When I was 15 I was really into motocross.  I had the newest bike with all the aftermarket accessories and matching helmet and gear.  I looked factory, I really did.  Rode every weekend I could, and got the places we visited wired.  Then one trip in particular I got a serious dose of humble pie.  My older sister had a boyfriend that had raced motocross in the past, and he challenged me to a race.  Well, I knew this little track like the back of my hand, and had the latest and greatest everything, so “bring it on!!”.  The boyfriend proceeded to get on my Dads 1970 Kawasaki 90.  A bike with springs in the back for suspension and a metal gas tank.  “NO WAY could this guy even keep up with me”, or so I thought.  He literally dusted me, blew me away.  As we got off our bikes he looked at me and said one word……..”Talent”.  Lesson learned.

These days the fishing industry in my little world has gotten quite competitive.  FaceBook is a daily reminder of just how bad it is, with posts of guys holding fish and comments that can include a solid trashing and photos of one-upmanship.  Simple conversations easily turn into a contest of who has done what and who did it better, probably where the term “fish story” came from.  Embellishments and adjectives abound.  Funny how when fellow chest pounders end up side by side fishing together there is always someone that is having their worst day ever, or so they say.

I escaped competitive team sports, surfing and motocross simply because fishing was more “fun.”  Now I too find myself feeling a bit competitive more than I like.  To really be able to chill out and relax, I’ll need a chair and some Power Bait for some trout action.  Running boats as a hired operator has big expectations, none set higher than the one I set for myself, but do I have the talent?  I have the time on the water, and the been-there-done-that, yet I still fall short of my visions of glory most of the time.  I know as an angler I can’t hold a candle to some of the company I keep, but as an operator I seem to do just enough to not want to throw in the towel just yet.

The big question here is, why is fishing so competitive to me these days?  I was told when I got my Captains License that fishing would become work and not play, but this is over the top.  Have I been sucked into the internet and FaceBook as an alternate reality?  Very possible.  What I do know is this, I stack the odds in my favor as much as possible to offset whatever I lack in actual talent.

You’ve read it all here before.  Leave early, stay late, avoid crowds and so-on.  I take those things very seriously, it makes all the difference.  Having anglers with talent on the boat helps a bunch too.  If I’m going to run the “Fresh One” and Bob Elliott is going to be on the boat, I already have one foot in the winners circle, that guys just plain makes me look good.  I prefer to fish when the weather is less than ideal, simply because its thins the crowd.  Hearing about a bite somewhere is a huge advantage, because that means somewhere else is untouched and can be scouted completely without hassle.

Last few years there has been one thing above all that has helped me to accomplish the goals I set for myself enough to keep me coming back, and that is learning and adapting.  I’d never have picked out a mint colored Tady 45 in a million years, but thanks to the internet I saw time and time again it was a killer color.  For years I put all my effort into the slack high tide for seabass, only to watch the pattern change to the slack low is as at least as good as the high.  Drifting for squid instead of anchoring?  Who knew?  I might not anchor while making squid again until it changes, and change it will.

So I admit I’m not the gifted one, born with enough talent to make it easy.  I still want to catch more and bigger fish than the other guy, but I’m happy to see my buddies do well.  I stick to what works for me until it doesn’t work anymore, then I adapt to what does work, best I can.  Maybe one day we can all line up and figure out who’s the most talented, if thats even possible.  I’ll just sit back and see who wins, unless its in a chair fishing for trout with Power bait.  Oh, I got that wired.  “Bring it ON!”



There is this unexplainable phenomenon in fishing where a certain lure or technique that works so well on any given day, or maybe an entire season, does not work at all ever again.  Over the years I have had countless guys pull an old iron out of their box, and with it comes stories of giant fish and stupendous catches.  Yet with few exceptions, it no longer works. When it goes back into the box with the rest of the “back in the day” legends,  the stories go with it.  This is exactly the same way I feel about my past experiences with Catalina Island over the last two years, what worked in the past no longer applies.

Salta Verde Kelp, almost completely gone.

Salta Verde Kelp, almost completely gone.

This spring I noticed that most of the kelp along the backside of Catalina is gone.  Maybe the water temps never got cold enough for the kelp to grow like it normally does in the winter, or more likely that big storm we had in March wiped it out.  Spots, pockets and edges are completely gone, while some new spots are now fishable.  Its not good or bad, its different, but unless you change your tactics and ignore the waypoints in your GPS, its like fishing a whole new island.  How many times have you heard “fish the conditions, not the spots”?

There is one thing I have learned over the last few seasons over all others, patience.  It used to be that I could spot a set of conditions, set up and chum, and catch a fish with a fair amount of consistency.  Bouncing from spot to spot, picking away though out  the day for a limit of seabass, with the halibut, yellowtail and calico bass to fill the sacks.  Last year that was not the case at all, it took time to get the exotics to show and bite.  Patience.

