Fish Food

Not much saves the day like a good meal when the weather is bad or the fish don’t bite.  Hot breakfast burritos are great hand warmers on cold mornings, and a fresh salad can cool down the burning pain of a days worth of wind and sunburn.  All of this is well and good until a poorly planned meal cuts into serious fishing time.  Plan accordingly for bad weather and cooking appliance malfunctions with backup food that is easy to prepare.

Practice recipes at home for an easy home run on those days when the fish don’t please your passengers.  Eggs can be cooked ahead of time and frozen with good results, especially when made into a burrito or casserole.  Noodles for spaghetti can also be cooked ahead of time so boiling water isn’t on the stove in rocky seas.  I like to make breakfast casseroles with precooked ingredients then tightly wrapped in tin foil for the oven, just make sure your dish actually fits in a boat oven!

Avoid things that need to be prepped by doing them ahead of time.  Salads can be pre made in disposable dishes to keep things easy, burgers can be precooked, and so on.   Leave complicated meals for a day of the trip when you know you will be in a marina or on the anchor in calm seas, it just makes sense.  All of these tips work for any boating trip, whether it be a cruise, delivery or sailing adventure.  For fishing trips I think its even more important to have backup plans when it comes to the menu.

As a Captain I really get frustrated when its time to catch squid and someone is making a big meal.  There is almost nothing worse than having the squid almost ready to crowd when the breaker on the generator blows due to an excessive load from the galley.   Please make dinner before or after I have done my job, thank you.  Offshore trolling for tuna or marlin in the early morning I especially dislike when someone comes up to the bridge to ask me to “please run downhill so we can cook breakfast?”  Let me get this straight.  We ran all night for a 100 miles to be on the fish and you want me to drive away so you can make breakfast?!  C’mon guys!!!!  Make me a Pop Tart, really.

Sandwiches work for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Want to get fancy?  Do a lettuce wrap with a pre-made curry chicken and cashews, or a tortilla wrap with pre-cooked bacon and avocado.  Just because the boat has a galley does not mean you can cook in it on a fishing trip.  Long distance sailboat racers have this down to a science with frozen casseroles and vacuum sealed meals that just pop into the microwave.  As much as I hate to admit it, we have a lot to learn from our wind loving brethren.

In closing I will list a few things I have seen on boats over the years that just make my life easier.  Get a coffee pump, like the ones at your favorite coffee store and set the coffee pot to do its thing long before the anchor gets pulled.  Make the joe, then put it in the pumper with a nice bungee strap so it can’t spill.  Then serve coffee in short cups with lids to keep spillage to a minimum.  Chicken soup works good in these pumpers too, just fyi.  Bring enough food for the entire trip than does not need to be cooked, just in case the microwave does not work for some reason or the weather is horrible.  Also, some foods can be heated on the engines exhaust manifold with the use of some tin foil.  I grew up working on a boat where this was a common practice, and we had some great meals.

I wrote this because I just got off a couple of trips where the cooking was a hindrance to the fishing, and I see no point in it.  While running uphill as the sun set I had just come into warmer water with birds up when a guest came up the ladder and asked me to “turn down hill while the water boiled for the spaghetti.”  I had no choice but to oblige, but now I know to add that to the departure speech when we leave for every trip now.  “Life jackets are here, fire extinguisher is there and PLEASE NO COOKING WHILE I AM WORKING!!!!!”

I can’t believe I actually have to tell someone that……..

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

Crew Trip! Catalina Island

Every once in a while I get a call from someone that has put together a trip sounding so fun, I just can’t pass it up.  A lot of it has to do with who will be on the trip, and this trip included a cast of Captains, watermen and really fun guys.  Taylor is an old friend and his boat partner Richard used to be a Captain for Bongos back when I ran the RailTime.  Richard’s guest Bryan turned out to be one hell of a hot stick on this trip, and Taylor’s guest Tommy did a tour in the Coast Guard.  Finally we had Ryan Simmons, another old friend from Seal Beach that has this super high energy for fishing that is truly contagious.  All six of us “good on a boat”, you just can’t beat that.

