2013 Year In Review

It’s been an amazing year for fishing in Southern California.   After several seasons of bust conditions, sportboats going back to the bank, tackle manufacturers fading away, and endless wind, this one seemed to make up for it in spades.   Some added boats to their fleet and Captains rose out of retirement to fill in and join the bounty.   Fundamentally things had changed and those who took full advantage expanded on new ideas.  Lobster charters and all night seabass trips kept boats busy and helped revive a seemingly dead industry.  Visiting the San Diego Landings it was a relief to see the crowded bustle and excitement that reminded me of years gone by.

January 4th Yellowtail Surprise.

January 4th Yellowtail Surprise.

 

It all started with the yellowtail, and I was pleasantly surprised to hook and land one at Catalina on January 4th on my first trip of this year.  Little did I know this was just the beginning, and in a few short months the forks would transform the Coronado’s into something out of a storybook chapter titled “The Good Old Days”.  San Clemente Island went off to epic proportions, but was inconsistent enough to keep things interesting.   In fact, all the local islands had their share of good yellowtail fishing, and it continues now in October with a powerful cutoff low spinning off the coast.

 

Typically smaller island seabass were not small this year.

Typically smaller island seabass were not small this year.

Of course you know I am going to mention the seabass, and what an incredible show they put on all up and down the bight in 2013.  Epic bites at Tijuana Flats, Huntington Beach, Oxnard and Ventura, Catalina, the Channel Islands and San Nicolas Island.  For me and my Captain On Board clients it was one for the history books.  In the last 6 years I have been able to string together limit style seabass trips and help scores of anglers catch their 1st (and 2nd AND 3rd) seabass ever, but this year it was all about the tankers.  The sheer size of the seabass this year boggled the mind.  There is nothing more satisfying for me than gaffing that first seabass for someone that has been trying for years to check seabass off their wish list, but to have it be a 50-60lb slob is just amazing.   Even my wife got into the action, hooking and landing a coastal tanker on the Huntington Beach bite on light tackle.  She is still smiling over that one.

Even my wife got into the action.

Even my wife got into the action.

In the midst of all this action the bluefin slid up the coast and even I had no idea they would stay and put on such a show.  While some did (and still are) complain about the lack of albacore the bft’s more than made up for it in my opinion.  For a non El Nino year we had an amazing amount of dorado show up locally, and absolute tonnage of yellowtail on the kelps.  Late in the season the yellowfin showed and are still biting today, but is was the shot at a bluefin over 100lbs that kept San Diego landing parking lots full.  I expected the axe to fall at anytime, thinking things were too good to be true, but it never really did.  It would be really good for a while then shut down, only to get good again unexpectedly.   While all of this fantastic offshore fishing was happening, something nobody predicted slid in and took us all by surprise.

Fat bluefin were eager to bite almost this entire summer.

Fat bluefin were eager to bite almost this entire summer.

“Boys, we have a normal billfish season upon us!”  Even as guys were pulling into the harbor with their 2nd and 3rd marlin flags flying most were skeptical, but it kept on going.   Swordfish never really bit but there were plenty around and several hooked.  ”Good Karma” got one, and a couple stick boats put up scores.  Certainly not the best marlin season in history but way better than recent years.  Mike “Beak” Hurt released 7 striped marlin on one trip, and Andy on the “Mirage” topped that with 8 releases not long after.  For those still doubting this was a “real” marlin season, I disagree.  As an interesting side note we had short billed spearfish in the mix.  One was caught and I was intrigued, then 5, then 10 and it started to get interesting.  No way to know for sure how many were caught total, as small center consoles and private skiffs were getting them as well as the prominent marlin guys.  No doubt some spearfish were caught that were never reported.

GoodKarmaSwordfish

Good Karma Swordfish

This season saw its share of oddities to go along with the spearfish.  Early in the season an abnormal amount of opah were hooked and landed.  The albacore did show and a couple handfulls were caught.  A giant (and controversial) mako was taken that made headlines, followed by others (over 1,000lbs) that smartly got less publicity.  The big threshers never showed in volume but pups were being caught on piers up and down the coast.  Giant oarfish are washing up on beaches as I write this, more than enough to get the attention of scientists and biologists.  Possibly the most amazing thing has been the abundance of squid almost everywhere, all year long.  This is a trend than has repeated itself for the last several years but I am still in awe.  Launch ramps were full on weekend with private boaters eager to get out and sample the possibilities, and afternoons saw guys telling stories of strange sighting and stellar catches.  A great year indeed.

All the squid you want, all year long.

All the squid you want, all year long.