I sat on the East End through one whole afternoon, night and morning to pick at these seabass.

I sat on the East End through one whole afternoon, night and morning to pick at these seabass.

I still take notes on each and every trip, then refine them when I get home in my trip logs for future reference.  Tides, current direction and time of day are key entries for the bites I see.  What is clear to me is that little of what worked in the past, is working now.   Skimming over old notes the early season routine was that the seabass showed up on the West End of Catalina first, mostly mid or deep water stuff.  Certainly not shallow water beaches until the water warmed and the seabass were in full spawn mode, like April or May, at the earliest.  My first good score this year was in very shallow water, just after watching a spot of free swimming seabass that were obviously spawning.  This happened nowhere near the West End.

Very shallow water wide open seabass in April, 59 degree water.

Very shallow water wide open seabass in April, 59 degree water.

Last year I spent too much time following old notes and focusing on the West End of Catalina early in the season.  I knew the fish were down East, but being stubborn I learned a lesson.  Even during the Western Outdoors Seabass tournament I stayed away from the East End, where the winning fish was caught amongst guys that had limit style fishing.  I returned two days later after metering school after school of big seabass on the way to weigh in our smaller grade seabass from middle of the back.

East End wide open seabass, bigger grade.

East End wide open seabass, bigger grade.

Even after a handoff of limit style fishing from Wes that was handed to him from Tony on the “Mardiosa” it took almost an hour to get that first bite.  Patience.

So if the last few years you have struggled to catch exotics at Catalina Island, consider changing your tactics.  Fish new spots, differently, with more patience.  Stay longer, wait it out.  My first bite this year I was actually asleep on the bridge when the fish started biting, and I was not going out of my mind that we needed to be somewhere else.  Anyone that has fished with me before knows how seriously I take things when we have not yet had that first bite from the right kind.  I’ve learned to adapt, relax, and change things up.

While the way I fish Catalina has changed over the years, a lot of it just being the learning curve that never ends, I still see guys fishing the same old ways that worked for them in the past with poor results.  Yes, I pay attention to what the other guys are doing too.  I hear of the frustration, and see first hand how they blame their lackluster seasons on everything but themselves.  Just like that old iron in the box, some things just don’t work anymore.



Boat Work Season

With a great season behind us, its time for boat work, and getting ready for next season!

With a great season behind us, its time for boat work, and getting ready for next season!

The days are shorter, and air is colder and that itch to get your boat out and catch a fish is beginning to fade away.  Admit it, mentally you have a list of things you know need to be addressed, and you are putting it off until after the first of the year.  You performed on the water feats of MacGyver magic all season long to keep that rig running, including the use of duct tape and bailing wire as bandaids.  You know its true!  As Thanksgiving goes by, then Christmas, that mental list will fade, and your pride and joy will take a backseat for a few months.  Then comes that day you get the call, “the fish are biting”, and you ready your gear for an early season seabass trip only to find out the hard way the boat didn’t fix itself over the winter.  I’ve been in the marine industry 30 years, and trust me, its a very common tale.

For my Captain On Board clients I leave a spiral binder and several pens at the helm for a “punch list”.  Every glitch in the electrical system, rattle or creak, window leak, vibration or maybe an idea for an upgrade goes on that list.

Fresh bottom paint should be applied at least once every 3 years.

Fresh bottom paint should be applied at least once every 3 years.

Right now is the time to go over the punch list and prioritize it, then get to those repairs!  Slipped boats need to come out of the water for a fresh coat of bottom paint, shafts pulled and checked and dinged props repaired or replaced.

Time for some TLC

Time for some TLC



Shipyards are slow this time of year, as everyone puts this stuff off until the very last minute.  Perfect time to call around and negotiate the best price for shipyard services.


Once back in the water its time for maintenance.  Change fluids and filters, replace zincs and check batteries.

Replace batteries BEFORE they go bad.

Replace batteries BEFORE they go bad.


Plumbing that looks like this should be replaced.

Plumbing that looks like this should be replaced.

Look at the dates on the batteries and decide if this is the year they need to be change out.   If the batteries are 3+ years old, consider changing them before you end up stranded far from home.


Consider changing 12V bait pumps every season.

Consider changing 12V bait pumps every season.




Go through all the plumbing on the boat, tightening hose clamps and checking hoses for cracks or signs of deterioration.



Bait and washdown pumps should be checked and replaced now instead of when they break and leave you with a tank full of dead bait.



Proper stress crack repair is a full blown glass job.

Proper stress crack repair is a full blown glass job.

A thorough clean and wax job will put your eyes on every inch on your boat.  Work from the top down and note every crack and ding, these too should be repaired this time of year.



