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.

 

TIps and Tricks

On each and every trip I do I pick up something new from a client, and I’d like to think they learn something new from me.  A new knot, or a trick that makes private boat life, just a little easier.  Some tricks are even more amazing, and help solve major problems.  The most common thing I run into is when a client has been misled in some way, and I can set the record straight with some common sense explaining.

Bait do not need lights to live.  In fact, the light in your bait tank is for your enjoyment, just as the window is.  The bait receivers in San Diego that cure sardines for the long range boats use boxes with lids to cure the bait.  Slots in the tops of the boxes are so the bird shit can be washed off, (and maybe even for feeding the bait), not to let the light in.  Really serious private boat guys paint the insides of their bait tanks black or dark blue, and keep a cover on the tank when traveling.  Fin bait will take on that darker color, and swim hard when hooked and cast out to hungry gamefish.

To feed your bait, either when kept in the bait tank of your boat for a long time or in your private receiver, you can use corn meal.  Blood works great as well, so a cutting board bait tank lid can do wonders for your bait while you are filleting your catch throughout the day.  The blood of the fish you are cutting will drip into the tank, and your bait will eat it.  Cool huh?  If the bait in your receiver is so strong that you can’t catch it with the dip net, try throwing a handfull of cornmeal and net them as they come up to feed.  Works every time.

Squid do not need to be fed, and can not be kept in the tank or a receiver for long periods of time.  Why?  Because when they spawn, they start to die like salmon.  You can prolong the life of your tank of squid (and prevent some of the eggs that clog the drain) by placing a live bass in with the squid.  I personally have not seen a bass eat bait while in my tank, but don’t tell the squid that.  The amount of eggs in the tank will be far less if you put a bass in the tank, but I honestly don’t know if other fish work.  Mix sardines and squid, and the squid will eat the sardines.

A dropper loop is a type of rig where you have a sinker at the end of your line, and a hook dangling a ways up.  Its very common and used for everything from rockfish to yellowtail.  The problem is, a traditional dropper loop knot is a 50% knot at best.  Try tying a spider hitch to double your line (you’ll end up with a big loop.)  Simply cut the loop so you have a long line, and a short one.  TIe the sinker on the long line for dropping straight down, or tie the sinker on the short line for what is called a “reverse dropper loop” for drifting.  The spider hitch is a very good knot, much better that the traditional dropper loop knot.

Speaking of dropper loops, they are also killer for seabass.  At Catalina the perch, mackerel and other grabbers may frequently steal the squid off your hook.  Instead of a torpedo sinker, try tying on a white iron (jig) in place of the sinker.  Seabass will eat the jig without bait on it, especially when they decide to really bite.  Yellows too.  This way, you can fish two rods and if you get tired of changing the bait on the dropper loop, you can feel better about being less attentive with that rod.  I have caught many a seabass and yellowtail at Catalina with an iron with no bait on it, dangling near the bottom with the rod in the rod holder.  Another tip, it works great for rockfish too!

Another handy tip is the green stretch wrap from Home Depot.  You’ll find it where the moving and packaging supplies are.  This stuff works great to wrap your rods for traveling, or to keep that crowder net from blowing in the wind on the way back from a trip.  I love this stuff, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I use it.  Things on the boat that “tap” or “rattle” in the night can be secured with a couple wraps of this miracle plastic.  It replaces duct tape, if that’s even possible.

When its cleanup time a pump sprayer will save you time, and your clothes from bleach spots.  Again, at Home Depot you can find these small plastic pump bottles in the garden department.  Fill it with straight bleach (or your favorite squid ink dissolving solution) and pump the handle.  Simply spray it around the cockpit where needed and give things a minute to work their magic.  Scrub the tough stains then rinse.  At least you’ll ruin a few less shirts this way, as regular spray bottles will send a mist into the air and onto your clothes.  I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

Releasing rockfish and black seabass is discussed endlessly but the answer is so simple.  Lifesavers.  Yes, the candy slash breath freshener can actually save a life.  They dissolve in a short amount of time in the water, so all you have to do is tie a hook that will rust away onto a rig with a heavy sinker and place the hook in the fish’s mouth, and drop it down to the bottom.  When the Lifesaver dissolves, the fish is free, and back to the depths it came from alive and well.

