About Captain Jeff Jones

Captain Jeff Jones is a licensed "Master" to 100 gross tons. Captain Jeff grew up fishing local and island waters on his parents 42' Uniflite Sportfisher "AVID" and obtained his Coast Guard License at a young age. After years as an Operator of fishing charter boats in the Southern California area he went on to become a full time Captain of long range yachts, fishing from Costa Rica to Alaska and beyond. All the while Jeff was learning more and more about the mechanical aspects of yachts and yacht architecture. Captain Jeff Jones is not only an experienced Operator, but also a Cummins Factory Trained Diesel Mechanic and ABYC Certified Shipwright. Jeff now does boatwork during the winter months, and offers an instructional Captain service for those who want to learn how to catch more, and BIGGER fish during the spring and summer months.

Private Boat Bluefin

Bluefin and Dorado on deckOf all the tunas we encounter here in Southern California, few are as hard to catch from a private boat as the bluefin tuna.  This in one of the fish that sportboats have a serious advantage targeting, utilizing side scanning sonar and heaps of live bait capacity to chum with.  Bluefin can be caught on the troll, but not nearly as easily as yellowfin, albacore or skipjack, so some special techniques must be used to maximize opportunities for these hard fighting exotics.

It all starts with some pre-planning.  Sea Surface Temperature charts (SST’s) are vital in all offshore trip planning, and knowing what water your target species lives and feeds in helps.  Bluefin like what we would consider the cooler water, from 64 to 68 degrees.  Being able to regulate their body temperature allows them to tolerate even cooler waters, but catching them also means finding the bait they are feeding on.  For that you’ll need edges or “current breaks.”  Armed with a little intel on where bluefin have been caught in the last couple days and a good SST chart, a guy could find the break and have a starting point in mind.

Next and probably most important is bait.  Research this ahead of time to find out what receivers have the best bait available.  This year live squid has been working excellent, and is a hearty bait that lives well in almost all bait systems.  When the fishing is good and near the weekends it may be hard to rely on the bait receiver, so catching your own is another option.  A strong, healthy bait makes all the difference when fishing bluefin, and anything less seriously hinders your chances at success.

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On a sportboat the trolling rotation is more of a routine than the necessity it is on a private boat.  To improve your odds, use lighter leaders to elicit strikes and utilize plugs and spreader bars often not allowed on overnight boats.  These trolling lures require some tuning and patience when deploying, but work better than your typical feather on heavy leader.  The natural cedar plug works well for bluefin, but will need to be re-rigged on lighter fluorocarbon leader to really shine.  Experiment with lure positions long and short to find where the tuna want to bite, and often bluefin will take a trolled jig way back.  When a strike occurs be ready to get a live bait in the water as fast as possible, and toss a few baits over as chum.

Breaking Tuna

Use a good pair of binoculars to find signs that the tuna are around and stay in areas with life and clues they are around.  Slick spots on the surface of the water tell a tale of fish feeding deep and the oils rising to give away this action.  Troll over these and watch the fish finder for tuna marks, and toss a few live baits as chum when you do see meter marks.  Watch for birds giving signals of feeding tuna, and look under the birds for boils, splashes or breezing fish.  If you see good meter marks or have tuna come up and boil on the chum you have thrown, stop and fish that prime live bait you have.  Be patient and do long soaks, as bluefin prefer a bait far from the boat at times.

Kelp Paddy

Finding a kelp can be a great way to catch bluefin.  Wind in the trolling outfits and begin a drift up wind of the paddy, throwing chum as you slide by.  You may catch yellowtail or dorado closer to the kelp, and maybe even get the tuna to bite.  Most often the tuna will bite after you have drifted a ways past the kelp and the yellows have stopped biting.  Continue chumming one’s and two’s and be patient.  Make sure to have fresh baits on but at the same time leave your bait out as long as its swimming good.  If you see boils and/or meter marks, consider starting the boat and just “bumping” it in and out of gear once.  This will push the chum hiding under your boat out and to the waiting bluefin, possibly starting the bite you have been waiting for.

Big Fish Light Gear

30# is a great all around starting point for live bait but don’t be afraid to drop down to 25# or even 20# if you know the fish are around and just can’t get them to bite.  If they bite the 30# fine and are hard to land, move up to the 40#, 50# or 60# as needed. Bluefin pull hard, and quality tackle is a must for these bruisers.  One secret used by great anglers is the use of small hooks.  If a 3/0 hook matches the size of the bait but bites are hard to come by, try a #1 to see if it makes a difference.  It usually makes a big difference, and with a quality hook you can still land a high percentage of the fish that bite.

If you are lucky enough to hook and land a bluefin on a private boat, special care should be taken to preserve your catch.  Bleed bluefin right after gaffing but cutting the gills and making a cut on either side of the tail.  This will drain the blood line along the body and yield more quality meat.  You may want to gut the fish and stuff ice into the body cavity, but a good ice chest with plenty of ice mixed with salt water works wonders to cool these warm blooded tuna quickly.  When one bite ends and you go looking for the next one, consider filleting your catch between stops and packaging it for the ice box.  This will not only give you the absolute best quality table fare when you get home, but a chance to make some fresh sashimi on the way in.  Just be sure to have some wasabi and soy sauce on the boat!

Grip and Grin: Some Tips on Taking Photos with Your Prized Catch

Photos keep the memories of a great trip alive forever, especially when you landed that fish of a lifetime.  Nowadays with digital cameras and computer programs that let even those with novice level skills make great looking photos, you still need to get a great shot to start with.  When its time for the “grip and grin” on one of my trips, guys get a little frustrated with me and how particular I am about how they hold their fish.

“Its not about deception or trying to make the fish look bigger, its about balance and composition.”  I tell them.  “Wash the blood off the deck and the fish, and turn it the other way so we don’t see the gaff mark.”  After saying these things I get dirty looks and heavy sighs.  Amazing when a few days after the trip I send them that one photo that came out just right they admit its as important as I make it sound.  Take the time, and you just might get that wall hanger or magazine cover shot you always wanted.  You will forget what a pain it was to take the time and get the perfect shot in the end.

Try to take the photo right after the fish was caught to preserve the vibrant colors and true emotions of the angler, and get an interesting background.  While is admirable to try and hide your secret spot, the fish won’t be there in a week so go ahead and get it in the photo.   Don’t be afraid to have two or more people in the photo, as faces make a picture more interesting.  Be aware of things that create shadows like the boat or hats and vizors, but even some of those things can be tweaked when editing.   Try to hide your hands and arms, as they are not interesting and might make a big fish look smaller than it really is.  Remember:  Right hand/right gill……..Left hand/left gill.  This will keep your hands from either being twisted backwards or in front of the fish.   Experiment with angles and depth, as a straight up and down fish looks flat and lifeless.

 

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Face blended in with the background, fish has blood all over it and my hands really show how small this 10 pound seabass really is. No way this picture is going on the wall or any magazine.

On a recent trip I grabbed one of the small seabass and had Joe Davis take a few shots to show how most photo poses make for less than desirable results.

Another common failure.  Zero balance with the fish sticking out to one side, and my hand is on the wrong side of the fish.  I get this pose quite often and guys simply do not understand what I mean when I say "No, put your hand on the other side of the fish."