Making a decision proved difficult, and comical.  We were all so willing to concede any responsibility that no one would actually take command of the trip.  “You want to stop and get some fin bait?”  “Whatever you guys want to do.”  It went like that the whole trip.  We actually woke up Nacho and then decided not to even buy bait.  I had brought along one of my COB underwater lights and there is squid right out from of the harbor, so we opted to catch a quick tank of squish.  As always, catching squid is a real crowd pleaser, and everyone on the boat got involved.  With tanks full of squid and buckets of fresh dead we headed for Catalina, still not able to come up with a game plan.  With everyone on board still so excited after making bait, we were going fishing, not sleeping.

First stop was the middle of the front.  The wind was blowing and it wasn’t until we were tight to the island did we feel a little of the effects of the lee.  I metered along the rocks to find a spot of bass, and be close enough so the guys could get in the water for a lobster dive.  Finally the anchor went over the side, and Tommy, Richard and Taylor suited up while Ryan and I got to work trying to get the bass to bite.  The bass did not bite wide open,  but we did pick away at straight legals.   For the boys diving lobsters they had the opposite luck, lots of shorts and just a handfull of legals.

From there we headed up to Eagle Reef to get some sleep.  There were 5 squid lights boats there and one of them was sitting right where I was thinking we would anchor for the morning bite.  I picked a second choice spot and we all got a little sleep.  By now it was after 3am, and sunrise was coming fast.

Middle of the back, as calm as you will ever see.

     In the morning we headed west for something big to pull on.  What we found were some promising conditions, with not a single exotic hooked.  Around the West End we went and headed down the back.  It wasn’t until we reached Pedestal Rock that we found some really fantastic calico bass action.  The bass quickly responded to our chum and stacked up behind the boat, every bait was a bite but still no exotics.  Taylor suited up and jumped in with a spear gun to confirm my suspicions, the exotics just weren’t there.  So we pulled the hook and continued east.

Catalina bison on a ridge line, middle of the back.

    It was a long move down to Freddy’s Kelp, and the conditions were ideal.  Ripping uphill current and the kelp was laid down completely.  The 10kts of wind out of the west could not overpower the current, and we sat perfectly in position.  Again, the bass responded but the exotics just were not there.  This time both Richard and Taylor jumped in, but saw nothing but a large school of barracuda in the kelp.  The bass fishing was off the hook, and nobody complained.

Super clear day. This was our view towards LB from the East End. Smooth seas ahead.

     Still wanting a shot at a yellow or seabass we continued east, looking hard the whole way.  A quick stop at Orange Rocks produced nothing in good conditions.  We poured the chum here and caught nothing.  The last stop was the East Quarry where the guys got the bass biting, Taylor jumped in and finally saw a single yellowtail and I took a short nap.  When I woke up Richard was almost done filleting calicos and sheepshead, and the boys were cleaning the boat like a well trained crew.  I felt bad that I had slept through the cleanup process and offered to relieve someone, anyone.  “We got it” was the response I got so I took the helm for the ride home.  Everyone caught up on a little sleep, then came up to the bridge for more great conversation and laughs.

Ride home sunset.

“Remember that time……..?”

     We’d found some perfect conditions but never hooked an exotic all day.  What we did catch was a lot of fun and it seemed everyone on board was looking for just that.  Back at the dock Taylor commented to me how great it was to have so many guys that know what they are doing on a boat, and I agreed wholeheartedly.   Six guys all together for a good time and not once did I hear a single complaint or disagreement.  Next time I get the call to go with Taylor and Richard on their 37′ sportfisher “Four Day” (they are firemen, and “Four Day” is a reference to a fireman’s days off) I will not hesitate to grab my gear and go.

 

2012 Southern Cal Tuna Club “Stag” Tourney

Mike called me months ago and told me to block out some dates so I could run his 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” in the fall “Stag” tournament this year.  Its an annual tourney in the Southern California Tuna Club (SCTC) and we have fished it together for the last 4 or 5 years.  Mike is the perfect guy to run a boat for.  He is fun and easy going, yet likes to catch fish and is will to go the extra mile.  For the week leading up to the trip I worked on the boat, doing routine engine and generator service, and getting the tackle and gear ready.  At the same time I was watching the tuna deal very closely, and the weather.  Last minute the weather forecast turned for the worse, but Mike said “go for it” anyways, and boy am I glad we did.

