It’s that time of year again when the local, offshore and island fishing off the coast of San Diego and Mexico starts to heat up. My friend Mark Mihelich and his Boundless Boat Charters have provided some most excellent adventures in the past and our day on the water with him this year did not disappoint.
Mark suggested we try “the islands” as they call the Coronados that are just south of the border in Mexican waters, not the Coronado Island that is the tourist destination. These are largely uninhabited except for a Mexican Navy outpost and an abandoned casino on one. The islands are primarily made up of large rocks with thousands of birds whose poop makes them appear snow-capped from a distance. The waters that run between them are known to attract many species of game fish and plenty of sport fishing boats as a result. You do need a valid passport and Mexican license and Captain Mark was able to take care of all that for us.
On a fast boat like Boundless it takes only about an hour to reach the islands after a stop to load up on the live sardines we use for bait. Captain Mark is three years into his new career as a charter boat captain and has the whole process wired and really knows how to make it a seamless adventure and how to find fish.
As we got close to the islands we were treated to what seemed to be dozens of dolphins in a feeding frenzy that led to them racing alongside the boat and while I’ve seen similar behavior from them before, that stuff never gets old.
Since I want to include an educational component to this year’s fish stories column, here are the details from the trip. We caught three nice-size yellowtail, a barracuda, bonita, and a couple sea bass. Most of which made for some mighty fine eating. That provides a nice segue into the next part of the column where I had Captain Mark describe the types of fish he catches, where they reside, when to catch them and how they rank as an eating fish.
When Captain Mark says “local” he is referring to waters within 12 miles and could be fished easy on a half-day trip. Offshore takes some time to reach and requires a three-quarter or full-day charter.
Lick the Plate: Let’s start with halibut, my favorite fish to eat.
Captain Mark: Halibut can be caught pretty much year round but typically best in the spring. I like to make halibut nuggets, Google “halibut nuggets NY Times” and the recipe will come up. Or I just grill with some olive oil and seasonings, skin side down, on the Smokey Joe charcoal grill.
LTP: Yellowtail would come next on my most fun to catch and eat list.
CM: Yellowtail thrive locally, around the islands and offshore. They can also be caught year round but the majority of the school-sized yellowtail and kelp yellowtail are caught from July through October. I like making fish tacos, sashimi and it makes amazing poke.
LTP: How about yellowfin, those seem more elusive if I recall?
CM: Yes, definitely but when they show up it’s a blast! They are caught offshore and the best chance to catch is from about July through October as well. I like just searing it over a bed of rice with sesame seed, wasabi and soy sauce or over a salad.
LTP: And while I’ve not been lucky enough to catch one, bluefin happen in San Diego waters on a regular basis as well?
CM: Oh yes they do, and primarily offshore at the islands. These fish get up to 250 pounds and primarily show up in the summer but have gone later in the season as well. Raw is best for bluefin, sashimi or sushi and sometimes seared rare.
LTP: Mahi-Mahi, or dorado, is also one of my favorites to catch and eat. They are beautiful fish and make the best fish tacos I’ve had.
CM: Definitely! I remember catching a bunch of those with you a few years back and the fish tacos you made were amazing! They are happening right now, July through October and are caught locally and offshore. Customers love catching these fish as they photograph well and taste even better!
LTP: Sea bass is a great eating fish as well, what’s the story with them?
CM: Yes, they are great to eat and can be found in local kelp beds and are caught year round. I keep the preparation simple with olive oil, salt, pepper then grill it over charcoal or wood. It’s my personal favorite to catch and eat.
LTP: Lingcod is a crazy prehistoric looking fish but it’s become a favorite on menus of many West Coast chefs, tell me more!
CM: Lingcod can be found on or near rock piles both local, offshore and at the islands. It’s best from March to December and just so happens to be my wife’s favorite fish to eat. Her favorite preparation is in fish tacos or pan-fried.
LTP: I’ve seen your customers catching thresher shark on your Facebook and Instagram pages.
CM: Yes, and thresher shark are caught locally and offshore. Thresher is cut into steaks then I marinate in soy sauce and garlic and grill.
LTP: OK, what’s the story with barracuda, are they edible?
CM: Most folks don’t eat them but I’ve had smoked barracuda and it was delish! They are caught just about everywhere.
LTP: Bonita is another nice looking fish, never caught one until recently though and did not eat it.
CM: They are nice-looking fish and again, until recently I did not think of it as a great eating fish but folks that keep them say they make great ceviche. Catch them locally, offshore and at the islands.
LTP: You catch a lot of rockfish right?
CM: Yes, we do catch a bunch of rockfish and they frequent rock piles, which makes sense. Find them locally and at the islands and March 1 through Dec. 31. Another good one for fish tacos
LTP: OK, let’s wrap this up with lobster.
CM: Yes, the local caught spiny lobster. The season is October through March and I like them grilled or baked with lemon juice, garlic and butter.
With Captain Mark Mihelich and Boundless Boat Charters there is a good chance you will catch at least one of the fish he described. Learn more at www.boundlessboatcharters.com.
Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com