Talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deal With Live Bait

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I spend my winters solving problems on my customers’ boats and a common discussion among all of them is the bait system.  It seems that when the fishing is good during peak season, just about everyone with a private boat has some sort of bait issues.  The misconception is that the bait tank or pump or a combination of the two is to blame.  Logically, if you pay attention to the timing of your bait problems and the coincidence that everyone else is having the same issue at the same time should tell you.  “Its not the bait system, its the bait itself.”

Even the best bait systems can't keep uncured bait alive.

Even the best bait systems can’t keep uncured bait alive.

So lets go through the basic cycles of the live bait that you purchase from one of the many bait receivers along our coast.

A bait boat (purse seiner) looks for bait sometimes miles from the receiver its delivering to for signs of a payload with sonar and surface activity.  When the operator finds a spot of bait, he sends a skiff off the back of the boat with a crew member and one end of a long, curtain like net.  The top is at the surface supported by floats, while the bottom is weighted down.  The skiff circles and so does the seiner until they meet after making a “set” around the bait.  At this point in time, a certain percentage of the bait is mortally wounded by the net, but still very alive.

With the bait contained in the “purse”, now comes the time when they transfer the bait into the bait boat and yet another percentage of the bait is mortally wounded, but still alive.

Now the bait boat retrieves its net for another set or is done and ready to head for the receiver to drop off its load.  The trip back might have dramatic changes in water clarity, temperature or it might be rough.  In each case, along with the ride in the bait boat, another certain percentage of the bait is mortally wounded, yet still alive.

The seiner arrives at the receiver and the bait is transferred, typically through a long tube like you’d see coming out of a trout stocking truck (only larger).  You get the idea now, more bait gets wounded and all that.  What is now in the receiver is the exact opposite of what we call “cured bait.”  Its dying, its going to die (not all of it), whether you let it go, put it in your bait tank, or leave it in the receiver.

The slime coat on bait (as well as most fish) protects it from infection.  The catching process has removed the slime coat and now these fish are on their way to fish heaven, slowly.  Squid is the exception, I’ll get to that later.

Like any retailer that sells a perishable commodity, the best business model here is to sell this bait as quickly as possible.  Like fruit, vegetables and fresh meats, this bait has a shelf life thats about to expire.  For the weekend guy out for a couple hours or the 1/2 day boat with 30 scoops bait capacity that most of which will be tossed overboard as chum, this bait is fine most of the time.  For the more serious overnight and multi-day guys, this bait will simply not do.  It’ll die before morning, nothing you can do about it.  Yea, maybe 1 in ten will survive, as they were the small percentage that wasn’t mortally wounded during the catching process.  They’re not happy being in a tank full of dead buddies that are giving off scales and slime as they lay on the bottom of the tank and die.  There are no refunds for a tank of dead bait, so shop wisely.

After a few days in the receiver, most of the bait that was going to die already has.  After a week whats left is pretty darn good bait.  Two weeks?  Good luck catching a bait with your net.  This one to 2 week old (or older) bait is what we refer to as “cured” bait.  No, it wasn’t soaked in some special curing solution or given antibiotics or something, its just what survived the process necessary to bring live bait to the masses.  Its a part of Southern California Sportfishing and what sets us apart from most of the rest of the world.  We’re very fortunate to have bait receivers up and down the coast, made evident by the despair created when a bait operation is out of bait, or suffers a break down of some sort.  Be cool to these guys, they work hard.

The bad news is…….. There is so much business for the receivers during the summer and periods of great weather and fishing, that they rarely can keep up with demand, yet alone be able to “cure” bait.  Your choices are:  Buy bait and take your chances, catch your own bait, or fish with jigs and artificials.  Frozen squid is a viable option for certain things we do around here too, but it should be of good quality.