Replace leaking portholes.

Replace leaking portholes.

Leaking portholes and windows may seen like a nuisance but that water is doing more harm than good.  Some can be sealed with the window in place, while others may need to be removed and re-bedded to to make a good seal.  Portholes may need to be replaced completely.


Go through your anchor gear and check connections, the condition of the rope and chain and tighten shackles and swivels.  Service your anchor winch, or add one if its on your wish list.  Maybe that anchor winch is slow and unreliable, so its time for an upgrade.  Right now is the time.  No doubt by doing all this before the holidays, you can come up with a few things to add to your Christmas list you just can’t justify treating yourself to.

Anchor winch upgrade to the latest and greatest.

Anchor winch upgrade to the latest and greatest.


Here at Captain On Board we do big boat projects all winter long, and like every year our schedule fills fast.

COB does re-powers.

COB does re-powers.

All the things our clients can’t do themselves or simply don’t have time for, we gladly take care of.  Engine re-powers, complete rewire jobs and major painting projects, we do it all.  I am available for anyone that wants to contact me for advice or a lead on parts/materials all winter long, but if you want something done it’ll have to go on the 2014/15 schedule, because we are booked solid again.

Contact me, Captain Jeff Jones at: captjeffjones@gmail.com.  If you are stranded and need to get going, try my personal cell phone at: 1(562)704-9545,  24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  First and foremost here at Captain On Board, we are Captains, and know you need to get going as soon as possible.  Most of the time I can get you underway just by helping you over the phone, so don’t be afraid to call.

Southern California Rockfishing

Typically when I plan on writing an article I do a trip and take the photos, then get into writing armed with current photos to add.  In this case, there are just too many anglers confused about the regulations so I am doing things backwards.   I have always enjoyed fishing for (and catching) rockfish, and today with Spectra it can be done with light gear allowing anglers to feel every nibble and enjoy the battle all the way to the surface with the high gear ratio reels available.  While an article on how to target more and bigger rockfish may be on the horizon, this is aimed more at spelling out the rules we must follow in a way that is easier to understand than the CDFW website, http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mapregs5.asp

Basic rockfish season now runs from March 1st through December 31st, so on New Years Day if you want rockfish you’ll need to head below the US/Mexico border, being sure to have all your proper documents in hand when you return.  In US waters you will need to know that rockfishing deeper than 300 feet is against the law, unless you are targeting sand dabs which have no limit on size, number of hooks you can use to target them or amount you can take.   It would be wise to fish the sand dabs before heading to your favorite rockfish spots, as being in possession of rockfish while fishing in waters deeper that 300 feet could cause you some problems with the DFW officers if you were boarded.

While targeting rockfish know that 2 hooks is the maximum allows at a time for each rod, again staying within the 300 foot depth limit.  Salmon Grouper no longer have a size limit and the limit you can have in possession is 3 per angler.  Sculpin you can keep 5, and the size limit is 10 inches, sheepshead 5 also with a minimum size of 12 inches.  Cabezon need to be at least 15 inches with a limit of 3 and their cousins the lingcod need to be 22 inches with a limit of 2 per angler in possession.  All cowcod, canary rockfish and yelloweye rockfish are protected and must be released.

Bag limits are the confusing part so read carefully.  You can keep 10 rockfish total, with no more than 3 salmon groupers and cabezon included.  This is called the RCG complex and excludes sheepshead, sculpin, whitefish and lingcod.  You may keep a limit of each of these in addition to your 10 rockfish and all the sand dabs you want.  Now the limit becomes a total bag of 20 mixed fish in possession per day per angler of the fish listed above, with all the sand dabs you want on top of that.

Now we add the cowcod conservation areas to the mix and it gets even more complicated.  These are special areas set aside to protect the cowcod from being accidentally hooked and brought to the surface, where its virtually impossible to release them effectively.


While fishing in cowcod conservation areas the deepest you can fish is 120 feet unless you are targeting sand dabs.  Special restrictions are placed on what you can have in possession and is limited to Sculpin, lingcod, sheepshead and whitefish.  If you catch any of the other rockfish outside the cowcod conservation area then move into the boundary and get boarded, you may have a hard time explaining yourself, so best to avoid that situation.

There is more to fishing rockfish successfully than simply driving to a waypoint and dropping to the bottom.  Things like surface and subsurface currents, bait and artificials,  tides and time of day and all the gear involved.  Like anything else in fishing, a very small percentage of anglers do far better than the masses using some special techniques and knowhow.  That in and of itself, is a whole book worth of information.   For now, you are now armed with the information you need to head out confident you know the regs.

Always check the link I provided above before you go rockfishing, as the CDFW watches how many of each species is caught through sportboat and commercial logs, and may close or alter the fishery at any time.


