I am fishing the salt today (8/17/10) with Ben Florentino and Dick Schaffer. We are headed to San Clemente Island for Calico Bass fishing.
Ben runs a 22 foot Skeeter bay boat. Ben on deck, Dick unloading gear (photo post fishing)
Departing before sun up we head out in a mild fog. Half way there and passing by the east end of Catalina Island we looked back to see the sunrise coming up over the mainland. The seas were extremely calm and after an easy two hour run we pulled up mid island on the eastern shoreline.
As clouds sat on the island's mountain tops there was no wind or current. Despite the crystal clear water with the lack of current I could not help but think of a slack tide condition at the Cal Delta or when surf fishing. A slack tide generally translates to the toughest bite. When the current/tide moves predators look for meals to wash by and feeding windows will open.
Hopefully the water would begin to move, the kelp patties would lay down and the bite would pick up. Despite the conditions my fishing mates were catching some bass. Nothing large yet but still it always nice to get bit.
I have with me the new Spro saltwater 8" BBZ swimbaits. The saltwater Dorado pattern has been available for some time but the Mackerel, shown above, and the Sardine pattern are recent additions to the Spro line. I have been asked to take them out and give them the run through.
It has been said that one of the smartest things a big bait swimbait angler can do is to know when to put it down. I couldn't agree more. Under these conditions I came to this realization fairly quick.
The lessons of salt and freshwater angling are interchangeable. Nonetheless I was determined and hopeful to hit a funnel at the right time and produce a good bite. Boat position, retrieve angles, the funnel on a spot on spot, and targeting these opportunities with the "best" cast makes a tremendous difference when fishing big bait swimbaits. Oh, did I mention the rights conditions as well? I don't always have the opportunity to fish in the ocean in a vessel that is so appropriate for this type of technique . So for the time being I am sticking with it.
Along the east side of the island Dick landed a couple of small bass. The times I have been out with Dick especially on his turf he always seems to makes the right moves first. Keep your eye on him you will learn.
Things slacked off again and Ben decides to make a short run to the east end and fish Pyramid Cove. It was a good move. The conditions had not improved, still no current but this end of the island is less sheltered and the swells were more pronounced.
Dick right away picked up two nice Calicos. One around five pounds on a surface iron and another at the four pound mark on a slug (slug bass shown). Ben also hooked up but soon and true to the conditions the pace falls off.
Next move Ben told us we were going to the boiler rocks at China Point. Shortly after arriving and on my third cast the shortwave radio cracks, "Attention fishing vessel located on China Point this is Grenade 7 comeback over". Ben responds and Grenade 7 instructs us to move off shore 3 miles. As we leave the area we hear the unmistakable sound of large caliber machine gun fire.
and the birds then either flew away or just sat down indicating that it was over. Still no current, it simply is not happening.
Ok let's try the west end of the island. On a drift pattern across the kelp beds we begin to see calicos tracking our baits. Just as Ben lands a decent bass on a Mission Fish swimbait a navy sailor in a Kodiak pulls up on us. He informs us that the island is now closed to fishing and tell us we must leave.
Perhaps the bite was just about to pick up or this navy man just did us a huge favor. Between Dick and Ben they represent over 80 years of saltwater experience! They remarked that these were the worst fishing conditions that they had ever experienced at paradise.
Both explained that this is usually not how it is. What they may not realize is my home lake is Castaic and a tough bite will never bother me. Regardless of the bite my soul was smiling.
Kicked off SCI we headed back and Ben decides to make a stop at Catalina. It proved to be a high point on an extremely tough day. The current here was moving, the kelp was laying down, the water was slightly off color and bait fish that did not appear to be relaxed were in the area.
We made two passes across sparse kelp beds. Still fishing the big bait I knew this was our last stop. I gave it several heartfelt presentations and then finally put it down. Selecting my Waxwing set up I joined Ben on the front deck. As he watched me fish he suggested that I speed up my retrieve.
Priding myself as one who will listen when suggestions are made (hello out there). I reeled faster and coming through the lanes between the kelp Ben and I both saw a calico bolt out and grab my lure. A grumpy hit a Waxwing in a rainbow trout pattern. Ha, there aren't any trout out here. Ben spoke out that she was not hooked that well. So straight to the boat and without pause I swung her in. Over the gunnels and the hook came out but she landed in the boat.
Not only was I holding the biggest fish that I have swung in on any boat I was holding a P.B. for a calico bass. As tough as the day was and as much as I wanted to produce a catch on the saltwater BBZ, I couldn't be happier. It was also the day's jackpot (released) a 6 lb. Checker Board.
Nice call Ben you made an excellent decision to save the day. We had to fish through several barracudas to get to the calicos but all three of us were able to hook up on several techniques at this final stop.
Fishing is a great activity. Each time we go out and before the day's events unfold we can't help but think of the possibilities of what can happen. The expectations will always be there, if not then I suggest you are perhaps not a positive person. The right attitude or the lack of it in my opinion will always have a tremendous effect on an outcome.
As much as we want to have a fun day that's pushed by fair winds and full of good catches when the bite doesn't really happen we should still see the bigger picture. Many of us live in urban environments so time on the water is a great way to connect with nature.
In addition to being very cool this communion appeals to our DNA, our ancestry and also things that can matter the most. Coupled with good friends, like minded fishing companions and nature's beauty, what is there not to like? Did we wish for a better bite, of course. Was it a great trip, I say yes. A tough day fishing is when you can't go.