I could go on and on now that I’m on a roll.  Ever set up on a small wreck and miss by just a little bit?  Next time this happens, try turning the rudders so the current will swing the boat into position.  I swear, it works.  The more current you have, the more dramatic it is.  Works with outboards and outdrives just fine too.  No more resetting for little misses.

I have many, many more.  I will write another article about different tips and tricks when its time appropriate.  Just remember to be open minded, and willing to learn something new. I love learning new, easier ways to do things almost as much as showing someone a new easier ways I was shown or figured out on my own.  Operating a private boat is hard work, so why not try something new that makes things quicker, easier and more enjoyable.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

“Good On a Boat”: How To Get Invited Back as a Guest.

I get guys all the time asking me if they could “come along on the next trip.”  So many, that I  just can’t take them all to find out if they are good on a boat.  When I do get an open spot, I usually ask around about somebody, to see how they were on someone else’s rig.  I let the person describe how it went when that particular guest was on board, and listen for red flags.  Some guys/girls get the simple nod;  “good on a boat.”  That is the sentence that says it all.

I am not looking for an expert in any particular field.  Not a Captain or cook, fish filleting expert or hotshot at the rail.  I want someone that just plain gets it, and knows how to roll with whatever comes along.  For me I prefer a total novice, with no skills whatsoever.  That type tends to be easily trained on simplest of tasks, as long as they don’t complain.  I’m no tyrant, or slave driver.  I do it all and am accustomed to doing it all by myself, so if a guest wants to help out, it kinda has to be my way.  The person with the flexibility to do what is asked with a positive attitude gets invited back, again and again.

First, if you are asked to fish on someone’s boat, get there early.  If they are not going to be there, ask if there is a key you can access to get on the boat (if they know you well enough).  Load your stuff if you know where it goes, otherwise leave it on the dock and await instructions.  Take your shoes off if the deck is spotlessly clean, and look to see if the captain does the same.  Of course you brought exactly what the captain told you you’d need, and nothing more.  Do not bring your 130W INT and the bent butt rod “just in case a giant mako shows up”.

Checking the fluids is just one of the things that needs to be done before every trip. Arrive early and help with pre-departure duties.

Upon departure, ask which dock lines come off first, and where the captain wants you.  Find out where the fenders go, and never leave them out while the boat is underway (even for the shortest of moves).  When all the dock lines are on the boat, say “CLEAR!”, not “GO”.  Go sounds too much like “NO”.  When things are not ready say “STAND BY”.  The word “WAIT” over the sound of the engines sounds like”OKAY!”    When it’s time to stow the fenders, announce the opening of a hatch (ANY hatch) by saying “OPEN HATCH!”  You would not want the owner or captain to step into the hatch YOU just opened.  Wait until the captain gets near the bait barge and ask “which side do you want the fenders on?”  Then place them in the spots where they were at the dock, or where the captain tells you to put them.  Make sure you have established a line of communication with whoever is running the boat, in case anything should go wrong (like a loose dock line falling in the water near the props).

Once at sea, be diligent about keeping things “ship shape”, but don’t guess where things go.  Always ask.  If you were invited on a boat with special guests, cater to their needs.  Coffee, blankets, or a comforting if they feel poorly.  Ask the captain if there is any rods that need to be rigged, and how he wants it done.  If you are not a knot expert, say so.  Don’t fake that or any other qualifications.  All duties are easily and quickly taught how to be done right.  Honesty is much better than “fake it til you make it.”

Refrain from drinking alcohol, unless the captain lets you know it’s okay.  For me, that’s never.  Obviously, drugs are not okay on any boat.  If you smoke, make sure the captain knew that before you got on the boat, and ask him where the smoking area is.  I smoke cigars, often at the helm, but that does not mean that cigarettes are acceptable by the owners standards.  Always best to ask first.  Find out where all the safety gear is, and go over in your mind what you would do in case of an emergency so you are prepared.