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.

Which Way To Go

Captain Nikki


All eyes are on you, and so is the pressure.  A group has gathered to join you on a fishing adventure and you are the captain for the trip, so you better find some fish.  Whether it be friends from work, your family or your fishing buddies, if you make the right call you might be the hero that day and in stories that are told again and again.  Make the wrong call and you may never live it down.  The pressure can be overwhelming.  Here are a few tips to stack the odds in your favor.

Do your homework.  Before finding out where the fish are biting, be sure to look at all the other factors that come into play before making a game plan.  Safety first, so assess the skills and limitations of your group and plan accordingly.  With a group of beginners or kids, you may not want to plan a trip far offshore or to where heaps of talent and patience are required.  Look at the weather, which is easier than ever with all the weather sites available today.  Obviously know the vessel you will be in charge of for the trip and don’t get everyone excited for an adventure that exceeds it’s capabilities.  After all these things are considered you can now focus on the fun stuff, where the fish are.

There are many types of fishing information and most guys focus too hard on the “what” and the “where”.  The answers you are looking for as a captain come when you ask the questions “when” and “how”.  What time of day did your target species bite?  What was the bait, lure or technique used to catch said target?  Simply driving to where some fish were caught yesterday will often make your group into frustrated spectators instead of hard core killers.  With a little experience (or maybe luck) you might take the intel that it “was a morning bite” and look at a tide chart.  You find that the tide was high when the fish were caught, so it may be the high tide you want to fish and not the morning.

Maybe there wasn’t a bite and you are just planning a trip to a favorite island, which way do you go?  This is a question that agonizes captains each and every day of our fishing season, of everyone’s fishing season.  Some spots or areas have little or no back-up plan, meaning if your target species is not biting on your trip you will have nothing else to fish for.  These are often referred to as “Hail Mary’s”, and good communication with your crew is essential before making such decisions.  Be sure to tell your guests that there is a chance they will catch nothing, but if the fish bite it will all be worth it.  Overbuilding expectations can sabotage even the best intentions of any captain.

Certain areas are more consistently productive than others, but with that comes crowds that can ruin the fishing, and your trip.  When planning on heading to say, the East End of Catalina, do so on a weekday rather that a crowded weekend to avoid the drama.  When a weekend trip is planned, look at areas that have had few or no reports in a long time.  These areas when left alone may hold the mother lode and finding yourself the captain in a wide open bite, without a boat in sight, will make your group sing praises.  The same result can come from sitting in a crowd, wailing on big fish while the rest of the fleet watches.

So now comes the moment of truth, the decision is in your hands.  Which way to go?  The answer will never be an easy one.  You may never second guess another Captain again once you realize how difficult this decision really is.

Winterizing Your Boat In California

I was recently asked a very good question by my friend, Dave Mendrin.   He said, “Jeff, I know you are the kind of guy that likes to keep the fuel tanks full and the boat ready at all times, but what about the guys that want to store their boats for the winter?”  Great question Dave, but the answer is not far off base from what I’ve said before.

Winterizing is a common practice in places where freezing temperatures occur, and winter is the time of year when you simply cannot use your boat.  We experience neither of these things here in California, at least not Southern California.  Hard core winterizing is the practice of preparing the boat for storage by removing or replacing the boats fluids with something that won’t freeze.  Its expensive, complicated and time consuming.  The cost of living is very high here in So. Cal., no need to add to your yearly expenses.

What I see most guys do after a fishing trip is pretty close to winterizing.  Wash the boat and trailer, grease the bearings on the trailer, flush the engine with fresh water and run the fuel out of the engine.  For most guys and our short winter, that is enough for a couple months of storage.  There are ways to take it to the next level, and you might be glad you did.

I’d say the #1 cause of grief on boats that have sat for long periods of time is dead or overcharged batteries. Get yourself a fancy trickle charger and a timer.  Set the timer to come on once a week for an hour or so and trickle charge the batteries.  A solar panel can be a great trickle charger if the boat is stored outdoors.  The best answer is to make yourself stop by the boat once a week to run the engines for a short while with fresh water running through them.

Next in the line of concerns is the fuel and fuel system.  Gasoline is less stable than diesel, so those of you with outboards or gas inboards need to take special care when storing your boat.  Remove the fuel line leading into the engine and run the engine until it runs out of gas.  On an inboard, you may have to remove the fuel line at the filter to do this, as closing the valve simply creates a vacuum but doesn’t let the fuel run out of the system.  Its my opinion that the fuel tank should be full during storage, and an empty (or partially empty) tank will get condensation and moisture on the inside when the weather cools and warms.  Water in your fuel is not a good thing, and the bare walls of you fuel tank will become covered in mold, algae and other filter clogging growth.  No, fuel additives will not solve the problem when its time to get the boat out of storage.