An old friend of Mikes passed away very recently, Gordy Bateman.  Gordy was (I think) 99 years old, and one of the saltiest guys ever the walk the earth.  A member of SCTC, Gordy had a reputation for taking his boat, the “Fighting Lady” to the ends of the earth in these tournaments.  He’d show up for the weigh-ins at the last possible minute, and pull some big, tournament winning tuna out of the hold.  I mentioned to Mike that the tuna were on the edge of our range for the time alloted, he was hesitant.  Then I said we could do it in memory of Gordy, and the idea became set in stone.

Rigged and ready to go.

On thursday, October 4th I loaded up my gear and got things ready.  Mike came down along with his guest Ron and we went to the fuel dock to top off the tanks, then out to see Nacho at the bait barge for our ammo.  Nacho asked me “whacha want?”  I said “Some live squid would be great about now buddy.”  (Not knowing he HAD live squid).  “Okay, its in that well on the other end.”  I was stoked beyond words.  The sardines have been hard to keep alive on long trips this whole year, but I knew the squid would make the trip no problem.  There is a lot of squid offshore right now, and I knew the tunas were keyed in on the squirts anyways.  The tanks full of live squid lifted my spirits, considering the deteriorating weather reports on the outside.

We ran back in to the slip to pick up Tom, Mikes son and one of my good friends from all the way back to grade school.  Tommy jumped on with his gear and we were off in minutes flat.  I checked my voicemail and e-mail for last minute intel, and even got an on the water call from Josh who was just in from the tuna grounds.  With that intel I plugged in the #’s and set our course, only 117 miles to go.  “Its gonna be a LONG night boys”, I said as we rolled our guts out going across the flats in a beam sea.

I took my turn at the wheel, but refrained from overdoing my time like I typically do.  I knew I had to have my game face on when we reached the grounds, so I took my place on one of the bridge bunks and rested as hard as I could.  No way to sleep when you can hardly keep from falling out of your bunk.  It wasn’t rough, but the angle could not have been worse.  I was actually waiting for the axe to fall, but it never did.  Sometimes the weather forecast is wrong, but instead of being worse than they said, it was better.  At 4am I took the helm and looked at the plotter.  We were outside the 1010 Trench, just 5 miles from a 213 spot.  The water was 69.8, and had been for the last 30 miles.  I knew we needed to find the break before we would be in the tuna.  I turned up the gain on the machine and set the depth to 10 fathoms, then set the fish alarm so the first meter marks could be heard as well as seen.

At grey light we were almost right on top of the high spot, and the jigs were out.  From the 213 to the 1010 Trench would be straight downhill, just like I had planned.  Mikes guest Ron is 80 years young, and I wanted him be be safe and comfortable.  I heard the Furuno fish finder alarm go off and looked down to see a nice jag of tuna, then looked over at the Furuno RD30 Sea Temp meter and it read 70.5.  The next thing I heard was the sound of reels screaming.  “Perfect!  I love it when a plan comes together.”  I ran down the ladder and helped clear the jig rods, and at the same time brailed a 1/2 scoop of live squid into our wake as the boat slid to a stop.  Tommy was winding in a hoochie daisey chain right through the chum and got bit on the grind.  The tuna ate the thing not 15′ off the transom, and he came tight on a nicer grade fish.

At deep color I called it out “big albacore guys!”  Mike was stoked.  I gaffed Tommy’s fish and placed it in the kill bag, then went to work on Mikes fish, which was a little bigger model.  The head gaff ended up in the mouth, and the lift into the boat was a little sketchy.   Glad the fish made it in the bag, because it ended up being the tournament winning fish.  As is typical with early morning first bites, we were slow getting baits in the water, and never did get a bait bite on that stop.  No doubt we would have if we had been better prepared.  We transferred the ice from the freezer on the bridge and put in on the fish, then set the jigs and I went back to work.