 

 

 

Wrecks and Reefs

While one may find a squid nest over sandy bottom that is holding fish or spawning sand bass out in the mud, there is no denying that the bulk of the fish we target is around structure.  Nowadays with super detailed chart plotters and books filled with GPS numbers for spots up and down the coast, its easier than ever to drive to (and over) just about any kind of structure your heart desires.  Wrecks, reefs, rocks and rock piles all available to those willing to do the homework necessary, with very few secrets left, if any.  That hard part is knowing what to do when you get there to maximize your efforts.

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

A wreck will hold scores of different small fish types and crustaceans that are the forage for larger predators.  It has caves, holes and crevices that make great ambush points for these fish we target, but fishing right in the wreck is not always the best plan of attack.  If there is very little or no current or the water is cold, then that may be a great time to fish your baits right in (or as close as you can get to) the wreck.  Fish like sculpin, sheepshead and lingcod rarely venture far from their holes right in the structure, so to target these in any conditions you’ll want to place your bait in harms way.

Critters that live right in the structure

Critters that live right in the structure

Other fish will be more active and may travel further up current than you’d expect when they are in feeding mode.  You will see this in warm water or when the current is really ripping.  Its at these times that your opportunity for a good score is best, but most fall short by fishing the wreck itself and not where the fish are.  What?  Let me explain.

Even on a cold January morning, this yellowtail was way upcurrent of the reef.

Even on a cold January morning, this yellowtail was way upcurrent of the reef.

 

When a strong current washes over a reef or wreck the food begins to flow over the spot and the little critters come out to eat what is coming their way.  Predators follow, and join in the bounty.  Perch, wrasse, mackerel, smelt and more swim directly up current of their home to snatch any and all little bits of food the current is bringing.  Its a competition, survival of the fittest, and the ones that get the furthest out get first bidding.  The bass and exotics follow, often being the more aggressive of the whole biomass.  So when you drive over your waypoint be sure to drive up current and watch the fishfinder carefully.  First you meter the spot, then the bait and small critters, then the perch, then finally the bass and bigger fish.  Do not turn around and set up on the wreck, set up on the fish!

Mid summer with warm clear water and lots of current this could be 100 yards or more off the spot you have on your GPS.  With a perfect anchor job the wreck or reef will be directly down current of your transom, something few guys can do properly.  Add some chum to the feeding frenzy and what you get is some really good fishing.  Think about it, how often have you seen the bigger fish like barracuda and yellowtail boiling off the bow?  This happens on sportboats and private boat alike.  Pull the hook and reset further away from the spot, meaning fish the fish not the structure.  Sounds easier than it is, and it works on kelplines along the shore at our local island or coastline just the same.  A kelp bed is just another type of reef.

Eagle Reef, Catalina.  This bass came way off the kelp to eat a live squid.

Eagle Reef, Catalina. This bass came way off the kelp to eat a live squid.

Something you will see if you set up perfectly as described above is another boat will come and drive over the spot you are fishing, thinking you are “not on it”.  Then you get to cringe as they drop the anchor right on top of the spot.  For those of you who did not know why we ask that you never drive behind and anchored boat, this is why.  Someone properly fishing a rock or reef will be a ways up current from the spot where the fish actually live, and by driving behind them your are seriously disrupting the bite.

Do NOT do this!

Do NOT do this!

 

Some simply do not like to anchor and have no intentions of chumming at all.  The calico bass guys are one such group, and they too could pull some truly big bass out away from the wreck if they followed this philosophy.  Fish the fish, not the spot.  Not to say that the calico bass guys do not catch some really big bass with plastics right on the reefs, but they should see some of the giant bass I’ve caught with a flylined mackerel WAY out in front of the spots they fish.  Crack of dawn bite on a big bait, big bass boils on the surface under the birds and I come tight.  Nothing better.  Try slow trolling a bigger bait up ahead of the spot when conditions make it impossible to set up correctly.  The results can be astounding.  Just remember that the bigger bass and exotics are up current of the structure, and fish the fish, not the spot.

Bigger yellowtail on a slow trolled live squid, again, way ahead of the reef.

Bigger yellowtail on a slow trolled live squid, again, way ahead of the reef.

 

When to Swing on Catalina Seabass

Sitting on the shoreline at Silver Lake up in the high Sierras fishing trout, my kids and I are soaking Power Bait in a light breeze.  The wind makes the tips of the ultralight rods twitch, and I get “am I getting a bite Daddy?” every 10 seconds or so.  ”Patience boys, you’ll know when you get a bite.”  It doesn’t work, and one or the other is constantly reeling in to check their bait.  Finally I look them both in the eye and say “if you think you are getting a bite, you are not.  If you know you are getting a bite, then turn the handle and lift the rod hard.”  Even though this went down 300 miles from Catalina, I couldn’t help but think how true this is when fishing for white seabass.

