Even we take a vacation to go fishing once in a while. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†This year for my birthday, I decided to celebrate in style – wrenching on lunker yellowfin tuna with ¬†the top notch fishing operation in Venice, LA – Paradise Outfitters.
After several disappointing yellowfin tuna missions to the Bahamas in the last year, I needed to get the yellowfin vendetta out of my system. ¬†I’ve spent a fair bit of time researching which destinations in the world offer the best yellowfin tuna fishing – Panama, Mexico, Southern CA, and even the Philippines only to arrive at the conclusion that nothing really compares to the epic ridiculousness of tuna fishing in Venice, LA. When hashing out the idea with my friend Capt. Nick – he pointed me in the direction of Capt. Hunter Caballero – the owner of Paradise Outfitters. I took one look at venicefishing.com and knew my search had come to a close. Sometimes the universe just unfolds as it should.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more established and skilled crew in Venice, LA. ¬†Capt. Hunter and Capt. Woody are all-stars in the offshore scene and have been at it for quite some time. ¬†Their capabilities are limitless and they’ve mastered fishing the midnight lump and countless oil rigs for nearly every pelagic species that swims in the Gulf of Mexico. Hunter’s custom built 41′ catamaran is a BEAST of a fishing machine – equipped with a pair of Yamaha V8’s and the latest Furuno electronics.
The ability of this boat to crush the waves and haul ass through fierce water is unlike anything i’ve personally experienced. Weather conditions during our trip were rough, but the sea gods spared us just enough of a window to make the magic happen.
I’ll be blunt – Day 1 produced the most epic yellowfin tuna fishing I have ever experienced. The ride out into the Gulf of Mexico was a chilling reminder of the lethality of harsh seas coupled with March winds. We plowed through the ocean out to the first set of pumping stations where a quick troll produced a single blackfin. With dirty water everywhere and the fish not responding to a few strategically trolled rapalas, we pulled in the lines and made the remainder of the run to the midnight lump. We began marking fish immediately upon arrival.
I spent a fair bit of time chunking for bluefin tuna off Ocean City, MD while I was growing up…and I was literally thrilled when I realized that’s exactly what we’d be doing all day for the yellowfins. ¬†As soon as the chunks of bunker went into the water…the bonitas began swarming the boat. ¬†“A good sign” as Woody put it. ¬†The first few chunks to hit the water with hooks inside got slammed and we began bailing bonitas for bait. On the second drift – Todd was the first to connect with a nice 20lb yellowfin. ¬†A thrilling indication that Hunter had put us right on the money spot.
We started marking fish like crazy under the boat and Hunter made the brilliant decision to set the anchor and get the chum slick going in force. ¬†From that point on – it was total mayhem. Every bait that hit the water got ROCKED. ¬†This was the epic fishing i’d been searching for – a haven where sportfishermen can rejoice in complete and total immersion in battling yellowfin, after yellowfin, after yellowfin.
During the frenzy we caught yellowfins, blackfins, kingfish, countless amberjacks, bonitas, and lost dozens upon dozens of fish to cut offs and slow hands on the drag lever. ¬†The ferocity of the bites was simply astounding – as long as the chum slick kept rolling – the fish kept biting. With enough yellowfin on ice to satiate our carnal desire for sashimi – we decided to switch gears and start tagging the fish before sending them home.
Day 1 of yellowfin tuna fishing in Venice, LA was truly an epic experience unlike any other. ¬†The closest thing I can relate to this was bluefin tuna chunking – but on those trips we were lucky to score two or three fish in a day. At the end of Day 1, we caught a total of 18 yellowfins, a dozen or so blackfins, countless bonitas, and who knows how many 30+lb amberjacks. The volume of fish in the water at the midnight lump is just staggering. The last fish of the day was the monster i’d been searching for over the last few years. ¬†About 15 minutes before picking up the lines and headed in…i hooked a bruiser which stripped line with a vengeance. ¬†From the moment I pushed the drag in gear, I knew I had a massive fish fight on my hands. ¬†I strapped in for the fight while Hunter was quick to drop the anchor and get on the helm.
