The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Anglers in frenzy over exotic fish invasion

Yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi among rare visitors to Southern California waters, lured by El Niño-like conditions; 'People are like, Who needs Mexico?’

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Angler poses with rare yellowfin tuna catch off Dana Point, Ca.; photo courtesy of Dana Wharf Sportfishing

Something very fishy is happening off Southern California.

Anglers are kelp paddy-hopping and discovering enormous schools of yellowtail beneath the floating amber masses.

Fishermen are trolling through schools of dolphins and hooking yellowfin tuna–as close as five miles from shore and as far north as Oxnard.

Anglers are even catching dorado, or mahi-mahi, and bluefin tuna.

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Mahi-Mahi are among species that have anglers in a frenzy over exotic fish invasion; photo by Shawn Morgon

It’s a dreamlike situation for those who like to target these fish, because they don’t have to embark on a multi-day boat voyage far down the Baja California peninsula, or fly to Cabo San Lucas or La Paz.

Instead, the tropical and sub-tropical species (yellowfin and dorado, in particular) have come to them, courtesy of El Niño-like conditions that have warmed water temperatures to an unseasonably high 71 to 75 degrees, extending far offshore.

“People are like, “Who needs Mexico?’ ” said Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing in Dana Point. “You should see our public launch ramp. It’s the longest line we’ve seen in 10 years.”

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Passengers aboard the San Mateo went home with enough tuna and yellowtail fillets to feed a small army; photo courtesy of Dana Wharf Sportfishing

Reads one of many Facebook comments from bewildered fishermen, enthused by rarity of catching tuna locally in July, beneath dolphin pods: “NOBODY has ever caught tuna off Porpoise in Southern California or Northern Baja waters…….EVER.”

Kalez said fishing for exotic species on this magnitude has not occurred since 1997, which marked the beginning of the last major El Niño.

The waters off Dana Point in Orange County have been particularly productive. One of Dana Wharf’s boats on Wednesday returned with 99 yellowtail, and a small number of tuna. Another boat finished up Thursday with 55 yellowtail, 13 dorado, and three yellowfin tuna. That’s unheard of for July, and almost unheard of for any time of year.

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Dorado caught Thursday off Dana Point; photo via Dana Wharf Sportfishing

Cody Martin was on a private boat Wednesday, fishing 30 miles off Dana Point. He reported catching a 30-pound yellowfin tuna, a 40-pound dorado, and 10 yellowtail. That sounds like a fish story coming from the Sea of Cortez.

Capt. Shawn Morgon, of the private yacht Good Karma, was fishing off Santa Catalina Island and caught a beautiful dorado. He shared the photo Thursday on Facebook, and we’ve posted it here.

But the exotic species did not stop at Dana Point. They’ve been biting to the north, off Huntington Beach, since Monday.

And on Wednesday a private boater reported catching 15 yellowfin tuna off Oxnard, which as far as we know has not happened since 1997.

Fishing is so good off Southern California that owners of some San Diego-based long-range boats, which typically venture far into Mexican waters, are requesting that anglers bring California fishing licenses, because they might be fishing locally.

Somewhat ironically, this incredible and unusual bite began just as Mexico was ordering a ban on fishing for bluefin tuna, as the bluefin bite was in full swing off Baja. Now bluefin schools are being encountered off Southern California, where there is no sportfishing ban.

Said Don Ashley, owner of Pierpoint Sportfishing in Long Beach: “From our point of view, why drive all the way to San Diego to turn around and come back here?”

Ashley’s overnight boat, the Toronado, returned to port Wednesday with 50-plus yellowfin tuna.

Said Philip Friedman, host of Spanish-language and English-language fishing radio shows in Southern California:

“Because of Mexico’s bluefin closure, and with some bluefin and all those yellowfin entering U.S. waters, it’s a perfect opportunity to catch both species in the U.S., and avoid the Mexican permits and other costs associated with fishing on that side of the border.”

Friedman then added: “And we’re not finished with the exotics. This is just the beginning. I would not be surprised to see a blue marlin caught locally, or even a wahoo. It’s going to be that kind of a season.”

More on GrindTV

10 exotic fish El Niño might send to California

5 truly weird fish caught off Baja

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