Mackerel are hardy and easy to catch all year round.  Tips for keeping this easy are:  Fish mackerel at night and during periods of high tide or incoming tide.  Use the Sabiki style bait catchers with a lighter line and smaller hooks, it makes a huge difference.  Then add a torpedo sinker big enough to avoid tangles when multiple baits are hooked.  Keep a designated “bait rod” handy when offshore, as small mackerel can often be found under kelp paddies and they will readily climb the “Lucky Joe’s.”  Mackerel, squid and other baits caught are basically cured as long as they are carefully handled, and will live in a good bait system almost indefinitely (*see squid exception below).

Kelps are a great opportunity to "tank up" on bait.

Kelps are a great opportunity to “tank up” on bait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, I’ll discuss squid.  Hardy and hard to kill.  If squid dies in your bait tank, you either overloaded it, or you really do have an issue with your bait system.  Once squid spawn they rarely live longer than 3 days.  That red, mean, messy and inky squid either hasn’t spawned or just spawned that day.  The slower stuff, that doesn’t try to bite you as much but still stays on a hook is 2nd day stuff.  The mush, hard to make a long cast with, easy to catch and often plugs up the outlet screens on your bait tank are 3rd day after spawning garbage.  This rapid deterioration is why the high price tag, as live squid is often a bit more expensive per scoop than sardines or anchovy.

Hopefully, I just fixed your bait system and saved you a few bucks.  Use it to put some fuel in the rig and go catch something.  Don’t forget to ask around for what receiver has the best bait.  Trip planning is a key part of the puzzle for those who consistently catch more fish.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

How to Make a Crowder Net

A crowder is arguably the best way for a private or charter boat to make squid.  It consists of two parallel poles with a net attached between the two.  The net is is all the way down the poles at the end that goes in the water, the other ends are the handles.  Typically done with two guys, on smaller rigs it can be done solo with a smaller crowder.

One size does not fit all.  Sportboats and yachts may deploy crowders with 20′ poles and 10’X10″ nets, while private boats will do better with 8’X8′ or smaller nets and 10′ to 15′ poles.  Its important to pick a crowder that matches the size of the boat its going to be used on.

The custom part of any crowder is the bag, or how deep the pocket of the net is.  A flat net tied between two poles is nearly useless.  Too deep of a bag and the crowder will be too hard to lift through the water, and may reach under the boat and wrap the props or rudders.  Its a truly custom deal, from one boat to another.  One goal you will want to achieve when making a crowder net is to make it so the net is still in the water when the poles are set down and the handles are in the cockpit of the boat.  Having the bag still in the water makes it much easier to braille the squid out after crowding squid.

Squid in the crowder with the poles set down in the cockpit of the boat.  Notice the squid is still in the water for easy scooping.

Squid in the crowder with the poles set down in the cockpit of the boat. Notice the squid is still in the water for easy scooping.

Once you have decided how big of a crowder net you want for your boat, you’ll need to make a jig.  It needs to be high enough off the ground for the bag depth you want, and the exact dimensions for your crowder.  In the photo below, the jig is 8′ wide (pole to pole) by 6′ long.  It will have a 4′ deep bag in the water.  Keep in mind that the net will stretch more in the water that in your shop.  I like the bag of my crowder to be more at the bottom of the net, so I set up the jig in a way that will help me achieve this.  No need for the crowder net to have bag at the top in my opinion.

Crowder jig

Crowder jig

Next stretch the netting you want to use over the jig and use nails, staples or zip ties to attach it.  It takes a while to adjust the netting into the shape you want.  Don’t worry about areas of bunched up netting, it will all come out straight when you sew the edges.

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You will have two straight edges, a side and the top.  I stapled those edges first, then began to adjust the netting to make the bag.  Be patient, its trickier than it looks.  For the bag itself I place something in the net to hold it in shape so I can see how its going to come out.  For this crowder net I used two Nerf footballs.

 

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Now take the cord you plan on using for the edges and thread it through the netting, using the jig as a guide to keep the lines straight.  I used a bamboo skewer as a fid (sewing needle) and tape the cord so it has nothing to snag the netting.  At the corners leave some slack and tie and overhand knot making a 6″ loop.  You will use this loop to attach the crowder net to your poles.

