How to Catch More Yellowtail Fishing Southern CaliforniaAuthor: Captain Rob Mailly | Posted: 06/14/2011
Yellowtail are a popular target fish of Southern California sportfishing boats which fish San Diego on down the Baja Peninsula. Although yellowtail typically run 10 to 20 pounds, they can reach an enormous 79 lbs as was caught in 1991 at Alijos Rocks, Baja, a popular destination of San Diego's charter fleet.
Yellowtail are a local and my personal favorite target big gamefish to catch and eat . This fishing article is a collection of tips I have put together after catching and observing other San Diego fisherman catching this beautiful and courageous big game fighter. My goal is to help fisherman of all levels and ages coming to San Diego land one the most explosive and legendary pound-for-pound popular big game fighting fish in San Diego's local fishery:
Yellowtail or "Mossbacks" as some fisherman call the lunkers are epic fighters and pound for pound the best fighting local San Diego game fish Yellowtail on a line are explosive fighters making them a favorite target for local skippers. This is hands down my favorite local fish when eaten fresh (best within the first 3 days of being caught) otherwise it can turn "gamey" imo. They are also excellent when served fresh as Hama chi (Sashimi with a cocktail sauce).
Contrary to popular belief the California Yellowtail is in the Jack family of fish and is NOT a tuna:
. A common mistake in identity is Yellowfin Tuna (in the Tuna family of fish, local brief name "Yft's" and large fish are called "cow's") and Yellowtail (in the Jack family local lingo "Yellow's"). The East Coast and Gulf of Mexico Amber Jack is a close cousin. Email me if I missed a local name for the Yellowtail in your area.
Most years the Yellowtail caught in Baja are more plentiful and they are not as smart. They are bigger, easier to catch and you can use chunk bait (strips of bait) for bait or heavy iron jigs (local name "iron") and yo-yo deep. I wrote an article on fishing iron at my website http://www.sportfishsandiego.com/fishing-iron.html
Baja fishing is done in about 80 to 300 feet of water with heavy as 14-ounce sinkers on the bottom and heavy tackle rigged with about 80-pound line. That isn't overkill because big yellows hang around structure and the heavier tackle makes it easier to "turn" the fish and keep it away from or power through structure thus less chance of breaking a fisherman off.
Southern California Yellowtail (San Diego to Santa Barbara) are more seasonal and require more technique and can be elusive and more finicky to get to bite (a popular local phrase is "line shy"). Most yellowtail fishing locally is done by fly lining [live bait fishing with little or no sinker carolina rigged or similar] using small hooks and light line to get bit because the fish are so touchy.
Another popular local technique is throwing light surface iron lures (read my article above) or if the fish are deeper, heavy iron "yo-yo'd" (dropped deep and retrieved ultra fast stopping every so often and letting the iron fall repeating this technique like a yo-yo)
Yellowtail season in Southern California is April to September. However, a "second" season develops during the winter when larger fish are found within areas of spawning squid and at the Clam Beds near Coronado Islands. Deep sea sportfishing boats from Newport Beach at Newport Beach Landing, Dana Point at Davey's Locker and San Pedro at 22nd Street Landing all the way down to San Diego landings target yellowtail year round but peak season being from Spring to Fall. November 2006 brought some of the biggest fish and best YT fishing since the 1950's some old timers say. Angler Justin Ryan of San Diego while fishing a few years back from the 3/4 day Mission Belle at the Coronado's (Island chain just south of the San Diego/Baja border). His fish weighed in at a whopping 55lbs.
One week later, according to San Diego's popular local newspaper, "The Log" and even bigger - using only 30-lb. test line, Patrick Mitchell landed this 61-lb. mossback yellow at South Island at the Coronados.
Both of these lunkers were taken on Salas 6x jigs on "yo, yo" No matter where you fish for yellowtail, they can be tricky. At times, they can be amazingly easy too. When they are biting, it seems anything dropped in the water they hit in a frenzy. When they're not biting, nothing seems to work.
Figuring out big game "mossback" yellowtail often comes down to experience, and no one's more experienced than the veteran skippers and their crew who guide both long-range and local anglers to fish, year in and year out. If in doubt ask your deckhand how to best rig for the conditions. They are out nearly every day of the year and know best at a given moment what is biting and how to rig.
Fishing the Right Conditions
Current is as a major consideration. Yellowtail have a reputation of being fussy eaters, and the most successful anglers have a good understanding of the species' environment and know what signs to look for when they are close or feeding. I have had great success constantly scanning the water for signs of feeding such as working birds (birds feeding on the surface) from bait being pushed up to the surface many times by feeding fish, Seals or Sea lions, Dolphin or Porpoise and quite possibly a feeding Yellowtail.
