Adapting

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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.

Salta Verde Kelp, almost completely gone.

Salta Verde Kelp, almost completely gone.

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 sat on the East End through one whole afternoon, night and morning to pick at these seabass.

I sat on the East End through one whole afternoon, night and morning to pick at these seabass.

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.

Very shallow water wide open seabass in April, 59 degree water.

Very shallow water wide open seabass in April, 59 degree water.

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.

East End wide open seabass, bigger grade.

East End wide open seabass, bigger grade.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

California Yellowtail

With all the discussion these days about small yellowtail being caught and kept I though I would do my best to research the subject and weigh in my feelings.  I really thought I would find facts proving that these “rat” yellows spawn at a young age and grow really fast, to support my belief that keeping these smaller fish was justifiable.  Turns out there is little known about California Yellowtail compared to other fish we love to target in our area, and what is available is not exactly what I expected.

These fish grow fast at a young age and are 3-4lbs at year one, but their growth slows considerably as they age and at 5 years old the average yellowtail is approximately 16lbs.  Most spawn in their 2nd year while all spawn in their third year.  This means that all of these small yellowtail caught on kelps have not yet spawned, something that surprises me and changes my opinion more than a little.  Yellowtail broadcast spawn meaning that they gather in groups and males release sperm in the water with the eggs from the females.  Spawning occurs from May through September, right when we are targeting them.  Armed with this information I am now puzzled with the apparent health of our yellowtail biomass.  On all fronts the scientific community rates the California Yellowtail population as “healthy”.

Another thing that got my attention is the amount of eggs deposited by smaller yellows in comparison to the larger ones.  3 to 5 year old yellowtail spawn just once per year, releasing about 458,000 eggs while their larger cousins spawn multiple times per year and its more like 4 million eggs!  Obviously the large yellows are carrying the weight of the responsibility for the species.  Good when you think of how smart the big boys are, and its healthy that the next generation gets the genes of wise yellowtail.

California yellowtail populations live primarily in Mexican waters most of their lives, and a low percentage migrates above the border during warm water seasons.  The record large yellowtail caught in California was 80lbs (caught in 2001) and the record in Mexico was a whopping 92.1lbs (caught in 1960).  While a ten year old fish will typically be around 35lbs, no California yellowtail has ever been aged at over 12 years.  So how old were the record fish, and how old do they get?  I found no answers.

Interestingly, these fish grow decidedly faster in warmer water, so a resident Catalina yellowtail at 25lbs may be 10 years old!  On years such as this one where a large volume of small yellowtail migrate into US waters there is some that stay at our local islands and coastline for the rest of their lives.  Tagging studies have shown that these fish migrate very little once they get here, staying local and living the rest of their lives within miles of one area.  At least 3 different species of the yellowtail family exist in the Pacific, and scientists agree that more may be discovered if more research is done.  No data was available on the Southern California resident population and its spawning habits.

In past years (1954) yellowtail had a high commercial market value for canning but that is ancient history.  Today recreational catches far exceed commercial catches, another fact that caught me by surprise.  Drift nets (gill nets) account for the bulk of the total commercial amount of yellowtail caught each year, and those nets are set to target white seabass and barracuda (thats what it says!).  Commercial rod and reel catches are surprisingly high actually, but don’t even touch the amount captured by nets.  No real shocker there.

I never have had a problem admitting I was wrong, and this is just another case of that.  What I wanted to find was facts leading to me preaching from my soap box about how catching and keeping small yellowtail is legal and the fishery sustainable.  While the latter seems to be true with the information I found, and obviously the legal aspect is accurate, I have no soap box to stand on anymore.  These small fish should be released whenever possible, and I will make an effort to do so.

Now if I was running a boat that had traveled long distance on substantial amounts of fuel I might change my way of thinking when that first “rat” comes to color.  But the mass destruction of “limits for all” is something I have changed my mind on.  I still believe in peoples right to do their own thinking and certain freedoms for all (within the limits of the law).  I will change my ways based on the data I found this evening, and let you decide for yourself.  These fish gather offshore in groups to spawn this time of year, and we are taking advantage of that and disrupting the cycle of life.  They are fun to catch, and while fishing for these small California yellowtail we have the opportunity to catch something worth really getting excited about.  They taste good too.