We chased the fish for a bit and fought it for about 14 minutes before reaching the flourocarbon leader. The beast was almost to the surface when it made a last minute turn for the props and that was that. ¬†Whatever it was…a giant yellowfin, a giant wahoo…the world’s largest bonita…we’ll never know. ¬†But I do know that it was a sign of what was to come on day 2.
Day 2 was rough. ¬†The winds were blowing a steady 20knts and the wind was COLD. Still aching from the epic fish fights of the day before, we just couldn’t resist venturing back out for another run. I was still reeling (no pun intended) from the loss of the giant fish the day before, but had a sense of confidence heading into the second expedition now that I knew what to expect. Chunking for tuna is something i’ve known and loved for years – i’m not sure why it didn’t click that’s the name of the game for big yellowfin tuna in Venice, LA during February and March. We pressed out into the cold only to be greeted by a brisk following sea.
We arrived to the fishing grounds after a jarring ride through a solid 3 to 5 with a few 6 footers mixed in. The following sea softened the blow a bit, but we knew the ride home would be a challenge. ¬†I learned that day why Hunter built a TANK of a boat.
We arrived to rough seas at the lump – but the fish were showing up THICK on the sounder. ¬†We knew it was just a matter of time until Hunter would have them dialed in and we’d be back at it again. Shortly after chunking up a few bonitas, the marks started to show up more consistently under the boat…and then the bite turned back on with a fury!
With tunas swarming the boat – the mood was sublime. ¬†We were back on the fish and despite the rough weather the yellowfins were feeding aggressively. ¬†Every bait was getting slammed within a minute of hitting the water. There were times when the maks on the sonar were so thick it appeared to be interference…but it just wasn’t the case. The volume of life swimming around the Midnight Lump is¬†stupefying…surreal at times. Nothing really compares to seeing that much life swarming in a chum slick.
After a few big hits where I failed to engage the drag quickly enough to connect…i decided to go for the gold and put a giant hunk of bonita on my hook. Over the side the double whopper sized chunk went and within 45 seconds the drag starts screaming. ¬†It’s a monster fish and I call for the harness. Now let me clarify that i’ve fought just about every pelagic species that swims…from broadbills to bluefins…and this fish was putting a hurt on me like I hadn’t felt in years. I wasn’t sure whether I was weak from the day before or if my thighs just weren’t as strong as they used to be (hey…i just had a birthday. ¬†i’m getting old). ¬†I laid into this fish hard, but couldn’t budge it much. ¬†After a few bouts of give and take…one of which almost pulled me over the side…up pops the new boat record Amberjack!
This fish tipped the scale at 97lbs by the time it hit the dock, but i’m sure it was at the 100lb mark at the time we brought it in the boat. ¬†This fish gave one of the most painful battles i’ve experienced to date…I was so exhausted after the fight I could hardly lift it up for a picture.
And if that wasn’t enough…the day kept getting more epic. ¬†Large amberjacks continued to beat us within inches of exhaustion…slamming one out of every three baits that hit the water. ¬†It was to the point where we became mildly disappointed that a hog amberjack took the bait instead of a tuna! ¬†Talk about spoiled. ¬†Todd had all the luck on day 2 – boating two of the nicest yellowfins of the trip.
And if that wasn’t enough…immediately after boating that fatty – Todd goes back to work. ¬†Grabs another chunk…pitches it over the side…and wham!
AND if that wasn’t enough – Todd went to work on a 200lb hammerhead shark shortly after that…while Dwight, Woody, and I took turns duking it out with bruiser amberjacks and the occasional smaller yellowfin. First world problems. ¬†ūüėČ
We’re still in the process of sorting pictures and editing a bit of video together to capture the total craziness of this trip, and to be completely honest – the pictures STILL don’t do this place justice. Fishing with Hunter and Woody at Paradise Outfitters is a legendary experience. I literally can’t wait to get back up there and head out on another expedition. If you’re looking for a yellowfin tuna fishing charter in Venice, LA – do yourself a favor and check out Paradise Outfitters first.
Capt. Charlie Ellis
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