Posts Tagged ‘Greg Stotesbury’

Oct 22, 2012

Fishing the Nest

Big yellowtail love to eat squid around the nest

During the spring months in Southern California, before the tuna and billfish arrive, we spend much of the early season targeting yellowtail, white sea bass and halibut in areas where the market squid are spawning. These squid “nests” attract all kinds of sea life from huge bird schools and feeding sea lions up top, to massive aggregations of sharks, rays, black sea bass and other bottom feeders anxious to take advantage of the easy bounty the spawning squid provide. The squid nests are typically found over sandy or muddy bottom in the 20 fathom depth range on the outside of the kelp lines and rocky structure along the coast or at the islands.

The easiest way to locate a nest is to look for large flocks of gulls sitting on the water and occasionally diving and picking squid off the surface. Sea lions will often be seen in the same zone “chewing their cud” as they try and swallow the squid they catch below the surface. Schools of feeding porpoise will sometimes be in the mix with the gulls and seals. The concentration of life around the squid nest is usually easy to spot by all the surface activity.

The other way to locate the actual nest is to find it on the sonar. Squid concentrations show up on color sonar as a thick, blue “fuzz” on the screen. Many times the squid will look like interference on the sonar screen due to their lack of a swim bladder to reflect a stronger sonar signal. Sardines and mackerel show up as stronger green or red sonar marks, which to the practiced eye don’t look like squid. Ideally, there will be larger deep-red marks around the squid concentration which indicate the presence of larger predators like sea bass, yellowtail and calicos. Another simple way to find a nest is to look for commercial squid light-boats anchored over the spot waiting for night to fall.


White sea bass are considered the ultimate prize and are often jumbo size when feasting on spawning squid

Once a squid nest is located, I like to meter around with the sonar and find the area with the largest concentration of squid and game fish marks on the machine. It is always best to anchor just up-current from the best marks and then scope back until the boat is positioned over the prime zone. You should be able to drop down and catch the squid or their eggs if you are right on the spot. The squid spawn millions of eggs and attach them to the sandy bottom in large balls which are easily snagged with bottom rigs. I will always have a rod rigged with a gang of squid catchers to drop down and sample the life on the bottom. Sometimes the squid will grab the squid catchers in sufficient numbers to fill a bait tank with a couple scoops of hook bait in short order.

I like to fish several types of outfits when targeting yellows and sea bass over a nest. My favorite rig is a dropper loop set up with a 4-6oz. torpedo sinker on the bottom and a 6/0-8/0 octopus-style hook on the short dropper 3 feet above the sinker. I always hook 2 squid on the hook to mimic the look of 2 mating squid suspended above the nest. Leader material should be 40-60lb test fluorocarbon. I like 50-65lb braided main line spooled on a 3/0-sized conventional reel mounted on an 8’ medium heavy live bait rod. The other favorite terminal rig on this same outfit is a white 1oz. bucktail jig with a couple squid pinned on the hook. A small white or glow-in-the-dark jig with a single hook can also be deadly for yellows, sea bass and big halibut when tipped with a couple squid and fished in the rod holder with the jig positioned just off the bottom. Most of the outfits used to fish the nest can be placed in the boat’s rod holders and fished in-gear. Game fish are seldom shy when they slurp up a couple squid fished on bigger hooks and will usually hook themselves.

The real beauty of fishing the squid nest is the lack of cover for bigger yellows and sea bass to run into once they are hooked. The clean sand bottom in 20 fathoms almost guarantees even the biggest fish can be easily landed if they are kept from wrapping the boat’s anchor line and chain. A good squid nest can give up a 30lb halibut, a 40lb yellow and a 50lb white sea bass on consecutive drops if you are there at the right time. It’s definitely worth the effort to find a nest and take advantage of the bounty the spawning squid can attract!


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May 16, 2012

Satellite-Tagged Striped Marlin


Pulling Hard

The line snapped out of the Roller-Troller outrigger clip and the rod just barely bent, but no line was coming off the reel like you would expect with a typical striped marlin strike.  My son, Zane, looked at me and we both said the same thing…“Mako shark on the marlin lure”! 