Another common failure. Zero balance with the fish sticking out to one side, and my hand is on the wrong side of the fish. I get this pose quite often and guys simply do not understand what I mean when I say “No, put your hand on the other side of the fish.”

 

Getting better, but still an epic fail.  My left hand is behind the fish, and that is where its supposed to be.  This is not a photograph of my hands, its of a white seabass.  My right hand is on the left side of the fish, ruining everything that might work with this photo.

Getting better, but still an epic fail. My left hand is behind the fish, and that is where its supposed to be. This is not a photograph of my hands, its of a white seabass. My right hand is on the left side of the fish, ruining everything that might work with this photo.

Now here is the same fish, caught the night before.  I did not take any special steps to wash the fish or smack the sides to bring back the color.  I simply held the fish in a balanced way, and made sure the background did not take away from the details, yet still adds composition and makes it more interesting.

 

This is a close as one can get with a 12 hour old small fish.  Hands hidden, symmetry and interesting background.

This is a close as one can get with a 12 hour old small fish. Hands hidden, symmetry and interesting background.

 Now take the time to get good shots and you’ll be happy with the results.  I purposefully used a small seabass that was not a great candidate for a good photo as an example of what a difference it makes in how you hold your prized catch.  Add the rod and reel, other anglers and better lighting on the face, and the odds of a great photo just get better. To get one good shot I take hundreds of photos.  This is meant as an example of how to improve the odds of getting a “wall hanger”, so imagine if this fish was still alive and much bigger!  First things first, you still need to get out and catch a fish worth taking a picture of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make a Crowder Net

A crowder is arguably the best way for a private or charter boat to make squid.  It consists of two parallel poles with a net attached between the two.  The net is is all the way down the poles at the end that goes in the water, the other ends are the handles.  Typically done with two guys, on smaller rigs it can be done solo with a smaller crowder.

One size does not fit all.  Sportboats and yachts may deploy crowders with 20′ poles and 10’X10″ nets, while private boats will do better with 8’X8′ or smaller nets and 10′ to 15′ poles.  Its important to pick a crowder that matches the size of the boat its going to be used on.

The custom part of any crowder is the bag, or how deep the pocket of the net is.  A flat net tied between two poles is nearly useless.  Too deep of a bag and the crowder will be too hard to lift through the water, and may reach under the boat and wrap the props or rudders.  Its a truly custom deal, from one boat to another.  One goal you will want to achieve when making a crowder net is to make it so the net is still in the water when the poles are set down and the handles are in the cockpit of the boat.  Having the bag still in the water makes it much easier to braille the squid out after crowding squid.

Squid in the crowder with the poles set down in the cockpit of the boat.  Notice the squid is still in the water for easy scooping.

Squid in the crowder with the poles set down in the cockpit of the boat. Notice the squid is still in the water for easy scooping.

Once you have decided how big of a crowder net you want for your boat, you’ll need to make a jig.  It needs to be high enough off the ground for the bag depth you want, and the exact dimensions for your crowder.  In the photo below, the jig is 8′ wide (pole to pole) by 6′ long.  It will have a 4′ deep bag in the water.  Keep in mind that the net will stretch more in the water that in your shop.  I like the bag of my crowder to be more at the bottom of the net, so I set up the jig in a way that will help me achieve this.  No need for the crowder net to have bag at the top in my opinion.

Crowder jig

Crowder jig

Next stretch the netting you want to use over the jig and use nails, staples or zip ties to attach it.  It takes a while to adjust the netting into the shape you want.  Don’t worry about areas of bunched up netting, it will all come out straight when you sew the edges.

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You will have two straight edges, a side and the top.  I stapled those edges first, then began to adjust the netting to make the bag.  Be patient, its trickier than it looks.  For the bag itself I place something in the net to hold it in shape so I can see how its going to come out.  For this crowder net I used two Nerf footballs.

 

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Now take the cord you plan on using for the edges and thread it through the netting, using the jig as a guide to keep the lines straight.  I used a bamboo skewer as a fid (sewing needle) and tape the cord so it has nothing to snag the netting.  At the corners leave some slack and tie and overhand knot making a 6″ loop.  You will use this loop to attach the crowder net to your poles.

Tuna cord with fid attached.  Tuna cord is smooth and has little stretch.  Butt cord is rough, making it hard to pull through the netting.

Tuna cord with fid attached. Tuna cord is smooth and has little stretch. Butt cord is rough, making it hard to pull through the netting.

 

 

 

Be sure to run the cord through every hole in the netting, and pull enough through so you can go all the way around the crowder net.

Be sure to run the cord through every hole in the netting, and pull enough through so you can go all the way around the crowder net.

Once you get to the bag end of the crowder net on the jig, take special care to use the jig as your guide.  If the net is properly set on the jig, this will define your bag.  In areas the net will be bunched up, but you still need to sew the cord through every hole in the net.  At the end you will have the tuna cord pulled though all 4 sides, with knots tied at each corner.  Each corner knot should have enough cord hanging off to use for tying the crowder net to the poles.

How I do the corners.

How I do the corners.

 

Sewing the bag edge of the crowder may take hours.

Sewing the bag edge of the crowder may take hours.

 

 

 

 

Now you can cut the excess netting off the crowder.  This should only be two sides.  Be sure to leave enough outside the cord you ran through so the net does not break at the cord.  The excess will be sewn on to the cord in the next step.  I use a simple soft nylon cord or string, smaller than the tuna cord I used to outline the crowder shape.  Sewing the net to the cord is the longest and most detailed part of the process, and takes hours or even days sometimes.  Do not rush this, as it defines the quality of your crowder.  Soft line is easier to pull through the netting and around the cord.  You’ll thank me for this advise.  Again, I use a bamboo skewer for the fid.

Pass the fid (smaller cord) through the inside of the crowder net around the tuna cord and over the outer edge of the net when sewing.  I make three turns along the cord, then do a half hitch and repeat.  At the corners, tie the smaller cord to the tuna cord to finish a side.

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1st pass….

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2nd pass…….

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3rd pass…..Now tie the half hitch.

 

 

 

 

At the 1/2 hitch, go through where your last pass is.

At the 1/2 hitch, go through where your last pass is.

 

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Finished crowder net

Finished crowder net

Continue to sew the edges all the way around the crowder net.  On the sides and bottom I like to make two passes, going in opposite directions.  This makes a strong criss-cross pattern in the sew.  I sew only one side and finish the ends of the side, instead of trying to sew the entire crowder with one pass.  It would simply be too much string to pull through with each stitch.

Now the the crowder net is finished, you’ll need to attach the net to a set of poles.  Something strong enough for the nights when there is a lot of current and you need to rest the poles on the side of the boat and lift, without breaking the poles.  I like fiberglass poles, the extruded kind.  Some guys like bamboo, or even fiberglass gaff blanks.  Be sure to leave about 2 inches of pole below the crowder net for less tangles at the tips.  Refer to the “How to Make a Gaff” article on this site for the way I like to tie things to fiberglass poles, its exactly the same.

