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Hot Tunas! Dialing the San Diego Bluefin Bite with Aztec Sport fishing, Seaforth Landing

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

By: Hayati Dirim

Edited: Patrick Martin


Since relocating to the West Coast, it had been a few months since I went out fishing and the consistent numbers of tuna and yellowtail coming in from Newport and San Diego have been extremely enticing for anglers on the hunt for pacific pelagics. The latest reports tell bites were produced in mainly three ways: fly lining baits, sinker rigs, and flat fall jigs at night. Having spent several trips earlier in the year just learning the ropes of these boats, I would like to share more detail on some of the tips and tricks for anglers eager to book their first trip out this season or next season if they're late to the game. Also, I discuss why Captain Greg and the Aztec are at the top of the San Diego fleet and include some Q and A's I had with the crew.

I have my fair share of experience bringing the wrong setup or not paying full attention to the captain and crew’s guidelines, so in this article I will cover the tackle for the variety of ways these tunas are targeted and the proper gear to give you the best fighting chance to put your fish on deck.

 

Fly Lining, Sinker Rig, and Flat Fall Jigging


Fly line Method


Lately, fly lining live bait on day trips has been the go-to set up. Let me explain in more detail as the specifics do’s and don’t of this technique can really payoff.


The best choice here is your conventional rod and reel with braided or mono line based on the size of the tuna being caught. My preferred setup is #80 lb white spectrum power-pro, about 30 feet of #40 lb fluorocarbon leader paired with a #2 or #1 circle hook.Once rigged up with rod in hand, gently butt hook your sardine or mackerel, but be sure to take excellent care of your bait!


You want to put your hand into the bait tank slowly palm-up position and let the fish swim into your palm to lift it gently up out of the water. Make sure not to squeeze it too tight! Remember, the bait was swimming in the ocean freely recently and landed in a seine net with thousands of other fish where it’s been brought into a holding tank, then scooped up, and dropped back into the boat's bait tanks. That sardine is tired, stressed, and expected to swim with the hook in its belly shortly. The less stress you cause before you drop it into the ocean, the better runner it becomes.


Remember to take proper care of your bait so it will take good care of you! It all starts from selecting and caring for the right sardine to get that one bite.


I prefer to hook it from the belly because I can let the bait swim further away from the boat without manually forcing its direction. Belly hooked baits will typically swim down and out away from the boat and into the strike zone while a nose hooked bait can’t swim naturally and will stay close by. Also be sure to avoid sardines with red marks on it, they seem to have lost their natural color and slime coat and produce less bites from what I’ve observed.


Hook a live bait the wrong way and you wont get a bite all day, make sure you're being precise and repetitive in your fly lining process to gain confidence and make minimal mistakes.


Pelagic fish live to chase bait, if your bait isn’t swimming its absolute best, quickly swap baits and send it out. These fish have large eyes and are smarter than you think, if it's not swimming naturally they will be quick to turn their nose at the last minute. These boats are filled with thousands of live baits so be sure to keep sending out the liveliest of baits possible to get that bite. As always, please be sure to stay with your rod when swimming a bait out as the mates will repeat “No angle, No tangle” when fly lining baits.


Sinker Rig

My biggest fish to date was with Capt. Greg on the Aztec. This fish hit a small sardine on a sinker rig and fought for over 2 hours on the rod and tipped the scale just over 170 lbs.


When tunas are staying deep in the water column, a torpedo Sinker with a Rubber Band is a very simple, but effective method to deliver your bait to the bite zone. With the daytime surface water receiving plenty of sunshine, the top of the water column will increase in temperature. Send a bait down into the deep and reach where those larger sized models of tunas tend to retreat during day time hours.


Note that you want to drop your line slowly so that the live bait won’t twist around the mainline while it is descending.




Check out JJ on the Aztec with a step-by-step on how to tie up a sinker rig. Of course you can have a mate help you out, but when the bite is hot it's best to know how to rig up yourself.



Be sure to be stocked up with #1 and #2 live bait hooks and a few different sizes of sinkers for various current conditions and depths. These are essentials for fly lining and dropping baits in the water column with sinker rigs.



Flat Fall Jigging:


Shimano butterfly jigs or flat fall jigs in general are proven to catch big tunas, especially at nighttime. Personally, I find the glow in the dark flat fall jigs are deadly and very effective for tuna and targeting many other species. One thing that you must do before letting these hit the water is beef them up for big bluefin by swapping out the assist hooks to a stronger grade of hooks.


