The Pacific off Westport served up a second something strange this week: what’s being called a “legitimate yellowtail bite.”
A say what?!?
Kevin Lanier has been fishing out of the port on Washington’s South Coast for the past eight years and had never caught a single one, but on Tuesday, four yellowtails came over the rail of his charter boat.
Lanier and crew lost at least four more, and three other boats called into the hot spot landed a quartet between them too.
“Like a guy on Bloody Decks said, ‘I leave you and you find a legitimate yellowtail bite.’ You never hear of a yellowtail bite (off Washington). You hear of one here, one there,” says Lanier, who operates KC Sportfishing charters.
The catches follow on Sunday’s pending new state-record opah, another exotic from warmer seas, and given El Niño and The Blobasaur off our shores, West Coast offshore fishing expert Steve Carson actually wasn’t shocked to hear about it.
“No big surprise — a wahoo had NEVER been caught in California waters until last year, and now there are guides who are running trips that target them,” says the Chico-based outdoor writer. “Seems normal that yellowtail would be far north of their usual range too.”
Lanier says that on Monday, albacore fishing had been slower, so the fleet decided to try something different.
“Mark (Coleman) suggested, ‘Let’s go north,’” says Lanier about his fellow skipper and tunahound.
While he says Dave McGowan and the Ms. Magoo ran straight out and found fish, Lanier and crew went 57 miles west-northwest, ending up what would be 11 miles north of the entrance to Grays Harbor, before turning around.
There he just happened to cross paths with a kelp patty “the size of a pickup,” and while trolling past it, got bit, though the fish came unbuttoned.
Out went a swimbait towards the patty, the lure was bitten, and this time the fish stayed on to the rail.
“I looked down, ‘Oh, my god, it’s a yellowtail!’“ Lanier says.
Perhaps in the excitement of the moment or maybe due to the way the species of amberjack fought – he describes a lot of salmonlike head-shakes as well as rolling near the surface like a coho – this one was lost right at the boat.
But they kept at it and on the next pass got two in, and over the next hour landed an additional pair.
“We got two on live bait, one on a swimbait and one on a metal jig,” Lanier says.
In other words, the same tackle you’d use for albacore.
But should you happen to experience what might indeed have been a “once in a lifetime event” off the Northwest Coast, maybe upsize that topshot. Lanier reports 30-pound leaders were breaking off during tussles with likely yellowtails.
Their largest went 17 pounds, 7 ounces on his certified scale, he says.
After a call from Lanier, Mark Coleman of All Rivers and Saltwaters Charters and his express boats got in on the action, landing four of their own.
“The yellowtails are around to some extent each summer and fall, but this year we’ve seen a little spike in catches mostly due to the strong El Nino current,” notes Coleman. “Offshore water temps have been in the low to mid-60s, which is the lower end of what yellowtails prefer. Yellowtails love to hang out near any floating debris, kelp patties, buoys, etc., and when the right water temp and floating structure align, we catch yellowtail. We’ve caught a couple bluefin tuna this season as well, and that is normal.”
Carson says that monitoring an in-the-know Northwest saltwater forum, he’s observed that the yellowtail catch has increased steadily over the past four years.
“It may also be that folks are targeting yellowtail up there a little better than in the past,” he notes.
Heck, maybe we’re even dialing in opah — Jim Watson’s went 36 pounds — or not.
Coleman told Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review that the North Idaho angler’s moonfish was the first “caught in six busy seasons and well over 10,000 albacore” aboard his boat.
Indeed, to find rare visitors in a huge ocean like the Pacific is a pretty lucky thing. Lanier says he just happened to look over and there was the patty.
Tuesday’s yellowtail bite taught him a lesson he passes along to others who head out over the horizon.
“Don’t pass up a large kelp patty if you’re way offshore. Throw a jig or swimbait in it,” he says.
There are a couple-few more weeks in the far-offshore fishery before weather, declining daylight and increasing distance to the fish conspire to keep even the fleetest boats in port, but for one Westport captain, Tuesday was a nice capper to what’s been a good tuna and Chinook season.
“It was a fun thing. It’s a rarity, a bite like that,” says Lanier.
Oh, and how does yellowtail taste?
“INCREDIBLE!!!!!” he says. “We sliced some for some fresh hamachi sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce and pan seared some with olive oil garlic and lemon juice — yum.”