Netting can be found on the internet.  Try Memphis Net and Twine or Nylon Net Co.  I have some netting I got from a koi pond store that is intended for covering ponds to keep critters out.  Its nylon and durable, but harder to push through the water than mono.  Mono is very fragile, and hangs up on everything.  When you begin to crowd squid and the mono netting hangs up on a screw in your rub rail, you risk tearing a hole in the net.  Take special care to tighten all screws and remove anything that can snag the mono netting.  You will also need to make a cover to protect the net from snagging and sun damage.

I go back and forth between mono and nylon on my personal crowders.  I find that mono glows next to an underwater light, and sometimes scares away spooky squid.  For this crowder its what I had in my shop at the time.  Guys will tell you that mono is easier to push through the water, but I think the difference between mono and nylon is so slight, you will hardly notice.  If the net is too hard to push through the water, its typically because the bag is too big.

You can expect it to take a minimum of 3 whole days to make a crowder from start to finish, not including the time it takes to get the materials.  For this reason, crowders are expensive to buy.  If you know the dimensions you want and the bag depth, one of the companies mentioned above might make you a crowder net special order.  In the past I have done this with mixed results.  They will charge you an arm and a leg unless you order several nets, the extras you can sell to your friends.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Barely Making it

A few times each year I get on a sportboat, there is just no way around it.  I do my best to learn something and make new friends, but I have this thing where I am always looking at ways to improve.  Its a curse really, to not be able to like things just the way they are I mean.  After a good nights sleep and some careful consideration I decided to write about it.  Maybe someone in the sportboat industry will read it and give a damn, maybe not.  At least I will feel better getting it off my chest.

I will preface by saying this is my opinions, and many guys do like things just the way they are.  I would also like to state that there are operations that do a very good job with what I am going to talk about, and it shows through their popularity and success.  Price is usually a good indicator, as quality service commands top dollar.

First and foremost I see a lack of personal attention or any effort to build lasting relationships with possible future customers.  Over the last few years the sportfishing industry has seen boats flat go out of business and back to the bank.  You’d think that the guys making a living by serving others would get it after a while?  Start by not giving “the speech” at the beginning of the trip by saying “Tom, Dick and Harry” will be helping you with whatever you need on deck.”  Bring the crew in and introduce them, one at a time.  When I was an operator, I made it a personal goal to learn the names (and remember them) of each and every passenger that paid to come on my boat.  The Captain needs to be friendly, helpful and accessible as well.  Something rarely seen these days.

Crew members need to lend a helping hand to those that are struggling and not just send them to the bow.  Yesterday there was a husband, wife and 13 year old (ish) kid with no sportboat experience.  They huddled together fishing with inappropriate rigs and tackle, and were totally ignored by the crew.  Mid day I finally pulled the kid aside and rigged him with something that at least gave him a CHANCE at hooking something.  Watching the crew ignore these passengers makes me worry about sportfishing as a whole.  Showing new anglers a good time is critical to our small, fragile economy.  Everyone complains about the admission price of Disneyland, but this family just paid the same amount to come out and be ignored.  They mentioned on the way home not enjoying the trip, so thats three lost instead of three gained.

Captains and crew have no control over the weather or fishing, but they do have control over the food.  Unanimously among all the guys I talk to, the food is the most important part of most sportboat operations.  Have the galley open and running in the grey!  I really wish I could have had a hot breakfast burrito in my hand before 8:30am, but it just was not an option.  So the bacon takes an hour to cook?  Start earlier.  If you are going to charge $9 for a breakfast (and not allow passengers to bring their own food), it better be over a pound and not 3 bites for a guy like me.  Better yet, make them $4.50 and I will order two.  Keep the crew out of galley, especially when I have been waiting over an hour for what I ordered only to watch a member of the crew walk by with a hot meal.  If I noticed it, so did a potential long term, repeat customer.  A loyal customer base would make any business a success, and we can all use more customers.  Lastly, when the ride home is going to be 2 hours (or more), keep the galley open.  Why do I mention this?  Yesterday when our fishing day ended the galley cook stopped taking orders for hot food.  This was discussed the entire ride home after a good day of fishing.  Way to end the trip on a bad note guys.

I do respect the lifestyle of being on the water 4-6 days a week this time of year, and the toll it takes on the entire crew.  Please remember that passengers look up to the Captain and crew, so you must act in a responsible manner.  Watching deckhands throw trash overboard all day was a hot topic amongst the passengers.  It was not uncommon to see soda boxes thrown out of the galley window, to the horror of those who saw it.  I watched a member of the crew knock over a trash can on the bow and keep going as the styrofoam cups and plastic food wrappers blew through the scuppers and overboard.  Completely unacceptable to those who saw it.  When I followed by lifting the trash can and putting what I could back in I got no kudos from the crew.  Sad.  It would seem logical to me that a professional waterman that makes a living utilizing a resource based on a clean healthy ocean would set a better example for others.

In this day and age most consumers can spot dishonesty a mile away, but a good fish count is hard to deny.  Please keep the fish counts honest, as well as the size of the catch. To be on a boat one day and know exactly what was caught and how big they were, only to see an overly inflated fish count the next day with a blatant  exaggeration of fish size shows a lack of integrity.  I can see where new customers will be lured onto the next trip, but the ones that just got off the boat will most likely never come back.  Getting the customers coming back again and again is what makes a successful business, not false advertising.  Also, do not advertise “tanks full of live squid” only to have empty tanks when customers arrive.  This was another complaint I heard discussed again and again, especially when we were jigging bait and not allowed to fish seabass as the sun came up.

In closing I will reiterate that these are my opinions and some observations of sportboat passengers over the years.  A lot of guys like things just the way they are, while sportboat operations are happy seeing those few faces on a regular basis.  Loyalty does exist, even on the boats with the worst reputations.  I know it sounds cliche, but in my business customer satisfaction is priority #1.  One unsatisfied client could seriously affect my business just through word of mouth, and frankly I can’t afford that.  Not monetarily or emotionally.  If I thought that things were fine the way they are I would not have have felt compelled to write this, but it saddens me to see this industry suffer when it could thrive by just doing a few things differently.   Maybe with a boat full of happy loyal customers sportboats would spend more money on tackle and in the galley making it affordable to take those new AQMD supplied free engines and kick it up a few knots.   That 6 hour ride home with a closed galley really does nothing to help passengers want to come racing back and spend more money, especially when we suspect the fish counts are inaccurate.    Just sayin’.

 

 

When to Swing on Catalina Seabass

Sitting on the shoreline at Silver Lake up in the high Sierras fishing trout, my kids and I are soaking Power Bait in a light breeze.  The wind makes the tips of the ultralight rods twitch, and I get “am I getting a bite Daddy?” every 10 seconds or so.  “Patience boys, you’ll know when you get a bite.”  It doesn’t work, and one or the other is constantly reeling in to check their bait.  Finally I look them both in the eye and say “if you think you are getting a bite, you are not.  If you know you are getting a bite, then turn the handle and lift the rod hard.”  Even though this went down 300 miles from Catalina, I couldn’t help but think how true this is when fishing for white seabass.