Flash forward to late spring, 2013 at Catalina and I am watching my wife fish with a light lead head couple squid pinned on.  We’re sitting on the anchor in 45′ of water outside a prominent kelp line on the back, and she is getting picked at by perch, small calicos and such.  She’s swinging on the better of the pecks, and quickly going through the little live squid we have for the day.  I step closer, and notice she has her reel in gear while soaking a bait.  Time for an intervention.

Wife Seabass

“It played with my bait forever” my wife said after landing this seabass. A little on the water coaching and she was good to go.

When fishing for seabass or yellowtail at Catalina, you’ll need to ignore the perch bites.  Leaving the reel in free spool while controlling the line on the spool with your fingertips is key to letting the business end of your line go, so perch and small bass don’t steal your bait.  Its like working with a roll of toilet paper, if the roll is stuffed into one of those gas station multi roll holder things, all you get is little pieces of tissue torn off because of the resistance, while at home you may get the whole roll if you don’t use two hands.  Same principle with a delicate squid on a thin wire hook.  Apply pressure or have your reel in gear, and the peckers will rip the bait off every time.

Now deciphering the feel of a perch bite and a seabass bite may sound easy, but sometimes its not.  Nowadays with Spectra, short top shots and uber sensitive graphite rods, its easier to feel the difference but it still takes time to learn.  To translate the feel of a seabass bite into a tangible reality, try visualizing a big, slow, lazy croaker cruising into a school of perch to check out what’s happening out of curiosity.  The seabass circles the bait, then turns and sucks the bait into its big mouth.  Almost faster than the eye can see, it spits it back out.  On the rod you are holding, that will be a sharp tap or thud, very different than the pecks of the perch.  Now that the fish has had a taste he swims around and picks up the bait again.  (Don’t worry about whether the bait is tattered and torn from the perch or first seabass bite, he still wants it, trust me.)  Now is the time when its most important to be in free spool, because if the reel is in gear you risk pulling the bait out of its mouth or pulling the hook before its in position to hook the fish.

A wary seabass may drop the bait and pick it back up several times before actually eating it.  What to do now is thumb the spool lightly and hold the rod tip half way between pointing at the fish and full set up position.  Finger hold the spool and lift the rod slowly, to see if it loads up.  If the rod loads up, then goes slack, drop the tip and let the seabass have another chance at the bait.  If the rod loads up and the fish begins to pull, put the reel in gear, wind down and set him up.  This whole process could take a fraction of a second, or several minutes, depending on how good the fish are biting.  With little to no current and less than ideal conditions, the bites will be this subtle a good percentage of the time.

Here you see the rod loading up.  If the fish drops the bait, drop the tip and let it get another look.

Here you see the rod loading up. If the fish drops the bait, drop the tip and let it get another look.

 

Another look, and another bite.

Another look, and another bite.

Rod loads up and the seabass does not drop the bait.  Wind down and SWING while grinding.  HOOK-UP!!!!

Rod loads up and the seabass does not drop the bait. Wind down and SWING while grinding. HOOK-UP!!!!

 

In a wide open big seabass bite where many fish are hooked and caught, it becomes almost laughable how everyone notices the little taps before hooking a big seabass.  A large school of seabass will, at times, scare off all perch and small pecker/grabbers so you know the only bites you are getting are seabass bites.  Still, some of the attention your bait gets feels like the smallest of perch nipping at your live squid.

 

If you just can’t stand trying to feel the difference between a seabass bite and a perch bite, then a dropper loop or jig/squid combo is for you.  Just know that this set-up works way better when the rod is left in the rod holder, in gear with the drag set to fight the fish.  Otherwise you’ll swing at every perch bite and go through a tremendous amount of bait.  Even worse, you’ll spend too much time winding in, changing baits and dropping back while not having your bait in the zone where it needs to be.  Just remember what I tell my boys, “If you think its a seabass bite, its not.  Its only a seabass bite when you KNOW its a seabass bite.”  When you are sure, then swing away.

Light Line Old School?

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Some serious advances have occurred with the tackle today, leaps and bounds really.  Reels have butter smooth drags that last and last, fluorocarbon leaders and Spectra have changed the way we fish completely, yet some things remain the same.  All this wonderful technology means nothing if you never hook a fish.  To get that fish you are targeting to bite you need to pick that perfect bait, make a long cast and use all your senses to make that opportunity into a reality.  The question is, when you do everything right and don’t get the bite, then what?

You drop down in line class, that’s what.

Yellowtail on light line.  Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

Yellowtail on light line. Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

There is a whole new generation of anglers now that read that last sentence and cringed.  What with all the fancy reels with smooth drags and teflon/boron composite super rods that make fishing almost unfair, why not?  Did the reel manufacturers make these state of the art drag systems for fishing 80#?  Yes, the new gear is capable of fishing heavy line but it really shines when you fish the lighter stuff.  With heavy line you don’t even need drag, so why the dirty looks when someone breaks out the 20#?