A shimano flat fall jig I upgraded with stronger hooks and crimped to 150lb mono with chafe guard.


The local tackle shop at Seaforth Sportfishing has the best setup for the price in my opinion as they’re rigged and ready for battle. They take the time to upgrade the hooks with a Kevlar assist hook material as well as crimp on a 150lb leader so you’re ready to drop down on some giants. If you are going to commit the time and money into one of these trips, be sure to take every advantage possible for that one bite.


These jigs are available at Seaforth Landing and have undergone the necessary upgrades to tug on big bluefin. The #1 hooks on the right are great for fly lining baits.


Now that your jigs are beefed up for the bite, fish them by letting the desired weight of the 100 gr to 250 gr jig slowly drop to the bottom of the desired water column by free spooling. When the jig falls slowly, it creates a swinging left to right, wobbling motion as it descends. That creates an illusion of squid moving through the water column where they feed at night. The current will determine the weight of jig you will need so be sure to have a variety of weights in the 100 gram and up range to keep yourself in the game.


When you get a bite, often the thump comes when the jig is free falling down, I typically will bump my drag up a touch and reel down on the fish ensuring a solid hook set. Remember, don’t rush to bring the fish up too fast or apply an unnecessary amount of drag. The harder and faster you reel you may rip the hook out of its mouth as these jigs don’t always have the best hook set.


 

Product Feature: CF-Chelofisher (@cf_Chelofisher_products)


Chelo and his son Robert with his line of chelofisher products available at https://www.cf-chelofisher.com/.


I met Chelo through Instagram while I was searching for yellowtail information. I started to follow him and pick his brain regarding the fishery in the San Diego area. He has been fishing these waters for over 25 years and is sharing his knowledge with his son Robert. We linked up on this last trip on the Aztec and I watched him and his son pull some solid bluefin over the rail.


Like Father like Son!

He says his flat fall jigs are a hot ticket item right now and his jigs, poppers, hats, and shirts are available on his website.

 

What Rods and Reels to bring?


I often see posts of people asking what reel and what rod should be purchased for an upcoming trip. I will cover my rod and reel setups here that have kept me covered in all situations from casting to small yellowtail to landing bluefin over 150lbs. I step onto the boat with four setups ranging from 40 to 100lb line.


The reason I prefer a minimal four rods is so I can use lighter setups to get the bite during the day and can always switch to the heavier gear to either fly line or set up the sinker rig to drop to desired depth if bigger tuna are around. At nighttime, I’ll use heavy gear for flat fall jigging as typically this is when you’ll encounter larger sized fish. I also prefer to have one spin reel that can handle up to 80lb fish. The reason I bring one spinning reel is that I am not an expert on casting with conventional reels yet as this wasn’t a skill an angler develops on the East coast. I sometimes use my spin reel for yellowtail, bonitos, and daytime bluefin as its convenient for me to cast further to fish close to the boat with jigs or poppers. A lighter conventional setup is ideal for these situations as spinning gear can be frowned upon with the rod preventing the angler from utilizing the rail of the boat.


My 4 Setups: (Haven’t failed me and won’t break the bank!)


All my setups will have roughly 30 feet of fluorocarbon top shot from 30-60lb to cover whatever swims by


1. Penn fathom 60Ld2 with shimano Tallus 50-100lb rod, 40lb mono


2. Penn battle 3 with Penn battle rod rated 80-100lb, #80lb braid


3- Shimano speed master on a penn squadron rod, #80lb braid


4- Penn fathom 40 with shimano Tallus 80# rod, #100 braid



Line Management on Conventional Reels

It is important to put the rod under the left or right armpit and left or right thumb on the spool gently when you free fall jig, fly line a bait, or drop a sinker rig.


When taking line in use your thumb as a guide and evenly distribute your line on the reel.

The last thing you want is battling the back-lash of the reel during the free fall of a bait or jig to end up hooking a fish, with that backlash the fish is more likely to win the fight than you. Not to mention if you don't have an additional backup rod, you may be on the sidelines while the fish are biting as you sort out your tangled up reel.


Some anglers practice by the shore or lakes or just dry practice. They will find an open field and hook a small sinker to the end of their line, and cast back and forth on the land until they feel comfortable. You might want to start with a shorter distance first so you can build that muscle memory. Also, to prevent back-lash on the entire spool, you can tape the spool at a distance you are comfortable with so you won't tangle the entire spool as you practice.