Flash forward to late spring, 2013 at Catalina and I am watching my wife fish with a light lead head couple squid pinned on.  We’re sitting on the anchor in 45′ of water outside a prominent kelp line on the back, and she is getting picked at by perch, small calicos and such.  She’s swinging on the better of the pecks, and quickly going through the little live squid we have for the day.  I step closer, and notice she has her reel in gear while soaking a bait.  Time for an intervention.

Wife Seabass

“It played with my bait forever” my wife said after landing this seabass. A little on the water coaching and she was good to go.

When fishing for seabass or yellowtail at Catalina, you’ll need to ignore the perch bites.  Leaving the reel in free spool while controlling the line on the spool with your fingertips is key to letting the business end of your line go, so perch and small bass don’t steal your bait.  Its like working with a roll of toilet paper, if the roll is stuffed into one of those gas station multi roll holder things, all you get is little pieces of tissue torn off because of the resistance, while at home you may get the whole roll if you don’t use two hands.  Same principle with a delicate squid on a thin wire hook.  Apply pressure or have your reel in gear, and the peckers will rip the bait off every time.

Now deciphering the feel of a perch bite and a seabass bite may sound easy, but sometimes its not.  Nowadays with Spectra, short top shots and uber sensitive graphite rods, its easier to feel the difference but it still takes time to learn.  To translate the feel of a seabass bite into a tangible reality, try visualizing a big, slow, lazy croaker cruising into a school of perch to check out what’s happening out of curiosity.  The seabass circles the bait, then turns and sucks the bait into its big mouth.  Almost faster than the eye can see, it spits it back out.  On the rod you are holding, that will be a sharp tap or thud, very different than the pecks of the perch.  Now that the fish has had a taste he swims around and picks up the bait again.  (Don’t worry about whether the bait is tattered and torn from the perch or first seabass bite, he still wants it, trust me.)  Now is the time when its most important to be in free spool, because if the reel is in gear you risk pulling the bait out of its mouth or pulling the hook before its in position to hook the fish.

A wary seabass may drop the bait and pick it back up several times before actually eating it.  What to do now is thumb the spool lightly and hold the rod tip half way between pointing at the fish and full set up position.  Finger hold the spool and lift the rod slowly, to see if it loads up.  If the rod loads up, then goes slack, drop the tip and let the seabass have another chance at the bait.  If the rod loads up and the fish begins to pull, put the reel in gear, wind down and set him up.  This whole process could take a fraction of a second, or several minutes, depending on how good the fish are biting.  With little to no current and less than ideal conditions, the bites will be this subtle a good percentage of the time.

Here you see the rod loading up.  If the fish drops the bait, drop the tip and let it get another look.

Here you see the rod loading up. If the fish drops the bait, drop the tip and let it get another look.

 

Another look, and another bite.

Another look, and another bite.

Rod loads up and the seabass does not drop the bait.  Wind down and SWING while grinding.  HOOK-UP!!!!

Rod loads up and the seabass does not drop the bait. Wind down and SWING while grinding. HOOK-UP!!!!

 

In a wide open big seabass bite where many fish are hooked and caught, it becomes almost laughable how everyone notices the little taps before hooking a big seabass.  A large school of seabass will, at times, scare off all perch and small pecker/grabbers so you know the only bites you are getting are seabass bites.  Still, some of the attention your bait gets feels like the smallest of perch nipping at your live squid.

 

If you just can’t stand trying to feel the difference between a seabass bite and a perch bite, then a dropper loop or jig/squid combo is for you.  Just know that this set-up works way better when the rod is left in the rod holder, in gear with the drag set to fight the fish.  Otherwise you’ll swing at every perch bite and go through a tremendous amount of bait.  Even worse, you’ll spend too much time winding in, changing baits and dropping back while not having your bait in the zone where it needs to be.  Just remember what I tell my boys, “If you think its a seabass bite, its not.  Its only a seabass bite when you KNOW its a seabass bite.”  When you are sure, then swing away.

Sickening Wide Open Seabass

Me and Scott hooked up!

Me and Scott hooked up!

While making the move from the middle of the back last weekend with our one fish to weigh for the Western Outdoor News Catalina Seabass Tourney, I noticed something interesting.  Very good conditions along a stretch of the island, and solid seabass marks for almost a mile.  We did not have the time to stop and fish it properly, but did make a few halibut drifts while I took some mental notes.  I knew I had to get back and on this stuff before the world found out, and I did.

Ryan Slob!

Ryan Slob!

Monday morning I called Mike Mundy with the 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” to see if he could go.  He is a member of the Avalon Tuna Club and the Southern California Tuna Club, and I knew both had the coveted 1st White Seabass flags available.  Mike could not go, so I called Bob Elliott, owner of the “Fresh One.”  Bob knew I would not call if I didn’t think it was good, so he made it happen.  We could not go that day, “can we go tomorrow?” he asked.  It was the best we could do, and I had to accept that.  Turned out to be a good move.

"Fresh One" owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

“Fresh One” owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

I got down to the “Fresh One” about 8am with an ice chest filled with frozen squid for chum.  Bob rounded up his fishing buddies that could take off work and they were due to arrive at 10am.  I checked the engine fluid levels and the generator.  I prepped the boat and was ready and waiting when the group started to arrive.  Everyone was excited, and I don’t think there was a doubt in anyones mind it was going to be good.  We just didn’t know HOW GOOD it was going to be.

Walt getting it started.

Walt getting it started.

We topped off the fuel tanks and headed over.  I ran the boat a little harder that I usually do, but was afraid the Darryl on the “Marie Claire” might sell the bait he was holding for us.  I was in no hurry to fish, as I felt it was a late afternoon/evening bite.  I was mentally prepared for a sundowner, but we did not have to wait that long.  When we came into the area, the “Mardiosa” was hooked up and picking away at the fish.  We looked around for not much, watching Tony closely to see when he would finish up (with limits).  It took a while and Tony called in the “Options” for a clean handoff.  As Wes slid back I saw he already had one hanging.  NICE!  These guys had paying customers on board and for sure had priority to get it done.  We waited patiently.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Even if Wes had not called us in, I still would have moved and set up on that spot.  While Wes was on it we could all see the bite building.  It was getting closer to bite time and the fish really waned to chew.  Wes had to deal with a seal so it took him about 45 minutes to an hour to finish up and start heading for home.  When they hooked their last fish, Wes signaled us to head over, and we did.

Scott and Ryan.  I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Scott and Ryan. I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Our transfer was not as smooth as the one between the “Mardiosa” and the “Options”.  I did not mark a single fish for a long while after Wes left.  Anxiety began to set in, as we chummed hard for about an hour before getting our first bite.  Walt was on the bow and hooked the first fish, but before he had his fish to color we were all pulling on fish.  He called for the gaff and I yelled “you will have to gaff your own buddy, we are all a little busy.”  A couple fish fell off and I grabbed my camera.  When we finally got the last fish for limits, only about 20 minutes had passed.  Ryan got the big fish so a couple of us released the 30# models that were lip hooked and very releasable having been caught quickly on heavy tackle.  We were in skinny water so releasing these fish was a snap.  We could have caught and release for ever, but called it quits when the 5th fish (last for limits) hit the deck.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

I have seen it that good 3 times in my whole life.  Anything you dropped down was bit instantly.  You hear of guys getting bit on 80#?  These would have bit 100#, easy.  In the Video you see Bob getting his fish, then Ryan hooking one right under the boat.  It gives you an idea of just how good it really was.  Enjoy.

