Put simply, the difference between fishing for calico bass and being a calico bass fisherman is the amount of tackle you’re going to need to do it. While just about any saltwater rod and reel combo will allow you to catch calicos, if you’re interested in seriously targeting them you’re going to need some specialized tackle. Just how much tackle you’re going to need is dependent on your interest level and budget, but for the sake of this article I’ve put together five rod and reel combos that will cover almost every scenario you’ll encounter.
The good news is that if you’re just getting started, some of these combos can do double or even triple duty while you’re adding to your arsenal.
The first three rod and reel combinations are what I consider to be my hard bait rods.
Starting at the top: My Waxwing rod is a Rainshadow Revelation REV76H matched with an Abu/Garcia Toro 50 NaCL. Though given a heavy action rating by the manufacturer, I would say the rod has more of a medium heavy action with a moderate taper. This combination of action and taper combine well to fish the 1 1/2-ounce 118mm size Waxwing that I prefer to throw for calicos. When choosing a Waxwing rod you’re going to want to look for something that has enough tip to throw the bait a long way, but still has sufficient backbone to keep a fish that you hook a long way from the boat from getting you in the kelp. I always straight tie my Waxwing to the 50-pound spectra on my Toro.
Next up is my calico bass jig stick. While any jig stick will work for calicos, fishing calicos all day using a normal jig stick is going to kick your ass. The difference between fishing the jig for calicos vs any other species is that you’re doing all of your casting in direct relation to kelp or structure. That means you’ll need pinpoint casting accuracy and the ability to get the handle turning the second your jig hits the water to keep from getting it hung up. One of the other things that most people don’t realize until they’ve done it is that you’re going to be making 10 times as many casts in a day fishing calicos as you would any other species, so a big heavy jig stick is going to wear you out before the day is done.
My jig stick is a Rainshadow SW1089 with a couple inches cut off the tip and the rest cut off the butt to make it an 8-foot rod. This is matched to an Abu/Garcia Revo Toro Beast 60 full of 65-pound spectra. The shorter rod allows for better casting accuracy and the level-wind reel lets me throw the reel in gear with a turn of the handle. It also makes sure that my line is always wound evenly on the spool which virtually eliminates backlashes and when throwing your jig up around boiler rocks a backlash usually results in a lost jig.
At the bottom is my dedicated hard bait rod. This is a Rainshadow Eternity2 ETEC76MH rod matched with an Abu/Garcia Toro 50 NaCL full of 50-pound spectra. This 7’6″ fast taper rod is a good choice for hard baits because it’s got a stiff enough tip to cast a Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow, which is about the biggest hard bait I’ll fish, but still has a soft enough mid-section to keep lightly hooked fish from tearing off when they twist around during the fight. This balance is the key to not only getting the bites, but getting the fish in the boat.
The final two rods are my soft bait rods.
At the top is the calico fishing workhorse on my boat, my weeedless rod, a Rainshadow RCLB70XL matched with an Abu/Garcia Toro 50 NaCl full of 65-pound spectra. This 7-foot graphite composite rod has a soft glass tip and a stiff graphite butt section. This combination which will be explained in detail in a coming article is the key to fishing a weedless bait for calico bass.
Finally we have my standard swimbait rod. This is a Northfork Composites SW806-1 matched with an Abu/Garcia Toro 50 NaCL full of 65-pound spectra. If you’re unfamiliar with Northfork Composites, it’s owned by Gary Loomis (of G Loomis fame) and distributed by Batson Enterprises. With the blank alone costing around $250, this rod is not for everyone but it really is a work of art. The 8-foot rod has a heavy action with a moderate fast taper and easily fishes any swimbait. I’ve thrown everything from 5-inch baits on 1/2-ounce heads to 9-inch baits on 1 1/2-ounce heads and it really fishes them all.
If you’re just starting to put your arsenal together, you can get by using one rod for the Waxwing, the hard bait and the swimbait. Since one rod won’t fish all of those baits perfectly, I’d get one that fishes a swimbait best. After that, I’d add a hard bait rod and finally a Waxwing specific rod.
Keep an eye out for future articles where I’ll be explaining the presentations for each of the baits I’ve listed.