I took a longtime client from the hotel out to try our luck with the local yellowtail bite that has been consistent down south of the border 25 miles from San Diego. We left the dock in the ever-trusty Boston Whaler at 4 a.m., picked up a beautiful scoop of bait from the Everingham Bait Company that had a mix of lively sardines and the yellowtail's favorite snack - mackerel! We had not even left San Diego harbor and my confidence was sky high. I am a firm supporter in Tred Barta's idea that a strong belief in envisioning a fruitful day will bring success And most important thing is to stick with your game plan!
My first waypoint was a safe passage between the South Coronado Island and the 30 or so bluefin tuna pens that are located 15 miles south of the San Diego harbor. Other boaters who do not know their course and do not pay attention of their surroundings have driven right into these tuna pens in the past.
It was a full moon which makes for more difficult traveling at night and even with all of the electronics at their minimum brightness, they still needed to be covered with towels to eliminate their reflection on the windshields. I and kept my forward waterline with as keen a vision as 49-year-old eyes will allow.
After seven miles of travel I could distinguish the fluorescent light reflection in the sky from the main barge associated with the tuna pens. I was on course and within another 30 minutes we cleared the island and had a clear shot for the final 10 miles to the Rock Pile.
My closest work associate Mike Nush was with us and I explained to everyone that while the yellowtail bite has been good, success was coming to the anglers who stuck it out in one spot doing long soaks of bait and waiting for a school of fish to swim by. We arrived at grey light and sent out three live macks, anticipating when our first string of success would come...
It wasn’t until 9 a.m. that Mike noticed a fish had taken a shot at his baitthe Penn 555. Mike is a seasoned fisherman and knew to put the reel in free spool and sure enough after the initial miss on the bait the yellowtail decided to swing back and settle the score. After the initial pick-up and our five-second rule, Mike simply dumped the reel in gear and the circle hook did the rest. After the fish was firmly hooked, Mike passed the rod off to Jim, our long-time client for the fight. All morning long Mike and I spoke of past yellow “tales” of how tough these fish are to fight. I find them the toughest of anything I have ever caught in my life.
With the threat of sea lions all around us and this fish stripping line, I decided to run it down and gain the load of line lost in order to have a shot at getting this fish to gaff. Within another five minutes we had color and I firmly landed a perfect gaff shot with the 26-pound yellowtail landing thickly on the deck. It was a successful catch and Jim got to experience the power of these fish! We then kept drifting and fished the 100-foot bottom for a nice side catch of 12 sculpin, plus we eventually landed two more 20-pound-class yellows.
What a day! And thanks to Tred’s columns that I have read since the 1980s, I envisioned our success that day, I stayed positive and above all, we stuck to our plan.
It took us eight hours to land three big yellowtail and a dozen sculpin and everyone back at the dock exclaimed what a crazy day it must have been. They did not know it took all of eight hours to achieve, but it was the best local trip of 2011 that I've had on “Sweet Revenge”.
We brought the fish back to the hotel kitchen to fillet out and bag. Saturday morning, Jim was back in Wisconsin with fresh SoCal yellowtail and sculpin at his door by 9 a.m. with the help of FedEx.
It was a fantastic trip that I will forever remember with photos and video. I made a great red curry dish with the fish and some shrimp that's easy to make, and here it is!
Red Curry Grilled Yellowtail & Shrimp
2 pound fresh Yellowtail fillets, dark meat removed, cubed 2" x 2"
1 pound (16-20) Shrimp, peeled, cleaned, tail off
1 pound fresh Sculpin fillets, deboned
2 TBSP. Seasoned Salt or mix-your favorite blend
2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled, large dice
1 Yellow Onion, large dice
1 Green Pepper, de-seeded, large dice
3 Carrots, peeled, diced
3 stalks Celery, large dice
1 bunch Cilantro, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup Canola Oil
3 cups Trader Joes Red or Green Curry Sauce
Keep the yellowtail, shrimp and sculpin separate, but season all three with the seasoned salt and a small amount of canola oil. Turn your grill on high and grill the yellowtail cubes and shrimnp only to get char marks on the outside. Do not fully cook! Keep the sculpin on the side and do not cook as it is too delicate for the grill. Hold fish on the side in separate bowls.
Turn a large stock pot on high and when hot add the oil and then the prepared vegetables. Saute on high heat until browned. Add the curry sauce and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft, especially the carrots and potatoes which should be fork-tender.
After the initial 30 minute simmer is done, add all of the seafood and, yes, the sculpin will be raw when you add it. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the yellowtail and shrimp are cooked through. The sculpin fillets at this point should begin to pull apart as they are fully cooked now. Make sure the whole curry reaches a temperature of 150 degrees. Add half of the chopped cilantro and gently mix in. Pull the pot and hold until ready to serve.
2 cups Jasmine Rice, rinsed 4 times then follow directions on the bag
1 can Coconut Milk
You can make the rice before the curry if that is easier for you. Steam the rice according to the directions and at the end pull the pan from the stove top and gently spoon the rice over to let excess steam evaporate and to help separate the grains of rice to avoid one big sticky clump of rice in a pot. Gently stir in the other half of the bunch of chopped cilantro.
Take a large bowl and spoon in the rice first and form a "bowl"for your fresh, hot red curried yellowtail!