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Posted on Sep 12, 2011 in Pacific Currents
Pen Point
by Jim Hendricks

While tuna seiners and offshore anglers are often at odds in the Pacific waters off Southern California and northern Baja, a relatively new recreational fishing technique has developed as a result of the commercial activities.

For years, seiners have been transferring hauls of bluefin tuna to large floating pens, keeping the fish alive to fatten them for market. Sometimes the pens are left floating at sea; other times towed slowly toward processors in ports such as Ensenda, Mexico.

Here is the new part: offshore anglers are finding that the pens act as giant fish aggregating devices. This season, schools of bluefin tuna are hanging close to a set of pens floating freely near the Hidden Bank, about 49 nautical miles below San Diego’s Point Loma and 42 nautical miles west of Ensenada.

Private boats and passenger boats alike are fishing the pens with great success, regularly scoring Mexican limits (five tuna per angler) of bluefin in the 12- to 15-pound class.

The technique most commonly used is to get as close to the pen as possible, and then drift away, fly-lining live sardines while chumming with live sardines and diced up dead sardines. Once you have drifted a quarter-mile, motor back to the pen and do it again.

While some anglers have had success with 20- and 25-pound-test monofilament, anglers seem to get more bites with 15-pound-test, though the attrition rate is greater with the lighter line.

Bluefin tuna is not the only species to be attracted to the pens. In years past, veteran offshore angler Greg Stotesbury has caught both striped marlin and dorado around the pens. “We have always done well around the pens, whether they were floating free or being towed behind a tug,” said Stotesbury. “They are only being towed about a knot, but we still fish well behind them to avoid the tow line or any other gear.”

Stotesbury also tries to steer wide of the pens at night. “They always seem to have a lot of gear in the water, and so I stay clear of the pens until I have good visibility,” he said.

The lesson here is that commercial fishing activity can sometimes benefit recreational anglers. The tuna pens off southern California and northern Baja prove that point.