California Yellowtail Fishing

California Yellowtail Fishing

Yellowtail fishing
A hefty limit of Southern California Yellowtail Tuna

A Trip To The Coronado Islands

Even with countless years of fishing experience under my belt, nothing has compared to the recent opportunity to catch the tanky California Yellowtail. Since November, I had been drooling to hook my first yellowtail as friends on Instagram were posting their prized trophies day after day. In January of this year, I almost had the chance to catch them as they were being hooked as far North as Ventura, CA. but since it was the week after New Year’s, most boats were taking time off for the holidays. California Yellowtail fishing had eluded me this time, but I knew I would hit the water soon.

Yellowtail Tuna Limit
I was one happy camper!

The school semester was quickly approaching, so I had to wait until my spring break in March for my chance to fight such powerful fish. On the dawn of my trip that I anxiously waited for, I boarded “The San Diego,” a 3/4-day trip guided by Captain Ryan Bostian of Seaforth Landing in San Diego. After a 14 mile journey to the Coronado Islands within Mexican waters, we made our first stop at the North island where Capt. Bogger marked a jumbo school of yellows. As soon as the deckhands catapulted live sardines into the water, yellowtails instantly boiled and foamed the surface of the water.

The first anglers to hook up were those throwing surface iron, as they were the first to fling their lures into the frenzy. Following the initial hookups were anglers like myself who were dropping the yo-yo iron and fly-lining live sardines. Anticipating my first hook-up, I dropped my Salas 7x jig in the popular “Birdshit” pattern into the school of fish. The other anglers around me began hooking up and I knew it was only a matter of seconds before I would get thumped myself. On my initial retrieve, my rod quickly loaded up and my reel began peeling even with 15lbs of drag locked down. Little did I know it would not be anything close to a thump like you would get when bass fishing, but a bite more ferocious than you could ever imagine. With the rod hoisted into the pit of my arm as if I were bass fishing, I was truly getting man-handled by this yellow. I learned to put the rod in my hip instead, where I then had leverage to bring the fish up from over 150 feet of water. By the time I saw color, my arm was fatigued but I knew I had won the battle. The fish was quickly gaffed and weighed in at 25lbs. By the end of the trip, I had landed 6 yellowtail over 15lbs with half over 20lbs, all on the yo-yo iron.

Limits & Regulations

Depending if you are fishing Mexican or U.S. waters, the regulations are different. Here is what you need to know:


California Yellowtail: 5 fish limit

United States

California Yellowtail: 10 fish limit (Of the 10, 5 must be at least 24 inches)

Yellowtail Fishing Locations

These fish are commonly caught from Mexico to as far north as Ventura County. Depending on the area and time of year, some regions produce better than others. On a consistent basis, yellowtail can be caught year-round at the Coronado Islands in Mexico. Off of Catalina and San Clemente Islands there are residential fish that tend to be trophy-sized (30-70lbs). When targeting these fish, you may be working with either structural ledges or kelp patties and squid nets that hold large schools of potential fish.

(Before booking your trip make sure to check to to gain knowledge on which landing is experiencing the best action.)

The Proper Gear

After learning how to catch them on my first trip, I have found that having at least 3 setups will provide you with the best odds of catching bigger and more fish. These setups are geared for 3 techniques when target yellowtail: Surface Iron, Yo-yo Iron, and Live Bait. For your surface iron setup, you will need a 9-10 ft heavy-rated rod for optimal casting distance when trying reach boils and a reel with cast control that will hold at least 200 yards of 40lb mono. As for your yo-yo setup, you will need a 6-7 ft heavy-rated rod which will allow you to gain leverage on fish in over 150ft of water. Having a 2-speed reel will help you fight fatigue as you’re able to muscle up the fish in the lower gear and then gain momentum with the higher gear. I learned this lesson the hard way! Lastly, you will need an 8-foot rod with Moderate action for live bait fishing. This will allow you to cast the bait without ripping the bait off the hook. Your reel will need to hold at least 250 yards of 65lb braid and also have room for a mono/fluoro topshot.

Surface Iron

  • Shimano Trinidad 20 (Spooled w/ 40lb mono)
  • Calstar Grafighter 9′ Heavy 30-60lb

Yo-Yo Iron

  • Accurate Bx2 500N (2-Speed Spooled w/ 65lb braid & 15ft 50 mono topshot)
  • Phenix Black Diamond 7′ Heavy 20-60lb

Live Bait

  • Accurate BX2 500 (2-Speed spooled w/ 65lb braid & 25yds 30lb mono topshot)
  • Calstar West Coast Series 8′ Med-Heavy 20-40lb

Lures and Terminal Tackle

For your surface and casting jigs, here are a few basic lures that are always good to have.

  • Tady 45
  • Salas 7x
  • Kicker 25
  • Shimano Coltsniper 100g

As far as yo-yo jigs, I have found these to be the best.

  • Salas 7x
  • Salas 6x
  • Shimano Flatfall 160g

For terminal tackle, I recommend that you have:

  • Owner Live Bait Ring Hooks sizes 1-4/0
  • 20-80lb Mono for Leader Line
  • 100-200lb Power Swivels
  • 8-12 oz. Torpedo Sinkers
  • ¼-½ oz. Egg Sinkers.

Yellowtail Fishing Techniques

If fish are busting on the surface, immediately grab your surface iron rod and cast over the boil. I have learned to not be Gung-ho about casting my lure into the frenzy, but instead patiently wait until a boil is clearly visible and accurately cast across it. Let your lure hang over halfway from the rod tip and use a pendulum swing for the most effective cast.

Fishing the yo-yo can be the most fun and rewarding technique when targeting yellowtail. Not only will you be unaware when your rod will get smacked, but when you stick one on the yo-yo it’s usually a bigger fish and will give you a much harder fight as you must pull them up from the depths of the sea! All you need to do is drop straight down from the boat until you hit bottom and begin winding your lure back at a moderately fast pace.

When live bait fishing, you will either be fishing at the bottom of the water column with a dropper loop setup or the top of the water column by fly-lining, sometimes using an egg weight with a leader. With a dropper loop rig, you will have an 8-12 oz. torpedo sinker at the end of your line connected to your dropper loop with 3 feet of 40-80lb mono leader and a 1/0-3/0 Live Bait hook. Take your sardine or mackerel and nose hook it with this technique. If the fish are biting shallow, tie a 1/0-3/0 live bait hook and “butt hook” your bait. This mean to hook your bait in its bottom portion. By doing so, your bait will swim out fast from the boat as your line continues to touch your bait. If you bait is not constantly taking line off your reel in free spool, reel it back in and re-bait. The faster you can get your bait to swim away from the boat the higher chances are of you getting bit.

What to Wear

  • Rubber Boots – Trust me, after you partake in your first massacre of fish, you won’t regret buying a pair of Xtra Tuffs! They call it “bloody decks” for a reason.
  • Waterproof Everything –  Whether it’s your pants or your jacket, make sure it is fully waterproof or water-resistant. You will either get wet from the ocean or the boat hose.
  • UV Buff – Whether it be a half-day or three-day trip, you do not want to be scarred from the brutal elements. A buff will protect you from wind, cold, and especially the Sun.



  1. Yellows on the yo yo are a blast and a workout. The more you catch the more you’ll be reaching for your 2 speed reel. Not necessary but sure is nice.

  2. I am going out for the yellowtail bite in Oxnard,My reel is a shimano 6500.
    My rod is BLUEWATER 7ft ROD 15/40LB BLEM SUPER STRONG #202 TUNA YELLOWTAIL SPINNING ROD.1st time looking for yellowtail.What line should I use.

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