Whether you are on your own boat or a charter, everyone wants to catch lots of big fish.  When the moon and the stars align perfectly and that once in a lifetime wide open ripper happens you can break out the broomstick with 100# and put the wood to them.

 Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

How often does that happen, really?  Most of the time we are just trying to get picked up, and land that one big fish for a snapshot and bragging rights.  Finding that perfect leader that is neither too heavy to get a bite, or too light to land the fish is what you are looking for, and it may change from spot to spot, minute to minute.  That is why we have so many different outfits and not just the one with 80#.

Spectra brings light line fishing to a whole new level.  65# braid is like fishing 20# mono in both feel and line capacity.  Its not uncommon to see calico bass guys with high tech gear that looks much like the freshwater largemouth arsenal on steroids with 65# or even 80# braid.  Then add in the abrasion resistance and low visibility of fluorocarbon leader and “presto”, its a whole new ballgame.  That does not automatically mean you will get the same amount of bites on 40# as you would on 20#.  The whole package with 20# fluoro is still miles ahead of an old school outfit with the same line in mono.  You have less stretch, more pulling power, kelp cutting capabilities and abrasion resistance far beyond what was available only a few years ago.

What is missing today is anglers that actually know how to fight a fish from bite to gaff, therefore we get guys that insist on fishing the heavy lines.  More than ever I see guys take that $400 rod with all the technology and point the tip at the fish and grind away, wondering why the fish spit the hook halfway to the boat.  Lift your tip!  The fish did not get away, you lost it.  I can see why charter boat Captains are screaming at passengers to “fish nothing less than 50!!!”  They are sick and tired of putting the boat on the fish only to see most of what is hooked, lost.  It all comes down to a lack of talent, period.

When you hook that big seabass or yellow on a kelpline and it gets its head down and swims right into the kelp, loosen the drag.  Let the tackle do its job.  The braid will only cut the kelp if its moving, you’ll need to let the fish run and tire before you begin the tug of war.  Even then its more of a seesaw battle, with you pulling for a while, then the fish pulling for a while.  Its the back and forth of the braid on the kelp that does the cutting, while straight pulling hard causes heartaches.

Light line seabass.  This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle.  Heavier line never got bit at all.

Light line seabass. This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle. Heavier line never got bit at all.

 My grandfather used to call this, “playing the fish.”  He’d say it while fighting a 120# bigeye on 25#, then my Uncle would gaff it.  We’re talking Penn Jigmasters with plastic spools.  I can still hear the “THUD” of the fish hitting the deck, time and time again.

Its become a common conversation for me, some guy saying “why would you even use 15# when fishing for seabass?”  I find myself in defense mode when its the guy pointing the finger that needs angling lessons.  I’ve driven the boat for a lady angler that got a striped marlin to the boat on 6# for a tag and release.  (We got that fish in 27 minutes)  Most angling clubs don’t even recognize anything caught with line over 30#, and the Tuna Club of Avalon encourages its members to fish with linen line in 3 and 6 thread sizes (like 6# and 15# respectively).  At last years Avalon Tuna Club Seabass tourney I caught a 22 pound seabass on 6 thread linen, and didn’t even place in the top 10!

22lbs on the Avalon Pier.  Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

22lbs on the Avalon Pier. Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

 

 

Not much ever changes back to where it was, but light line fishing is being seriously overlooked these days.  With the hotbed of young kids today out making a name for themselves through websites, videos and social networking it sure would be nice to see one take on the challenges of light line angling skills.  I can hook and hand seabass and yellows on 30# all day and most get gaffed, but when I hook one on 12 or 15#, its mine.  I tie good knots, test them all and lift my tip.  In the end, its me getting the typical “grip-n-grin” photo taken with a fish heavier that the line it was hooked on.  The guy taking the picture probably never got a bite, and was fishing 40#.  Fishing seabass on 50# is like fishing trout with 20#.  Tie good knots and learn how to actually fight a fish and use the tackle to its full potential.  You’ll not only hook (and land) more fish, but have way more fun doing it.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water.  No problem.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water. No problem.

 

Deciphering the Code

Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear (or read on the internet).  At no time in history has this been more true than now, and in regards to fishing reports it’s the gospel.  So how does one take the information available and use it to their advantage?  First of all, you have to actually have some intimate knowledge of the area being discussed, and fish often.  There is just no way around that.

A very high percentage of fishermen have this total inability to resist telling others that they caught a fish, but where exactly is often as elusive as the size of the fish exaggerated.  To find the truth behind the lies one must ask the right questions and connect the dots.  ”What time of day did you catch it?” and “which way was the current going at bite time?” are excellent questions to catch a liar in the act.  Another is “so, how was the weather?”  The real trick is, not to tell the information provider that you think they are lying and shut down the conversation completely.

