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Cold water spawns empty hooks

NEWPORT BEACH — Unusually cold Pacific Ocean waters off Southern California have put a damper on sportfishing, leaving many anglers walking away from fishing boats empty-handed, if not outright despondent.

Even some of the locals are starting to reconsider their daily jaunts down to the shore to surf cast off Balboa Peninsula.


Fresh from a successful fishing vacation off of Cape Cod, Alex Bassinne, a regular fisherman down near the Wedge, said he’s getting a tad frustrated at continually reeling in nothing.

“I caught a corbina a few days ago, but that’s it so far,” said Bassinne, 49, referring to the bottom fish that can be found along sandy beaches and in shallow bays. “Usually, this time of year, I’m pulling them in one after another from this very spot.”


Such is the sport. Mother Nature has dealt it a blow lately.

Sportfishing companies are reporting the same refrain: The sand bass, barracuda, corbina and yellowtail, all warm-water fish, are rarely getting hooked these days.

And it stands to reason that there’s less warm-water fish because the ocean water is cold with temperatures ranging from the high 50s to the low 60s, according to sportfishing companies..

But it’s something that shouldn’t be happening in the middle of the summer. Generally, water temperatures this time of year ranges from the middle to upper 60s, if not the low 70s, said Harry Morse, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.


For sure, cold-water currents have been dominant these past few weeks, forcing the warm-water fish to “freeze up and essentially become inactive,” Morse said.

If there were ever an indicator, he said, it would be the lack of albacore within 20 miles of California’s shoreline. They’re virtually nonexistent, he added, with the exception of what he called “warm-water fingers” of water.

“Last year, we had the best decade ever,” said Morse, referring to the albacore catch. “We were knocking the snot out of them up all the way through July and up until late August. This year, there’s nothing. The fish that follow the warmer waters are staying further out.”

But as the world turns and the tides shift and upwelling occurs, the water temperatures will eventually change, Morse said.


Sometimes, the currents shift so dramatically that anglers will suddenly hit a jackpot after going weeks without landing anything, he said.

That was the case three years ago off Catalina Island in early September, when the currents shifted and the warm waters brought in loads of swordfish, sailfish and marlin from Mexico — the sort of catch unheard of that far north in Southern California, he said.

“They followed the warm-water currents off the coast of Mexico, he said, referring to the fish. “It was a tremendous sight.”

The good news is that the cold waters haven’t really affected businesses all that much, said Robert Woodbury, manager of Newport Landing Sportfishing, located near the Balboa Fun Zone.

“Most of our customers during the summer are tourists,” said Woodbury, who, on Wednesday, was running a whale watching tour. “The only numbers that are down are probably the number of locals who are renting boats by the day.”

And at Davey’s Locker Sportfishing & Whale Watching, business was operating at a fast clip, even if the catch was relatively slow, said Paul Rodriguez, a deckhand for the Western Pride, the name of the guide boat.

And with the fishing came the general banter.

As some of the anglers disembarked from the fishing trip, a few of the local fishermen were giving it to them.

“Hey, are you guys catching and releasing?” asked Art Verdult, 67, who’s been fairly lucky these days, netting nine fish in the last three days.

“We rig up differently,” he said, pointing to his buddy Vincent Gandolfo, 73, a Huntington Beach resident. “We have our secrets.”

But even this duo said they’ve seen better times.

“It used to be what we call ‘wide open,’ which means there were a lot of fish out there,” said Verdult. “But in the last three years, there haven’t been any fish.”