On October 30, 2020 we set out for a 2 day trip aboard the Ranger 85 from CISCOS (Channel Islands Sportfishing) in Oxnard, CA. It was an unusual trip from Oxnard in that we would be steaming overnight to the Cortes Bank, some 100 miles to the south. Normally boats fishing that area depart from San Diego.
Enjoy a few facts about the Ranger 85. She is the largest sportfishing vessel in the Channel Islands / Ventura area fishing the Channel Islands. She didn't start her life as a fishing vessel. Built in 1944 she started her life as an Army Air Force Rescue Boat, a.k.a. Crash Boat. Her purpose was to rescue downed pilots from the sea.
These days she is among the finest fishing vessels operating in California. Her purpose has changed to targeting the best fishing grounds along the Pacific Coast. She has berthing for 40 passengers, although loads are limited to 30 anglers these days. The Ranger 85 is equipped with a spacious galley and common area for sitting and relaxing or watching movies. There are 2 men's heads, 1 women's head and a shower room. There are also 3 private staterooms available that sleep 2 people each.
On the bridge she is outfitted with the latest electronics giving the Ranger 85 the edge when it comes to finding the fish. Among the latest technologies are a Wesmar Side Scanning Sonar, Furuno Fish Finders, and Satellite Navigation. In a nutshell, the fish can't hide from Captain Jacob Hensley. Captain Jacob is the key to it all. He knows the fishing grounds. He knows the techniques to be successful on the grounds and he makes sure he keeps a staff onboard that is trained to help make the anglers as successful as the sea allows.
The crew for our trip consisted of Captain Jacob, David (the cook) and deckhands Luke, Chili and Ricky (he's been working on the Ranger 85 for 8 years), and two other deckhands whose names I have lost. Also working the boat was Pinhead Lucas. These guys all contributed to making the trip successful and enjoyable. Special thanks to Captain Jacob, Luke and Chili.
Our trip was sponsored by Sav-On Tackle in Santa Fe Springs, CA. On Friday evening they presented each angler with a gift bag. Most bags consisted of a surface iron and a package of hooks. Some bags contained leader line and some had jigs. At the end of the trip on Sunday the drew numbers for more prizes including a Penn Fathom reel, a Phenix rod and a gift bag containing fishing line, a hat and some other swag.
We arrived on the Cortes Bank and started fishing about 9 AM Saturday morning after an all night steam from Oxnard. On this day an armada of boats were fishing the Cortes Bank. Captain Jacob kept his distance most of the day from the majority of the fleet. The fishing was slow to start. Bluefin fishing can be trying. The fish are finicky. We spent the day casting jigs, dropping flat fall jigs and fly lining. The fly line with sardines produced the best results, 13 Bluefin over the rail for the day. Later in the day before the darkness set upon us the Captain put the kite in the air and two more monster Bluefin came over the rail. One looked to weigh between 160 - 180 pounds. Late into the night anglers continued working the Flat Fall Jig in hope of picking off just one more Bluefin. For this trip the Bluefin outsmarted me. Next time, there is always next time.
Early the next morning we were at a foggy San Nicolas Island for about half a day of bottom fishing before we had to head back to Oxnard. San Nicolas Island is a favorite of mine. Some of finest Sheephead I've ever landed came from this island and this trip was no exception. Plenty of fat Sheepheads came over the rail. We also ran into a bunch of nice Lingcod. The big old fat kind with big heads, gnarly teeth and blue-green meat. Yeah, that kind. Captain Jacob put us right on top of them.
For this shallow water fishing (90' - 120') I rigged up my favorite gear. The Avet SX 5.3:1 reel mounted on a 6' Okuma Cedros Speed Jig Rod. The reel is spooled up with 50lb. braid. I tied on a 30lb. Fluorocarbon leader. From that I rigged up a Reverse Dropper Loop Rig using 6oz of weight and a Size 1 Mustad Live Bait Hook and pinned on a live Sardine. Special thanks and recognition to Dan Hernandez for bringing this rig to my attention. This rod and reel setup makes fishing a lot of fun. When a big Lingcod or Sheephead hit and start heading for the rocks it really takes some skill and finesse to work them up and bring them over the rail using lighter gear.
At the end of the day most of us had our limits of rockfish. The fish count for the trip was 15 Bluefin Tuna, 58 California Sheephead, 2 Kelp Bass, 15 Lingcod, 186 Ocean Whitefish, 5 Pacific Bonito, 336 Rockfish. That is a good haul of quality fish. Around midday the Captain called it a day and we began the steam back to Oxnard. Not too many things are more beautiful than a sunset at Anacapa Island after a long day of fishing.
A few notes about the Ranger 85. A trip on this boat may seem a bit pricey at first glance. It is important to note that meals are included in the price. Aside from the fare to board the only other charges will be for drinks and fish cleaning. The price is well worth it. The amenities of this boat are the best in Ventura County and among the best in California. This is a well maintained vessel. The bunks are comfortable. The staff is friendly and more importantly highly skilled. That being said, the crew works hard. They are compensated fairly, of that there is no dispute. Without them the trips wouldn't be nearly as successful. Don't forget to tip your deck crew. If you can, tip them first before the boat leaves the dock. Guaranteed you'll get more attention than other anglers while you're fishing. Whatever you do be sure to show them your appreciation before you disembark.
This was my third trip in 6 years on the Ranger 85. There has never been a bad trip. This was my first trip since Captain Jacob Hensley purchased the boat. I can say without reservation Captain Jacob is a solid Captain and a fair Captain. I am already looking forward to my next trip aboard the Ranger 85.
Check back next week for our review of the Piscifin Alijoz Low Profile Baitcasting Reel. Until then stay safe, fish hard and fish often. See you on the water. - Chris