Using Catalina as an example, those three questions can nail down the details you need to at least get you to the right end of the island, and front or back.  Again, being personally familiar with Catalina you would know that the West End and East end are very different on most days, and the answers to the 3 questions above would easily tell where the storyteller was.

Having a code group of guys that frequently give you intel also helps tremendously.  This is a “give a little, get a little” cooperation.  Train them well to keep their eyes open for every detail of their trips, and to report back as soon as they return even if their trip was less than productive.  Then, when you read an internet report that a boat caught 20 yellows but the spot where they were caught is questionable, you can ask other guys in your code group if they saw the boat posting the score.  Not just specifically where they were (or weren’t), but “which way the current was going”, and “how was the weather.”  Now you can start to connect the dots.

Another piece that is of vital importance is the “when” because if a bite happened 3 days ago at Catalina then it is most certainly over now.  That is  your clue to “go the other way.”  Nothing worse than fishing yesterdays news, a day late and a dollar short.

TIme of day helps when you have a tide chart handy when getting reports, as a school of fish can be tracked on what tide they’ve been biting on.  If an internet reports says that a bunch of seabass were caught at the V’s early in the morning and the tide was low, you can deduce that it is a false report because the East End back of Catalina rarely bites on a low tide (and bites on a downhill current, typical in the afternoons).  Nothing in fishing is “always or never”, so take that with a grain of salt and base your investigation on current bite trends.

“Silence is golden.”  A few really stealthy guys refuse to give up ANY information when the fish bite, but are super chatty when they are in swing and miss mode.  Call these guys often and find out when they are fishing.  When you don’t hear back you can expect that they found some fish that wanted to bite.  From there you can take the above information and begin your investigation.  Someone saw them, and their silence is the clue you need to know it’s time to start making some calls.

Like anything else with fishing, time on the water and turns of the prop are more valuable than all other things combined.  Avoid the trap of old timers that talk the talk, but no longer walk the walk.  Things change and getting your intel from these old salts can be very misleading.  Their ability to connect the dots has faded because of a lack of current time on the water.

Fishing information is here to stay, so the competition to provide the best intel is fierce.  There is more than just money at stake here, there are reputations.  Fighting it is like fighting taxes, you’ll never win.  If you find a spot of fish that wants to bite and expect to keep it a secret the best thing to do is not tell a soul, but don’t make that your tell.  Like any good poker player you’ll need to be aware of the clues you give, and know when others are trying to get you to make that mistake.  Otherwise just tell the truth, that you had a fun trip but are keeping the details to yourself.  Pure honesty, even if you don’t divulge any facts is admirable.  Just don’t lie, because the clues will give you up every time.

One thing that is heavily disputed is the ownership of said information.  The person who actually found the fish owns the intel, but can lose it by simply keeping it a secret or telling lies.  ”How is that possible” you ask?  Simple.  By not owning the intel and telling the truth, others trying to decipher the details may actually stumble onto the school of fish without the finder saying the magic words “and don’t tell anyone!”  If I got a call that the fish were biting at a certain spot, at a certain time using a specific technique and the Captain told me to keep it quiet, I could actually run interference and keep it safe.  Someone else calls me with a guess that is correct as to where the bite it, I would use some tactful redirection. Simply put, by being deceptive, you lose your rights to the spot and the fish.  I see it happen day after day, as guys try to be secretive and go back the next day and wonder “how did everyone find out about this?!”  Tell the truth to the guys that control the flow of information, and this will happen much less often.  Then if your intel gets out, you have someone to hold accountable other than yourself.

 

 

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.

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.

2013 Catalina Seabass Forecast

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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 diver seabassFree 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.

Breakwall sized seabass

Breakwall sized seabass

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.

 

April 2012 seabass at Catalina

April 2012 seabass at Catalina

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.

January 4th, 2013 yellowtail

January 4th, 2013 yellowtail

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.

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.

Breakwall Seabass

 

Every fall and early spring we get a fair amount of white seabass that move into the waters around the federal breakwall.  Fishing them can be fun and rewarding, especially when you hook a big boy.  The techniques are simple, but the shots are few.  Follow these simple tips to maximize your chances, and enjoy the thrill of catching an exotic within a few miles of the launch ramp.

Seabass and squid are two words that are used together almost as much as peanut butter and jelly, but for breakwall seabass, you need to fish the bigger sardines or medium mackerel for best results.  They will bite the live squid, but over the years I’ve caught way more on bigger finbaits that on the squish.  4/0-6/0 short shank live bait hooks work well, and 25-40# flourocarbon will get bit all day long.  Small baits and squid will get you a lot of bites from sand bass and sculpin, which will take your attention away from the prize.