The jig stops were steady and we began to pick off bait fish here and there.  The albacore turned into yellowfin, and our numbers were getting up there.  The kill bag was getting hard to close.  We found a kelp on the 1010 proper and hooked a dorado, then another.  It sure is fun when the kill bag has several different species in it, especially in a tournament that has different categories for different fish.  With the job basically done and now being 130 miles from Catalina, I made the turn to start heading uphill.  It was still early, and we were still in the fish.  I set a course for the Hidden Bank and expected a break in the jig stops, but it never materialized.  No late morning lull or crew falling asleep.  You gotta love fall fishing.

Ron on a tuna with Tommy handling the deckhand duties.

We came up on another kelp and I got out the first bait.  A very slight backlash when I cast a flylined live squid up wind turned into an instant tuna bite.  The result was a knot on my spool and the tuna getting the best of me with a loud “SNAP!”  The whole thing took all of 3 seconds.  Thats how good it was.  We added some yellowtail to our score on the way up the line, then crossed the break and back into dead waters we went.  It was time to head for the barn.

We ran through the night at 8.5 kts, straight uphill.  Not one drop of water came over the gunnels the whole trip, but it was still bumpy.  You could tell it was blowing hard on the outside, and the weather updates on the VHF spoke of 40kts of wind at San Nicolas Island.  At midnight the weather really laid down, and we bumped it up to 10kts.  After more than 30 hours at 8kts, 10 felt like we were hauling ass.  At 4am I pulled back the throttles as we came up under the East End light at Catalina.  I metered around for some conditions and marks, but found nothing I liked.  So I continued up the front, looking for signs of life.  By now my legs were weak with exhaustion, and I could feel my eyes burning.

Mike with his tournament winning 29lb albacore.

I set us up at Yellowtail Point, and we cast out a few baits.  Then we weighed our catch and began the process of filleting and packaging our beautiful fish.  It was flat grease, and in this club you can weigh your fish at anchor with a certified scale if the seas are calm.   We fished through half the day, knowing it was not going to be anywhere as good as the day before.  I did catch a big calico that I thought might win that division.  It was bested by just ounces, but didn’t take away from our tournament victory in any way.  In every other tournament that Mike and I have ever fished, we stayed out and fished hard til the very last possible second.  Not this trip, we were in 4th Of July Cove and on the mooring at 3pm, with the dinghy in the water and ready to go.  Lines out was scheduled for 4pm, but we wanted to head into the Isthmus for Buccaneer Days, and witness the mayhem first hand.  We ate ice cream and tried hard not to fall asleep standing, then headed for the awards banquet.

At the clubhouse in 4th of July Cove we met up with all 60+ of the other tournament participants.  We all shared stories of our travels, and nobody could believe we had done what we did.  Basically was stayed up for 3 straight days to get down to the tuna grounds and back, but it was worth it.  The traditional swordfish and steak dinner only made me more tired, and as they announce that Mike and I had each won a category (tuna for Mike, and yellowtail for me) we felt the real pay off of doing the trip in memory of Gordy Bateman and the “Fighting Lady”.  I was now so tired I could hardly put together a sentence.  Tommy headed back into the Isthmus for more of Buccaneer Days, and Mike, Ron and I sat in the cockpit of the “Mundy Mooring” sharing some fish stories.

I called my wife and my son Scott to tell them I was safe and missed them tremendously, then laid down.  I fell asleep faster than I could ever remember, and woke up with both a victory and the memory of Gordy fresh in my mind.

Marlin fishing on the way home from Catalina.

 

 

 

How To Catch More Fish With YOUR Boat

I used to work at a tackle store that was near the launch ramp in Huntington Harbor, and the shop I worked at catered to private boaters.  So much so, that Rich Holland from the Western Outdoor News (WON) called every monday morning to get what intel we had compiled for the week for the WON “Private Boaters Report” from guys coming back from the ramp.  We were very well connected, and even had a VHF radio on in the store at all times.  Basically, we were information central and knew even the most guarded secret bites at any given time.

