El Niño Served Sunny Side Up – An epic journey eight miles offshore turns up a rare sighting of a feeding ocean sunfish

An epic journey eight miles offshore turns up a rare sighting of a feeding ocean sunfish

Rare sight: a mola mola daintily nibbles a jellyfish. It was just one natural wonder encountered on an epic 8-mile trip offshore for Kevin Nakada and a friend. All photos courtesy Kevin Nakada.
Rare sight: a mola mola daintily nibbles a jellyfish. It was just one natural wonder encountered on an epic 8-mile trip offshore for Kevin Nakada and a friend. All photos courtesy Kevin Nakada.

By Mike Stevens

Off the Southern California coast, the summer lasted into November thanks to a little boy named ñ. While outside of the fishing world, it might sound like a broken record, but it reached the point at which you simply couldn't talk about saltwater fishing without mentioning the warm-water phenomenon.

San Diego kayak fishing guide Kevin Nakada of Sea Samurai Fishing Guide Service experienced it first-hand all season long.

"Everyday throughout the summer we landed yellowtail. Literally everyday," said Nakada. "Along with the incredible yellowtail fishing, we had an overwhelming number of bonito in the water which is abnormal. The last time I saw this many bonito and this big was 2009. The random white seabass and halibut bites added even more variety to the mix. All in all it was a phenomenal season that was 100 percent different than last year."

The 30-pound yellow Kevin Nakada trolled up on the way in from the 8-Mile Bank.
The 30-pound yellow Kevin Nakada trolled up on the way in from the 8-Mile Bank.

Nakada has eight years of targeting La Jolla in his rearview mirror, and on one particular outing this season, he and client Bill Erholz decided on a whim to leave the classic San Diego kayak fishing locales and head offshore in their Hobie MirageDrive boats. They headed for the 9-Mile Bank, which is a popular area for powerboaters to target a variety of pelagic species (and bottomfish for that matter) including tuna, marlin, yellowtail and even swordfish. It's an area that – unless under motor or wind power – rarely hosts kayak anglers.

On the way out, they rain into a massive school of big bonito and a bunch of diving birds that Nakada was sure were indicating the location of yellowfin tuna, but they could not catch up to find out. The highlight wasn't what they caught – and they would catch more later – but what they observed, a mola mola (ocean sunfish) feeding on the surface.

"I’ve seen many, many, many mola and some really large ones I estimated to be 200 pounds. They jump clear out of the water sometimes especially in the early part of the summer. For what reason, I don’t know," said Nakada. "This was the strangest sighting for me because I have never seen them feeding before. To confirm they eat jellyfish was special and to top it off, seeing them breach the surface made it even more unique. I have had one client land a mola on hook and line while fishing a squid bed. That would be my second unique interaction with this species."

With that sweet experience in the books, they headed back to La Jolla, and after a 26-mile round trip, they proceeded to land a small yellowtail, several 12- to 15-pound bonito, and a 30-pound class yellow after a last minute troll.

Good fishing and playing witness to a crazy occurrence; sounds like El Niño all right.

So much life: warm El Niño waters kept yellowtail and bonito close to La Jolla all summer long.
So much life: warm El Niño waters kept yellowtail and bonito close to La Jolla all summer long.