Seabass bite good on the wall during an incoming tide, through the slack and sometimes a little after as the tide just begins go out.  Look at a tide calendar and find this tide scenario during and early morning or late afternoon, and your chances go way up.  Right at slack tide the seabass are off the wall a ways, typically just outside the line of lobster buoys.  Otherwise they are right about where the jetty rocks meet the sand, which is still not real close to the breakwall itself.

For fishing the wall proper, there are two basic methods that work well.  One is slow trolling a nose hooked bait as slow as your boat will go, parallel with the wall.  You’d think that a heavy torpedo sinker or even a bounce ball rig would be best, but these fish are in the middle to upper water column when they are in bite mode.  A 1-2oz egg sinker held 24″-36″ up from the bait with either a Carolina Keeper or swivel works great.  If two rigs are going to be slow trolled, try a straight flyline for the second outfit.  Hold the rod, and place your thumb on the spool of the reel (in freespool).  You’ll feel the bait get nervous just before a bite, especially with a graphite rod and spectra.  The second method is anchoring and chumming, just like you would at Catalina.

For the anchoring and chumming method, the decision to fish a specific spot needs to be made only when a certain set of conditions are found.  The real gold mine is a spot of birds working and diving right up against the wall.  You could run up next to the spot and cast out a flylined bait to hook one seabass, by why do that when you can quickly anchor and get them biting good and hook more than one.  A proper set of anchor gear is imperative for almost all of Southern California fishing, so you should have that already.  Fishing the gaps or end of the breakwall is also good for anchoring and chumming.  Seabass tend to congregate at the ends, again not right up tight to the rocks but off where the wall meets the sand.  A ground fish “shark chum” bucket works excellent for breakwall seabass, and most of your bites will come on flylined baits.

Spots really do matter when fishing seabass on the wall,  and there are only a few areas that produce regularly.  I already mentioned the east end of the breakwall, and the east end of the LB gap is another great spot.  Drifting the gaps (instead of anchoring) is commonsense because of the traffic in these areas, so chumming isn’t really an option.  The outside is almost always better that any of the inside, and finding structure along the wall can pay off big time.  There are spots along the outside of the wall (most kept very secret) that you can find while slow trolling.  Just keep a keen eye on the fishfinder and mark them when you see them.  The bend in the middle section is also productive, as is the middle of the eastern section.

During the slack tide period, the area outside the LB gap, and a little to the east (outside the lobster buoys) is a great place to drift for seabass.  This is an area where live squid does work often, and you’ll want to keep your baits on or near the bottom as you drift.  There are more seabass here at times, but there can be a lot of shorts, and rarely do you catch any tankers out here.  What is out here and big are the halibut, but thats for another article.

This is by no means an easy fishery, and you will have to practice patience and get dialed in before you start to see results.  The most important thing is not to get discouraged or distracted, and change your game plan before you have the chance to hook a tanker.  Refine your techniques and you’ll have a shot at a local seabass, they have been biting there for years and years.  Fish the tides, make sure you have good bait and put in the time, you’ll be surprised to see how good this fishery can be.

 

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.

Fishing Long Beach Harbor

Stormy day halibut inside the breakwall.

I cut my teeth fishing inside Long Beach Harbor.  I was taught how to use visual bearings and line-ups to find hard bottom areas, high relief and even wrecks, and took that knowledge into all the nearshore fishing I do today.  I learned how to figure current and wind directions for a specific spot, and set up on that spot so the transom sits perfectly in position to be able to chum and fish effectively.  This basic principle is instrumental to fishing just about everywhere one might anchor.  Not only did I learn the basic fundamentals here, but I also learned that there are lots of fish to catch in LB Harbor, especially halibut.  Boy, are there a lot of halibut.

Lots of smiles if you learn where to fish.

 

In the early 1960′s the City of Long Beach decided to clean up all the oil derricks along the coastline and build oil drilling islands off the coast (1/2-1 1/2 miles off the beach).   The idea was to construct these islands in a way that not only tapped into one of the biggest oil fields in North America, but make it beautiful as well.  Edge rock was barged over from Catalina Islands now closed West Quarry, and that rock was strategically placed in circular shapes to create and outline four separate islands.  Then, seabed sand was dredged and pumped into the shapes to create the islands that stand today.  Architect Joseph Linesch was hired to design these islands to be both beautiful and functional, and each island was given their names to honor the 1st four astronauts to perish in the US space program.  (Grissom, White, Freeman and Chaffee).  The islands were completed in 1966, but its the way they were dredged and filled that created the dynamic fishery that exists today.

Obviously the constructing of island barriers with quarry rock from Catalina had its follies, and numerous rocks fell short of their mark.  This creates rocky structure we already know makes a fantastic fish haven, and some of these rocks are not on the charts or fished very often.  What really contributes to this fishery is the deep areas and high spots created by the dredging process.  Dredges sent their suction apparatus down and sucked the mud, sand and rock off the bottom, then pumped it through hoses into each of the islands interiors.  As the mud and sand flowed through the dredge hoses, it would create weak spots in that hose for the rock to penetrate and pour out.  The high spots you see on the LB Inner Harbor charts are what happened when the rock poured out through holes in the dredge hose and stacked up in piles on the ocean floor.  Nothing better than a hard bottom high spot next to a deep dredge hole.

