The 2023 fall fishing season for bluefin tuna and swordfish help up very well through Thanksgiving but anglers saw the bite for both of those species fall off during the post-Thanksgiving period ahead of December. Anything could happen as we continue to head toward 2024 but for the moment there is not much to report with regard to the offshore fishing for bluefin tuna and swordfish.
The water temperatures fell into the low 60’s during the last week of November and this likely had a lot to do with the decline in the bluefin and swordfish bites. The last areas where bluefin were reported to be biting were at the Tanner Bank and the Butterfly Bank and once the bites went into decline with the cooling of the water most people thought it was not worth the long run offshore to try and relocate a better bite.
Private boater Ray Millman of Go The Distance was aboard one of the last sportboat trips out to the Tanner Bank while on a 1.5 day trip aboard Pacifica out of Seaforth Sportfishing that fished on Thanksgiving weekend. Millman reported that they caught a mixed bag of bluefin, bonito and yellowtail at the Tanner Bank and that the fish count was 28 anglers on a 1.5-day trip catching 2 bonito, 2 yellowtail and 25 bluefin tuna.
Millman reported that most of the bluefin were in the 8-to-20-pound range and that they had a big fish on the trip of about 25 pounds. He said it was mostly the type of fishing where you had to use light line, small hooks, and a lively sardine to get a bite from the touchy bluefin. Millman’s report was that a good way to go was using 20-to-25-pound test line, a size #2 or #4 hook and the liveliest sardine you could find in the bait tank.
A couple of other trips went out to the Tanner Bank and the Butterfly Bank following Thanksgiving weekend and they found slow fishing. As far as I know, those were the last trips out looking for bluefin.
Deep drop fishing for swordfish has also been on the decline since Thanksgiving to where most recent trips have been finding the deep drop swordfish fishing to be slow. The last reports I have are from a couple of commercial deep drop swordfish fishing boats that were fishing the 9 Mile Bank and the 178 Spot outside of San Diego and had one swordfish bite between them during their day of fishing.
Ken Morris of the Ken Dandy got in on the swordfish bite before the post-Thanksgiving decline and Ken reported about a trip that he and his brother Daniel took aboard Mark Backes’ boat December Girl. It was the day before Thanksgiving when they went out to the upper end of the 9 Mile Bank and the nearby 178 Spot to give the deep drop swordfish fishing a try. They patiently fished their deep drop rigs that were baited with large squid and at about 2:00 PM they got bit and hooked up. The swordfish jumped one time during the hookup and they eventually boated a 265 pound swordfish after an intense 2.5 hour battle. Backes was the angler for this spectacular catch and congratulations go out to Ken, Mark and Daniel for their 265-pound swordfish!
Productive areas for the deep drop swordfish fishing during the fall season have been the 9 Mile Bank, 178 Spot, the 181 Spot, the 277 Spot, the Slide, Avalon, the oil rigs in the Catalina Channel and 3 to 8 miles off the stretch of coast between La Jolla and Newport Beach. Of all those areas the 9 Mile Bank, 178 Spot, La Jolla, Carlsbad and Newport Beach have been the best.
There have not been any recent reports about the fishing at Los Coronado Islands with few if any boats out giving it a try. The last reports were of slow surface fishing and of good fishing for an assortment of bottom fish species that include reds, salmon grouper, whitefish and a chance at a bonus lingcod.
The best place for a chance at a late season yellowtail has been around North Island. Trying places where you locate your cleanest and warmest water might also be helpful in trying to find some surface fishing activity.
The bottom fishing around Los Coronado Islands has been very good for a mix of reds, rockfish and whitefish along with a chance at a bonus lingcod. The best areas for the mixed bag bottom fishing have been to the northwest, north and northeast of North Island in 25 to 60 fathoms.
An important reminder to anglers fishing in United States waters is that the fishing for rockfish in Nearshore waters and the fishing for Nearshore Rockfish species no matter where they are caught is currently closed. Please refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife website for all the details about the closed areas and the closed species at www.wildlife.ca.gov.
Anglers also need to know that the current closure regulations are in effect through December 31, 2023, when the usual seasonal rockfish closure will come into effect and be in effect from January 1, 2024 through March 31, 2024.
The fishing for rockfish has been good in areas that are outside of the current closure zones at places such as the 9 Mile Bank, South Carlsbad, Box Canyon, and the 14 Mile Bank.
The rest of the fishing along the San Diego County coast has been pretty good for a mix of calico bass, sand bass, sculpin, whitefish and sheephead and there has also been a chance of getting lucky and finding a biting yellowtail at La Jolla. Productive areas for calico bass, sand bass, sculpin, whitefish and sheephead have been the Imperial Beach Pipeline, the hard bottom to the northwest of Buoy #3 at Point Loma, the Green Tank, La Jolla, Solana Beach, Leucadia, South Carlsbad, the Barn, and San Onofre. The best zone to try for a yellowtail off La Jolla has been outside of the upper end of La Jolla in 8 to 30 fathoms.
Halibut fishing along the San Diego County coast has been scratchy. A few of the areas that produce an occasional halibut have been off Imperial Beach, in San Diego Bay, at the sandy bottom next to the structure of the sunken NEL tower or the structure of the Yukon shipwreck off Mission Beach, the Buccaneer Pipeline and the artificial reefs outside of Oceanside.
Even though the fishing for bluefin tuna and swordfish has been on the decline, there is still some fun fishing for coastal and island-oriented species. A great thing about Southern California is that we can enjoy good fishing the year around if we study the weather forecast and plan our fishing on days of good weather. I hope you can get out on the water and enjoy the December fishing. Keep on fishing and I hope to see you out on the water sometime soon!
Bob Vanian is the voice, writer and researcher of the San Diego-based internet fish report service called 976-Bite which can be found at www.976bite.com. Vanian also provides anglers with a personal fish report service over the telephone at (619) 226-8218. He always welcomes your fish reports at that same phone number or at email@example.com.