The tackle store owner had a 26′ Blackman, I had an 18′ center console, and my parents had a 42′ Uniflite Sportfisher.  To say I fished every time I had a day off is an understatement.  Each week when Rich Holland would call, I’d give him the reports from guys that came by the shop to show off their catch, and the report from what I did on one of the 3 boats mentioned above.  As soon as WON came out on wednesday, my phone would ring from friends and family that saw my name in print, yet again.  They’d ask me the same question every week, and I’d give the same answer.  The question “how do you manage to catch SOMETHING every singe week of the year Jeff?”  And my answer “because I fish for what is biting.”  Seems simple enough, right?

Years later I was hired to run the “RailTime” 6-pak boat out of Huntington Harbor.  Nine times out of 10 the clients would get on the boat and ask me where we were going, and what we were going to fish for.  Those were successful trips.  The other times guys would get on the “RailTime” and TELL me what THEY wanted to fish for.  “We want to catch albacore” they’d say.  “That’s great!  But the albies are not biting, the seabass are.”  I seriously had trips where the guys were so set in their ways, that they’d demand that we go albacore fishing, even if they were not biting.  “We booked and paid for this trip last year, and paid for an albacore trip!”  “Fine.”  Then we’d go catch nothing, and I’d be a “lousy captain” at the end of the trip because we caught nothing.  Starting to see my point here?

These days being able to have all the latest fishing information is as easy as ever, and I still hear from guys that go looking for fish that are not biting.  I’ll get a call from a guy that wants to know what is biting and I’ll tell him that the seabass are biting good up at the Channel Islands, and ask for him to give me a call after his trip so I can hear how it went.  The next day I get the call “well, we went thresher fishing off Dana and never got a bite!”  Seriously?  “How did the seabass dope I gave you turn into a thresher trip?” I’d ask.  Then I get the “my buddy is a great thresher fisherman and he said he gets them all the time where we went.”  Epic fail.  If a guy just fished for what is biting every time he went out, he’d have photo albums filled with smiling faces and big fish, from cover to cover.

Even the simplest of details seem impossible for some to adhere to.  Again I get a call from a guy that wants to know what is biting.  I tell him “the seabass are biting inside Eagle Reef, Catalina Island.  Set up in front of Howlands Landing and fish all night, in 90′ of water and put out your squid lights, even if you have a tank of squid already.  Then, fish jigs tipped with squid off the bottom and dropper loops with 2 or 3 squid pinned on.  Then, call me when you get back with a report.”  Next day the phone rings “when we left the mooring in Avalon at 7am and headed for the spot…………”  I am always amazed at how these guys are surprised that they caught nothing at all.

If you really want to catch more fish on your boat, just fish for what is biting, where it is biting, and when it is biting.  I KNOW, it sounds SO simple, yet it remains impossible for most guys to do.  There is always an excuse:  “my buddy was seasick” or, “it was rough and windy.”  These are the 3 things you need to know before you plan a trip, and leave the dock.  Not what the water temp was, or what pound line the fish are biting.  Just what, where and when.

This summer we had stellar sand bass fishing on the Flats, but mostly in the afternoon and evenings.  During the day it was hard to even get a bite most days, yet I heard over and over how bad the fishing was for sand bass.  Really!?  “Did you fish at night?” I’d ask.  “No, we fished from 8am til noon, when the wind came up.”  No wonder you never got a bite!   Same goes for the guys fishing the kelps offshore for the phenomenal dorado fishing we’ve had this year.  I’d tell guys to “get out early and find the right kelp by yourself” only to get the call after their trip saying it was too crowded at the bait receiver when they were in line for bait at 7am.  Amazing.  You might as well fish without hooks.

As I write this there is some really good fishing for tuna, yellowtail and dorado on the 1010 Trench.  A simple evening departure and a slow (fuel conserving) trip out to the grounds puts you there at dawn, and you can be done with a full fish hold and some great photos before 8am and on your way home, with still more chances of catching a fish on the way back.  Yet I keep hearing of guys that traveled the same mileage upon inner waters for nothing, and too many boats.  How hard can it be to fish where the fish actually are, and where they are biting?