Yellowtail and a lot of other fish that live around structure such as islands or seamounts need some sort of water movement to get the bite going. Current is one of the main factors that coincides with biting fish - most often over the years I have noticed that the most successful days out are when the current is running strong around the changing tides - most fisherman including myself agree that without a good current and clean water the bite usually shuts down or the fish that do bite are more fussy. As far as moon phase and bite success, I lean more on the current and changing tide as more important factors for biting 'tails. I've caught yellowtail in all moon phases.
Sometimes its easier to catch bait when it's not so bright. Other species however do get caught more on full moon periods such as White Sea bass and Bluefin Tuna. You may notice a particular boat's schedule to be full during full moon nights during Spring through Fall. To recap countless trips I have taken of the past 35 years best success comes when all of these factors are combined - good current, warm water (above 65 degrees is the consensus), good water clarity and as I mentioned visual signs like working birds suggests there may be yellowtail in the area pushing the bait up and are feeding and are all signs conditions are right for a great day of catching.
Tackle and Techniques
You can't fish yellowtail with one rod. On a slow bite most fisherman prefer to use small anchovies for bait, go as light as 12- to 15-pound line on a small conventional reel with a light rod as the fish can be fussy or "line-shy". As the bite comes on a little more aggressively, go to 20-pound line on a medium reel, similar in size to a Penn Jigmaster and a medium-action rod ( I like and use a CalStar 870 Fiberglass medium action rod with a lot of "butt" for turning the bigger fish).
When using bigger baits like mackerel and sardines, go to 25-, 40- or even 50-pound line, depending on the conditions. Use a "jig stick" or rod of at least 8 feet to throw surface iron (metal lures). For yoyo-ing (deep jigging heavy lures), the standard is a 4/0-size reel on a 7- to 7 1/2-foot rod with a fast taper and 40- to 50-pound line for abrasion resistance. You need this heavier gear when yoyo-ing to force fish away from bottom structure where they can quickly cut you off.
Live Bait and Lures
I also love fishing surface iron because you can see the fish charging the lure. Lure color doesn't seem to make much difference. Just a dull lead color is good. The jig in your tackle box that's been there for years with all the paint rubbed off could be hot, and it's probably the last one most anglers would pick up.
I like working a surface "light" jig when fish are under diving birds. The Tady 45 and color usually doesn't matter much. Action is most important and most local jig fisherman will agree a fast retrieve with and ocas si on al kick is a popular and effective technique when the surface bite is on.
The deep-jigging or yoyo technique with heavy metal lures out produces lighter surface jigs on a daily basis, especially farther south along the Baja Coast. Salas 6x Junior, Ironman 3 and 5's and Tady AA or 9, among bottom jigs that works well when the bite is deep as a lot of times off Baja. Trolling swimming plugs, like the Rapala CD 18, is effective during the spring near the Coronado Islands when the yellows are "breezing" and haven't settled around structure. When working offshore kelp paddies, most skippers troll.
Most local half and three-quarter day trips out, I like and have had best results time after time on live bait cast in the area of working birds. The fun of Yellowtail fishing for me is the hunt The most high tech and fancy electronics in my opinion can never replace the most important aspect of fishing for yellowtail - visual signs on the water as mentioned earlier like working birds from fish pushing the bait up or into a bait ball, a good current and just keeping your eyes open for anything on the surface out of the ordinary. This kind of fishing can take a lot of patience and local knowledge which is where I hope I have provided some helpful information to help land that first or next Yellowtail.
Well I hope you all learned something from this article. Feel free to Email me anytime for more info, tips, recommended tackle or boats I like. I'm here to give local advice for fisherman planning a San Diego sportfishing trip. Good luck and tight lines,
About The Author: Captain Rob Mailly
Company: Sportfish San Diego
Area Reporting: San Diego, CA, USA
Bio: For over 35 years since age 5 I have spent countless hours working and fishing San Diego sportfishing boats. In that time I have come to know the San Diego sportfishng industry inside and out. I have worked and fished with many of the owner's, captain's and crew's who have operated sport boats that have been targeting the local and Baja offshore fisheries for generations. I started Sportfish San Diego to provide fisherman from all over the world a one stop resource for planning a trip out of this one of a kind fleet of boats and to pass on years of knowledge I have gained from fishing this very complex and diverse fishery. My goal is to be a reputable and reliable local contact for fisherman of all levels to come to find a spot or book a private charter and help plan all aspect of their San Diego sportfishing adventure.