These high spots are out away from the islands, and most are on the numerous charts available to the general public today.  They are small, but still easy to find.  An amazing amount of halibut live on the tops of these high spots, waiting for bait to wash over for a quick meal.  I have in the past anchored on these small spots and fished for halibut, with amazing success.  I learned early on that drifting simply does not keep your bait where the fish are long enough to be as effective as anchoring, yet bounce ballers today have great success covering the large flat areas outside of these dredge holes and high spots.  Light tackle works best here, along with the baits that are indigenous to the area and the halibuts favorite foods.  Smelt, herring and tomcod are favorites, but sardines work well too.  Anchovies will get you lots of bites, but a large lizardfish population will frustrate you with small baits.  I have had some success with plastics, but nothing compared to live bait when it comes to big halibut.

There are wrecks in here to find and learn, with opportunities for sand and spotted bay bass, halibut, and even some really good lobster for those who are into hoop netting.  Up against the Northwest, long side of Island Freeman there is a sunken submarine right up against the middle of the rocks.  Its from an old TV show call “Operation Petticoat”, featuring a pink submarine.  Hence the common name for the spot, “The Pink Sub.”  This gets fished a lot, but some good halibut scores come out of here still, especially in the spring and fall.  Another wreck is the “Belmont Wreck”, and this one is even on the charts. I searched extensively for the history of this wreck and found nothing, but what I’ve been told is that it is a small wooden hulled ship that sunk due to a fire.  This spot gets fished heavily and bites are few and far between these days.  Its a great spot to practice setting up however, and the lobster guys do quite well here at night with hoop nets.

Jerry and his son Matt with a “Belmont Wreck” lobster.

I took a client here a couple years ago for lobster and we did very well, but now there are guys on it every night, so the secret is out big time.

LB Harbor is extremely tide sensitive, and during slack low tide times it can be very hard to get a single bite.  Shallow areas and narrow channels get a lot of water movement with the tides, and the openings in the Federal Breakwall are prime spots when the tides are moving in or out.  Bass, halibut and even the occasional legal white seabass can be taken here when the water is moving and bait is present.  The same afternoon winds that can chase you off the Izors or Horseshoe can be very helpful inside the Harbor, creating drifts along productive rocky areas such as Pier J and the Navy Mole.  Again, study the charts to see where quarry rock has tumbled off when the jetty was constructed, or find new ones by metering around on your own.

My mom and I with halibut caught at the Navy Mole, late fall.

 

So take the time and study those Long Beach Harbor charts, its worth your while.  For such a small area geographically, you’ll be amazed to find there is a lifetimes worth of knowledge and possibilities in here.  You can use it as a backup plan for windy days, or take it to the next level and find some great fishing close to home.  We all know the breakwall itself holds millions of calicos and the possibility of a real trophy, but the inside offers as much if not more.  One could write a book on how to fish the Long Beach Inner Harbor, and it would be a thick and comprehensive guide.  I found it very rewarding and productive to learn it on my own, so I will suggest you do the same.  Take the time and explore areas new to you, catch the bait these fish are feeding on, and find out what you’ve been missing all these years.

My sister Marti with an afternoon halibut

One final word on eating the fish you catch from the Long Beach Harbor area.  Tagging studies on halibut and white seabass have shown that these species migrate often and cover long distances.  I have no problem keeping these fish, and feeding them to my family.  Bass however are in question, and this is not the cleanest water in the world to fish in.  I personally release all bass here and inside other harbors such as Huntington and Alamitos Bay.  I don’t have a problem eating the lobsters either.  In a world where we drink too many beers and eat double chili cheeseburgers, a few harbor lobsters are not going to be the food that kills us.  You can use your own discretion.

 

 

 

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 Launch You Boat Like A Pro

Does the thought of launching your trailer boat conjure up memories of embarrassing moments or heaps of frustration?  Do you dread launching and retrieving your boat so much that you don’t get out as much as you thought you would when you purchased the boat?  Have you ever wondered how “that guy” with seemingly magical powers, launched his boat and is gone before you even begin backing down the ramp?  Well, I have some tips for you that will help with your confidence and safety.  You too will be “that guy” and be through the gate and down the main channel before most guys finish being in everyone else’s way.

Make sure launching your boat is a one man show.  It’s your truck, and your boat, and it really is a one man deal.  The sooner you figure that out, the better off you will be.  Your wife, kids or best fishing buddy may learn from watching you, but you cannot depend on someone else knowing exactly what needs to be done.  Things may get forgotten, or done wrong, creating a dangerous, frustrating situation.  If you must, make a check list to scan over until it becomes second nature.  There is not a boat around that takes two guys to launch, so figure it out, and get it done.

