Everything changes, and last year our seabass fishery changed dramatically. While I poured over logs and notes from years past, I was left scratching my head trip after trip at Catalina last season. On the coast we saw seabass bites that re-wrote history books, and the fish that should have been at Catalina seemed to gang up in mass at the Channel Islands. There were seabass at Catalina, but not any bites that resembled what we’d seen in the last 10 years. Has something fundamentally changed? If so, this forecast will mean next to nothing. Only time will tell, and I for one, am hoping things get back on track.
Free diving spearfishermen have given me a wealth of knowledge, information and insight to what is really happening before most bites start. While most rod and reel fishermen have forged a philosophy that these watermen are mere pests, I embrace them. Not wanting to don a wetsuit and get in the water myself, I get the details of our underwater environment from these guys and learn things impossible to know with just a fishfinder and sonar. Since 2009 I have been getting early reports of seabass from the divers, and most of the time it turns into a bite after I get the intel. Interestingly, the seabass move into an area where the free divers can target them, but when they bite they are not doing what helps the spearos get their shots. This means the intel I get from spearos comes BEFORE the bite, and this helps immensely.
For as long as I have kept logs and notes the first seabass catches each year have occurred along the Palos Verdes peninsula. This can happen as early as December but typically from January to March. Astonishingly, this area gets looked at much less often than further away Catalina Island. When I get the call that a spot of seabass have moved into Palos Verdes, I know the ball is rolling and soon they will be at the island.
While a few of the smaller fish show up along the Federal Breakwater just weeks after the first reports come in from the Peninsula, the bulk of the fish apparently swim to Catalina’s West End. Unless weather and wind are a major factor like in 2011, you can expect to find the first really good scores to come from spots like Johnsons Rock or West Cove. In what I would call a normal year this happens in March or April. Historically the first really good go-around happens in March during the Fred Hall show.
Last year there were signs that things were off kilter early on, but I would not have guessed that we would have such a tough season at Catalina. This year I see nothing out of the ordinary and am really hoping for your standard seabass season. Not to take away from last years epic bites at Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and even Santa Barbara Islands, but Catalina is my backyard and I want my seabass back thank you.
While the air and water are still cold right now, its not abnormally cold or late like this time last year. Free divers have seen a few seabass along the Palos Verdes area already, and all the signs are looking like a normal year. It’s my hope (more than prediction) that the seabass will make the migration to Catalina on schedule in the next few weeks, so sometime in early March. Fred Hall is from March 6th through the 10th and the show falls during a prime new moon phase. The fact that I will be working the show further solidifies the chances of a huge bite at this time.
One thing that will be different this year is the yellowtail fishing. I hooked and landed a smaller grade yellowtail this year in the beginning of January, and I have little doubt that this is a holdover from our great kelp paddy fishing this past summer season.
I suspect that we will see that there is some real volume of these smaller yellows, and over the next few years these will grow into the home guards we all want to have around. Past El Ninos have deposited large numbers of small yellows at our local islands, and in the following years we enjoy great fishing for the forkies.
So with what looks very much like a normal pattern in 2013, I predict a seabass season more like what we are used to seeing. What happens along the coast in another matter, but I hope our coastal tanker fishery continues to grow. If nothing else, having bites in more than one area will thin the crowds a little, as that is the one huge downside to a typical seabass year at Catalina. If the one abnormal aspect of this years season is less drama and good fishing, I will be pleasantly surprised.