Click this link to watch the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk3YQ2Fx6iY

FreshOne

 

Tournament Game Plan Stress

Where to fish and why?  What is the weather going to do and how is it going to affect the conditions where I want to be?  What time of day do I want to focus on?  What is the bait situation for us, and for everyone else?  It becomes almost overwhelming, and the stress mounts, big time.

Bait is where you need to start when you will need to catch it yourself.  Local marlin tournaments are won and lost with live mackerel, and last year during tournament season the stuff was scarce.  I ran the “Sassy Sissy” and won a marlin tournament with bait I bummed off another tournament participant in Avalon Harbor the night before it started.  I ran up and down every row asking for bait (after looking HARD on the front of the island all day for nothing.)  This years W.O.N. Catalina Seabass Tournament is very much the same with very little squid around.  It seems the ones willing to go “to any length” to get the bait is already in the lead when the starting gun goes off.

Pre-fishing is key and should be done whenever possible.  I have however, had bad experiences with pre-fishing.  Crew members too tired when its tourney time (especially me), bait supply dwindled down to “less than enough,”  and other things like battery power not at peak performance.  There needs to be some balance in your pre-fishing game, so as not to use up your strengths and tools for when it counts.

That leads to actually being honest with yourself about the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment and crew.  Small boats may not be able to go the extra mile without some losses in bait and crew energy.  Bigger boats may struggle to get to prime spots before faster rigs can claim them.  Your game plan should revolve around what your team is capable of, and nothing more.

Weather can affect everything about a tournament.  It can make or break spots you want to look at, or cause your competition to run and hide.  Bad weather definitely separates the crowd when the fish are where the weather is worst, and that can be a good thing when you have a solid crew.  When you get down to the details, weather will dictate where and when you fish at Catalina.  Some areas just plain bite better in certain conditions.  Try fishing Salta Verde in an afternoon westerly and you’ll struggle to stay in position for a winning bite, same with West Cove’s main kelp.  That dreaded morning southeast breeze will help you fish those spots, and you better be aware of what the weather is going to do so you can plan accordingly.

Gathering intel before a tournament can send participants to days old spots and left to scratch their heads.  Choose your sources carefully and more importantly, be sure they are not telling you something everyone else you are competing against already knows.  Nothing worse than ending up in the crowd, nothing.

Listening to your competition and not doing all the talking may help you to pick your battles.  If a member of another team says they have a line on something “too good to be true,” especially for a certain category, you may want to change things up and focus on another species altogether.  If a boat has Allyn Watson as their captain, you may want to change from a seabass game plan to a halibut one, if you get my drift.  That requires some flexibility and maybe even more than one backup plan.  Be sure to communicate with your crew as things change, so they are not so thrown off that they lose their focus when the game plan goes a different direction.

This last paragraph is mostly for me to write, and read over and over.  Tournaments can be a lot of fun.  Getting too serious can take away from one’s ability to hunt effectively and may cause mistakes.  One overly serious crew member can derail an entire team, especially when things don’t go as planned (they almost never do).  Temper tantrums and screaming fits at other boats takes away from the teams ability to do what they are there for, and that is catch that winning fish.  Last time I checked, fishing was supposed to be fun.  I lose sight of this all too often in tournaments, but rarely let anyone else know about it.  My stomach hurts even as I write this, and I am ready for this thing to get going.

Last year I fished 6 tournaments and won 5 of them.  Not good for me mentally, as the pressure I put on myself is almost too much to bear.  One minute I am saying to myself “I am due for a loss, so just have fun.”  Next minute, I am thinking of ways to win and stressing out.  Deep breath.  It’s only fishing “It’s ONLY FISHING.”

See everybody over there.  If I am not all that friendly, its not you, its me (stressing out).  Good luck to everyone!

 

Light Line Old School?

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Some serious advances have occurred with the tackle today, leaps and bounds really.  Reels have butter smooth drags that last and last, fluorocarbon leaders and Spectra have changed the way we fish completely, yet some things remain the same.  All this wonderful technology means nothing if you never hook a fish.  To get that fish you are targeting to bite you need to pick that perfect bait, make a long cast and use all your senses to make that opportunity into a reality.  The question is, when you do everything right and don’t get the bite, then what?

You drop down in line class, that’s what.

Yellowtail on light line.  Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

Yellowtail on light line. Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

There is a whole new generation of anglers now that read that last sentence and cringed.  What with all the fancy reels with smooth drags and teflon/boron composite super rods that make fishing almost unfair, why not?  Did the reel manufacturers make these state of the art drag systems for fishing 80#?  Yes, the new gear is capable of fishing heavy line but it really shines when you fish the lighter stuff.  With heavy line you don’t even need drag, so why the dirty looks when someone breaks out the 20#?

Whether you are on your own boat or a charter, everyone wants to catch lots of big fish.  When the moon and the stars align perfectly and that once in a lifetime wide open ripper happens you can break out the broomstick with 100# and put the wood to them.

 Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

How often does that happen, really?  Most of the time we are just trying to get picked up, and land that one big fish for a snapshot and bragging rights.  Finding that perfect leader that is neither too heavy to get a bite, or too light to land the fish is what you are looking for, and it may change from spot to spot, minute to minute.  That is why we have so many different outfits and not just the one with 80#.

Spectra brings light line fishing to a whole new level.  65# braid is like fishing 20# mono in both feel and line capacity.  Its not uncommon to see calico bass guys with high tech gear that looks much like the freshwater largemouth arsenal on steroids with 65# or even 80# braid.  Then add in the abrasion resistance and low visibility of fluorocarbon leader and “presto”, its a whole new ballgame.  That does not automatically mean you will get the same amount of bites on 40# as you would on 20#.  The whole package with 20# fluoro is still miles ahead of an old school outfit with the same line in mono.  You have less stretch, more pulling power, kelp cutting capabilities and abrasion resistance far beyond what was available only a few years ago.

What is missing today is anglers that actually know how to fight a fish from bite to gaff, therefore we get guys that insist on fishing the heavy lines.  More than ever I see guys take that $400 rod with all the technology and point the tip at the fish and grind away, wondering why the fish spit the hook halfway to the boat.  Lift your tip!  The fish did not get away, you lost it.  I can see why charter boat Captains are screaming at passengers to “fish nothing less than 50!!!”  They are sick and tired of putting the boat on the fish only to see most of what is hooked, lost.  It all comes down to a lack of talent, period.

When you hook that big seabass or yellow on a kelpline and it gets its head down and swims right into the kelp, loosen the drag.  Let the tackle do its job.  The braid will only cut the kelp if its moving, you’ll need to let the fish run and tire before you begin the tug of war.  Even then its more of a seesaw battle, with you pulling for a while, then the fish pulling for a while.  Its the back and forth of the braid on the kelp that does the cutting, while straight pulling hard causes heartaches.