The best guys I’ve seen watch me like a hawk, and soon begin to offer to do the tasks they’ve seen me do.  I’ll say, “time for an engine room check” and the guest will offer to do it if he has watched me several times.  I once had a guest come up to the bridge and tell me “I just fixed the head, it was plugged.”  I never knew it had an issue, and as a captain, that was just what I wanted to hear.  The simplest things like how a gaffed fish is dispatched, and where it is put after the hook is removed, are easily copied.  It does not take long for a watchful guest to learn what to do, when to do it, and where things go.  Of course you can take a nice long nap and enjoy all the food in the ice chest if you never want to be invited back.

There is a time to relax, and that is after all the work is done. Never sit down and relax while someone else is working.

If the weather is bad you are are not comfortable, keep it to yourself.  Rest assured that nobody else is comfortable either.  If the fish are not biting, that’s fishing.  Don’t complain or question the game plan of the captain or owner unless that is what you were invited to do.  To do so without any predetermined skills is a sure fire way to be erased from the contacts list of whoever got you on the boat in the first place.  If you find that the operation is not up to yours standards, you are free to not accept any future invitations.

Occasionally I run boats for guys that are not that hardcore of fishermen, but expect to catch fish.  I ask people to come with me to fish, and fish hard.  If a wad of seabass swims under he boat and I see them on the meter, only to look into the pit and see just rods in rod holders, I know an opportunity has been missed.  Make sure you DO what you were invited to do.   If the owner comes out and you have a fish hanging, be sure to offer a “hand off” to the big boss.

This fish was hooked on my rod, but landed by the special guest of the boats owner. It turned out to be a team effort, and made the “big Boss” really happy. It was the guests first ever seabass.

This will most likely be denied, but still go a long way to getting you invited back.  If you are not adept at filleting the days catch, say so, but be ready to help package the steaks.

Most of all be upbeat, positive and obviously grateful to be there.  Clean the boat after the trip with a smile, and never leave before the captain, unless instructed to do so.  Help the owner carry his gear to the car, and shake his hand with a “thank you”.  This goes a long way towards not only being invited back, but opens the door to possibly being considered as part of the “team.”

Here my guest David poses with his 1st ever dorado. All day long David worked his tail off, and by the end of the day he was exchanging phone numbers and e-mails with the boats owner. Obviously he made a good impression.

After all, you asked to be invited on one of these trips, probably because the boat is known for catching fish on a regular basis.  There is nothing hard about being either the captain, or the deckhand.  It’s just a little bit of work.  Even if you did not like the captain, owner (or his wife), being good on a boat will get you a good recommendation for other rides.  Just imagine if you were the owner or captain and what you’d expect of a guest that asked to come along.  That should give you an idea of how to act.

 

Eyes in the Sky. How Birds Help You Find Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Planning Trips Around The Moon (Phases)

Did you know that you can sit down with a calendar and plan when the fish are going to bite, months in advance?  Well, you can!  It’s especially accurate with inshore and island species like white seabass and yellowtail.  Believe it or not, it actually works with trout too.  Really.

The idea of fishing around the tides has finally taken hold after years of old timers saying it’s all poppycock.  Certain things are a given and old sayings even point it out: “The early bird gets the worm.” I.E.  Fishing at dawn is a very productive time.  We all know that.  Slack tides are also productive, more and more people are beginning to recognize that.  So if you had a slack tide at dawn what do you get?  Good fishing!

During each lunar cycle there are two periods where, for about a week, the tidal movement increases each day.  Between the 1st quarter moon and the full is one of them.  Between the last quarter moon and the new is the other. Now look at this tide calendar, from the 10th to the 18th.  See how the low tides get lower, and the high tides get higher each consecutive day?  That my friends, is a prime moon phase.  The fishing is (almost) guaranteed to be good during that time.  Weather and other factors can override it, but not so much this time of year.  Conversely, the days from the 3rd to the 10th you can see the tidal movement decreasing each day, and these tend to be less productive times in the lunar cycle.  I call these sub-prime moon phases.

In my experience, high tides tend to be more productive than low tides, and evenings better than mornings.  So let’s pick a day with a high tide in the evening during the prime moon phase.  I like the 1st and 2nd, and the 15th and 16th.  These days have already passed, and  absolutely WERE productive times.  Not only did the seabass bite at Catalina on these days in the afternoon, but the twilight boats also enjoyed great sand bass fishing at these times.

