by Gil Mendiaz
Be a hunter first, and a fisherman second, and these basic fundamentals will keep that rod bending.
An angler fishes live bait near a kelp paddy in the hopes of hooking-up a yellowtail or yellowfin tuna. Below, a big kelp paddy holds promise of fast action.
It is indeed amazing to see anglers out at sea during the season looking for fish and limiting themselves to just a kelp patty or two. Or perhaps they fish a certain spot or bank they were lucky on last month. Amigos, there are just too many other options that can and do produce more hookups than the single kelp paddy or high spot.

The six steps to finding fish offshore are so basic in their approach it is not surprising that we, as students of fishology (new word), overlook some obvious clues for finding Southern California and Baja yellowfin, bigeye, dorado or yellowtail.

There is an unwritten law about finding fish: If you are fishing an area where fish have not been metered, sighted or caught, you'll catch nothing. If you aren't on fish, you can change your trolling speeds or lures, drift, cast or pray to the fish gods, but all you will have on your hooks is drowned bait. Fish only after you have found something to fish for. Use your precious time hunting. Find the fish and you will get bit.

First, we must demystify the ever popular kelp paddy. While it is known that paddies produce many hookups, there are times — too many of them — when we aren't getting bit for lack of fish on paddies, or worse yet, they are there and not biting. Then there is the Saturday and Sunday boat traffic, both party and private, that hit those paddies over and over again.

Why are you surprised when you come up to a paddy and there are no fish holding on it? Kelp paddies are just one of the ways we get fish. Fishing paddies is one of the most popular practices because paddies are the most visible fishing spots. Don't spend time on something that isn't producing. In order to increase your number of hookups consistently, don't limit yourself to kelp paddies. Learn to recognize the other fish signs that will produce that which you seek: Hookups!

At right, breaking porpoise can signal that tuna are swimming beneath the school of mammals. Below, rafting pelicans point to the presence of game fish.

The first rule of thumb for this fundamental of all fishing practices is to perform surgery. Examine and investigate the stomach contents of any game fish caught, deep or on the surface. You'll receive an instant education on the menu of the day.

Surprise, surprise. See the tiny baits (red crabs, octopi, cuttlefish and krill). Please note the absence of large baits. Use this information. It is the strongest indicator of what lures to fish (size and color) and possibly where to fish (when baits are known to be in certain areas). This also tells you why hoochie technology is so successful. Failure to examine stomach contents and understand today's diet may result in many hours on the water and little to show for it.

On the East Cape of Baja, for instance, we would match the krill to a bronze-and-white, two-inch squid skirt (hoochie), with a 2/0 bait hook for single troll; the octopi to a four-inch squid skirt (hoochie), with a 3/0 hook and the cuttlefish fish to a four- to five inch yellow grub, with a heavy lead head. The red crab we would set up as a six-piece bait chain in red/black/yellow hoochie, with the last one rigged with a trap rig using two 3/0 hooks.

These setups are versatile and can be trolled at three to 10 knots. For best results, the krill should be slow-trolled at three to five knots, along and in current breaks and scum lines. The others should get bit trolling at five to seven knots, wherever the fish are found, and particularly around kelp paddies or other floating debris. Now you know what to feed them. Set up today's menu with your favorite trolling pattern and go find them.

Find Waiting Birds

No, not working birds; birds sitting on the water. This is a major sign of fish being present, yet everyone cruises right past them? These birds have a one-day memory and they remember they have to eat. They're not resting. They're waiting. Waiting for the gamefish to push up the bait they are sitting on.

This is an old strategy that works well. Out here on the West Coast we have the advantage of sophisticated fish finders. Use them when you see birds sitting. Once investigated and you mark fish, get the bite going by throwing metal jigs and spoons or use another East Coast trick and chunk them up with mackerel, sardines, bonito or anchovies, if available. You can turn sitting birds into a major fish stop.

Fish finders are not the only piece of equipment than can aid in finding fish. If you have a radar system on your craft, keep it on during your fishing day. Keep your eye on the screen and look for small contacts fading in and out in the two to five mile range. These type of contacts are almost invariably working birds off in the distance with either bait and or game fish below them.

If you have a radar system on your craft, keep it on during your fishing day.
Radar can be a great aid to finding fish on overcast days, when visibility is diminished. All it will cost you is the time to investigate. Failure to investigate these contacts can result in the loss of an opportunity to put more fish in your hold.

