A rare abundance of golden treasure for local fishermen.
Kayak fisherman Matt Rabasco with his first sea bream caught in a kayak outside of La Jolla.
Dock totals 8/15 – 8/21: 5,486 anglers aboard 247 trips from the San Diego landings last week caught 84 barracudas, 1,322 bluefin tuna (up to 75 pounds), 1 bocaccio, 694 skipjack, 2,761 calico bass (1,689 released ), 4,632 sea bream, 1 halibut, 4 lingcod, 1,637 redfish, 131 sand bar, 23 sculpins, 200 sheep heads, 1 skipjack tuna, 1 striped marlin, 1 thresher shark, 221 whitefish, 7 white bass ( 6 released), 169 yellowfin tunas and 6,969 amberjack.
Salt water: Mahimahi, or common dolphinfish, is often called a “dolphin” by fishermen on the east coast. In Latin America and Southern California, they are commonly referred to as “dorado”, which means “golden”. Whatever their name, the fast-growing fish found in most of the world’s oceans are highly sought after as a game fish by recreational anglers. In fiction, Hemingway’s Santiago created some uproar among readers when the shriveled character of Spanish descent killed and ate one during his epic battle with the giant marlin. Hemingway perhaps should have known this better when he used the common Florida term “dolphin” when his character more than likely said “dorado.” Either way, some cringe at the thought of Santiago eating a marine mammal rather than a fish.
With that oversight aside, eating raw dorado can indeed be despicable. As Santiago reflected, “What an excellent dolphin fish is to eat cooked,” he said. “And what a miserable raw fish. I will never go in a boat without salt and lime again. With almost flavorless gray-white meat when raw, sea bream is not as appealing as sushi dishes. However, cooked, firm white fillets of fish are served and enjoyed in restaurants around the world. At present in our region, sea bream are caught in rarely seen numbers so far north of their usual tropical and semi-tropical haunts. There were an almost unknown number of 4,632 reported sea bream caught last week by the San Diego fleet, up from 372 captured in the previous week. Some of these fish get close enough to shore that they can be targeted by kayak fishermen setting out from La Jolla.
As a surface-living species, the sea bream does not dive during battle like our most common tunas and yellowtail flounders do, but instead performs fast runs at over 50 miles per hour punctuated by tumultuous jumps. spinning and spinning. They are very exciting to catch and strong for their build, to match the meaning of the Hawaiian language of Mahimahi: “very strong”. Sea bream are brilliantly colored, with golden flanks, a blue-green back and cobalt blue pectoral fins. When hung and fight, their colors light up and change quickly. Blue dots appear and fade in seconds along their body when they are first brought on board, always “on”. This is due to the chromatophores, or light reflecting pigment cells that allow the instantaneous change and flickering of colors usually found in cephalopods, such as squid, cuttlefish, and octopus. This colorful display is common to male and female sea bream when they are alive and excited, when they die they turn dull gray-green.
Sea bream are among the fastest growing fish in the ocean and rarely live longer than five years and can reach a weight of up to 70 pounds and five feet long. They are prolific breeders and reach sexual maturity when they are very young to a few months old and as small as 10 inches long. Unlike many game fish, sea bream are easy to sex on sight; males have a rounded head that protrudes from the mouth, females have a thinner, rounded head. Sea bream swim in packs of one or more males and up to a dozen females, preventing them from being targeted by purse seiners. Longliners often catch them as bycatch and they are harpooned in some places, but most of the time they are caught with rod and reel. For these reasons, sea bream are one of the most durable fish species in the ocean to target both commercially and recreationally. When captured from a crowded sport fishing vessel, the battle that breaks out usually elicits cheers from passengers and crew. As their fighting style is so erratic, they will often confuse fishermen and create a lot of work for the crew when several are hooked up at once.
Usually, sea bream are found around all the floating debris, from storm-strewn flora and dead whales to sargassum and kelp rice fields, but they are also found swimming freely when trolling. Frigates in the tropics and terns in waters further north will often follow sea bream foraging on the surface, hoping for a snack brought within reach of diving or diving birds. Spotting birds and kelp is the normal method for anglers targeting sea bream. Kayak fisherman Matt Rabasco peddled his rigged kayak out of La Jolla last Saturday in hopes of catching a bluefin tuna close to shore.
At least one bluefin tuna was reported caught within 2 miles of La Jolla Shores by a private boater the day before. So inspired, Matt left, made some bait, and began trolling a mackerel. About 4 miles out to sea it hooked up. Instead of a tuna’s deep, hard dive, water exploded behind it and the unmistakable golden hue of a sea bream leapt, spinning through the air. For his many years on the local waters in various kayaks, this was the first kayak-dorado that he landed. For those who prefer to fish from a larger platform, and as current conditions allow, walks as short as the local half-day boats will get you to sea bream and tuna. If ever, now is a great time to get out on the water and buy some.