Tuna cord with fid attached.  Tuna cord is smooth and has little stretch.  Butt cord is rough, making it hard to pull through the netting.

Tuna cord with fid attached. Tuna cord is smooth and has little stretch. Butt cord is rough, making it hard to pull through the netting.

 

 

 

Be sure to run the cord through every hole in the netting, and pull enough through so you can go all the way around the crowder net.

Be sure to run the cord through every hole in the netting, and pull enough through so you can go all the way around the crowder net.

Once you get to the bag end of the crowder net on the jig, take special care to use the jig as your guide.  If the net is properly set on the jig, this will define your bag.  In areas the net will be bunched up, but you still need to sew the cord through every hole in the net.  At the end you will have the tuna cord pulled though all 4 sides, with knots tied at each corner.  Each corner knot should have enough cord hanging off to use for tying the crowder net to the poles.

How I do the corners.

How I do the corners.

 

Sewing the bag edge of the crowder may take hours.

Sewing the bag edge of the crowder may take hours.

 

 

 

 

Now you can cut the excess netting off the crowder.  This should only be two sides.  Be sure to leave enough outside the cord you ran through so the net does not break at the cord.  The excess will be sewn on to the cord in the next step.  I use a simple soft nylon cord or string, smaller than the tuna cord I used to outline the crowder shape.  Sewing the net to the cord is the longest and most detailed part of the process, and takes hours or even days sometimes.  Do not rush this, as it defines the quality of your crowder.  Soft line is easier to pull through the netting and around the cord.  You’ll thank me for this advise.  Again, I use a bamboo skewer for the fid.

Pass the fid (smaller cord) through the inside of the crowder net around the tuna cord and over the outer edge of the net when sewing.  I make three turns along the cord, then do a half hitch and repeat.  At the corners, tie the smaller cord to the tuna cord to finish a side.

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1st pass….

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2nd pass…….

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3rd pass…..Now tie the half hitch.

 

 

 

 

At the 1/2 hitch, go through where your last pass is.

At the 1/2 hitch, go through where your last pass is.

 

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Finished crowder net

Finished crowder net

Continue to sew the edges all the way around the crowder net.  On the sides and bottom I like to make two passes, going in opposite directions.  This makes a strong criss-cross pattern in the sew.  I sew only one side and finish the ends of the side, instead of trying to sew the entire crowder with one pass.  It would simply be too much string to pull through with each stitch.

Now the the crowder net is finished, you’ll need to attach the net to a set of poles.  Something strong enough for the nights when there is a lot of current and you need to rest the poles on the side of the boat and lift, without breaking the poles.  I like fiberglass poles, the extruded kind.  Some guys like bamboo, or even fiberglass gaff blanks.  Be sure to leave about 2 inches of pole below the crowder net for less tangles at the tips.  Refer to the “How to Make a Gaff” article on this site for the way I like to tie things to fiberglass poles, its exactly the same.

Netting can be found on the internet.  Try Memphis Net and Twine or Nylon Net Co.  I have some netting I got from a koi pond store that is intended for covering ponds to keep critters out.  Its nylon and durable, but harder to push through the water than mono.  Mono is very fragile, and hangs up on everything.  When you begin to crowd squid and the mono netting hangs up on a screw in your rub rail, you risk tearing a hole in the net.  Take special care to tighten all screws and remove anything that can snag the mono netting.  You will also need to make a cover to protect the net from snagging and sun damage.

I go back and forth between mono and nylon on my personal crowders.  I find that mono glows next to an underwater light, and sometimes scares away spooky squid.  For this crowder its what I had in my shop at the time.  Guys will tell you that mono is easier to push through the water, but I think the difference between mono and nylon is so slight, you will hardly notice.  If the net is too hard to push through the water, its typically because the bag is too big.

