Few species of game fish in the world boast greater distribution, abundance, availability and popularity than Thunnus albacares. Few fish fight harder than big tuna thanks in part to their superb design and endothermic (warm-blooded) physiology. And few fish eat better. Little wonder that they're so popular with anglers around the world.
Here, in no particular order, is a rundown on six prime spots to take trophy yellowfin - a term that has no universal definition, but for our purposes, figure 100 to 150 pounds at the least.
Pacific Banks and Islands off Southern Baja
(Via Long-Range Boats)
Odds: On longer trips, of 10 to 18 days or so, the odds can be amazingly good. These big long-range boats have one overriding purpose: connecting anglers to monster yellowfin. Bristling with anglers' tackle, huge live-bait tanks and zillion-dollar electronics, everything is intended to find/hook big tuna. Not all trips take many cows, but most do, and some have actually averaged two to three yellowfin of 200 to 300 pounds or more per angler. In January 2006, the Independence returned to the Point Loma Sportfishing dock after an 18-day trip with 82 cows for 23 anglers. In a slow season, the long-range fleet may manage only a couple hundred cows; on the other hand, consider the 2005-2006 season (fall/winter/spring) when long-range anglers caught a total of 2,243 tuna exceeding 200 pounds. Last November, the Intrepid returned to port with seven 300-plus super cows, a record for one trip.
Season: October through June. (In fact, cows can be taken here year-round, but long-range activity far south avoids summer/early fall months when hurricanes and tropical depressions are prevalent.)
Run to the Fish: Well, that depends on your definition. The initial "run" can be several days south from San Diego, broken by some fishing en route to the "real" grounds - Hurricane Bank, the Revillagigedos Islands (always outside the marine-reserve boundaries established by the Mexican Government) and various offshore banks along the lower peninsula. But once there, on many days the longest run an angler needs to worry about is the walk from his stateroom or galley to the rail.
Conditions: The more southerly reaches of long-range tuna grounds tend to be pretty calm in the fall and early winter. Midwinter can be rougher; that depends mostly on how the fronts move through. But of course these are big boats, so even a 20- to 30-knot blow won't slow the fishing down much.
Charters: You can choose from roughly a dozen or so San Diego-based long-range boats that fish longer tuna trips. Figure on spending about $250 to $400 per day depending on boat, time of year, number of anglers and other variables.
Methods: Although when running, trolling lines are out and catch plenty of fish, the real fishery is live-bait chumming and chunking from anchored or drifting boats. Heavier braided lines make it much less likely that big cows will spool rail-bound anglers than in earlier years, so anglers more rarely have to jump into a skiff or splice on a backup rig. This is serious stand-up fishing.
Accommodations: These live-aboard boats, generally more than 100 feet long, accommodate 20 to 30 anglers in surprising comfort and luxury. Staterooms have all the amenities. The boats also ensure the quality of your catch, flash-freezing whole the tuna caught early; those taken within a week of returning will generally be kept in refrigerated seawater to keep the sushi-grade quality of the fish upon return.
Other Opportunities: The additional prime target on these trips is wahoo. Wahoo fishing can be tremendous, with huge schools of the toothy speedsters grabbing iron (metal) jigs cast and cranked back as fast as a 6:1 retrieve will allow. Mahi often present themselves, and often they're big fish. You can expect some bottomfishing opportunities also. As far as other activities, this is not a tourist-destination trip; participants are here for only one reason, and it's not shopping, sightseeing or windsurfing.
Travel Costs: Flying to San Diego from Miami runs about $300 to $500.
Source: Bill Roecker has covered long-range fishing and produced books, calendars and fishing videos since the '80s. He posts fishing news daily and keeps an Internet store at www.fishingvideos.com. A former hang-glider pilot and English professor (creative writing and American lit), Roecker lives in Oceanside, California.