Warm blue water pushed into the Monterey Canyon recently with a force we have not seen in many years. The skies were shrouded by a veiled marine layer, hiding the warm water from satellite imagery. Fishermen did not know exactly how warm the water was or how close to shore it had pushed its way in. With the warm water came the highly esteemed game fish albacore tuna.
Boats steamed out to the blue water with “albacore fever,” and at 15 miles out, their reels started to scream line as albacore took the lures and ran.
At depths of 3,000 feet, the inner canyon walls formed the first water break, where 56-degree water turned to 60. Dolphins and blue whales patrolled the inner water break feasting on small squid.
The next break, at 6,000 feet of water, held the true blue water, free of most plankton with 60 feet of visibility. There are schools of squid in this area, and they are corralled tight by swarms of pelagic albacore. On the surface, shearwater birds swoop to the sea surface as the squid get chased up.
Fevered fishermen troll through the prolific areas at 7 mph with white water foaming from the propeller wash at the stern of the boat; feathered lures skip across the sea surface 60 feet behind the boat. The excitement draws the albacore up to strike the jigs, sometimes five at a time. The reels scream, and the action goes on.
The warm water has brought with it some exotic species. Anglers have encountered broadbill swordfish that continue to prove too wise and strong for most sport fishermen. Yellowtail — which are in the jack family, not to be confused with yellow fintuna — have been caught outside the Monterey Bay.
Even more exotic and interesting to see is the opah. It has been caught in the warm water, too. These opah, aka moonfish, grow to more than 100 pounds and look like fish from a cartoon.
Commercial and sport fishermen have been catching the longfin tuna named albacore when the seas are calm.
With tuna fever, anglers have to remember to catch only what they can properly handle and process fresh. The limit for sport fishermen is 25 fish north of Point Conception. Commercial fishermen have a favorable frozen market for fish that go to canneries, while fresh fish off the dock is always a good option for consumers who are able to avoid the “albacore fever” out on the ocean.
- Mike Baxter has fished in the Monterey Bay Area since he was a boy and has been a licensed charter boat captain for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also hosts a fishing show on radio station KSCO (1080) from 8:06 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through the end of August.