Zane scrambled down the bridge ladder and grabbed the rod and started winding, but the fish just kept tracking along at the same speed as the boat.  Outdoor writer and good friend, Rich Holland, started clearing the other 3 trolling lines as Zane worked the fish closer to the boat.  Rich just got the last troller out of the water, when Zane said the double line was coming out of the water.  I looked over just in time to see the “mako shark” had grown a bill, as 150lbs of angry Catalina Island striped marlin exploded into the air just outside the port outrigger!

Rich, my son Zane (13) and I were off the east end of Catalina Island in Southern California trying to put a couple of the first Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags “PSATs” in our local stripers.  

At the ready

 A PSAT is an archival tag that is equipped to transmit the data via direct satellite upload when it “pops” to the surface. The PSAT’s major advantage is that it does not have to be physically retrieved like an archival tag for the data to be available. They have been used to track movements of ocean sunfish, marlin, sharks, tuna, swordfish and sea turtles. Location, depth, and temperature data are used to answer questions about migratory patterns, seasonal feeding movements, daily habits, and survival after catch and release. The sophisticated – and very expensive – $4000 PSAT tags had been supplied to us through the joint efforts of the Avalon Tuna Club, Paxon Offield and The Pfleger Institute of Technology (P.I.E.R).

We had been having a very successful marlin season on our boat “Kawakawa,” and were excited to be selected to place the tags.  But, with an outdoor writer and two expensive PSATs aboard, the pressure was on to get the job done!

Zane’s marlin gave us a good scrap, but on the 30lb tackle he was soon boat-side and ready to be leadered and PSAT tagged.  We were very careful to keep the marlin away from the props and also to keep him from hitting the side of the boat during the leadering and hook removal process.  Luckily the fish was hooked right in the corner of the jaw and cooperated well once I was able to grab his bill in preparation for tagging.  We removed the little magnet which was taped to the tag, and this turned on the PSAT transmitter.  We then carefully placed the tag at the base of the dorsal and gently released the striper.

Satellite Ready

After high-fives and victory shouts we put the lures back in and continued trolling up the famous Catalina Island east end ridge looking for another striper.  It didn’t take long before we were “wired” again on our second striper of the day in only 300 feet of water.  Rich graciously insisted young Zane take the second fish so he could shoot photos.  Twenty minutes later we had the fish to leader and were able to place our second PSAT in a perfectly healthy Catalina Island striped marlin!

We learned several months later from PIER scientist Dr. Michael Domeier, that one of our stripers immediately left Catalina water after we placed the PSAT and charged straight south 400 miles, where the tag stopped transmitting off Cedros Island in Baja, Mexico.  Domeier theorized that the marlin had possibly been eaten by a predator, due to the data profile he received from the PSAT.

We were stunned and disappointed to learn that our second PSAT tagged marlin was re-caught the same afternoon after we placed the tag!  It turns out the fish was re-caught by a boat fishing in a tournament which was held the same day we were out.  Sadly, the fish was killed and the PSAT was removed by the boat that caught the fish.  Dr. Domeier later recovered the PSAT and was able to upload the few hours of data from the overly-hungry striped marlin.

We were thrilled and honored to be one of the first boats in California to place a PSAT in a striped marlin.  Since that day back in 2004 there have been many stripers PSAT tagged off Mexico, and a few more have even been tagged in Southern California.  The data gleaned from the PSATs has greatly increased the knowledge base of the striped marlin’s habits at this northern limit of their usual range.  