What will you do the next time you find a kelp loaded with “rat” yellows?

 

Wrecks and Reefs

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

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

Big bass, WAY up current of the wreck.

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

Critters that live right in the structure

Critters that live right in the structure

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Do NOT do this!

Do NOT do this!

 

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

Deciphering the Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

It Really Is About The Spots

Don’t let that seminar speaker fool you, spots are as important to him as anything else.  Probably more so than he is leading you to believe.  Almost every target species in our local waters relates directly to wrecks, reefs or hard bottom, even if its a halibut that hides in the sand or mud to ambush its prey.  The vast majority of the ocean floor is a lifeless wasteland, and spending any time fishing these undersea deserts is a complete waste of time, period.

A hard look at this 3D image shows flat areas with no structure, and a few spots.  Knowing these spots is curtail to being a better angler.

A hard look at this 3D image shows flat areas with no structure, and a few spots. Knowing these spots is curtail to being a better angler.

The conditions that make a spot bite are of vital importance, but an angler can catch fish if he is set up on a spot properly even if the conditions are not ideal.  Conversely, fishing in ideal conditions and not being on something that is holding fish will rarely do you any favors.  How often have you fished on a sportboat that had to “re-set” the anchor on a spot, and it seemed like he only moved a few feet?  Yes, it is that critical.

Far off the island this spot comes up to just a few fathoms.  Set on it right and catch bass, yellowtail and seabass.  Miss and catch nothing.

Far off the island this spot comes up to just a few fathoms. Set on it right and catch bass, yellowtail and seabass. Miss and catch nothing.

It can be as critical as having your GPS antenna far away from the fish finder transducer on your boat.  You run over the numbers and the “X” on your plotter, only to look at the sonar and see nothing.  When you do run over the marks you want to see on the meter, you hit “save” on the GPS as if the numbers were wrong in the first place.  Maybe they weren’t wrong?  Maybe, you need to be more aware of where your transducer is in relation to your GPS antenna.

Once you get the fine details of your electronics mastered, its now time to get to know your spots.  I mean, build a real relationship with spots so you know them like you know your Mom.  When your buddy gives you the GPS#’s of a spot that is not all there is, you need to ask the right questions.  “Which way was the current going when you got bit?”  “How high does the (rock, wreck or reef) come up?”  Then, when you do fish that special spot, be sure to take notes to help learn every detail for next time.  Spots that you think you have mastered may have intricacies you didn’t know about, so never assume you know it all.

Being set up properly is the most important thing about any specific fishing spot.  Set up too close and you will be fishing for sculpin, rockfish and small bass, the fish that live in and closely around the structure.  Your target species is typically far up-current of your GPS#’s, so set up accordingly.  For example, when fishing for yellowtail on a wreck you should not even be able to reach the structure with a long cast followed by letting your bait drift back. We’re talking sometimes hundreds of yards when the current is really ripping.  Again, you’ll need to be set up perfect.  10 feet to either side and you will likely catch nothing at all.  A chopped chunk of sardine or squid dropped off the middle of your transom should drift to the structure proper.  If it misses, you must reset.

January 2013 yellowtail caught while anchored perfectly on an island rock in deeper water.

January 2013 yellowtail caught while anchored perfectly on an island rock in deeper water.

 

Shoreline spots along the coast or islands are very much the same, except they are more apt to change over time.  Kelp may die off or bloom, hill sides may slide and change the dynamic of a spot.  Note changes in your log for the next trip including whether or not the fish bit, and where you had to set differently to be in position to catch fish.

Drifting has its time and place, but structure fishing is not it (unless you are fishing deep for rockfish and you do not have the anchor gear).  Chumming is essential to get the fish in the biting mood, and the draw the exotics out.  Drifting makes is impossible to chum effectively.  If you have decided that you hate to anchor, then you have decided you are okay with catching much less fish, especially your target species.

So take the time to learn your spots.  Not only the GPS#’s, but what makes them work.  Anyone that tells you “it’s not that important” is either wrong or not telling it to you straight.  A sportboat captain without spots is nothing more than a boat driver.  Show me a professional fishing captain who’s GPS has gone out, and I’ll show you a boat on its way home for repairs.