 

Aztec Sport Fishing, Meet the Crew:

I’ve had the pleasure to fish with the top-notch boat the Aztec based in Seaforth Landing these last few months. Captain Greg Gawitt is the owner of the 65-foot charter boat and is an expert tuna fisherman who has the fishery down to a science. Every trip when the boat leaves the dock, Captain Greg or Captain Justin will come down from the wheelhouse and give all the passengers an awesome seminar. The talk mainly includes safety protocols, current fishing status, and tackle set-ups, etc. From the start, I was very impressed with captain Greg and captain Justin’s knowledge of tuna fishing and how they hold nothing back to put their customers on the fish. They go above and beyond for their customers. Customer service in any field is a relatively hard job. On top of it, the hard working deckhands have to perform their duties on the boat, sometimes in extremely rough waters, but they will drop everything to help or answer a question. The most impressive part is that from the moment they throw lines till the boat goes back to the dock they perform their duties with the highest expectations and respect.


I was able to ask Captain Greg and Justin as well as a few crew members some questions about their passion for fishing between the hustle and tuna bites on my last trip.


Captain Greg Gawitt:


Q: When did you start fishing?

A: I started fishing at 4 years old. At age 13, I started working on deck for the Electra out of Oceanside, CA. I have been a Captain since 2004.


Q: What inspired you to become a Captain?

A: At a young age I saw how happy the passengers were and how much joy fishing brought to them. That inspired me to want to become a captain myself.


Q: What do find is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the smile on someones face when they catch their first fish.


Captain Greg is an extremely busy man as his boat is booked solid during the season. I've landed my biggest tuna with him to date at 170 lbs. Thanks again Capt for the time! I was able to chat a little more with his relief captain and very passionate fisherman Captain Justin.


Captain Justin:

Q: How long have you been fishing?

A: I’ve been fishing since I was just a little kid. My bathtub toys were swimming baits, soft plastic worms, and the like. I remember being afraid of the bluegill and needing help getting them off the hook. I’ve got photos of myself holding up trout bigger than myself, you have to be pretty small to accomplish that.


Q: How long have you been captain?

A: This is my third year with my captain’s license


Q: Who inspired you to become a captain?

A: I never really aspired to become a captain. I always thought there was some type of mysterious, magic-like ability possessed by the great captains that I was fortunate enough to have fished with. The way they could just drive out into the middle of the ocean, proclaim “Here!” and ravenous tuna would start leaping off the stern. It wasn’t until a long streak of phenomenal fishing, and an equally long streak of grueling labor, forced the owner and operator of the Aztec, Greg Gawitt, off the water for a few weeks to allow his back to recuperate after surgery. It was then that I was given a chance to take the reins and to my astonishment, the great fishing continued.


Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your Job?

A: The most rewarding part of my job? That’s simple. Making people happy. Taking people fishing is a beautiful way to make a living. We get to spend time enjoying nature’s awesomeness. Getting to do something as simple, yet sometimes seemingly impossible, as catching a fish. Where people from all walks of life are completely equal and judged solely upon their ability to make me laugh and get a bite


On Deck and in the Galley: Oat!

Oat has been fishing west coast waters since 1994 when he caught his first yellowtail on the Thunderbird out of Daves’s locker. His dedication to fishing in San Diego is unmatched and his passion in the galley and hustle on deck of the Aztec never goes unnoticed.


Currently, he is working on getting his 100-ton license and is famous for his secret Poke sauce that he was stoked to share with us.


Oat’s Secret Poke Sauce:

  • 50% soy sauce

  • 50% toasted sesame oil

  • An equal part of Sambal, sriracha, and wasabi "make it as spicy as you like"

  • Toasted sesame seed

  • Green onion

  • Cilantro

  • Pineapple

Don't over mix it......enjoy it!


Outside the galley he claims he is infamous for getting stung by sculpin and also makes some badass swim baits. He also has a flying fish he dances on a kite to produce big bluefin bites! You can check out his work on his instagram @ots_swimbaits.

 

Thanks for checking in and reading up on the awesome San Diego bluefin fishery. Be sure to check out Aztec Sport fishing (https://www.seaforthlanding.com/boats/aztec.php) and book a trip with Captain Greg this season (or next!). Don't miss our next article by signing up for our email list at the bottom of our homepage or follow us on instagram @blue_oceanmagazine.


As always, tight lines!




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