Sitting on anchor in deep water on the bait grounds can be a magical time. Imagine kicking back in a deck chair enjoying an early supper, and being startled by the sound of a clicker going off. You drop your dinner and race to the bent rod in the in the holder, only to realize it’s not just one reel singing, it’s 3 of them! Most charter boats are on their way home, and private boats are just leaving the mainland to come over. This and a long history of good luck during this time of day makes sundowner bites one of my favorite times to fish Catalina.
There are no easy decisions about where to set up and when at Catalina. I do enjoy setting up on “the grounds” early, and there are a few good reasons. For one, I want to be in the best place to catch bait, and that’s the “nest”. Other boats are going to want to be on the nest too and getting there late means picking scraps from the outer edges and a long night. The fish know where the nest is too, and watching another boat that is on the main concentration of squid wail on seabass while you watch, is almost too much to bear sometimes. There are no guarantees, especially at Catalina, and sometimes it’s hard not to think “maybe I should have stayed on that kelpline for the sundowner bite”. It’s also a relaxing time. Time to fix some dinner and listen to a little rock-n-roll, and to recount the days events and come up with a game plan for the next day.
How exactly to set up for the night and take full advantage of all thats available is no easy task. The wind and current need to hold your boat over the nest for the afternoon bite, but will you swing out of position when the current and wind changes during the night? Probably. I agonize about where to put the boat so we can not only get a sundowner, but catch bait AND be in position for the grey bite. Again, easier said than done. Knowing which way the wind/current were going the morning before helps tremendously. Also, knowing if it’s been an evening bite, night bite or grey bite is of vital importance. For me, the MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THIS: The less I move, the more fish I catch. So if I can set up for the afternoon bite and not have to re-set (at all) until after the grey bite is over, then I am golden. One of the hardest things is, to resist the urge to move when you see another boat catch a fish. Making a move means pulling all of your baits out of the water and leaving all that chum you’ve created and thrown for a new spot. You can’t catch a fish unless you are fishing, and you are better off staying put. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a boat move closer to another boat that just caught a fish, only to have a new rig set up right where the guy moved from, and spank the seabass. Spend the time to set up properly, then trust in your spot.
If the main bite time has been in the morning (grey) then I will try to set up for the inevitable swing. Dropping the anchor perfectly so the boat will be sitting where you want it to be in the morning is not that hard, but takes some tact and precision. The best part (other than catching big seabass) is watching another boat or two set up on the nest, wreck or rock properly for the current conditions, and then wake up to see that they have swung 180 degrees and out of position for the grey bite. This sets up the favorable scenario where they watch you catch fish. Priceless.
If the bite has been at night, there is a whole new set of things to ponder. Which way was the current going at bite time? What time was the bite? When gathering intel, these are the questions you should be asking, not just “where”. That time of the night when the winds backs off and the current changes direction is a time when many big seabass are caught. Resist the urge to leave the rods out and hit the sack. The results can be frustrating to say the least. When the boat swings and the anchor line goes slack, more often than not your dropper loops and seabass jigs tipped with squid become one with your anchor line. I learned this the hard way, (and it took YEARS). If your going to fish, be awake, unless you just plain don’t care about the tangles and hassles involved. Armed with the proper intel about the bite time, fishing for seabass in the dark can be spectacular.
From sundowner bite time, all the way to the grey bite can be more that 12 long hours. Keeping fresh baits on and dealing with hassles such as batrays and soupfin sharks can be exhausting. Most sportboats leave the landing at 10pm and arrive on the grounds between midnight and 2am (depending on where the grounds are), and having big, loud boats meter around you in the dark can be a little nerve racking, especially if the weather is up. I typically sleep (lightly) at the helm, in the wheelhouse, or on deck. I set anchor and depth alarms when possible, and pay attention to what’s going on around me. A shift schedule of watches is a good idea. Other boats may slide on anchor, while inexperienced captains fumble through the fleet. Seiners make their sets, then drift through the fleet, and more than once I have had to pull the hook to avoid getting “wrapped”. All good reasons to be up at night. Best reason of all, the fish sometimes bite at night better than during the day. “You can sleep when you’re dead” I’ve been told.