Boiler Rocks - Shallow rocks that are crashed into and over by ocean swells. The crashing swell produces white water and foam full of bubbles. Predator fish such as calico bass hold tight in pockets between the rocks. When a swell washes prey items into the turmoil bass will bolt out, inhale a bait and bulldog back to the rocks. Presenting your deception into the boilers can hook you up with a large mean spirited calico. Small craft can position very close to boilers. Safety should always come first so it is best that someone man the helm at all times when fishing boiler rocks. A pilot at the wheel will also insure the boat remains positioned for the best casting angles.
Boils - The churning of the water's surface produced by fish attacking and eating prey items. Predators will use the surface as a funnel, push prey towards it and feed against it. Usually accompanied by opportunistic birds diving into the water picking up injured bait fish and scraps. Boils which are created by aggressive fish can be spotted from a distance and are a good place to pull up to and target.
- Calico Bass, nick name is based on the fish's markings.
Fin Bait - Live bait often being anchovies, sardines or mackerel. These three bait fish are common to southern California saltwater angling.
Funnel - Ambush point, a place where a predator feels it's prey is in a compromised position, a location often associated with the surface, bottom, structure, cover or even better a combination of such features where a predator can trap prey and feed more effectively.
Grumpy - another nick name for a calico bass, based on the fish's mean disposition.
Jackpot - Heaviest/Largest catch of the trip.
Kodiak - Inflatable boat
Paradise - Calico Bass fishing at San Clemente Island in a bay boat.
P.B. - Personal Best most likely will produce a big smile
Running and Gunning - A fast paced style of fishing associated with covering water. Usually with reaction baits an angler pulls up fishes an area quickly and then rapidly moves on to the next spot.
SCI - San Clemente Island
Slack Tide - No water movement, no current
Techniques and Tools
BBZ-1 Spro Saltwater 8" Swimbaits, top to bottom Dorado, Sardine (rolling it's eyes at you) and Mackerel
These saltwater big bait swimbaits are much heavier than previous models, weighing 7.5 oz the same rod you throw the traditional 8" freshwater counterpart on will not suffice. Due to the weight they also have a relative faster working speed.
The following tools and techniques produced hook ups this trip.
Mission Fish - A realism soft plastic swimbait, with the ability to cover the entire water column; top, middle and bottom. It's line through weedless design makes it very effective on the bottom and in the kelp.
Slugs from top to bottom; underside view, top view, side view rigged with 8/0 Mustad Ultra Point big mouth tube hook. A slot top and bottom is cut with a knife when rigging. The slot allows the hook to move freely during the hook set. Though soft these baits are made from dense plastic. A spring can be threaded into the head of the bait and the hook is then run through the spring. The spring prevents the bait from tearing easily when hooking and playing a fish allowing the bait to last longer.
Slug - A soft plastic bait that has a gliding action. Depending on rigging it is very weedless in the kelp. When targeting the top of the water column on the surface retrieve this lure on a fast glide through the open lanes between the kelp. When crossing the kelp pause when you enter open water, a bass may be tracking your slug as it moves over the kelp. If you miss a strike stop the slug the bass will often look for it and hit again. This lure can be fished in a multitude of ways. Use a weightless wide gap hook, keeled swimbait hook, lead head jig with an exposed hook or even drop shotting are just a few of the many rigging methods. Slugs come in many sizes and are a very versatile bait.
Spinnerbaits - Just like a freshwater spinnerbait this lure produces in the ocean. Creating flash and vibration suggesting the illusion of bait fish. Typically salt water spinnerbait selections are heavier than their freshwater counterparts weighing as much as 1 -1/4 oz. and up. Just like in freshwater angling cast this weedless lure in and around structure and cover.
Surface Irons - light weight metal jigs sporting either a treble (most common) or single hook at the tail. When retrieved back they have a zigzag swimming action. Irons are handmade so each one is slightly different than the next. What might appear as an imperfection is actually desirable. These subtle asymmetries will produce the best swimming action. Devoted "jig" fisherman will test their selected irons prior to making trips out to sea. Throwing surface irons requires more skill than most methods and the equipment is highly technique specific. Long rods and long casts are optimum.
Waxwing - A new subsurface jig by Shimano, it imparts the illusion of a fin bait. Waxwing jigs have an erratic horizontal zigzag motion with an occasional random wide kick . The design of this lure is very unique. It features a hard metal jig body with excellent patterns and finish coupled with a profile that gives this bait it's look. The action comes from the upper wing. The lower wing prevents the lure from rolling. Attached to the rear of the jig is a heavy duty Owner double tinned hook. Similar to a frog hook and unlike a surface iron with a treble this lure can be retrieved across kelp and sea grass without much fouling. The working speed of this lure requires a high speed retrieve. Shimano has a complete system, the lure is designed with technique specific Shimano rods and reels. A very simple lure to fish just cast it out and retrieve. This new technique should prove to be tremendous as it will potentially bring the aspects of surface iron fishing to every angler.
I like just about every type of angling there is. From the mountains to the seas and the rivers and lakes between I love it all. My first love has been freshwater largemouth bass. I really appreciate the challenge and especially the intimacy with nature that comes from being on a small boat so close to the water and the quarry.
In the past when fishing the salt most angling experiences have come from being on larger vessels with many people, mostly strangers in close proximity. There has been exceptions to this, the British Columbia Ole's salmon trip, and the recent White Sea Bass Trek on Captain Midnight's skipjack quickly come to mind.
I had never really put much thought into these aspects and this realization has never actually come to mind before. This trip to SCI fishing in a bay boat has produced a tremendous focus on this outlook. To be in this type of boat in good company, closer to the beauty of nature and the pursuit while fishing the salt has opened my eyes.
There is so much more to it than the bite. I now see the same things that I experience when I am at the lake. In many ways this new saltwater vision has more facets. I now see this venue with different eyes. I have said it before and it deserves to be said again exposure is an excellent mechanism.