Anticipation Is Mounting as Yellowtail Begin to Stir

Some fishermen can sense that it's about to happen. Others have already gotten a taste of it.

Spring is almost upon us and, despite the calendar, the ocean is showing signs of livening up, as it did last spring when a full-scale yellowtail invasion in late April was followed by albacore in May and yellowfin tuna in June and July in what was undoubtedly one of the most exciting saltwater fishing seasons on record.

"Most people aren't attune to it yet, but the season is here," said Ronnie Kovach, a radio personality (AM 1150) and fishing instructor who returned this week from a trip aboard the Pegasus out of Fisherman's Landing in San Diego.

While preparing his fish for the smoker, Kovach reported that all 20 passengers aboard the vessel bagged quick limits of yellowtail while fishing in an area 40 miles south of Point Loma. Bob Fletcher, president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, was in the same area aboard the Legend and reported similar success, his five-fish limit topped by a 16-pounder.

Skippers of both vessels metered several schools of yellowtail, each several hundred strong, in a fairly small area. Fletcher added that private boaters have reported large areas of yellowtail in various locations all the way down the peninsula.

"I also heard from the pilot of a spotter plane who works for a commercial fisherman that there are lots and lots of yellowtail at San Clemente Island, and nobody has even been out there yet," he said.

The yellowtail off northern Baja included two size classes, with 5- to 8-pound "firecrackers" mixed with 10- to 18-pound "teenagers," which are believed to be the same small fish that flooded Southland waters last April.

"They've grown up some," Kovach said.

Whether they've gotten any wiser will probably be determined in the coming weeks, when the water warms another degree or two and the fish cross the border and find all those baited hooks dangling in front of their faces.

EARLY ALBACORE?

Last spring and summer, Southland fishermen enjoyed the first significant albacore season in 10 years, while Central California anglers experienced one of the best seasons ever.

Will there be an encore performance by these high-spirited tuna?

Fletcher thinks so, based on rumors of albacore sightings by private yachters within a day's boat ride from San Diego. "There have been real persistent rumors, but no confirmation," he said. "I'm trying to get a confirmed report and if I get one, I'm going to try to get a boat to go looking for them. The water looks good enough--it's already 63 degrees out there."

Which is about what it was when the first albacore were caught last May.

FOOL'S GOLD?

Santa Ana River Lakes officials are offering anglers a chance to win $100,000 during its Berkley Power Bait Tagged Fish Extravaganza March 26-29. This is sure to generate a fair amount of chaos at the freeway-side ponds in Anaheim, but will someone actually walk away $100,000 richer?

Probably not.

Lake officials say 275 tagged rainbow trout and catfish--most with tags worth $5 to $500 and payable on the spot--will be stocked for what is being called "the mother of all tagged fish contests." Of those, there are 25 special tags, 10 of which qualify fishermen for a drawing from 250 envelopes, one of which contains a check for $100,000.

If none of those 10 fish are caught, which is likely considering that there are thousands of fish in the reservoir, then the first 10 of the 15 other specially tagged fish qualify for the drawing.

If none of those fish are caught, the first 10 of the 250 other tagged fish qualify. If only one tagged fish is caught in the four days, then that angler will get to draw 10 envelopes and hope that one will contain the $100,000.

If no tagged fish are caught, the house will draw 10 envelopes, and if any of them contain the $100,000, the money will go to charity.

"Either way, we're going to draw 10 envelopes," concessionaire Bill Andrews said.

There is another catch. For fishermen to qualify for the entire $100,000, they must first pick up a "double-down" coupon free of charge at a Turner's Outdoorsman store. Without one of these sponsor's coupons, the $100,000 is only worth $50,000.

"It's going to be an interesting four days," Andrews said.

It's going to be a circus.

THE CHUM LINE

* The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently opened the bidding for construction of an entertainment complex that would replace the current public launch ramp facility at Marina del Rey with waterfront restaurants, shops and a hotel. That such a plan is even being considered has recreational boaters irate.

Under a proposal by the Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Commission, the ramp would be moved to nearby Dock 52, which is about a quarter of the size of the existing facility. Anyone who has tried to launch a boat on a busy weekend at the present ramp knows that Dock 52 will not be able to handle such crowds. Given that this is the only ramp in the Santa Monica Bay and the only one for miles in either direction, the commission figures to get an earful when the matter comes up for public review.

* The winner of the K2 Big Wave Challenge, a contest offering $50,000 to the surfer who rides the biggest wave of the 1997-98 winter season, will be announced March 31. The front-runners are Peter Mel for a ride at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, and Taylor Knox for a ride at Todos Santos Island off Ensenada.

* The annual Santa Monica Bay Halibut Derby is scheduled for April 18-19. More than 1,500 are expected to compete for fishing trips to Baja California and Alaska. Cost is $50 per person for individual competition and an optional $30 for team competition. Part of the proceeds will be used by the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica to introduce inner-city youth to fishing. Details: (310) 450-5131.

* The Fishermen's Spot's annual fly-fishing festival will be held March 29 at the Van Nuys store. More than 30 manufacturers will be on hand. . . . Gary Graham, owner of Baja on the Fly in the East Cape, will present a slide program on the incredible fishing in his "front yard" April 2 at Discover Baja Travel Club in San Diego. Cost is $3 for members, $5 for nonmembers. Details: (800) 727-2252. . . . Gene Kira, co-author of "The Baja Catch" and a frequent Baja California traveler, will teach a three-hour class on trailering boats down the desert peninsula April 4 at 1 p.m. at Orange Coast College. Details: (714) 645-9412.

* Baja bite: Cabo San Lucas anglers got into some unexpected heavyweights this past week. On Friday the 13th, Scott Swanson of San Francisco caught and released a black marlin estimated to weigh 360 pounds aboard the yacht Salsa, which always seems to be where the big fish are. Gordon Bennett of Chicago caught a 280-pound blue marlin aboard Angelina, and Dick Cassani of Massachusetts caught a 130-pound swordfish after a 1 1/2-hour fight aboard Carolina.

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