Flushing the engine with fresh water is great, but flushing it with Salt-X or Salt-Away is better when you are planning on storing the boat.  Say what you want about WD-40 but I like the stuff, and my outboard is covered with it when I don’t have plans to get back out anytime soon.  Another great product is CRC Corrosion Inhibitor.  I spray the actual engine with the stuff, and all my electronic connections and battery posts.  I do this when the boat is new, or after any work has been done.  It smells bad and leaves a honey like wax residue, but you’ll be glad you sprayed it on 10 years down the line.  The stuff is amazing.

In a typical year we have lobster hoop netting to do around the 1st of the year and some exploratory seabass trips.  By March 1st rock cod is open and seabass season is right around the corner.  By spring we are fishing seabass and yellows full speed, until the first kelp paddy yellows show up.  From there its tuna and sand bass for the summer.  Then in fall we get the fall halibut spawn and hoop netting for lobster begins.  Then Christmas comes around and some harbor lights cruises are in order.  So you tell me, when exactly were you planning on storing your boat?  Yea, I didn’t think so.

Unite As One, Or Lose It All

Recently we were informed that a new regulation has been implemented by the DFG.  The rockfish maximum depth that is 60 fathoms (360′) will be reduced to 50 fathoms (300′).  No, we were not informed that we had a say in the matter prior to the decision.  Odd, considering that we live in a democracy, where we should get a vote in the process of decisions such as these.  Instead of consulting the anglers that actually fish for rockfish, the DFG consulted an environmentally proponent panel of biologists and scientists.  Even if these lawmakers are going to continue to vote on policies behind closed doors, we should get to vote as to who is on such panels.  As of now, they are appointed and we have no say as to who is elected to such powerful decision making positions.

The truth is, we are a divided group that cannot come together as one and stand our ground effectively.  The anglers fight the free divers, the sportboat operators fight the private boaters, and different areas such as Newport fight against the Long Beach guys.  Together we make up a powerful force that can stand against the environmentalists.

The recent decision was made to protect the cow cod, a fish known for living on the deepest of rocks and structure.  Most recreational rock coders rarely (if ever) catch one, but those with the skill and equipment catch them at will and there seems to be no shortage of cow cod.  It’s obvious that there are ulterior motives to the poorly explained closures and regulations.  While the vast majority of recreational users of our local waters are the most environmentally friendly of all, we see no need for ridiculous salmon grouper limits or rock cod fishing depth restrictions.  What the end game plan is for these behind the scenes policy makers remains a mystery.  The evidence points to a complete closure of all local waters at some point in the not too distant future.  Even those who are not conspiracy theorists can see it coming.

Different groups have formed to try to unite all to battle the forces of evil, but a lack of trust keeps them from flourishing.  With no transparency, rumors of back door deals and embezzlement have flooded our fickle industry, and attempts to repair the reputation of such groups have failed.  The commercial industry stands alone with some success, but they are fighting to keep their boats and tradition alive.  The simple fact that commercial interests with their nets and state of the art equipment can sway the environmental policy makers with solidarity and money, is proof alone that we should come together as recreational users of our local waters.

If we could unite fuel dock and tackle store owners, landing operators, private and sportboat enthusiasts and operators, and tackle manufacturing giants, then we could stand on our own two feet and fight this insanity.  Shipyards and boat builders stand to lose on this deal also, and should stand with us.  Coastal cities stand to lose millions of dollars spent by surf fishermen and private boat anglers that stop to get groceries, ice, bait and pay for parking.  So local city governments should be easy to recruit.  A high percentage of hunters also fish, and the whole group could come on board with us as well as the NRA.  The number of trout and fresh water bass fishermen alone is enough to build a team powerful enough to combat those trying hard to take away what we love so much.  Lastly, surfers fall into the same category as us, “Watermen.”  If intelligently informed of our plight,  surfers might just be the straw that breaks the back of the politicians that are well paid by those trying to close our whole industry down.

So before you decide you hate someone you have not even met, just because they put on a wetsuit and jumped in on your kelp, think about it.  They could be on your team, our team.  Sportboat operators should see private boaters as one of the good guys, not the enemy (and visa versa).  The amount of on the water drama is on the rise these days and its only dividing us to the point where we are a useless bunch of unorganized crybabies.  The environmental factor is watching, and taking advantage of our childishness.

As a group the end game seems clear for us watermen.  We all want to protect the resource and take the necessary steps so it remains for our children, and our children’s children.  At the same time we want to be able to enjoy the resource responsibly today, without crippling the local economy and having our freedoms trampled by those with selfish motives.  It all comes down to how bad we want this thing, and anyone can decide to make a difference today.