Your experience may be different, and you can taylor your trips around the tides.  Like to fish calicos on the rising tide, but need to be home on time for your kids baseball game?  Check out the incoming tides on the mornings of the 2nd and 3rd.  Both days are during the prime 1st quarter moon phase, and have a big difference between the low and the high.  Tide only means current in places where water rushes in to fill a void, or drain a void (like a harbor).  Otherwise, you can’t equate tides to currents, it just isn’t the same thing.

If you were to take a stack of old newspapers with fish counts and match it up to a set of tide calendars, you’d see a much higher “fish-per-rod” ratio during prime moon phases, than you do during sub-prime moon phases.  I have done this, and it’s amazingly accurate.  I even plan our annual family vacation to the Sierras around the prime moon phase, and it works.  Not only do we catch more trout, but bigger and a higher percentage of native trout as well.  Over the years I have done several trips to the Sierras for 3 weeks or longer, and the prime moon phase was WAY better trout fishing than sub-prime moon phases.

From here it gets much more complicated, and controversial.  The whole “Astro” side of moon phases and “moon overhead, sun under foot” deal comes into play, and it’s a topic for a book, not an article.  Just know that there are some guys that know where to be, and WHEN to be there, for a reason.  There is a time to fish whitefish and sheepshead, and a time to fish yellows and seabass.  It all has to do with the tides and moon phases.  Try planning a trip during a prime moon phase, and see what happens.  If not, at least track the fish counts and match it up with a tide calendar.  You’ll see, it’s spot on, and has been since man first gazed into the sky,  put pen to paper, and fished for food and fun.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

     Back in the late 90’s I was running a 6-pack charter boat and happened upon a new spot of seabass nobody knew about.  Around lunch time we pulled into a spot we call “Eagle Pocket” so the passengers could catch a few bass while the deckhand and I cooked up some lunch.  This particular charter boat had a less than ideal galley, and that days burgers were going to be made on a George Forman Grill.  The appliance had to be held over the sinks edge so the grease would not end up on the counter, or the floor.  I really hated when the owner booked a charter that included us cooking for the passengers.  I thought I had put the passengers where we would not catch any more seabass, because we already had limits.  Boy was I wrong.

Next thing I know, I see a set of legs through the starboard side window, running up to the bow.  I’m thinking bat ray and send the deckhand out to make sure the client is taken care of.  Then, I see two guys hooked up on the stern.  Definitely not bat rays.  I unplugged the George Foreman Grill and tossed it into the sink.  Lunch was over before it even started.  It was “FULL RACK” seabass fishing.  Every bait was an instant bite, and a quick trip up to the bridge revealed seabass under and all around the boat on the up and down, and sonar.

We played careful catch and release for about 45 minutes, wishing we had found this before we kept limits of smaller seabass.  These were all 25-40lb fish.  “Damn!”  When we left there was not a single boat in sight.  I was thinking about the next days charter already, and had dreams of quick limits and the possibility of getting home early for some much needed sleep.

The next trip I was filled with anticipation.  We had plenty of squid leftover in the tanks so I skipped the bait grounds and headed straight for Eagle Pocket.  We had left the dock at 10pm as always, and I expected to be set up and fishing by midnight.  Heading across the channel I noticed a lot of boats pointed for the West End of Catalina, straight for where my “secret” bite was.  I was getting nervous.  I rounded the West End and my first reaction was shock and horror.  There were no less than 30 boats on the spot!

It seems another charter boat sat in there after I had left, and wailed on’em good.  Instead of keeping it quiet they decided to tell the whole world about it.  I wanted to vomit.  Not wanting anything to do with it, I headed for where we had limits of smaller fish the day before, and I knew we could fish alone and drama free.  The small armada of boats put a huge damper on the fishing, and only a handfull of fish were caught in Eagle Pocket while we were up the back catching 18-20 pounders.  Later in the morning I ran past the fleet, and had my passengers hold up our limits of seabass and a couple big halibut we had fishing away from the crowd.  As if to say “look at what finding your own fish gets you!”