Whales and Dolphins

Just about everyone knows about the relationship between dolphins and tuna. Most, if not all, big tuna caught on the East Cape are dolphin-associated. So this is nothing new, unless you have never taken advantage of it. But do you know about whales? Whales are a major element to finding tuna and in an E1 Niño year, hordes of dorado. Blue whales, humpbacks and greys are known to feed on krill, so finding them could mean tuna and dorado. Here on the West Coast and in great numbers we have sperm, finback and pilot whales. These whales are also a great sign of game fish being present, but be cautious. There is a difference between baleen and toothed whales. The later being tuna eaters and the former being krill eaters. They both can produce great action, but the toothed whales can be aggressive, if they feel threatened. So maintain a safe distance. Fishing tactics: Troll and meter around them, chum or chunk or use your iron jigs.

Fishing the Streams

We're not talking the Sierras here. I mean ocean streams — the live veins of the world's oceans known to fishermen as current breaks. These are the dividing lines between two currents sliding by each other and distinguished by a visible "slick" or "scum line" between them. Like the East Cape, Southern California has very deep currents working, so encountering one is commonplace. Knowing that fish are present, investigating and catching what you find is another matter.

Current breaks sometimes have temperature breaks within them. This is truly one of the strongest fish signs available. Again, use your electronics to gauge sea temperatures. There is a major difference between current breaks with temperature breaks and those without them. Temperature breaks mean fish ninety-five percent of the time, even if it is just a half to a full degree

Major breaks of two to four degrees could produce an outstanding bite. Here's why:

These more defined temperature breaks usually have green water on one side and clear blue water on the other. The dividing lines of these breaks more often than not have large amounts of baitfish on both sides. This depends on their preference for cooler or warmer water. These baitfish spend half their time in the slick or scum lines to take advantage of the vast amounts of krill, plankton and zooplankton that are easy prey for the bait. In turn, they become an easy mark for the associated game fish. The rest is up to you.

Once found, mark those breaks on your chart, GPS or Loran. Fishing techniques: troll and meter, flyline live bait, jigs and spoons will all produce fish.

There is another feature of the current breaks that produces many hookups. The scum line or "slick" of current breaks trap large amounts of floating debris. This debris can also house various gamefish. Stay with and follow these breaks and they could provide all-time high fish counts. This occurs because of the combination of debris cover, temperature variances and available bait.

You all know how to fish a paddy that is loaded with tuna and 'tails.
Kelp Paddies

Yes, the beloved kelp paddies are part of our six steps. They originate from a multitude of mainland and island kelp forests. When broken off, they are pushed out to sea and eventually get caught up in the cycle of converging currents. Here is where ninety percent of your kelp paddies have their birth as a drifting hospice, picking up their bait and gamefish. They can be found in the current breaks piled up like a golden brown garden providing cover for varying numbers of game fish.

You all know how to fish a paddy that is loaded with tuna and 'tails. Here is a strategy for fishing paddies that do not have visible fish: These are usually paddies that have been hit regularly and hard. The bait may still be around, but the game fish have become wary and do one of two things:

(1) go down 90 to 150 feet, or (2) they may be found anywhere between 25 to 50 yards off the paddy, waiting for the bait to move or surface. This is where most anglers don't look.

Use your fish-finder at the paddy. If you don't meter fish, don't leave the spot until you have made a complete circular search of the area surrounding that kelp paddy. You may surprise yourself with a great jig stop when you find those fish just outside the reach of all the other boats that only checked the paddy itself.

By dissecting your first-caught game fish, you can discover stomach contents and decide upon the best natural baits, lures, and colors to offer on a given day.
Other techniques for raising game fish off floating debris or paddies include slowing down and speeding up as you circle your kelp paddy or debris. This has the effect of lowering and raising back to the surface your trolling lures, attracting the curiosity and competitive eating response of most game fish. This practice should be supported with some chunk baits or live baits thrown off the stern, six or so at a time. This simultaneous action is an attention-getter that usually turns fish on and results in numerous hookups.


No matter what they have produced previously, banks must be holding bait to produce a bite. If there are recent radio reports of fish in the area or other intelligence available, plan your route so you are heading toward a bank. If you can acquire a satellite chart showing some current or temperature breaks you can target in that general location, make them part of your plan. In the event you reach the bank and have not come across the current breaks targeted, give it a good hard once-over. Look for the visual bait and fish signs and use that sonar fish-finder. No meter marks is the go ahead to leave and find those current breaks on your chart.

Above all else, remember the hunt, the chase and the reward can only be realized when you are utilizing all of your skills and acquired knowledge. Don't be a one dimensional angler. Be a hunter first, then a fisherman. That's a true fish catching combination.

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