Tripletail in San Diego Bay: You Can Blame El Niño

Captain James Nelson reports that one of his clients caught a fish rarely seen in Southern California waters -- a Pacific tripletail.

This summer's El Niño episode has ushered northward all sorts of tropical visitors to Southern California's normally temperate waters, including huge opah and speedy wahoo. Yet perhaps the most unusual visitor was caught yesterday (August 26, 2014) in the backwaters of San Diego Bay. Captain James Nelson, who specializes in guiding anglers on this bay, reports than one of his clients, Luwana Martin, hooked and landed a fish he had never seen before.

Based on photo confirmation by Milton Love, Ph.D., a marine biologist with the University of California at Santa Barbara, the fish is a Pacific tripletail. According to, Pacific tripletail are found along the Pacific coast of Baja California south of Guerrero Negro and throughout the Sea of Cortez. How this fish ended up 375 miles above its most northerly range is anyone's guess, but the warming waters brought north by this year's El Niño event have likely played a role.

The tripletail ate a piece of anchovy that Martin was fishing in about 8 feet of water. Unfortunately, the fish did not survive the trip in the livewell to the aquarium at San Diego's Fisherman's Landing across the bay, so it was donated for research to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego.

Atlantic tripletail in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters off the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida are highly rated gamefish, reaching weights up to 40 pounds. They are also excellent table fare.