Prep everything before you head down to the ramp.  Put the ice chest on board and load it, stow things where they go, and hook up the fuel to the motor and make sure it’s primed and ready to go.  The plug should be in, and anything that can be ready beforehand is done, before you leave your house or where the boat is stored.  Obviously you can’t drive down the street with the VHF antennae up, or the bait pump running.  At least do what you can so only the absolutely necessary things remain.  If you regularly spend 15-30 minutes loading the boat in the launch ramp parking lot, then you are definitely not “that guy”.

Before backing down the ramp, try taking the bow strap and loosen it a bit.  If the boat does not slide while you are backing, loosen it some more the next time.  Real hot shots at the ramp take the hook off completely when backing down.  Thats what I do, and it’s never been an issue.  Just check first, and never try this if you have an Easy Loader Trailer with rollers.  A single dock line midships is your handle for grabbing the boat when it floats off the trailer.  Back down, get out of the truck, walk down the dock and grab the dockline.  Walk the boat back and tie it off, then go park the truck and lock it.  You’re off, and it takes just minutes.

If your boat has occasional mechanical issues or is hard to start, please run the boat the day before you plan on coming to the ramp.  Hook up the freshwater and run the thing, making sure it will not give you fits at 5am in front of an angry mob.  Of course the batteries are all charged, and you have tested all the electronics and pumps, like any responsible boater.  I cannot express enough how important this is.  If you are taking your kids fishing and they experience your frustration everytime, the chances are they will not grow up to enjoy fishing at all.  Please, do not use the launch ramp as the place to figure out what needs to be fixed.  I am simply blown away at how many guys get their boats down to the ramp only to find out there is a major mechanical issue.

If the ramp does not have docks, like Davies Launch in Long Beach, then loosen the bow strap but leave the hook on.  When you back down the boat will float off the trailer, but not float away.  Climb up your rear tire and out onto the tongue of the trailer to get on your boat.  Lower the motor and start it, then remove the bow hook.  Anything left to be done should be done on the way out.  Lifting antennas, turning on bait pumps and placing rods in rocket launchers can be done underway, and should not be done at the dock or launch ramp.  You are just in some more prepared guys way.

I’m not going to even try to explain how to back a trailer down in print.  If you struggle, go practice.  Find an open parking lot and spend the time necessary to figure it out.  Go slow and be patient.  If some of these guys I see can do it, so can you.  As far as pulling out of the ramp, be sure to learn how to drive with both feet.  One foot on the gas and one on the break.  Again, practice this.  Put the truck in drive (or low gear) and press down hard on the brake.  Then, take the parking brake off and give it some gas.  When the truck lurches forward, ease up on the brake so the truck slowly creeps up the ramp.  Keep your foot over the brake pedal, as this helps both rear tires stay engaged so one tire does not spin out.  Having one foot over the break at all time will also help when you are tired and accidentally put the truck in reverse, instead of drive.  Having one foot over the brake makes this and “oops” instead of a catastrophe.

When you return from your trip, lower the antenna and stow the rods on the way in.  Not only will this save you time, but sometimes save you the headache of being checked by DFG.  Grab a bucket of soapy water and do some scrubbing while idling through the marina, even if its salt water.  Then grab your truck keys and be ready to jump when the boat hits the dock.  Make sure to tie the boat off (obviously) but keep it running if you need to power it onto the trailer.  You have practiced backing down with a trailer, so you can put it wherever there is a free space.  Forget manners here, as other guys are still loading/unloading their stuff, and who knows how long that will take.  You’ll be just a minute, so get it in and get out of there.

Once the boat is on the trailer, cinch up the bow strap tight, and shut the motor off.  Tilt the motor up and you are done.  The bait pump was turned off on the way in, and everything stowed.  Do not do these things at the ramp!  Pull the boat out as described above and stop at the top of the ramp, where your boat is at the most radical angle possible (stern down).  Get out and pull the plug first, then do whatever else NEEDS to be done while a little water drains out of the bilge.  Transom straps are attached, and trailer lights re-connected if (you unplugged them like a good boy) and the motor support is engaged.  All this is done quickly and efficiently.

Now leave the launch ramp parking lot completely!  Don’t stop to talk to the DFG, or weigh your fish in front of a crowd.  You are done here, and it’s time to go.  If you keep your boat at a storage yard with no washdown facilities, stop by a coin op car wash or your house.  The less time you spend at the launch ramp, the more you’ll like launching your boat.

The key here is speed, but don’t forget safety and organization.  Prep before you go, and on the way in, and you’ll be miles ahead of the other guy.