 — Greg Stotesbury

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Feb 17, 2012

Boat-Shy Bluefin Off Southern California

The past few years in Southern California, we have been plagued with the “La Nina” condition, which keeps our offshore waters cooler than normal in the summer months.  Our typical warm-water run of striped marlin, dorado and yellowfin tuna never makes it far enough north for us to reach them during “La Nina” years from ports in So Cal.  Fortunately for us large, schools of bluefin tuna do sometimes make it above the US-Mexico border on cold water years, as they have a better tolerance for the cool and nutrient rich California current. The bluefin take advantage of the tremendous amounts of bait which congregate along well-defined current lines during cold water years. Our local bluefin are tough to catch, but worth the effort and are the best eating of any of our local offshore species.

When the bluefin show in the Gulf of Catalina they can usually be located over the offshore banks and ridges, such as the 43, 182, 289 and San Clemente Island ridge in purple-blue 62 to 68 degree water.  One of the keys to locating bluefin is to look for fast moving spots of terns or petrels fluttering over the surface and crashing on bait.  Bluefin spend a great amount of time at the surface feeding and “breezing”.  Their surface roaming, tight schooling behavior makes them particularly vulnerable to the fleets of purse seine boats from Mexico and San Pedro.  By the time these fish reach local waters they have usually been harassed several times by the relentless seiners.  This makes them even more boat shy and sensitive to engine noise, generators and sonar pings.

Bluefin tuna are one of the most highly prized and best eating in the world

Bluefin are notoriously boat shy and difficult to hook from small private boats with smaller live bait capacities than the bigger party boats.  Party boats can chum tremendous amounts of live baits and attract the bluefin to the boat, but smaller private boats have to take the baits to the bluefin and use stealth tactics to get their share.  This requires some modified techniques to get them to bite consistently.

After locating an area with schools of bluefin showing on top and bird schools working around them, we immediately start glassing with gyro-stabilized binoculars to find the larger spots of fish and birds.  This past season you could even watch for “jumpers” (free jumping tuna) in the working bluefin schools and then target the spots with the bigger fish.  Our secret to getting the Bluefin to bite was to turn off all the sonar units, both up-and-down and side scanning, and then position the boat above the direction the fish were working.  We would then shut down the motor and wait for the bluefin to get into casting range of our fly-lined sardines and small mackerel.  Many times the bluefin would shy away or go down for no apparent reason, but every once in a while the whole school would be crashing bait all around the boat in a virtual frenzy!  Even when actively feeding, the super-shy bluefin would only hit a perfectly presented bait that swam as soon as it hit the surface.  Bluefin tuna can be the most frustrating fish in the world, but there is nothing like the thrill of the first run of a fat bluefin hooked on light tackle on your own boat after a stealthy approach!

Our favored bluefin tackle is a light 7 ½’ to 9’ live bait rod with the best casting reel available, spooled with 300 yards of 30-50lb spectra backing, with a long 20-30lb fluorocarbon top shot.  Many of the schools of tuna run 15-25lbs, but then there are the occasional schools of 40-80lb fish.  You won’t land many of the 70-80lb bruiser-bluefin on the light gear, but then you’ll never get the bite if you don’t use tackle that can fly-line a small live sardine or mackerel bait.  We had several tragedies on big tuna this past season, but we also landed a fair amount on the light gear.  We tried using 30-40lb fluorocarbon leaders, but found we got bit the best using 25lb pink-tinted 100% fluorocarbon with a 1-2/0 light wire, ringed circle hook to suit the bait.  The circle hooks reduce the bite-offs from the larger sharp-toothed Bluefin, but we still lost some of the bigger models to chewed leader after long fights on the light gear.

Due to their superior quality on the table, we handle the bluefin we catch in a special way.  Ideally, we head gaff the fish to avoid any gaff holes in the precious loins or bellies.  We then immediately cut a couple of the gill arches with a pair of poultry shears, then make a small cut at the base of each side of the caudle peduncle (tail) just down to the backbone.  Once the gills and tails are cut, we place the tuna head down in a bleed tank of circulating sea water and let the tuna bleed out completely before slipping them into an insulated fish bag full of ice and saltwater slush.  This process insures all your efforts to catch the elusive and boat-shy bluefin tuna are rewarded with prime sushi loins and bellies at the end of the day!  

Greg Stotesbury

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