Today I still get the same phone calls from the same people asking the same question.  “Man, you are on fire!  How do you do it!”  I give the same answer “simple, I just fish for what is biting.”  Now you try it, and see what happens.

Spring Seabass 101

Conditions, late afternoon, quality tackle and lots of chumming at high tide got Dennis his 1st ever seabass.

   10 Tips on How to Catch Your First Seabass on YOUR Boat.

White seabass are regarded as one of the hardest fish to find (and catch), thus earning the nickname “Ghosts.”  Here are some basic guidelines to follow that can improve your chances if you have been trying without success.  Like a golfer or baseball player, the fundamentals are a guideline for constant improvement and necessary for any angler trying to reach the next level of his or her ability.

#1 Conditions   A basic knowledge of what conditions to look for can help you stay out of the crowd, a key factor in being a successful seabass angler.   When studying an area you’ll want to look for life.  (Birds, bait etc.)  Then look for that often talked about off color water.  Once you’ve found those you can narrow it down by studying the structure.  Seabass live in the kelp and around hard bottom (rocks, reef, wrecks and ridges) and spawn/feed on the edges of these areas, often under the cover of dirty water.  The line where the off color water meets the cleaner water is often referred to as the “edge”.

Defined “edge”.

This edge is the highway seabass use to travel from hard bottom to kelp, and into shallow the water beach where the off color water is coming from.  Where to fish that hard edge can be defined by where the birds are, and the bait.   The spot where the beach meets the kelp, or maybe the kelp meets the rocks (or maybe just the kelp itself) forms an undeniable “pocket” for your boat to sit in.  So, for example, you see a beach puking green dirty water and the current is pushing that water through a spot of kelp stringers and then it washes out and over a rocky outcropping on the island.  You now have all three of a seabass favorite places linked together with a highway, and you’d set up where the birds are (an indicator of where they’ve been feeding) and start chumming and fishing hard.  The conditions discussed here pertain mostly to Catalina, for coastal seabass fishing see tip #6.

Near perfect conditions with kelp, rocky structure and the beach producing the off color water. Look carefully and you’ll see a color spot of bait on the left side of this “pocket”. The hard edge is out of this photo, but right where the stern of the boat is. Only thing missing here? Birds.

#2  Tides and Time Of Day  Keep a tide chart with you, and fish hard during slack tide times.  If the conditions described above occur during slack tide, you may be blessed with a seabass bite.  Furthermore, seabass are more active at sunup and sundown, so add that to the equation and your odds improve even more.  The high slack tends to fish better than the low tide for seabass, but not always.  There is more to this tide and moon phase deal, but that is for another whole article.

Dusk is a prime time for seabass, and just as good as the “grey” in the morning. Most important reason for this is less boats.

#3  Chumming  Bring along as much frozen squid as you can.  Good quality frozen squid (not pink and smelly) can be hard to find.  The best stuff is what you bagged live last trip and froze immediately.  Chop squid into small pieces and toss behind the boat so it will drift back into the kelp and draw the seabass out.  If perch and small bass become a nuisance, you can throw smaller tidbits off the bow, to keep those pesky bait stealers out of where you are casting your baits.  A steady flow of chum is key to getting seabass to bite, so no breaks.

The green “snack tray” is filled with chopped squid for chumming constantly. You can design your own gadget for chumming and keeping the boat clean at the same time.

#4  Keep Your Baits Moving  A lot of seabass are caught on dropper loops, and the main reason is that this rig keeps your bait off the bottom where sharks and rays will reek havoc and waste time.  When casting into the “pocket” of conditions, use the lightest weight you can get away with, and slowly pump your bait back to the boat.  A 3/4oz leadhead, cast out with 3 squid on it and then a rod placed in the rod holder will NOT do you any favors when trying to catch a seabass.  These are not catfish, and do not feed off the bottom often.  Place dropper loop rigs in rod holders midships, pointing straight off the side of your boat, the the rocking motion keeps your bait moving (if you want to sit down).