Don’t just throw money into a jar and walk away, do something, anything.  Volunteer for a group that has our agenda in mind and get involved.  Recruit others, especially your kids to have a voice and an opinion.  It’s their waters that are being taken away.  Write letters, actual letters to congressmen and policy makers.  We don’t need to stomp our feet or occupy the DFG, we actually have a valid argument.  Our freedoms are being trashed with our own money, and its wrong.  If we don’t unite soon the end may be nearer than we think, and the local golf course is going to get really crowded.        

Mako Fishing Can Save the Day

Mako shark fishing can be super fun, and luckily just about anyone can hook one.  Even a small (pup) mako can put up an exhilarating fight, especially on light tackle.  These sharks can be targeted and found from June until November during warm water years like this one.  Even on cooler water years we have a population of makos that move into our waters and give those hungry for some offshore action a chance to get out and pull on something that actually pulls back.

“Where do I fish for mako sharks?” is a question I get asked frequently at Captain On Board.  The basic answer is a simple one.  “The same place you’d fish for anything offshore, where the life is.”  Whether its marlin, tuna, or anything else you might hear about offshore, mako sharks are in the same areas.  They congregate in certain areas for the same reason other exotics do, food.  Cool, deep water currents hit the sides of seamounts and get forced upwards towards the surface.  This is called upwelling, and this concentrates the nutrients that bait like sardines, mackerel, flying fish and sauries feed on.  The food chain begins.  This upwelling also helps create edges or current breaks, and on these breaks is where we catch most of what we all fish for offshore.

As a beginning angler I fished for mako sharks often, but eventually saw that I was in the same area as marlin and tuna, and I quickly switched gears.  While slow trolling two live mackerel for mako sharks one day off the East End of Catalina, I had a marlin come up and eat one of the baits.  That fish caused a devastating backlash on my reel and as quickly as that fish broke off, the other reel got bit by another marlin and the same thing happened.  Double operator error, but the switch had been flipped and I was hooked on marlin fishing.  It would be a long time until I fished for mako sharks again.

I have tried the drift and chum method of fishing for sharks, and for me it was not enjoyable.  I do wholeheartedly agree that the drift/chum method accounts for the bulk of all the larger model makos.  If you are a trophy hunter looking for super sized makos, then I recommend finding the break and life and setting up a drift with buckets of chum.  Some boats do not drift well, and sitting sideways to the swell and rolling your guts out is not my idea of fun.  Furthermore, I find that I end up dealing with another problem, blue sharks.  Blue sharks are not truly edible, and simply put, are a huge waste of time.  They roll up on wire leaders, wrecking them, and can swarm around the chum slick creating havoc.  Some guys do real well chumming for makos, but I am not one of them.

I fish mako sharks for sport, and for me that means trolling.  Slow as the boat will go with a full spread of baits and jigs keeps me feeling like I am fishing hard.  30# tackle works just fine, as there most likely will not be any reason to use anything heavier.  For the excitement factor I like to skip strips of bait on the surface, sometimes with a skirt over the bait.  A mako will tail up to the bait and eat it, sometimes taking what seems like an eternity to actually get hooked.  This part of mako fishing is the most exciting part for me.  Small to medium Rapalas with single hooks also work well, as does a deep diving shark jig called a “Bait-O-Matic.”  With these deep diving jigs you will most likely not see the mako coming,  removing some of the thrill factor associated with these exciting biters.

Once you have a mako shark up and interested in your spread, hooking one becomes the real challenge.  These sharks have a mouth so filled with teeth, that if a bait that is too large is used you will often have a mako that just has the bait stuck in it’s teeth, and the hook is not in the fish at all.  For that reason, I started using small, strip baits.

Almost too many teeth to fit a bait into the mouth.

Keep the boat at trolling speed (dead slow idle, slow as the boat will go) and enjoy the show.  The shark may switch from one skip bait to another, then back again to the original bait.   Mako sharks will jump on top of the bait, smack it with it’s head or tail, and sometimes do things that will make you think it knows it has a crowd to please.

I like cheap hooks that are not made in a way that suppresses corrosion, and not too big of a hook.  A small strip bait with a small hook can easily pass the mouth full of teeth, and makes it possible to hook the shark.  For strip baits I use either mackerel, sardine or barracuda, and fillet the bait like you would fillet a fish to eat it, but I include the tail when I finish the cut.  I trim the “slab” and experiment with it in the water.  I do not want it to spin, but rather skip or swim.  This is not hard to do, but you just can’t get lazy and leave out a bait that spins.  It will cause tangles and that bait will not get any attention when a mako does come into the spread.  Sometimes a bait rigging needle and some floss do the trick when trying to get a strip bait to swim, other times its not necessary.

