There is this unexplainable phenomenon in fishing where a certain lure or technique that works so well on any given day, or maybe an entire season, does not work at all ever again. Over the years I have had countless guys pull an old iron out of their box, and with it comes stories of giant fish and stupendous catches. Yet with few exceptions, it no longer works. When it goes back into the box with the rest of the “back in the day” legends, the stories go with it. This is exactly the same way I feel about my past experiences with Catalina Island over the last two years, what worked in the past no longer applies.
This spring I noticed that most of the kelp along the backside of Catalina is gone. Maybe the water temps never got cold enough for the kelp to grow like it normally does in the winter, or more likely that big storm we had in March wiped it out. Spots, pockets and edges are completely gone, while some new spots are now fishable. Its not good or bad, its different, but unless you change your tactics and ignore the waypoints in your GPS, its like fishing a whole new island. How many times have you heard “fish the conditions, not the spots”?
There is one thing I have learned over the last few seasons over all others, patience. It used to be that I could spot a set of conditions, set up and chum, and catch a fish with a fair amount of consistency. Bouncing from spot to spot, picking away though out the day for a limit of seabass, with the halibut, yellowtail and calico bass to fill the sacks. Last year that was not the case at all, it took time to get the exotics to show and bite. Patience.
I still take notes on each and every trip, then refine them when I get home in my trip logs for future reference. Tides, current direction and time of day are key entries for the bites I see. What is clear to me is that little of what worked in the past, is working now. Skimming over old notes the early season routine was that the seabass showed up on the West End of Catalina first, mostly mid or deep water stuff. Certainly not shallow water beaches until the water warmed and the seabass were in full spawn mode, like April or May, at the earliest. My first good score this year was in very shallow water, just after watching a spot of free swimming seabass that were obviously spawning. This happened nowhere near the West End.
Last year I spent too much time following old notes and focusing on the West End of Catalina early in the season. I knew the fish were down East, but being stubborn I learned a lesson. Even during the Western Outdoors Seabass tournament I stayed away from the East End, where the winning fish was caught amongst guys that had limit style fishing. I returned two days later after metering school after school of big seabass on the way to weigh in our smaller grade seabass from middle of the back.
Even after a handoff of limit style fishing from Wes that was handed to him from Tony on the “Mardiosa” it took almost an hour to get that first bite. Patience.
So if the last few years you have struggled to catch exotics at Catalina Island, consider changing your tactics. Fish new spots, differently, with more patience. Stay longer, wait it out. My first bite this year I was actually asleep on the bridge when the fish started biting, and I was not going out of my mind that we needed to be somewhere else. Anyone that has fished with me before knows how seriously I take things when we have not yet had that first bite from the right kind. I’ve learned to adapt, relax, and change things up.
While the way I fish Catalina has changed over the years, a lot of it just being the learning curve that never ends, I still see guys fishing the same old ways that worked for them in the past with poor results. Yes, I pay attention to what the other guys are doing too. I hear of the frustration, and see first hand how they blame their lackluster seasons on everything but themselves. Just like that old iron in the box, some things just don’t work anymore.