Recently a good fisherman found a spot of seabass on the coast, all by himself.  He took out friends and passengers to enjoy a wide open bite on bigger fish.  The talented fisherman has a license and and runs legitimate trips on his boat, and obviously explained to them the importance of keeping things quiet.  It did not last forever, and through circumstances beyond his control the bite ended due to too much boat traffic and keyboard anglers.  It still stands, in my mind, as the new record for a bite being kept quiet and producing big fish for so long.

Too bad there isn’t a better way to handle these things.  Imagine a world where every angler found their own fish, and didn’t rely on fish counts or internet reports.  Not only would fishermen learn to be more productive with that experience of learning how to “hunt” for fish, but the ones that found their own fish could enjoy good bites without a crowd.  If a guy told me he found a spot of fish that are biting and that I could fish it myself without telling anyone, I’d protect that information from getting out.   I make it a point to do so, whenever I can.  If I find a spot of fish that want to bite, it’s up to me on how to handle it.  I can give the info to a guy that wants to catch his first ever seabass, or a charter boat that is struggling.  Each time I tell someone about a bite that I find, it comes with the “and don’t tell a soul” policy.

What if I found a spot of biting fish that someone else found before me?  Happens all the time.  It’s the keeping it quiet that leads to the lack of communication and me thinking I found it first.  Obviously, it goes both ways, as stated in the beginning of this article.  There must be a way to share bite information between guys, an keep it quiet at the same time.  I don’t have any ideas right now.   Hopefully someday, somebody will.

So, do Loose Lips Sink Ships?  Or, does a lack of respect and communication cause this whole thing to be a complete nightmare?  There are some that I trust, and some that trust me.  Between us we communicate what we know honestly, confidentially, and without worry that they will alert the media about a killer bite.  We can control what we know.  When one of the guys in my code group does not tell the others what they know, that’s when things so sideways.  In the beginning of this article I referred to finding a spot of fish in Eagle Pocket by myself without a boat in sight.  Had I shared that with the other boat that fished after I did, and asked them to keep it quiet, they would have.  So which is the right way to handle this?  I have no idea, so we’ll stick with “Loose lips sink ships”, and hope it goes as well as it did with one lucky Captain on the recent coastal tanker seabass bite.

 

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.

 

 

Anglers and Free Divers: Harmony or Conflict?

No fishing rods plus a bait tank full of spear guns means these are divers, and this is close enough.

Two years ago I ran my first trip with a group of free divers, and learned more than you can imagine about some spots I’d fished for years.  The commentary from the divers after they returned from their dive was fascinating, and I listened carefully as they described the dynamic of a spot in a detail I had never even considered.

Today I did another trip with three free divers, and brought along my rods and reels to get in some fishing time while they hunted their target species, white seabass.  We even picked up a scoop of live squid on the way out.  I thought about the writing of this article as the day went on, and came to realize that I had been wrong in the past about how divers effect a bite for rod and reel anglers.  Last year I enjoyed good fishing while the divers were in the water and I was fishing from the very boat they jumped off of.  I even caught seabass last year, and a free diver from the boat I was on was not more than 30 yards from me.  I did not hook a seabass today, but had very good calico bass fishing.

It’s actually a team effort, as after the divers clear the area behind the boat,  I chum a bit with cut squid.  On their way back to the boat I always get wide eyed looks from behind masks regarding how much life there is in my chum line.  Sometimes they are dragging back a huge white seabass or calico, and sometimes not.  One thing remains constant.  Neither me fishing or them diving affects the other.  Even as a diver approaches the boat and hands me his gear, I’m still getting bites the whole time.  Often to the point of being too much to handle both things at once.

Free divers in the water have no affect on how the fish bite for rod and reel anglers. Here’s proof. 3 divers in the water and nearby, the bass bit good anyway.

Free divers are super stealthy by nature.  Not only in the water, but on shore as well.  I will not post any photos of these guys, or give out their names.  They love to hunt, not be famous.  Their preparations for each dive would be too exhausting for me.  They have camouflage wetsuits that match kelp stringers and different spear guns for different types of fish hunted.  Knives, stringers, float lines and gadgets I do not yet understand cover the boat deck between each dive, and their bodies when they enter the water.  These guys have a small fortune invested in their sport, and take it very seriously.

