If you have read this far I applaud you, because there have been kelp paddy articles written over and over, each and every year. The information here will sound redundant, but the idea is to pound some basic information into the heads of those who just don’t seem to grasp the concept. Some guys piss others off so bad, that verbal battles on VHF channel 72 near the point of death threats. Others simply can’t buy a bite. Maybe they never read any kelp paddy articles.
If you’ve ever fished on a long range boat out of San Diego, you know how they fish kelps. The captain or a crew member spots a kelp and word gets spread around the boat. 30 anglers, awakened from their naps, froth with anticipation as the charter boat approaches the “salad”. Most armed with long jig sticks adorned with heavy metal jigs. The bow of the boat passes the kelp first, and those up front cast at the flotsam as if to be trying to sink it with missiles. A few guys hook up, but the boat is still sliding (and turning at the same time). As the anglers in the stern pitch a live bait towards the kelp, the hooked up guys from the bow come barreling down the rail and either saw off freshly hooked baitfish or get tangled. Some land their fish while causing some, less assertive passengers to throw in the towel. If the kelp is holding some tonnage, then the boat drifts off while the bite gets really going. A more organized, steady pick continues as the kelp disappears from sight.
I can see why long range boat skippers fish a kelp this way. They have a boat full of paying clients, and a responsibility to give each angler the chance to hook a fish. I also know first hand, that if (as a captain) I do not position the charter boat close enough for passengers to actually HIT the kelp, I will have old timers givinging me a piece of their mind. If I repeatedly begin a drift far upwind from a kelp, I do believe a mutiny may begin at some point. I have done this and the passengers simply waited until the boat was close enough to the kelp for them to be able to hit it with a well casted bait, and hit it they did! Insanity.
On a private boat we do things quite differently. I like to set the boat upwind of the kelp, and begin a drift that will allow the stern to pass the kelp and leave a distance further than a long jig cast. There are reasons for this. First off, we do not have the chumming capabilities of a long range boat loaded with 100 scoops of bait, so I don’t want to spook the fish we’re trying to catch. Secondly, private boats can fish lighter line that gets bit better, because we are not battling 29 other anglers lines to land a fish. By being further away from the kelp, the chances of landing a yellowtail or tuna is far better if hooked away from the structure on lighter line.
I keep fishing long after we’ve passed the kelp, as history has shown that some of the best bites I’ve ever seen, started after drifting a ways past. While running the charter boat “RailTime”, I had become used to the Furuno CH250 Sonar, and could give a play-by-play for anglers as fish followed the boat far off the kelps they tried to sink with jigs. Sometimes the fish simply won’t leave the kelp, and I will re-set for another drift when the bite stops and meter marks go away.
If there are fish still on the paddy and the bite has either tapered off, or stopped altogether, I will begin to slow troll live baits past the kelp. 3 anglers max to avoid tangles, I have clients nose hook a live bait and then motor past the kelp as slow as the boat will go. Again, NOT TOO CLOSE! A tuna or yellowtail can swim from under the paddy to your bait 50 yards away, in a matter of seconds.
If there are other boats in the area, it’d be best if all followed the same routine. That will never be the case. Start your drift closer to the paddy when other boats threaten to try and share your find. You’ll need to be more selective about which kelps to fish hard, because you’ll have to throw more chum to keep the fish at your boat, and not go to the poachers rig. If there is a paddy holding and biting for 3 or 4 boats, I will watch the birds and fish them instead of the paddy itself. Back to when I had a sonar at my disposal, the fish were under the birds and I could see that on the meter. Boats fishing the paddy would trip out when I got the bite going 1/2 mile away from where they were. Birds are key, especially when it’s dorado we’re targeting.
To summarize, please resist the urge to drive right up to a paddy and cast your baits (or jigs) right into the salad. You ABSOLUTELY WILL catch more fish off kelps if you stay away from them. That is, unless you are actually fishing for the kelp itself. ( I hear it makes an excellent hair care product.) I personally steer clear of paddies with boats on them, or one that has a boat just leaving it. A fresh kelp, that has not been fished by another boat that day produces much better than one that has been hit hard, even if you heard on the VHF how wide open is “was”.