2012 Southern Cal Tuna Club “Stag” Tourney

Mike called me months ago and told me to block out some dates so I could run his 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” in the fall “Stag” tournament this year.  Its an annual tourney in the Southern California Tuna Club (SCTC) and we have fished it together for the last 4 or 5 years.  Mike is the perfect guy to run a boat for.  He is fun and easy going, yet likes to catch fish and is will to go the extra mile.  For the week leading up to the trip I worked on the boat, doing routine engine and generator service, and getting the tackle and gear ready.  At the same time I was watching the tuna deal very closely, and the weather.  Last minute the weather forecast turned for the worse, but Mike said “go for it” anyways, and boy am I glad we did.

An old friend of Mikes passed away very recently, Gordy Bateman.  Gordy was (I think) 99 years old, and one of the saltiest guys ever the walk the earth.  A member of SCTC, Gordy had a reputation for taking his boat, the “Fighting Lady” to the ends of the earth in these tournaments.  He’d show up for the weigh-ins at the last possible minute, and pull some big, tournament winning tuna out of the hold.  I mentioned to Mike that the tuna were on the edge of our range for the time alloted, he was hesitant.  Then I said we could do it in memory of Gordy, and the idea became set in stone.

Rigged and ready to go.

On thursday, October 4th I loaded up my gear and got things ready.  Mike came down along with his guest Ron and we went to the fuel dock to top off the tanks, then out to see Nacho at the bait barge for our ammo.  Nacho asked me “whacha want?”  I said “Some live squid would be great about now buddy.”  (Not knowing he HAD live squid).  “Okay, its in that well on the other end.”  I was stoked beyond words.  The sardines have been hard to keep alive on long trips this whole year, but I knew the squid would make the trip no problem.  There is a lot of squid offshore right now, and I knew the tunas were keyed in on the squirts anyways.  The tanks full of live squid lifted my spirits, considering the deteriorating weather reports on the outside.

We ran back in to the slip to pick up Tom, Mikes son and one of my good friends from all the way back to grade school.  Tommy jumped on with his gear and we were off in minutes flat.  I checked my voicemail and e-mail for last minute intel, and even got an on the water call from Josh who was just in from the tuna grounds.  With that intel I plugged in the #’s and set our course, only 117 miles to go.  “Its gonna be a LONG night boys”, I said as we rolled our guts out going across the flats in a beam sea.

I took my turn at the wheel, but refrained from overdoing my time like I typically do.  I knew I had to have my game face on when we reached the grounds, so I took my place on one of the bridge bunks and rested as hard as I could.  No way to sleep when you can hardly keep from falling out of your bunk.  It wasn’t rough, but the angle could not have been worse.  I was actually waiting for the axe to fall, but it never did.  Sometimes the weather forecast is wrong, but instead of being worse than they said, it was better.  At 4am I took the helm and looked at the plotter.  We were outside the 1010 Trench, just 5 miles from a 213 spot.  The water was 69.8, and had been for the last 30 miles.  I knew we needed to find the break before we would be in the tuna.  I turned up the gain on the machine and set the depth to 10 fathoms, then set the fish alarm so the first meter marks could be heard as well as seen.

At grey light we were almost right on top of the high spot, and the jigs were out.  From the 213 to the 1010 Trench would be straight downhill, just like I had planned.  Mikes guest Ron is 80 years young, and I wanted him be be safe and comfortable.  I heard the Furuno fish finder alarm go off and looked down to see a nice jag of tuna, then looked over at the Furuno RD30 Sea Temp meter and it read 70.5.  The next thing I heard was the sound of reels screaming.  “Perfect!  I love it when a plan comes together.”  I ran down the ladder and helped clear the jig rods, and at the same time brailed a 1/2 scoop of live squid into our wake as the boat slid to a stop.  Tommy was winding in a hoochie daisey chain right through the chum and got bit on the grind.  The tuna ate the thing not 15′ off the transom, and he came tight on a nicer grade fish.

At deep color I called it out “big albacore guys!”  Mike was stoked.  I gaffed Tommy’s fish and placed it in the kill bag, then went to work on Mikes fish, which was a little bigger model.  The head gaff ended up in the mouth, and the lift into the boat was a little sketchy.   Glad the fish made it in the bag, because it ended up being the tournament winning fish.  As is typical with early morning first bites, we were slow getting baits in the water, and never did get a bait bite on that stop.  No doubt we would have if we had been better prepared.  We transferred the ice from the freezer on the bridge and put in on the fish, then set the jigs and I went back to work.