Once the mako is hooked, clear the other lines quickly.  Makos are famous for their jumps and acrobatics when hooked, and if the other lines are not quickly cleared, you may end up with the same mako tangled in several lines.  Maneuver the boat away from the shark, so it has room to put on the show.

This is what makes mako shark fishing so fun!

More than one angler has stopped the boat and watched as the frantic mako jumped in his boat to join him.  That kinda takes the fun out of it I would think.  Sharks are not mindless robots like they’ve been made out to be, and will tire after expelling all their energy.  Only at this point is it safe to bring the mako close to the boat to either gaff or release it.

With the mako tired I put the boat in gear and tack ahead slowly, so the fish can be led to the aft corner with the leader, just like you do with marlin.  With gloves on, grab the wire leader but do not take wraps.  Wire leader can dig in or grab gloves, and won’t slide off like mono leader does.  I drop the leader back in the water and not on the deck so I don’t get tangled if the fish takes off for another run.  If the shark is very tired and totally docile, I will cut the leader as close as I can get to the hook and still feel safe.   For those that want the hook out of the shark, I recommend a tail rope.  Lead the shark up next to the boat and place a rope around it’s tail while another crew member holds the leader.  The mate with the leader will have to be at the front of the cockpit so the tail of the shark is near the transom.  Again, the boat is in gear, idling ahead.  I feel this is safer, because the guy with the tail rope in his hand can control the tired mako.  Safety first at all times here guys.

If you choose to take the mako, a simple gaff shot at the gills and a quick hoist into the boat works fine.  I like to leave the gaff in the shark, and pin it into a corner to control it.  For bigger models, I use a flying gaff.  Tie a dock line from the starboard cleat to the port cleat, across the transom.  Run it through the bitter end look of the flying gaff rope so you can slide from port to starboard without having to retie.  Sink the flying gaff into the gill area and stand by.  Once the fish has calmed you can sink your fixed gaff (again, into the gill area) to control the fish at the side of the boat.  Then, attach a tail rope.  For bigger sharks I like to make sure they are dead before bringing them aboard.  You can decide how to dispel the shark, but make sure you have multiple options.  Simply dragging the shark backwards by the tail rope is safe and easy.

Even really hardcore mako guys will rarely kill more than one per year.  They are good to eat, but are another species with its numbers in sharp decline.  If its attention you are after, you’ll get much more praise from the masses (especially on the internet) if you brag about a clean release.  There seems no escape from the ridicule, as big makos are seen as breeders, and if you kill a small one you may be labeled as a “baby killer”.  If you choose to take one for food, keep it to yourself.

Mako sharks are more aggressive, plentiful and easier to find than most of the other offshore exotics we have here is So Cal waters.  For that reason, they are a great way for a beginner to learn the ropes of offshore fishing.  The really big ones are a different story, but most of what you’ll hook while trolling are nothing but lots of fun.  With a group of novice anglers on the boat, bored silly with no offshore action, a simple switch of the gears to slow trolling for makos can make the day a success.  Fishing is supposed to be fun, and mako sharks are one of our most exciting and fun fish to catch.  Just be responsible, safe, and use common sense and you and your crew will come home with stories to tell and a smiles all around.

Eyes in the Sky. How Birds Help You Find Fish

I will preface this article by saying that the information I’m about to give is based upon what I’ve been taught from guys I respect, and my own personal experience.  I have not gone to “bird college”, or researched this stuff endlessly.  What is written in the next few paragraphs is my words and how I see things.  I am still learning and hope to learn more about birds every time I get out on the water.

I was on the flybridge of the 48′ Uniflite Brainwave, back in 1983 and we were fishing out front of San Diego, on the 9 Mile Bank.  I stood next to Bill Lescher, the Captain, who had asked my friend and I to “quit playing video games in the salon” and come out for some fresh air.  I loved to fish, but a big boat with video games on a nice TV and all you can eat Pringles was tough to resist.  Bill had his eyes on the horizon, and I asked him what he was looking for. “Birds” is all he said, as he was too focused to give me the details right then.

Suddenly Bill turned the boat and pushed forward the throttles.  I remember how loud the boat was just then, and how much it vibrated as it came up to speed.  “What is it!  What do you see?”  I asked.  “Birds!, look at how all the birds are flying in the same direction!  They’re leading us to something!”  Something was right.  The boat slid to a stop and I looked over the edge of the flybridge in time to see 4 or five large bigeye tuna swimming almost straight down.  Bill flew down the ladder and cast out a bait as fast as he could.  He was screaming in frustration that us two boys had not even moved a muscle to try to fish. We were still in shock from how quick the whole fire drill had began, and it ended just as fast.  We never even got bit, or should I say, Bill never got a bite.