Light line seabass.  This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle.  Heavier line never got bit at all.

Light line seabass. This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle. Heavier line never got bit at all.

 My grandfather used to call this, “playing the fish.”  He’d say it while fighting a 120# bigeye on 25#, then my Uncle would gaff it.  We’re talking Penn Jigmasters with plastic spools.  I can still hear the “THUD” of the fish hitting the deck, time and time again.

Its become a common conversation for me, some guy saying “why would you even use 15# when fishing for seabass?”  I find myself in defense mode when its the guy pointing the finger that needs angling lessons.  I’ve driven the boat for a lady angler that got a striped marlin to the boat on 6# for a tag and release.  (We got that fish in 27 minutes)  Most angling clubs don’t even recognize anything caught with line over 30#, and the Tuna Club of Avalon encourages its members to fish with linen line in 3 and 6 thread sizes (like 6# and 15# respectively).  At last years Avalon Tuna Club Seabass tourney I caught a 22 pound seabass on 6 thread linen, and didn’t even place in the top 10!

22lbs on the Avalon Pier.  Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

22lbs on the Avalon Pier. Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

 

 

Not much ever changes back to where it was, but light line fishing is being seriously overlooked these days.  With the hotbed of young kids today out making a name for themselves through websites, videos and social networking it sure would be nice to see one take on the challenges of light line angling skills.  I can hook and hand seabass and yellows on 30# all day and most get gaffed, but when I hook one on 12 or 15#, its mine.  I tie good knots, test them all and lift my tip.  In the end, its me getting the typical “grip-n-grin” photo taken with a fish heavier that the line it was hooked on.  The guy taking the picture probably never got a bite, and was fishing 40#.  Fishing seabass on 50# is like fishing trout with 20#.  Tie good knots and learn how to actually fight a fish and use the tackle to its full potential.  You’ll not only hook (and land) more fish, but have way more fun doing it.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water.  No problem.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water. No problem.

 

Go The Other Way

There are guys that just bank on a fish report.  I mean, when they hear the fish are on a kelp line or squid nest, that is it, set in stone.  I am not that guy.  Never have been, never will be.  I do take mental notes of when and where, but not so I can go sit on the spot where someone else found the fish.  I am speaking specifically about island seabass, Catalina Island seabass.

Back in the days when I worked for Mark Wisch, he would always talk about the 3 day bite.  Meaning, that when the seabass moved into an area they would bite there for 3 days, and not normally more than that.  Determining where they would move to and bite next, well, that was one of Marks specialties (that I think I learned from him).  No doubt he learned that in some ways from Allyn Watson.  The thing to think about here is, when a guy makes a score and word gets out, at what point in the 3 day rule did he find the fish?  If they are biting in an area one day and not the next, then (according to the rule), he found them on the 3rd day.

It gets a little more complicated when certain areas consistently have good seabass conditions.  Places like Orange Rocks or West Cove.  I will plan a trip by what is being caught at either one of these places, and start where they are not biting.  Let me repeat that.  “I start where the seabass have NOT been biting.”  Hey, its worked for me for a very long time.  It accomplishes several goals and eliminates things I dislike.

For one, I do not like to fish in a crowd.  I do not like being accused of fishing other peoples dope, and I do not like drama.  I also thrive on the hunt, and the kill.  Therefore, I “go the other way.”  There are times when the fish just set up camp in an area and go on and off the bite for weeks at a time.  Two years ago the fish were along the V’s and Palisades for what seemed like a month, and I did fish in that crowd with some success.  Not by getting in the middle and waiting it out, but by fishing the edges and conditions I saw with my own eyes.   Even then, solitary trips up the back often produced more fish than the waiting in the pack game.

I guess the point I am trying to make here is that I don’t go to where the reports say the fish are biting, I go the other way.  If they are biting up West, I go East.  Too many times I have gone to where the bite has been for nothing.  Usually when the client hands me the printed report from the internet and tells me “that’s where the fish are.”  Thankfully that has not happened in a very long time.  Those of you have fished Catalina enough over the years know what it feels like to sit in a crowd in West Cove, catch nothing, see no fish caught, and hear later that someone found the fish down East.

In this sense, the reports are a very useful tool.  So look at the reports to see where they are biting at Catalina, then go the other way.  You will need some basic fundamentals on how to fish seabass (conditions) and intimate knowledge of Catalina for this to work.  Unfortunately, these days a large group of boats is the X that marks the spot.  Not even that anymore.  Just one boat anchored has become a magnet for others.  This will do nobody any favors.

Parting shot?  I actually like it when I find a spot of seabass that want to bite and a couple weekend warriors come and anchor by me.  Its always fun to kick the snot out of’em while someone watches and catches nothing.

TIps and Tricks

On each and every trip I do I pick up something new from a client, and I’d like to think they learn something new from me.  A new knot, or a trick that makes private boat life, just a little easier.  Some tricks are even more amazing, and help solve major problems.  The most common thing I run into is when a client has been misled in some way, and I can set the record straight with some common sense explaining.

Bait do not need lights to live.  In fact, the light in your bait tank is for your enjoyment, just as the window is.  The bait receivers in San Diego that cure sardines for the long range boats use boxes with lids to cure the bait.  Slots in the tops of the boxes are so the bird shit can be washed off, (and maybe even for feeding the bait), not to let the light in.  Really serious private boat guys paint the insides of their bait tanks black or dark blue, and keep a cover on the tank when traveling.  Fin bait will take on that darker color, and swim hard when hooked and cast out to hungry gamefish.

To feed your bait, either when kept in the bait tank of your boat for a long time or in your private receiver, you can use corn meal.  Blood works great as well, so a cutting board bait tank lid can do wonders for your bait while you are filleting your catch throughout the day.  The blood of the fish you are cutting will drip into the tank, and your bait will eat it.  Cool huh?  If the bait in your receiver is so strong that you can’t catch it with the dip net, try throwing a handfull of cornmeal and net them as they come up to feed.  Works every time.

Squid do not need to be fed, and can not be kept in the tank or a receiver for long periods of time.  Why?  Because when they spawn, they start to die like salmon.  You can prolong the life of your tank of squid (and prevent some of the eggs that clog the drain) by placing a live bass in with the squid.  I personally have not seen a bass eat bait while in my tank, but don’t tell the squid that.  The amount of eggs in the tank will be far less if you put a bass in the tank, but I honestly don’t know if other fish work.  Mix sardines and squid, and the squid will eat the sardines.

A dropper loop is a type of rig where you have a sinker at the end of your line, and a hook dangling a ways up.  Its very common and used for everything from rockfish to yellowtail.  The problem is, a traditional dropper loop knot is a 50% knot at best.  Try tying a spider hitch to double your line (you’ll end up with a big loop.)  Simply cut the loop so you have a long line, and a short one.  TIe the sinker on the long line for dropping straight down, or tie the sinker on the short line for what is called a “reverse dropper loop” for drifting.  The spider hitch is a very good knot, much better that the traditional dropper loop knot.