The jig stops were steady and we began to pick off bait fish here and there.  The albacore turned into yellowfin, and our numbers were getting up there.  The kill bag was getting hard to close.  We found a kelp on the 1010 proper and hooked a dorado, then another.  It sure is fun when the kill bag has several different species in it, especially in a tournament that has different categories for different fish.  With the job basically done and now being 130 miles from Catalina, I made the turn to start heading uphill.  It was still early, and we were still in the fish.  I set a course for the Hidden Bank and expected a break in the jig stops, but it never materialized.  No late morning lull or crew falling asleep.  You gotta love fall fishing.

Ron on a tuna with Tommy handling the deckhand duties.

We came up on another kelp and I got out the first bait.  A very slight backlash when I cast a flylined live squid up wind turned into an instant tuna bite.  The result was a knot on my spool and the tuna getting the best of me with a loud “SNAP!”  The whole thing took all of 3 seconds.  Thats how good it was.  We added some yellowtail to our score on the way up the line, then crossed the break and back into dead waters we went.  It was time to head for the barn.

We ran through the night at 8.5 kts, straight uphill.  Not one drop of water came over the gunnels the whole trip, but it was still bumpy.  You could tell it was blowing hard on the outside, and the weather updates on the VHF spoke of 40kts of wind at San Nicolas Island.  At midnight the weather really laid down, and we bumped it up to 10kts.  After more than 30 hours at 8kts, 10 felt like we were hauling ass.  At 4am I pulled back the throttles as we came up under the East End light at Catalina.  I metered around for some conditions and marks, but found nothing I liked.  So I continued up the front, looking for signs of life.  By now my legs were weak with exhaustion, and I could feel my eyes burning.

Mike with his tournament winning 29lb albacore.

I set us up at Yellowtail Point, and we cast out a few baits.  Then we weighed our catch and began the process of filleting and packaging our beautiful fish.  It was flat grease, and in this club you can weigh your fish at anchor with a certified scale if the seas are calm.   We fished through half the day, knowing it was not going to be anywhere as good as the day before.  I did catch a big calico that I thought might win that division.  It was bested by just ounces, but didn’t take away from our tournament victory in any way.  In every other tournament that Mike and I have ever fished, we stayed out and fished hard til the very last possible second.  Not this trip, we were in 4th Of July Cove and on the mooring at 3pm, with the dinghy in the water and ready to go.  Lines out was scheduled for 4pm, but we wanted to head into the Isthmus for Buccaneer Days, and witness the mayhem first hand.  We ate ice cream and tried hard not to fall asleep standing, then headed for the awards banquet.

At the clubhouse in 4th of July Cove we met up with all 60+ of the other tournament participants.  We all shared stories of our travels, and nobody could believe we had done what we did.  Basically was stayed up for 3 straight days to get down to the tuna grounds and back, but it was worth it.  The traditional swordfish and steak dinner only made me more tired, and as they announce that Mike and I had each won a category (tuna for Mike, and yellowtail for me) we felt the real pay off of doing the trip in memory of Gordy Bateman and the “Fighting Lady”.  I was now so tired I could hardly put together a sentence.  Tommy headed back into the Isthmus for more of Buccaneer Days, and Mike, Ron and I sat in the cockpit of the “Mundy Mooring” sharing some fish stories.

I called my wife and my son Scott to tell them I was safe and missed them tremendously, then laid down.  I fell asleep faster than I could ever remember, and woke up with both a victory and the memory of Gordy fresh in my mind.

Marlin fishing on the way home from Catalina.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Kelp Paddy Fishing from a A Private Boat

That’s close enough!! Too close and you spook most of what you’re trying to catch. Don’t worry, the fish know your bait is there, trust me.

If you have read this far I applaud you, because there have been kelp paddy articles written over and over, each and every year.  The information here will sound redundant, but the idea is to pound some basic information into the heads of those who just don’t seem to grasp the concept.  Some guys piss others off so bad, that verbal battles on VHF channel 72 near the point of death threats.  Others simply can’t buy a bite.  Maybe they never read any kelp paddy articles.