You can expect it to take a minimum of 3 whole days to make a crowder from start to finish, not including the time it takes to get the materials.  For this reason, crowders are expensive to buy.  If you know the dimensions you want and the bag depth, one of the companies mentioned above might make you a crowder net special order.  In the past I have done this with mixed results.  They will charge you an arm and a leg unless you order several nets, the extras you can sell to your friends.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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.

Sickening Wide Open Seabass

Me and Scott hooked up!

Me and Scott hooked up!

While making the move from the middle of the back last weekend with our one fish to weigh for the Western Outdoor News Catalina Seabass Tourney, I noticed something interesting.  Very good conditions along a stretch of the island, and solid seabass marks for almost a mile.  We did not have the time to stop and fish it properly, but did make a few halibut drifts while I took some mental notes.  I knew I had to get back and on this stuff before the world found out, and I did.

Ryan Slob!

Ryan Slob!

Monday morning I called Mike Mundy with the 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” to see if he could go.  He is a member of the Avalon Tuna Club and the Southern California Tuna Club, and I knew both had the coveted 1st White Seabass flags available.  Mike could not go, so I called Bob Elliott, owner of the “Fresh One.”  Bob knew I would not call if I didn’t think it was good, so he made it happen.  We could not go that day, “can we go tomorrow?” he asked.  It was the best we could do, and I had to accept that.  Turned out to be a good move.

"Fresh One" owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

“Fresh One” owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

I got down to the “Fresh One” about 8am with an ice chest filled with frozen squid for chum.  Bob rounded up his fishing buddies that could take off work and they were due to arrive at 10am.  I checked the engine fluid levels and the generator.  I prepped the boat and was ready and waiting when the group started to arrive.  Everyone was excited, and I don’t think there was a doubt in anyones mind it was going to be good.  We just didn’t know HOW GOOD it was going to be.

Walt getting it started.

Walt getting it started.

We topped off the fuel tanks and headed over.  I ran the boat a little harder that I usually do, but was afraid the Darryl on the “Marie Claire” might sell the bait he was holding for us.  I was in no hurry to fish, as I felt it was a late afternoon/evening bite.  I was mentally prepared for a sundowner, but we did not have to wait that long.  When we came into the area, the “Mardiosa” was hooked up and picking away at the fish.  We looked around for not much, watching Tony closely to see when he would finish up (with limits).  It took a while and Tony called in the “Options” for a clean handoff.  As Wes slid back I saw he already had one hanging.  NICE!  These guys had paying customers on board and for sure had priority to get it done.  We waited patiently.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Even if Wes had not called us in, I still would have moved and set up on that spot.  While Wes was on it we could all see the bite building.  It was getting closer to bite time and the fish really waned to chew.  Wes had to deal with a seal so it took him about 45 minutes to an hour to finish up and start heading for home.  When they hooked their last fish, Wes signaled us to head over, and we did.

Scott and Ryan.  I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Scott and Ryan. I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Our transfer was not as smooth as the one between the “Mardiosa” and the “Options”.  I did not mark a single fish for a long while after Wes left.  Anxiety began to set in, as we chummed hard for about an hour before getting our first bite.  Walt was on the bow and hooked the first fish, but before he had his fish to color we were all pulling on fish.  He called for the gaff and I yelled “you will have to gaff your own buddy, we are all a little busy.”  A couple fish fell off and I grabbed my camera.  When we finally got the last fish for limits, only about 20 minutes had passed.  Ryan got the big fish so a couple of us released the 30# models that were lip hooked and very releasable having been caught quickly on heavy tackle.  We were in skinny water so releasing these fish was a snap.  We could have caught and release for ever, but called it quits when the 5th fish (last for limits) hit the deck.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

I have seen it that good 3 times in my whole life.  Anything you dropped down was bit instantly.  You hear of guys getting bit on 80#?  These would have bit 100#, easy.  In the Video you see Bob getting his fish, then Ryan hooking one right under the boat.  It gives you an idea of just how good it really was.  Enjoy.

Click this link to watch the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk3YQ2Fx6iY

FreshOne

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.