Located approximately 22 miles south west off the coast of Los Angeles California is the island of Santa Catalina. Often called Catalina Island, or simply, Catalina. This rocky island is a frequent destination of Captain Ben Florentino, owner and operator of Coastal Charters.
The Ride and the Method
Ben runs a Ranger 240 Bahia, a center console inshore boat powered by a 250 HP 4 Stroke Mercury Marine Verado, loaded with awesome angling gear and the latest marine electronics. This boat is well equipped to take you on a unique charter targeting trophy calico bass and other inshore species. Ben's approach to putting you "on the bite" includes artificial lures and 'Reaction' style techniques. His method is extremely appealing to fisherman who want to stay active, focused and engaged. Freshwater bass anglers accustom to tournament style fishing will greatly enjoy this type of angling.
Ben's additional charter locations include but are not limited to San Clemente Island, also known as 'Heaven' and the mainland from Malibu to Southern Orange County. Wherever you're going, rest assured, it's because Ben has done his homework and knows where and what the hot bite is.
The early morning conditions are smooth for the channel crossing. If you don't have the proper equipment, don't worry, Coastal Charters has everything covered, so hop on board let's go and start fishing.
The Big Lake
Our first stop is on the east end of the island near the Salta Verde area and right away the Checker Boards are on the chew. After a quick 'limit' of nice chunky calicos we worked various areas on the open Pacific Ocean side of the island between the east end and as far northwest as Two Harbors. Everywhere we fished, with the exception of Slack Tide conditions, we hooked up repeatedly often catching Doubles.
The island's shoreline and it's adjacent ocean is really just an extremely big lake. It features Structural elements and atop them you will find Cover items just like freshwater fishing. Like a lake not all structure and cover elements are equal. So when you find key areas that the fish are using take note of the structure and cover as well as the water conditions then look for more of the same when a move is necessary.
Techniques, Lures and the Hot Bite
There are several techniques and associated lures that will work with this type of angling. Shown below are the most productive techniques we used on this trip.
Spinnerbaits fished through the open lanes between kelp beds produced several stout catches. It's just like bass fishing at the lake in and around cover elements. The only difference is that saltwater spinnerbaits are typically heavier than their freshwater counterparts.
Soft plastic boot tail swimbaits rigged with a keel weighted hook provide another weedless approach that works beautifully around, in and over the kelp and cover elements. Swim these lures up to the Funnel/ambush locations and be prepared for an explosive strike!
By far the most productive and favored technique featured the Shimano Waxwing. The Waxwing has an amazing swimming action. It's unique design trait is an upper wing which creates a zigzag swim and a lower wing which prevents it from rolling. Most models have a frog style hook that allows you to fish weedless in the kelp. There are 5 sizes that come in 16 colors each with UV reactive paint along the bait's lateral line.
Look for swimming lanes within and outside of the kelp beds or cast and retrieve adjacent to any structure and cover elements. Cast, point your rod tip at the lure and just wind, the action is built into the lure, it's that easy. As the Waxwing swims in its zigzag pattern an occasional wide kick out occurs. This kick out can trigger vicious strikes.
Ben instructed me to wind extremely fast on the retrieve. Often 'Clouds' of smaller calicos would chase the lure. The fast retrieve would allow larger calicos to bolt out and literally push the smaller fish out of the way in order to grab the Waxwing, exciting! If a follower would track while I was running out of water, a quick stop and go in the retrieve, at times, would produce a hook up.
The Waxwing's subsurface retrieve reminds me of the traits surface iron experts look for from their respective handmade lures. With surface irons not only do you need the proper equipment but also some level of experience is required to cast them. The Waxwing is easy to fish and bridges the gap for novice anglers. This lure's designer has hit a grand slam!
Bonus Round a Notable Catch
The Captain's Credo
As a rule Captain Ben will position and operate the boat but will leave the fishing strictly to the clients. Ben is an awesome guide and takes great care in observing the situation and coaching anglers. His primary function is doing everything he can to insure the clients have a great day of fishing. Today's trip wasn't a typical Coastal Charter guide service, on this particular trip I was Ben's guest and singular angler on the boat. So today I insisted that Ben fish too. Nevertheless Ben had me take the bow of the boat every time allowing me wide open casting angles and the first cast always.
If you enjoyed this tour and would like a great inshore coastal fishing experience, you can't make a better choice than chartering Captain Ben Florentino. I have never caught the numbers of calico bass as I did this day. The only comparable calico experience would be a long range trip to Mexico. However, you are most likely going to have a better shot at bigger calicos here on local waters. So, when you examine the time commitment, the personalized experience, the value and a shot at a trophy fish of a lifetime awesome truly describes what Coastal Charters has to offer.
For more information check out Coastal Charters at http://fishsaltwaterbass.com or give Captain Ben Florentino a call at 310 779-0397 to schedule your trip, tell him Derrek at the BBZ sent you, you'll be glad you did and you will find yourself fishing in the Big Calico Bass Zone!
Boiler Rocks - rocks, a reef or cliff walls above or just below the water exposed to swells and surf that crash into them creating violent churning white water. Predators will sit in an ambush position near boilers, waiting for prey to be disoriented in the turbulent water, then bolting in grabbing their quarry. Safety should be first and foremost when fishing boilers as it can be a very dangerous situation if the boat drifts in too close. It is safe practice to have the big engine running and manned by a non-angler ready to maneuver when near boiler rocks.
Checker Board - a nickname for Calico Bass based on the markings across the back and sides of the fish.
Clouds - slang for a wolf pack of calico bass, the tight group appearing as an underwater cloud moving after your offering.
Cover - items both natural and manmade that sit atop and adjacent Structural features. Including but not limited to kelp beds, sea grass and other aquatic vegetation, boulders, artificial reefs, ship wrecks, boat moorings, dock pilings, buoys, sea anchors, including the boat your fishing from.
Doubles - the term used when two anglers hook up with separate fish at the same time, a double catch.
Funnel - aquatic locations which provide predator fish with a feeding advantage. Much like a military ambush zone that uses the terrain to gain the upper hand, prey becomes compromised when it enters a funnel. Based on the predators position the prey's movement and escape routes are limited and their response to being trapped in the funnel is predictable. A funnel can be comprised of many items, both structure and cover elements. These elements include the water's surface, the shore line, the lake bottom, a bluff wall, a boulder, a bush, a dock piling or even your boat, there are too many to name them all. Funnels which feature a combination of both structure and cover elements can be superior. These locations are often referred to as the spot on spot.
Reaction Techniques - commonly associated with 'power' type fishing and relatively faster moving artificial lures such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits, topwater plugs, surface and yoyo irons. It should be noted that technically any strike from a fish is a reaction to a fishing presentation regardless of the lure, speed and the associated technique.
Slack Tide - or Slack Water is a short period in a body of tidal water when the water is completely unstressed and features no movement in either direction, incoming or outgoing, in the tidal stream. It occurs before the direction of the tidal stream reverses. Ambushing predatory fish will often use the moving tidal water as means to funnel prey into their ambush zone. The most difficult fishing conditions typically occur during a slack tide.
Structure - subsurface topographical features consisting of points, humps, flats, ridges and channels/steep vertical drop offs.