Most impressive is how they operate when hunting.  So quiet and methodical.  Imagine being able to sneak up to a dear in the forest and touch it before It knows you’re even there, that’s how good these guys are.  With no sense of smell (obviously) and limited vision, they often hear some amazing things.  Spawning seabass croak, and that croaking can be followed to a school of seabass in an underwater void in the kelp divers call a “room”.  Often though, it’s too far away and long, sneaky treks through the kelp bring the hunter no closer to his quarry.  Sounds travels very far underwater, deceptively far.

Safety is a free divers primary concern.  They must spend equal time above and below the water to avoid “shallow water blackout”.   Multiple divers plan carefully (sometimes without saying anything) to be apart from each other.  They hunt in poor visibility often, and don’t want to shoot another diver by mistake.  Obviously they fly a diving flag, but also avoid busy areas with too much boat traffic.  When I asked one diver about sharks he replied “if you are afraid of being attacked by a shark, pick a different sport”.  Well, you won’t catch me in a wetsuit.

I thought hard all day about this last paragraph and how exactly to word it.  Basically it comes down to this.  If you are fishing an area or spot and  a boat pulls up, anchors and puts up a dive flag, don’t get all frustrated.  I can speak from personal experience that these talented watermen will have no effect on whether or not you get a bite.  If a free diver gets in the water and your bite shuts off, it was probably going to end anyways.  Conversely, when a boat with a dive flag is anchored on a spot you want to fish, give them a wide berth for safety’s sake.  These guys are good, and if they are getting fish you’ll know because they’ll be done fast.  Either find another spot close by and wait until they are leaving, or anchor far enough away (after you have taken the time to locate each diver in the water) as to not be a danger to the guys in the water.  Live boating near a diver in the water is against the law for good reason.  Free divers and rod-n-reel anglers should exist in harmony, as neither bothers the other.  Take a free diver with you and find out what is REALLY happening under your boat, you’ll be just as blown away as I am, each and every time.

The King of Catalina

As a kid growing up I played organized sports like baseball, basketball and football, but it really wasn’t my favorite thing to do.  The egos, practices and over-competitiveness of a few players really turned me off.  I soon realized that skateboarding, surfing and riding dirt bikes were just the individual sports I was craving.  Time spent alone, doing things just to have fun and push myself, without the judgement of others more suited my style.  It seemed that as my skill level progressed in these sports, so did the desire to be admired, and comparing myself to others caused my interest to fade.  Being a hero one day is fun, the a zero the next day, sucks.  I always loved fishing, and trips to the Sierras for trout makes up most of my earliest angling memories.  Friendly competition between family members was fun, and still is.  Little did I know then that I would someday become a licensed Captain, and fishing would be my career choice.

Me, fishing even after the trip was over.

As a young boy I had fishing heros.  My Uncle Jon fished commercially and the stories he told became my dreams.  My grandfather and cousin Carl also told such stories, and I really just wanted to be able to tell stories to match theirs someday.   I’m not sure when it was, but at some point I figured out I was fishing for all the wrong reasons.  Pride, notoriety, respect and maybe even fame were what I was looking for and it was no longer fun.  I had to take a step back and see that the stories my family told around the table during Thanksgiving dinner were for entertainment, not gloating.  Thank goodness I was young when I figured this out, and my redirection came in the form of helping others catch more, and bigger fish.  I was again, having fun fishing.

My niece Jessica with her 1st seabass

I still have heroes.  It’s the guys that have a knack for catching fish when nobody else gets a bite that I respect, but I find that they are a humble type and not shameless self promoters.  It’s their attitude that I admire most.  I no longer dream of being like or better than them, but realize that I am surrounded by anglers and captains that have caught more fish, and have seen more spectacular sights than I will see in my whole lifetime.  That  is true admiration, not jealousy.