#5  Fish With Quality Tackle  New line and sharp hooks are necessary.  Check and double check knots, and retie after every fish.  Smooth drags and longer rods help keep the line from raking across the sharp teeth of seabass, as they do shake their heads to try and spit the hook often during the fight.  When you hook that first seabass is NOT the time to figure out that your equipment needs to be serviced.

#6  Fish Where the Squid is  This is a different tactic altogether than the conditions described in tip #1.  Seabass swim through the bait grounds, near the bottom alot of times, eating the spawned out squid that are dying after their voracious last sexual encounter.  (squid die within 3 days of spawning).  Anchor at night and fish dropper loops and/or heavy iron jigs (white works) with squid pinned on.  Fresh dead or frozen sometimes works better than live here.  Productive squid beds will be in 75-120′ of water most of the time, and rarely shallower.   Late afternoon into the evening, at night and early morning (grey light) are prime times.

Catching squid is actually a lot of fun, and increases your chances at a seabass by putting you directly over their source of food.

#7  Catch Your Own Squid  Putting the lights out and catching squid is a great way to get the seabass to stack up under your boat and bite.  Fish while catching bait and you may be rewarded with what we call a “free one”.  That’s when the rod goes off and you hardly notice, because you are working so hard at catching squid.  It’s almost like a break. Some guys like to leave the lights on after they have caught your fill, unless the sealions become too plentiful.  This rings the bell for mealtime as there is a huge ball of squid right under your boat.  Others prefer to go dark and be more stealthy on the squid grounds, and have great success.  This is one of those times when you’ll have to make a decision on the spot, but both ways work.

#8  Fish During the Week  All the stuff I’ve discussed above means nothing if 30 boats are pounding the spot you chose to fish.  It’s no secret that it’s easier to catch a seabass in less boat traffic, and during the week is the best way to make that happen.

#9  Go the Extra Mile  So the wind is blowing a little on the back of Catalina, but that is where the seabass are.  Tough it out.  If the seabass are at San Clemente Island, that is where you need to be.  No excuses, no moorings, just fish where the fish are until safety becomes a factor.  This is probably the most common reason guys don’t catch a seabass on any given day.  Pay the price and when that beauty hits the deck, you’ll forget about being cold and wet instantly.

#10  Fish More than One Day Trips  As you spend time in an area, you begin to take in all it has to offer.   Conditions usually come and go during the day at nearly the same time, for days on end.   Trust me when I say, that the more time you spend in an area (without leaving), the more in touch you’ll be with where the seabass are, when they are biting (and not biting), or if there is just not enough volume to justify you being there.  On multi-day trips you can make a move to a different zone if need be, and still have time to get dialed in on an area.

The truth is, seabass are easy to figure out, and easy to catch.  This is by no means the “whole puzzle”, but enough to help you get your first fish.  Booking a trip on a boat with a reputation of catching seabass will teach you more than you can imagine about what to do on your boat.  The same holds true when you have an experienced seabass fisherman on your boat with you, either as a guest, or hired as a guide.

 

 

 

 

Fishing on the Squid Grounds for White Seabass: Catalina Island

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.

Total relaxation turns into a fire drill on the squid grounds.

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.

Full float of squid means you’ve anchored on the “nest”. Notice the rod in the holder in the photo. Several big seabass were caught on this night.

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.

Morning fat seabass caught over a sunken squid seiner wreck.

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.

Carefully setting up to take full advantage of the evening bite, best squid catching, night bite and grey bite can be done with careful thought and planning.

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.

This happy COB client caught so many seabass, he had to sit down while fighting this fish.

This angler had to be woke up from a deep slumber during the night. One of my favorite scenarios while running the RailTime 6-pak boat. Catching squid and having the seabass come through while the passengers were asleep. I’d catch one and open the salon door holding the seabass. “YOU GUYS MIGHT WANT TO GET UP AND FISH NOW!” Then watch grown men fall out of their bunks when they saw the seabass in the doorway.

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.