Capt. Evan Salvay
45 Sea Hunter
Owner: Ivan Vanortwick Boat: Stella June, 45 Sea Hunter
By Charline Levine
With a Bisbee win on his resume and his finger directly on the pulse of the burgeoning bluefin tuna bite, at just 27 years old Capt. Evan Salvay has established himself as one of the top fishermen in Southern California. The trick to his success? A run-and-gun style that focuses on finding fish and doing whatever it takes to get tight. But like all successful captains, Evan started out young and learned a bunch of different skill sets before he made a name for himself.
Evan began fishing on the local sport boats (what So Cal guys call party boats) in middle school and wet his feet by helping out the deckhands. When he was 16, he started working for a six-pack boat based in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island. Home to the Tuna Club of Avalon since 1898, Catalina is one of the storied spots in the annals of sport-fishing history.
His first gig charter fishing was in 2009, not the best timing. An economic crash and slow fishing were not doing any favors for the charter industry, but it was a big year for Evan as he got to fish with Capt. Mike Arujo, a well-known marlin fisherman who ran the Vertigo, a 70-foot custom out of Newport Beach. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Arujo was among a small group of elite striped marlin captains in the area. It was Arujo who introduced the young mate to tournament fishing. Around this same time, Evan headed down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and fished with his uncle in some money events. In 2010, Evan was on a team that won a daily in the Western Outdoor News Tuna Jackpot. It was his first taste of prize money.
The marlin fishing in Southern California slowed to a trickle from 2011 to 2014 and several of the big-time tourneys in the area ceased operations. “I took a hiatus for a few seasons,” Evan says. “The tournaments were putting up one fish for the entire fleet over three days of fishing. There weren’t many opportunities in So Cal for a young person trying to progress. It’s not like the East Coast.”
When the marlin scene dried up, Evan bought a 17-foot Boston Whaler and started to fish the salt-water bass circuit. He’d also roll the dice and run that small boat out to San Clemente Island for yellowtail. They built a custom, 52-gallon gas tank under the leaning post to make the 60-mile run in open ocean. “My dad would drop us off and say, ‘See ya later.’ We’d circumnavigate the entire island. We did it every week. We’d hit atrocious weather and giant swells. Luckily it didn’t kill us,” he says.
In 2014, Evan got his captain’s license just as an El Niño kicked in and the fishing started to improve. “I started to transition back to offshore,” he says. He purchased a 29-foot Crystaliner, an express style So Cal boat with twin Cummins. This time, the timing was just right. In 2016, the offshore fleet saw one of the best striped marlin bites in modern history. “There was a wide stretch of fish. We ran out of San Pedro and fished striped marlin around Santa Barbara Island and as far north as Santa Cruz Island. It was the same year we saw wahoo locally and blue marlin were around in catchable volumes. That bite may never be repeated in my lifetime.” Salvay and his crew landed a 474-pound blue in their home waters, which was one of the highlights of his young career.
The bluefin tuna also began to show up en masse with big fish over 200 pounds in the mix. “This bite never existed here before, and the whole scope of my business started to revolve around the bluefin,” he says. But these tuna were not easily caught. Crews would find massive schools of ‘foamers’ busting up on the surface but had to get creative to catch them. That’s really where Evan’s skills shined. He began to focus on jigging and popping techniques and that propelled him to the top of the game.
“I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. “The fishery is cooking strong right now and it’s perfectly suited to young people. It’s an active style of fishing.” Evan spends most of the day in the tower, scanning in the gyros for pods of fish. When he finds them, he hammers the throttles to get in on the action and then anglers use a mix of poppers, kite baits, stick baits and iron to get tight. This isn’t a slow-trolling affair, it’s action-packed.
Throughout this period, Evan continued to go to Cabo and fish 15 to 20 tournaments a year. In 2017 he took his tournament program in Mexico up a few notches. He linked up with a client, Davis Ahn, and they purchased a Cabo 40 express. They sent the boat to Mexico about a month before the kickoff of the tourney season. Evan got the program together quickly, learning the boat and getting it set up to his liking. They pulled it off and landed a 442-pound blue on the first day of the 2017 Bisbee’s Black and Blue. The fish didn’t take home the daily, but they finished the tournament in fifth place and got to collect a check. “We were four guys in our 20s that were somehow given a shot,” Evan says. “I think we were the youngest team to ever walk on that stage.”
The next year they went back to Cabo and fished on the same boat with the same crew. There were three qualifiers caught going into the final day, but the big money had rolled over and
there was a pile of cash up for grabs. “We went out that day and did what we wanted to do,” Evan says. “We filled the tuna tubes with 10- to 15-pound tuna and slow-trolled live bait.” They got bit around 11 a.m. and Charlie Lee caught the fish in just under two hours. The fish won the tournament, netting the Chinito Bonito a cool $3 million! The second largest tournament payout in sport-fishing.
“That was my dream,” Evan says. “I don’t know if it was luck or fate or what, but you put together a good program, put your time in and hope that luck kicks in. We got the bite we wanted. For someone who grows up fishing striped marlin in California and suffers through slow fishing, and to have your career skyrocket during some of the best fishing, it’s a dream come true.”
Right now, Evan is taking a hiatus from charter fishing and running a private boat that’s a big departure for the So Cal scene. The Stella June is a 45-foot Sea Hunter with quad 425-hp Yamahas, a full tower and a Seakeeper gyro. The boat is owned by Ivan Vanortwick who enjoys the same style of fishing as Evan.
“A lot of fishing is on the bow out here, not behind the boat,” Evan says. “We’ve got the biggest center console out here and it suits what we do. We utilize the speed and hunting ability to create a more active, engaging opportunity. I have a boss who’s into that. He likes to throw poppers and stick baits. You can’t always do that if you have an older boss who wants to sit in the cabin.”
They plan to take the Sea Hunter to Cabo and fish the tournaments in the fall. “We’re looking forward to see what we can do with a boat that has speed, bait capacity and good, technical anglers,” he says.