Each year since I changed my attitude so long ago,  we are blessed one or more self proclaimed,  King of Catalina.  What my friends and I refer to as the “flavor of the week”.  Most figure out the pieces of the puzzle necessary to catch fish at Catalina, then begin to tell the world how great they are.  They write books, give seminars and bask in a self made glory while the rest of us wait for the axe to fall.  When it does, most just plain disappear, never to be heard from again.  Others however, learn this lesson and swallow that bitter pill called humility.  To keep fighting just proves catastrophic to the reputation of whatever flavor of the week is stubbornly trying to prove himself in this small, opinionated industry.

As a charter boat operator, I figured it out before the very first trip I ever ran.  Customer service had nothing to do with how many fish were caught.  Nor was I in competition with other charter boats.  I tried very hard to catch fish each and every day, don’t get me wrong, but how the customers were treated by myself and crew separated the “RailTime” operation from some of the other charter boats.  We remembered names and got to know our clientele.  We took steps to make sure the quality of the fish was at it’s highest, and even shared recipes.  Boat owners chartered our boat and I gladly taught them what I could, and showed them spots willingly.  Not only was this a business, but my soul had to be free of any bad karma for me to be able to sleep at night.   Thankfully, we enjoyed a mostly repeat business and gained a loyal following.

Late afternoon bites required staying out long after scheduled return times but made customers very happy.

The current King of Catalina is easy to pick out of a crowd.  The catch phrase used almost exclusively by these legends in their own minds is “I’m trying to make a living!”  Usually screamed furiously from the flybridge or pilothouse of whatever boat they are running for that moment.  The best part is watching the customers on that particular vessel cringe with embarrassment as the Captain yells at you for being on the spot before him.  I’ve found that when you hook a big seabass in front of the angry captain (on his spot), let it swim to the side of your boat where the current King of Catalina can see perfectly, and gaff it right in front of him and his clients.  Pull the fish S L O W L Y over the rail and make sure to celebrate as loudly as possible.  Then take your time making lunch without moving.  If todays King of Catalina is so good, he can find’em somewhere else on his own.

In my humble opinion, fishing is a private and personal journey to be one with nature.  There are many ways to seek what our oceans have to offer, and angling is just one.  By far my best memories are of being alone on my old skiff at Catalina, and not a boat in sight.  Finding big fish that want to bite and hooking one that pushes the equipment to it’s max, and landing that fish without ever telling a soul.  No video, no camera, just me alone with my kill (or release).  Better yet, with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” blasting the whole time.

I take my sons fishing and make it as fun as possible.  I certainly don’t want any of them to become the “flavor of the week” someday, and I make every effort to keep them grounded, even on their best days on the water

It’s not the size of the fish, but the smiles that matter to kids.

My business, Captain On Board was started and thrives today on the concept of teaching inexperienced anglers to catch more and bigger fish, while having fun.   I teach that sometimes fish get away, or the line breaks.  Other times you just can’t get a bite at all, or when you do, someone cuts you off with their boat while not paying attention.  It’s when the mentality that “you are in MY way” comes out, that fishing ceases to be fun.  Nobody is getting rich angling in this industry.  Might as well have a good time.

 

Harsh Late Spring Winds A Good Thing

Aside

I love a little weather just before a trip.  You might be thinking, “is this guy nuts?”  Well, I just might be, but here is where I’m coming from.  When there has been a substantial bite in a certain area for a while (like the one off San Onofre this past week), then clients want to go THERE.  If I take them in search of fish where there is less boat traffic and I can hunt without the drama that goes along with fishing in a crowd, then they feel like we’re not where the fish are.  This whole scenario is one of the key things I teach at Captain On Board, hunting fish.  Seeing a small armada of boats gathered around so close that is becomes dangerous and plotting a course for the middle of the fleet, is not the ideal way to hunt for any fish, yet alone white seabass.  Can you catch a seabass by following others?  YES!  Is it as rewarding as finding them with your own fish hunting skills, NEVER!  I have a trip leaving tomorrow night to run a yacht for the Avalon Tuna Club white seabass/yellowtail annual tournament.  This tourney has some of my biggest heroes signed up every year, and I’m humbled just be be involved.  What this wind does is level the playing field to where we are all hunting without any “secret” information gathered during prefishing.  There IS NO prefishing due to this wind!  I may not be the guy with the best information, so having that “secret” stuff out of the picture just helps to level the playing field a bit, and I trust in my abilities to find fish.