop the jig in the water and wait for it to simply get crushed on its decent – easy fishing. Limits were caught very quickly. Because of the rougher day time conditions there were anglers that weren’t feeling so well down in their bunks. The captain and crew urged us to keep fishing. A full boat limit for 3 days and 22 anglers was reached in the matter of roughly 4 hours. All the fish were in a quality size range of 40lbs-60lbs. Not the smallest bluefin tuna but, also not close to the big bluefin tuna. We now understood the meaning of bloody decks.
The next day of the trip now that our main goal was accomplished had to involve something new. We spent time evaluating schools of bluefin tuna for their size as there were about 10 fish (related to crew limits) that we were able to harvest – so we went on the hunt for bigger bluefins. We proceeded to catch fish in the 60lb-88lb range until our max limit was completely reached. The remainder of the day was spent between 250’ and 400’ targeting rock fish and ling cod. We were psyched that we got to experience this because we speak to a lot of pacific coast anglers that do this all the time. We also quickly discovered that fishing for rock fish species and ling cod is exactly like slow pitch jigging for grouper and snapper! Selecting moderate to high fluttering jigs that can reach the bottom and allow you to be vertical. Slow pitching the jigs achieving the traditional slow ascent and flutter fall produced reaction strikes and we quickly saw that there is really no better way to target these fish and guess what; The Red/Gold holographic profile seemed to also be an absolute killer here too!
Getting back to Seaforth landing full, tired, and happy – we had our fish processed at Fisherman’s Processing and prepared ourselves to head back to South Florida where we have now planned to book another San Diego blue fin tuna trip in May of 2023. We saw reports soon after our trip that the schools of fish quickly increased in size in subsequent trips by the boats in the fleet. So, in true fisherman’s fashion we are going to see if we can get ourselves into the bigger tuna and continue to understand which gear is truly necessary and adequate to slow pitch jig for this incredible fish, the bluefin tuna.
By Chris Doyle