Speaking of dropper loops, they are also killer for seabass.  At Catalina the perch, mackerel and other grabbers may frequently steal the squid off your hook.  Instead of a torpedo sinker, try tying on a white iron (jig) in place of the sinker.  Seabass will eat the jig without bait on it, especially when they decide to really bite.  Yellows too.  This way, you can fish two rods and if you get tired of changing the bait on the dropper loop, you can feel better about being less attentive with that rod.  I have caught many a seabass and yellowtail at Catalina with an iron with no bait on it, dangling near the bottom with the rod in the rod holder.  Another tip, it works great for rockfish too!

Another handy tip is the green stretch wrap from Home Depot.  You’ll find it where the moving and packaging supplies are.  This stuff works great to wrap your rods for traveling, or to keep that crowder net from blowing in the wind on the way back from a trip.  I love this stuff, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I use it.  Things on the boat that “tap” or “rattle” in the night can be secured with a couple wraps of this miracle plastic.  It replaces duct tape, if that’s even possible.

When its cleanup time a pump sprayer will save you time, and your clothes from bleach spots.  Again, at Home Depot you can find these small plastic pump bottles in the garden department.  Fill it with straight bleach (or your favorite squid ink dissolving solution) and pump the handle.  Simply spray it around the cockpit where needed and give things a minute to work their magic.  Scrub the tough stains then rinse.  At least you’ll ruin a few less shirts this way, as regular spray bottles will send a mist into the air and onto your clothes.  I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

Releasing rockfish and black seabass is discussed endlessly but the answer is so simple.  Lifesavers.  Yes, the candy slash breath freshener can actually save a life.  They dissolve in a short amount of time in the water, so all you have to do is tie a hook that will rust away onto a rig with a heavy sinker and place the hook in the fish’s mouth, and drop it down to the bottom.  When the Lifesaver dissolves, the fish is free, and back to the depths it came from alive and well.

I could go on and on now that I’m on a roll.  Ever set up on a small wreck and miss by just a little bit?  Next time this happens, try turning the rudders so the current will swing the boat into position.  I swear, it works.  The more current you have, the more dramatic it is.  Works with outboards and outdrives just fine too.  No more resetting for little misses.

I have many, many more.  I will write another article about different tips and tricks when its time appropriate.  Just remember to be open minded, and willing to learn something new. I love learning new, easier ways to do things almost as much as showing someone a new easier ways I was shown or figured out on my own.  Operating a private boat is hard work, so why not try something new that makes things quicker, easier and more enjoyable.

 

 

Deciphering the Code

Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear (or read on the internet).  At no time in history has this been more true than now, and in regards to fishing reports it’s the gospel.  So how does one take the information available and use it to their advantage?  First of all, you have to actually have some intimate knowledge of the area being discussed, and fish often.  There is just no way around that.

A very high percentage of fishermen have this total inability to resist telling others that they caught a fish, but where exactly is often as elusive as the size of the fish exaggerated.  To find the truth behind the lies one must ask the right questions and connect the dots.  “What time of day did you catch it?” and “which way was the current going at bite time?” are excellent questions to catch a liar in the act.  Another is “so, how was the weather?”  The real trick is, not to tell the information provider that you think they are lying and shut down the conversation completely.

Using Catalina as an example, those three questions can nail down the details you need to at least get you to the right end of the island, and front or back.  Again, being personally familiar with Catalina you would know that the West End and East end are very different on most days, and the answers to the 3 questions above would easily tell where the storyteller was.

Having a code group of guys that frequently give you intel also helps tremendously.  This is a “give a little, get a little” cooperation.  Train them well to keep their eyes open for every detail of their trips, and to report back as soon as they return even if their trip was less than productive.  Then, when you read an internet report that a boat caught 20 yellows but the spot where they were caught is questionable, you can ask other guys in your code group if they saw the boat posting the score.  Not just specifically where they were (or weren’t), but “which way the current was going”, and “how was the weather.”  Now you can start to connect the dots.

Another piece that is of vital importance is the “when” because if a bite happened 3 days ago at Catalina then it is most certainly over now.  That is  your clue to “go the other way.”  Nothing worse than fishing yesterdays news, a day late and a dollar short.

TIme of day helps when you have a tide chart handy when getting reports, as a school of fish can be tracked on what tide they’ve been biting on.  If an internet reports says that a bunch of seabass were caught at the V’s early in the morning and the tide was low, you can deduce that it is a false report because the East End back of Catalina rarely bites on a low tide (and bites on a downhill current, typical in the afternoons).  Nothing in fishing is “always or never”, so take that with a grain of salt and base your investigation on current bite trends.

“Silence is golden.”  A few really stealthy guys refuse to give up ANY information when the fish bite, but are super chatty when they are in swing and miss mode.  Call these guys often and find out when they are fishing.  When you don’t hear back you can expect that they found some fish that wanted to bite.  From there you can take the above information and begin your investigation.  Someone saw them, and their silence is the clue you need to know it’s time to start making some calls.

Like anything else with fishing, time on the water and turns of the prop are more valuable than all other things combined.  Avoid the trap of old timers that talk the talk, but no longer walk the walk.  Things change and getting your intel from these old salts can be very misleading.  Their ability to connect the dots has faded because of a lack of current time on the water.

Fishing information is here to stay, so the competition to provide the best intel is fierce.  There is more than just money at stake here, there are reputations.  Fighting it is like fighting taxes, you’ll never win.  If you find a spot of fish that wants to bite and expect to keep it a secret the best thing to do is not tell a soul, but don’t make that your tell.  Like any good poker player you’ll need to be aware of the clues you give, and know when others are trying to get you to make that mistake.  Otherwise just tell the truth, that you had a fun trip but are keeping the details to yourself.  Pure honesty, even if you don’t divulge any facts is admirable.  Just don’t lie, because the clues will give you up every time.

One thing that is heavily disputed is the ownership of said information.  The person who actually found the fish owns the intel, but can lose it by simply keeping it a secret or telling lies.  “How is that possible” you ask?  Simple.  By not owning the intel and telling the truth, others trying to decipher the details may actually stumble onto the school of fish without the finder saying the magic words “and don’t tell anyone!”  If I got a call that the fish were biting at a certain spot, at a certain time using a specific technique and the Captain told me to keep it quiet, I could actually run interference and keep it safe.  Someone else calls me with a guess that is correct as to where the bite it, I would use some tactful redirection. Simply put, by being deceptive, you lose your rights to the spot and the fish.  I see it happen day after day, as guys try to be secretive and go back the next day and wonder “how did everyone find out about this?!”  Tell the truth to the guys that control the flow of information, and this will happen much less often.  Then if your intel gets out, you have someone to hold accountable other than yourself.

 

 

Stealth Basics

After reading Brandon Haywards “The Local Angler” and how important it is to be stealthy while fishing coastal seabass, I thought a quick guide might be helpful.  Brandon nails it on the head in his description of how different Catalina seabass fishing is than what he is doing along the South Coast.

Generators running and seabass biting at Catalina

Generators running and seabass biting at Catalina

 

At Catalina or Clemente its not nearly as important to be quiet, but it doesn’t hurt when the fish are not biting all that great.  Having the option to go quiet is something every boat needs, and here are a few ideas.