Later in life I spent a ton of time on the water with another captain that followed birds and watched them more than the water or electronics.  We’d spend days at a time hunting for striped marlin off Southern California, and did so quite successfully.  He answered my questions about birds, and then showed me first hand how helpful they were in our quest to find fish on any given day.

“Birds don’t have a 7-11 on the corner where they can get a bite to eat whenever they want, so they must follow the food.”  I was told.  While staring through the binoculars for signs of life, I was trained to call out any and all birds I saw, and what they were doing.  A certain lingo went along with it and would be foreign to any untrained passenger on board.  “He’s got somewhere to be.  Standby.  Yep, he put the brakes on!  On your 9:30, bout a 1/2 mile out!”  Followed by me running up to the bow and getting ready to cast a bait.  Translation:  A bird flying hard (not lazily) caught my attention.  Then is stopped mid air and dove down towards the surface.  This is almost always a certain sign of a feeder.  (Marlin feeding on the surface.  The fishing equivalent of a “slam dunk” if you can get a bait on it.)

The most common bird out there is the Western Gull.  What I like to look for is the bright white and defined mature gulls.  The ones with brown mixed into their plumage are immature, and have not yet learned much more than following other birds.

This is a 3rd year Western Gull, and what I’m looking for offshore.

I watch these guys fly and look for one that is flying like it’s on  mission.  When I see one doing hard wing flaps with sense of urgency, I’ll follow that bird with the glasses, and look ahead of it for signs of exotics.  Gulls are also a great sign when sitting on a kelp, or on the shoreline at Catalina when looking for seabass.  See a bunch of these birds sitting on the water during the day, all grouped up in 80′-130′ of water, and you can be certain there is squid where they are sitting.  See a single pelican?  There is probably no squid, as pelicans don’t care for squid.

Terns are a great indicator, and seemingly come out of nowhere.

This is a tern, and they are a great indicator for many surface feeding  species.  Come into an area with some life and start seeing these guys, and it is time to get serious.  While terns will give away the location of yellowtail and barracuda that are chasing bait upon inshore waters, it’s the bait the terns are after, and it might just be mackerel causing the action.   Offshore, these birds diving and picking on the surface means exotics.  I can’t think of a time when a spot of terns were diving offshore and it was a false alarm.  Terns will sit on kelps and help make them easier to find, and a kelp with one of these on it is a kelp I WILL fish.  Offshore you hear about “time of day” and “on the slack” or “bite time”. Turns seem to appear right at bite time, and disappear into thin air when it’s over.

Shearwaters are an all around sign that there is life in the area, but not really something I’d run for.

Shearwaters are common to see just about everywhere offshore.  Where I key in on these is when they are picking along a current break, or sitting on a “slick spot” on the surface.  The slick spot could be the oils coming to the surface from tuna feeing deep on sardines or mackerel.  I have had jig strikes driving over slick spots with shearwaters, many times.  These birds often hover just above the water with their feet touching like they’re walking on water.  They are eating tiny little things I can’t see, and sometimes thrive on the leftovers and scraps after a spot of tuna or dorado have finished feeding on finbait.   Not really known for diving on marlin or tuna, but more for giving away little clues that tell me “I’m getting close.”

Jackpot! Sightings of these are rare, and for me a sure sign that a marlin is nearby. The word Jaeger is German, and literally means “HUNTER.”

Jaegers are really amazing birds.  Hawklike with talons and split feathers coming off their tails, they fly with precision and purpose.  Jaegers feed by following the surface fish we target, knowing that sooner or later they will chase baits to where other birds can scoop them up.  Instead of getting their own meal, jaegers steal it from other birds by chasing them down with a show of acrobatics that is truly distracting to me as a captain.  Every time, the pursued gull or tern eventually concedes defeat and spits out a meal for the Jaeger, which is catches mid-air and eats.  I rarely see two of these at the same time, and almost never see one sitting on the water.  These guys are where the action is, and I would follow one all day if I could keep up.  This is my favorite of all the birds we see in So. Cal.

I do believe that at least one type of pelagic fish we target actually follows birds to help it find food.  That is the dorado.  I have pulled up to a kelp with the sonar on and watched the dorado go in a certain direction, right behind a single gull or tern.  There was no bait on the sonar, and the water clear enough to see the dorado right on the surface, obviously following the bird.  Conversely, I was off the 499 one day, between bite times, and saw a single jaeger with no other birds in sight (in any direction).  I happened to look over the side in time to see a striped marlin go past on the starboard bow.  The fish never made any attempt to turn or slow down, and the jaeger was right on it’s tail.

There is no question that trolling offshore can have it’s boring stretches.  I find that watching the birds helps me stay alert, even of they are not sending me the right signals.  For sure watching gulls, terns and jaegers has helped me catch more fish than listening to the VHF radio.   If nothing else, it’s better than playing video games in the salon waiting for a jig strike.