The Pacific Ocean off the San Diego coast and into Mexican waters provides anglers with incredible opportunities to catch a wide variety of highly coveted game fish. If you are an avid saltwater fisherman, from anywhere in the world, you have likely heard about the San Diego sport-fishing experience. If you have not yet fished there, you probably have it on your bucket list.
Every summer, tuna arrive in large numbers, not far from the landings, giving you a good shot at having the time of your life catching fish from 3-300 pounds. Bluefin tuna top the bucket list for sure, but wide open yellowfin tuna bites get the adrenaline pumping big time, usually around August. The Coronado islands are easily accessible for day trips, with California yellowtail being a commonly targeted species. Shorter trips give you access to kelp bed fishing for calico bass and occasional white sea bass with barracuda, bonita, sand bass, ling cod, halibut and a few other species.
When things get really hot, you may even catch a trophy tuna on the shorter trips. In recent years, many fishermen have returned to the docks with bluefin tuna over 100 pounds caught on rented gear. Don’t go with that expectation but check the fishing reports before heading out and rent the right gear if it’s happening. If you have the time, motivation and money, book a long-range trip on the American Angler. Head deep into Mexican waters for 7 or more days and fish the remote high spots, banks and islands for potentially life-changing catches. For a truly exclusive one day private fishing experience (and a very good shot at landing a huge tuna) charter a 4 pack like Mike Harris and his son Weston have been doing for many years now with their Captain Duane Diego. Duane is a living legend with an uncanny knack for getting his clients into the “bigs,” and getting those fish into the boat. Fishing with Duane requires advanced planning, booking your trip at least one year in advance. That said, his company www.PinnacleSportFishing.com can get you out there on one of their boats. The odds will be stacked in your favor, if you manage to get a day on the water with the Michael Jordan of fishing or one of his captains.
Growing up in Southern California, with a love of fishing and easy access to the area, I made several trips to Fisherman’s Landing every summer. Memories of wide open albacore tuna bites with my childhood friend Mike are burned into my mind forever. I also went to college in San Diego, giving me even easier access to the fleet for 4 years straight. I have caught bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, big eye tuna, dorado and of course the highly coveted California yellowtail, known for their tremendous pound for pound fight and their ability to escape by getting themselves locked up in the rocks or by wrapping your fishing line around kelp stringers. I’ve been pinned to the rail by large tuna with my arms burning, contemplating asking a deckhand for help more than once. I can tell you from personal experience, you have a very good chance of catching quality fish when you finally make it to San Diego.
For a variety of reasons I quit fishing for many years, but Mike never skipped a beat. He had his son Weston catching all varieties of prized gamefish way before it seemed possible. When the Bluefin started appearing, Mike and Weston were there from day one, so to speak. Mike was always an incredible fisherman, so it was no surprise that Weston already had the basics of fishing under his belt when the Bluefin became a commonly targeted species. Mike discovered captain Duane Diego early in the game, and Weston had two incredible mentors by his side as the Bluefin bite got progressively better with each passing year. Maybe I should not be surprised to hear that Weston is now considered to be “the future of fishing”, but somehow I find it hard to wrap my head around his achievements. Sure, as a young boy he undoubtedly had help landing fish, but he has now been putting cows on deck himself for several years. Mike told me he stays calm and patiently battles the fish no matter how long it takes.
Before you go fishing in San Diego, your best bet is to contact the landing for a bit of feedback to help plan your trip, based on what you want to catch, long before you go. You can certainly jump on a boat at the last minute and have the trip of your life, but try to figure out when you want to go ahead of time if possible. That way you can reserve a spot on a limited load trip. Your experience will be much better, if you go out with fewer people on a good size boat.
I am personally biased towards fishing on the Pegasus, because they only carry about 19 passengers, and their team always works super hard to get you on the fish (and your fish onto the boat.) The crew is extremely talented. They have put me into amazing fishing several times, and they have a reputation which keeps them fully booked throughout the season. The Pacific Queen has a great reputation as well for their consistently solid fish counts, and they get booked a year in advance for peak months the following year. They carry more passengers than I like to fish with, so I always try to get on the Pegasus. The Fortune has been offering “extended” 1.5 day trips with only 18 passengers, and they are also a great choice. Your limit of fish doubles on these trips, because they leave before noon. That’s a big advantage on those rare days when the bite gets super hot.
If you are really serious about fishing, you may want to charter a boat and split it with friends, everything from a 4 pack on up. If you have a large enough group, you can even charter the Pegasus, Pacific Queen or Fortune. You just need to plan ahead. Consider the Outrider for groups of 10.
Due to the popularity of San Diego sport fishing, many boats are chartered a year ahead by groups returning every July, August and September. While this limits options for tourists on some of the boats, most boats do run at least a few “open party” trips. That means you can get on a great boat with some up front planning. If you have travel flexibility you can get on a waiting list for boats that rarely have space. Fisherman’s landing has a fantastic website with a drop down menu allowing you to easily check the options. You can see which boats have space a couple months before you will be in town. You can monitor fish counts, read fishing reports and show up prepared with the right tackle. H and M, Seaforth, and Point Loma are other landings with multiple boats, great crews and experienced captains.
San Diego’s sport fishing fleet is made up of numerous vessels dialed in for the type of fishing they do. The owners, captains and crews typically have a tremendous amount of experience and work hard to return with fish. You can have a great trip with almost any boat. Sport fishing in San Diego has a long tradition and has evolved with the times, setting standards for the world in many ways. So the bottom line is, anyone who loves fishing needs to go there eventually.
If you catch too many fish or any really large ones, there are a few fish processing businesses which cater to the sport fishing industry. They clean, vacuum pack, freeze, smoke, jerk or can your catch. If you are traveling from SoCal locations or you happen to be staying in a vacation rental, you can hire Dock-to-Door for pick up and deliver of your fresh bounty. One day of fishing can have you eating for weeks or even months.
San Diego is an excellent place to vacation with perfect weather and lots to do. Your travel companions can be shopping in La Jolla, surfing at Blacks Beach or strolling the sands of numerous world class beaches while you go fishing. CLICK HERE to find out more about San Diego on our Destinations Section (on the Adventure Page, under the Water Sports drop-down).
Mike Harris – @Pescadormiguel225; Weston Harris – @west_fish27; Duane Diego – @duanediego; Pinnacle Sport Fishing – https://pinnaclesportfishing.com/; @pinnaclesportfishing; American Angler Sport Fishing – http://www.AmericanAnglerSportFishing.com; Fishermans Landing – https://www.fishermanslanding.com/; The Pegasus – http://www.fishpegasus.com/