By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
On Friday, July 25, northwest winds along the Oregon coast subsided enough to allow an encroaching band of ideal tuna water ranging from 58 to 62 degrees to make its first all-coast debut, well within the range of recreational and charter vessels.
Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) revealed on the terrafin Web site (www.terrafin.com) lit a fire underneath the tails of tuna fishermen scurrying to find their Zukers, clones and Cedar Plugs as they prepared to head out to sea in search of Pacific albacore.
The narrow swath of warm water with well-defined cool-water edges was snaking its way within the following distances from these ports:
30 miles from Tillamook Bay
26 miles from Newport
19 miles from Charleston
22 miles from Bandon
35 miles from Port Orford
40 miles from Gold Beach
45 miles from Brookings
Not all landings got tuna on July 25, though. The hot spot without a doubt was on the southernmost tip of the coast.
The 60-degree water 45 miles from the Port of Brookings Harbor prompted Brian Wood of Medford to make the anticipated phone call to his brother Jeff, whose 26-foot Osprey was docked, locked and loaded for the albies.
"When my brother called me up on Friday and told me what he had just read on the terrafin charts, I was ready to make the 120-mile trip to the coast," said Jeff.
On July 26, Jeff, Brian and another passenger pulled into the Brookings fillet station at approximately 6 p.m. with Brookings' inaugural load of recreational tuna of the season: 20 albacore ranging from 20 to 35 pounds.
"One tipped the scales at 36 1/2 pounds," Jeff noted. "Practically all our fish were caught on Cedar Plugs."
The trio used a combination of meat lines and conventional rods-and-reels.
"We got our fish about 45 miles out in 58-degree water," added Jeff. "The ocean was just like a mirror out there."
So remember that although 62-degree water is the textbook temp, don't overshoot a well-defined edge of 58-degree water. Sometimes it's the green water tuna that are the largest.
With ideal ocean conditions, and southerlies expected to drive the warmer water even closer to shore, the threesome were planning on going out the following day, as were other fishermen in the Brookings fleet. The recreational vessel, Olive Oil, operated by Tim Coakley, brought in 31 tuna on the same day.
On July 27 several recreational boats went between 40 and 70 miles, but the success rate was half that of the previous day.
Many Brookings' skippers are planning on going out the middle of the week or even possibly on the weekend.
Keep your eyes peeled for any floating ocean debris
I first met Jeff three years ago at the Brookings fillet station as he was starting to fillet a 25-pound yellowtail, a fish he caught incidentally while trolling for albacore.
Pound-for-pound, yellowtail will outfight any tuna. If you've ever fished for them on a charter boat, they are well-known for their steamy long runs.
But the actual fight occurs when you get them to the boat, when they decide to take you on several 360-degree tours of the deck at whirlwind speeds before they are finally ready to come to the gaff.
The limit used to be 10 at one time, but most people would be totally whipped after catching one or two. I remember one day, a friend and I wanted to catch a limit just to say that we could. We did, and we were sore for a week. And that was when I was in my prime.
In Southern California and Mexico, yellowtail are well-known for hanging out underneath a kelp paddy, which is another name for an isolated detached mass of kelp floating at sea.
While you might not find kelp paddies 40 miles off the Oregon coast, you will definitely find things that float, and to a yellowtail those are the same as kelp paddies. Do not pass up these items.
If you find pieces of driftwood, pallets, or any other type of flotsam and jetsam, do not approach them too closely, but watch for boils at a distance.
That's what Jeff did that one year when he saw some floating debris, noted there were several splashes nearby, suspected they were yellowtail and proceeded to troll for them.
Anyone who has fished kelp paddies has often come up with a goose-egg, and not necessarily because the paddy was fishless.
Quite the contrary. Often there are yellowtail, or even dorado underneath these objects, but the fish suddenly get a case of lockjaw when they become spooked by the boat.
So whatever you do, if you see one of these floating items, boils or not, always maintain a distance of at least 100 yards on either side.
The trick in trolling near any bobbing articles, whether they are kelp paddies, wreckage or just a single wooden pallet, is to troll about 250 yards past the object, maintaining at least 100 yards on the side.
Then, double back, maintaining at least 100 yards on the other side. Your tuna clone, Zuker or Cedar Plug will drag right across the debris. If there is a yellowtail lurking beneath it, your lure stands a good chance at seeing the inside of its mouth.
That's the trolling method Jeff used that day when he whacked that 25-pounder.
The warm tuna water is expected to continue though the rest of this month and with a few more southerlies, the fishing should be good into August as well.
The most important thing this year is to have all your gear prepped and primed, and be ready to fish at a moment's notice, otherwise your oppor-TUNA- tee will be a flash in the pan.