If you’ve ever fished on a long range boat out of San Diego, you know how they fish kelps.  The captain or a crew member spots a kelp and word gets spread around the boat.  30 anglers, awakened from their naps, froth with anticipation as the charter boat approaches the “salad”.  Most armed with long jig sticks adorned with heavy metal jigs.  The bow of the boat passes the kelp first, and those up front cast at the flotsam as if to be trying to sink it with missiles.   A few guys hook up, but the boat is still sliding (and turning at the same time).  As the anglers in the stern pitch a live bait towards the kelp, the hooked up guys from the bow come barreling down the rail and either saw off freshly hooked baitfish or get tangled.   Some land their fish while causing some, less assertive passengers to throw in the towel.  If the kelp is holding some tonnage, then the boat drifts off while the bite gets really going.  A more organized, steady pick continues as the kelp disappears from sight.

I can see why long range boat skippers fish a kelp this way.  They have a boat full of paying clients, and a responsibility to give each angler the chance to hook a fish.  I also know first hand, that if (as a captain) I do not position the charter boat close enough for passengers to actually HIT the kelp, I will have old timers givinging me a piece of their mind.   If I repeatedly begin a drift far upwind from a kelp, I do believe a mutiny may begin at some point.  I have done this and the passengers simply waited until the boat was close enough to the kelp for them to be able to hit it with a well casted bait, and hit it they did!  Insanity.

That’s about as close as you’ll ever see me on a kelp. On this day, the fish were smaller and biting heavy line, so distance was not as much if a factor.

On a private boat we do things quite differently.  I like to set the boat upwind of the kelp, and begin a drift that will allow the stern to pass the kelp and leave a distance further than a long jig cast.  There are reasons for this.  First off, we do not have the chumming capabilities of a long range boat loaded with 100 scoops of bait, so I don’t want to spook the fish we’re trying to catch.  Secondly, private boats can fish lighter line that gets bit better, because we are not battling 29 other anglers lines to land a fish.  By being further away from the kelp, the chances of landing a yellowtail or tuna is far better if hooked away from the structure on lighter line.

Small fish on kelps can be a blast on light line, especially when hooked from far enough away (from the kelp) that you still have a chance to land them.

I keep fishing long after we’ve passed the kelp, as history has shown that some of the best bites I’ve ever seen, started after drifting a ways past.  While running the charter boat “RailTime”, I had become used to the Furuno CH250 Sonar, and could give a play-by-play for anglers as fish followed the boat far off the kelps they tried to sink with jigs.   Sometimes the fish simply won’t leave the kelp, and I will re-set for another drift when the bite stops and meter marks go away.

If there are fish still on the paddy and the bite has either tapered off, or stopped altogether, I will begin to slow troll live baits past the kelp.  3 anglers max to avoid tangles, I have clients nose hook a live bait and then motor past the kelp as slow as the boat will go.  Again, NOT TOO CLOSE!  A tuna or yellowtail can swim from under the paddy to your bait 50 yards away, in a matter of seconds.

Once the bite tapers off, it’s time to get back to looking. Trolling while looking for paddies saves on fuel, and blind jig strikes add to your score. These albies were caught after we’d drifted far off the kelp, and were enticed to the boat with rubber core sinkers.

If there are other boats in the area, it’d be best if all followed the same routine.  That will never be the case.  Start your drift closer to the paddy when other boats threaten to try and share your find.  You’ll need to be more selective about which kelps to fish hard, because you’ll have to throw more chum to keep the fish at your boat, and not go to the poachers rig.  If there is a paddy holding and biting for 3 or 4 boats, I will watch the birds and fish them instead of the paddy itself.  Back to when I had a sonar at my disposal, the fish were under the birds and I could see that on the meter.  Boats fishing the paddy would trip out when I got the bite going 1/2 mile away from where they were.  Birds are key, especially when it’s dorado we’re targeting.

To summarize, please resist the urge to drive right up to a paddy and cast your baits (or jigs) right into the salad.  You ABSOLUTELY WILL catch more fish off kelps if you stay away from them.  That is, unless you are actually fishing for the kelp itself. ( I hear it makes an excellent hair care product.)   I personally steer clear of paddies with boats on them, or one that has a boat just leaving it.   A fresh kelp, that has not been fished by another boat that day produces much better than one that has been hit hard, even if you heard on the VHF how wide open is “was”.

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.