Anchoring quietly is near impossible on a sportboat or bigger yachts, so this is an area where skiffs and small sportfishers have (another) advantage when fishing seabass.  Put a guy on the bow with the chain all on deck when preparing to set up.  When you give him the “nod” make sure he knows to quietly let the chain slip through his hands and not loudly free fall sportboat style.

Hand over hand to be super quiet

Hand over hand to be super quiet

Be sure the boat is idling in reverse, and actually traveling backwards.  Be patient and wait for the boat to start backing, and resist the urge to add throttle create unnecessary commotion.  Dropping the pick with the boat stationary or drifting too slowly may cause the chain to tangle with the anchor.  If this happens you will slide and have to re-set, and there is nothing stealthy about that.

Even before you drop the anchor you’ll need to be careful when picking a spot to fish.  Using your eyes and even a good pair of binoculars is essential to see the life and conditions before you look at things on the meter.  Driving in power circles over a structure spot or hard bottom area looking for seabass marks will spook the fish you are trying to catch.  A quick “one and done” approach is ideal.   Drive up wind and current over the spot and watch the meter for the structure itself, then as you idle forward you will see the perch, bass then seabass and yellows up current of the structure.  Set up on the fish, not the spot!   If you must reset, look at your compass before pulling the anchor and note which way the boat is sitting.  Repeat the steps as quickly and quietly as possible.

These days bait pumps are often mounted directly to the valve on the through hull, making a constant hum that reverberates off the hull underwater.  Try installing a short section of hose from the valve to the pump to isolate it from the valve and the sounds won’t travel as much into the water.  1″ I.D. hose fits perfectly over the often stock 3/4″ male threads on most pump bases.  Just be sure to use a sealant as well as a quality stainless hose clamp when doing your retrofit, and check carefully for leaks when the boat is in the water.  If the pump is mounted to a bulkhead, try using rubber pads or a section of cut clear hose between the hard pump bracket and bulkhead or stringer of the boat.

2KW inverter on a small boat!

2KW inverter on a small boat!

Doing all the things mentioned above and then running a generator is not going to help you (or the guys around you) catch fish.  In fact, its the least stealthy thing of all.  Some amazing advances have been made regarding inverter designs, they are now more efficient and less expensive than ever.  The #1 problem with most inverter installations is lack of sufficient battery amp hours.  6V golf cart style batteries will give you huge battery backup power and are designed to be discharged completely, and recharged without damage.  Standard 12V deep cycle batteries are designed for starting power, not amp hour storage.

a pair of 6V golf cart batteries are the same size as two group 29 deep cycle, but have 3 times the amp hours are are more efficient.

a pair of 6V golf cart batteries are the same size as two group 29 deep cycle, but have 3 times the amp hours are are more efficient.

Don’t let the “Deep Cycle” on the label fool you, these are not the correct batteries for a boat with an inverter.  8D and 4D batteries fall into the category of insufficient, they are starting batteries, period.  Finally, be sure to have a battery switch that separates the 6V batteries from your engine starting battery so you can get home even if the inverter drained your house batteries completely.

Now that you know the basics for how to be quiet on your rig, you must assume that others are not savvy to this approach.  Being super stealthy then anchoring right next to a guy that is breaking all the rules will wreck it for you, so be sure to give a wide berth when setting up in a crowd.  Avoid jumping on deck or slamming hatches, and hopefully the boisterous guy next to you will send the school your way.

It Really Is About The Spots

Don’t let that seminar speaker fool you, spots are as important to him as anything else.  Probably more so than he is leading you to believe.  Almost every target species in our local waters relates directly to wrecks, reefs or hard bottom, even if its a halibut that hides in the sand or mud to ambush its prey.  The vast majority of the ocean floor is a lifeless wasteland, and spending any time fishing these undersea deserts is a complete waste of time, period.

A hard look at this 3D image shows flat areas with no structure, and a few spots.  Knowing these spots is curtail to being a better angler.

A hard look at this 3D image shows flat areas with no structure, and a few spots. Knowing these spots is curtail to being a better angler.

The conditions that make a spot bite are of vital importance, but an angler can catch fish if he is set up on a spot properly even if the conditions are not ideal.  Conversely, fishing in ideal conditions and not being on something that is holding fish will rarely do you any favors.  How often have you fished on a sportboat that had to “re-set” the anchor on a spot, and it seemed like he only moved a few feet?  Yes, it is that critical.

Far off the island this spot comes up to just a few fathoms.  Set on it right and catch bass, yellowtail and seabass.  Miss and catch nothing.

Far off the island this spot comes up to just a few fathoms. Set on it right and catch bass, yellowtail and seabass. Miss and catch nothing.

It can be as critical as having your GPS antenna far away from the fish finder transducer on your boat.  You run over the numbers and the “X” on your plotter, only to look at the sonar and see nothing.  When you do run over the marks you want to see on the meter, you hit “save” on the GPS as if the numbers were wrong in the first place.  Maybe they weren’t wrong?  Maybe, you need to be more aware of where your transducer is in relation to your GPS antenna.

Once you get the fine details of your electronics mastered, its now time to get to know your spots.  I mean, build a real relationship with spots so you know them like you know your Mom.  When your buddy gives you the GPS#’s of a spot that is not all there is, you need to ask the right questions.  “Which way was the current going when you got bit?”  “How high does the (rock, wreck or reef) come up?”  Then, when you do fish that special spot, be sure to take notes to help learn every detail for next time.  Spots that you think you have mastered may have intricacies you didn’t know about, so never assume you know it all.

Being set up properly is the most important thing about any specific fishing spot.  Set up too close and you will be fishing for sculpin, rockfish and small bass, the fish that live in and closely around the structure.  Your target species is typically far up-current of your GPS#’s, so set up accordingly.  For example, when fishing for yellowtail on a wreck you should not even be able to reach the structure with a long cast followed by letting your bait drift back. We’re talking sometimes hundreds of yards when the current is really ripping.  Again, you’ll need to be set up perfect.  10 feet to either side and you will likely catch nothing at all.  A chopped chunk of sardine or squid dropped off the middle of your transom should drift to the structure proper.  If it misses, you must reset.

January 2013 yellowtail caught while anchored perfectly on an island rock in deeper water.

January 2013 yellowtail caught while anchored perfectly on an island rock in deeper water.

 

Shoreline spots along the coast or islands are very much the same, except they are more apt to change over time.  Kelp may die off or bloom, hill sides may slide and change the dynamic of a spot.  Note changes in your log for the next trip including whether or not the fish bit, and where you had to set differently to be in position to catch fish.

Drifting has its time and place, but structure fishing is not it (unless you are fishing deep for rockfish and you do not have the anchor gear).  Chumming is essential to get the fish in the biting mood, and the draw the exotics out.  Drifting makes is impossible to chum effectively.  If you have decided that you hate to anchor, then you have decided you are okay with catching much less fish, especially your target species.

So take the time to learn your spots.  Not only the GPS#’s, but what makes them work.  Anyone that tells you “it’s not that important” is either wrong or not telling it to you straight.  A sportboat captain without spots is nothing more than a boat driver.  Show me a professional fishing captain who’s GPS has gone out, and I’ll show you a boat on its way home for repairs.