Our group charter was scheduled for May of last year, but supply chain issues delayed the refinishing and repowering of the American Angler, and the trip was scrubbed.

That was exactly 365 days ago as we headed out for our May 12-14 trip this year. Judging by the broad smiles of 32 members, plus those of Captain Ray and his crew – Javier, Chase, Chef, Brad, Griffin and Patrick – it was well worth the wait.

The American Angler owner-operator, a.k.a captain, is Brian Kiyohara. He was nowhere to be seen at the landing or on our trip, but his selfless angler-centric presence was visible and stamped everywhere you looked. Beginning in the office, manager and partner Lori signs you in by verifying licenses needed and your ID. She then hands you your boarding pass. Most of the time, this pass is a stub of paper, like the one you get from a raffle ticket. The AA pass has your name, stateroom letter (A-L), tag number for fish caught and rod spot.

There is nothing wrong with a Black Friday sale but that is the model the majority of the fishing fleet follow. First in line gets the first shot for either his bunk letter or rod spot. Or if you have a partner, then one secures the bunks while the other rushes and gets the rod and tackle box spot. On the AA, this first-in-line, herd-like chaos is replaced by order and first-class service. We are fishing, so you can see their pride and care reflected in the quality of our harvest.

The refrigerated sea water storing and chilling system is only as good as those who maintain, monitor, and run it. I have been on a few boats whose RSW or fish storage when opened smells awful – like a dump – and the catch harvest quality ends up unfortunately dumpy, too. Brad was teaching me about their RSW practices and processes, like a father glowing with pride sharing knowledge with his son or daughter. Each of our fish was gilled and gutted, placed in the RSW and looked dressed like they just came out of the water when they were unloaded from carts at the landing.

From left, the original members of West Coast Jiggerz, James Kikkawa, Gary Jubilado and Mike Kikkawa, along with their bevy of bluefin tuna, all over 90 pounds.

The significance is that this translates to fish that are not just sashimi grade, they are next-level, “Broke da mouth” grade.

For those who do not fish, deckhands are the helpers on the boat, but they serve more like firefighters of the sea. Gaffing surfacing fish, hollering directions or warnings like “Hot rail!,” saving and untangling bit lines, spiking, gill-n-gutting … the AA fish-fire crew’s customer service is at the top of the game. They even made it a point to know everyone’s names.

Our charter was scheduled for a Friday 6 p.m. departure on May 12, but Captain Ray and crew decided a change to 8:30 a.m. would be better – a day and a half stretched out to two days. This call and change were prescient and serendipitous. It was a six-hour run to the tuna grounds from the landing, so we arrived a bit early, but now we had front-row seats. We harvested our first bluefin tuna (BFT) at 6:13 p.m!

Ben Lau had an amazing trip, reeling in a pair of 100+ lb. BFT.

Stop time and counts:

6:13 p.m. 3 BFT 50-60-90 lbs.

8:15 p.m. 8 BFT 60-100+ lbs.

9:00 p.m. 9 BFT 40-80 lbs.

10:30 p.m. 10 BFT 70-110 lbs.

1:30 a.m. 3 BFT 70-90 lbs.

2:00 a.m. 7 BFT 70-100+ lbs.

2:35 a.m. 13 BFT 50-100+ lbs.

4:40 a.m. 2 BFT 90-100+ lbs.

7 a.m.: Wide Open Limits of Big Rockfish: Reds, Florida’s, Starry, Vermillion…

One BFT almost called in sick; Kenny Arima had the lone catch, a 40-pounder, on the 60-mile bank that was temporarily hanging with the rockcod.

BFT Were MIA All Day Saturday

It was not for lack of effort that the daytime bite shut off. Almost every second, there was one or two pairs of eyes glassing over, searching through gyro-stabilized binoculars, for any anomaly or trace of life in a desert of water. All the while, captain and crew knew that we had the skill and sticks onboard ready to go and plug the AA’s fishhold if the bluefin showed up and wanted to play…

10:30 p.m. 7 BFT 60-100+ lbs.

Total of 63 BFT: six 100+ lbs.; 51 70-90 lbs.; and six 40-60 lbs.

• • •

Tokio “Toki” Ouchi (right) at 89 years old with Danny Tanaka and his 100-lb. bluefin tuna.

Onboard our Danny T and Friends charter were Mike and James Kikkawa of West Coast Jiggerz and several of their crew. I met Mike first, then his brother James in 2016. In an instant, I felt these two were “fishy,” but I needed to see proof if my instincts were right or wrong. “Fishy” and “salty” in fishermen’s terms means you are skilled or gifted or both at not just fishing but also hooking and harvesting. So, if someone calls you fishy on the boat, do not get mad, it is a compliment.

After about 10 failed attempts of trying to fish with Mike, I had the opportunity in 2017 to join him and with one of his fishy friends, Gary Jubilado. In my wheelhouse glassing out, Mike, James and Gary are the leading pioneers in the next wave of fishing and high-pitch speed jigging on the West Coast for bluefin tuna. From the legendary hours-long standing technique of Ralph Mikkelsen, pioneer pillars Frank Lo Preste, Bill Poole, Leon Todd, and Yoshiro “Yo” Yoshida to elite anglers Stas Vellonakis, Butch Green and Jimmy Lew to the innovators Ray Lemme, Russ Izor, Dennis Braid, John Pandelis, and Norihiro Sato, they and many others have built a formidable foundation.

Spearheading the tsunami charge and change today is James and many adopters and adapters like me, a skeptic to siren, who have discovered that the West Coast Jiggerz technology and techniques are explosive, effective, and efficient for harvesting the big bluefin tuna. This ringing bell of truth is sounding louder and clearer over the Pacific in their mantra of “Jigging Game Strong.”

Fisher, videographer and West Coast Jiggerz crewmember Sue Kim, who hooked and harvested this 80-lb. BFT by herself.

Of the 63 tuna harvested, 70-80 percent were hooked and RSW’d on Kikkawa Brothers, HD, Punch WCJ knife jigs. My five BFT ranged from 60-95 lbs.: one with a 200g KB, three with a 350g KB and one with a 350g HD.

The Most Inspirational Award goes to Tokio Ouchi, who turned 89 a few days before our trip and decked one fish, a 100-pounder! I spoke to him over cell a few days after our trip, and he repeatedly said that his body was sore all over. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he said it smiling and with gratefulness the whole time.

BTW, after processing his fish at Mario’s, it went to numerous neighbors and friends. Freshest sashimi on the planet for Mother’s Day.

Our Most Quiet and Improved Angler was Borden Narusawa. He hooked and harvested his first BFT and it nearly touched the 100-lb. mark. He is also threading and making wind-on leaders – it is my “go-to” strongest and securest topshot – for all his rigs by himself. Hoping he will teach me!

The Comeback Award goes to birthday boy Alex Yu. After our first 10 stops, Alex was black and blue, smelly and bruised, but not beaten and was still smiling. I figured he had unwisely wished for something besides tuna when we sang him his birthday song. Fortunately, my figuring was wrong, and at the next stop, he caught fire and ended up with four beautiful butterball beasts. Happy birthday, Alex!

The High Stick Award went to Kenny Arima and myself. Each of us was blessed to harvest five butterball BFT.

I have seen that my instinct is proven more accurate than expected. Mike and James are fishy and game-changers innovating and escalating a new style and system for the West Coast that just happens to be phenomenally fishy. Blessed to be engaged, eyewitnesses, and friends. He is good.

Photos courtesy Danny Tanaka

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