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Back to the Kelp

Kelp lines whither and die and re-form, each makeover bringing with it a new way to anchor up. Spots don’t always stay exact season to season.

Fishing Kelp Beds Tips

The above chunk of copy got snipped from a piece I did for the next issue of The Bight. While it didn’t fit into the long-form piece, it sums up what I think is going to be the big difference that some will see when they go back to their favorite kelp spots. The setups have changed. Kelp is non-existent at much of Catalina and Clemente.

Along the coast, some spots have grown out. Others have shrunk down, gone away, or only have half-stalks now.

Heading from this season to next, there are going to be a lot of new kelp line set-ups at the islands and along the coast. Warm water changed the set-up pretty massively. Winter storms might finish jobs left uncompleted.

After a 2014 season that started with a few squid zones and then switched to offshore before circling back to the deep-water yellowtail bites on the “rockfish grounds,” the classic SoCal style of anchoring up in the kelp and flylining baits back into the weeds got skipped this past season by many private boaters. Even now as this year starts off with more local yellowtail than anyone can remember for January, few are fishing yellows on the kelp lines. It’s the deep-water stuff that’s getting the attention. All the focus on the deep water made it easy to enjoy the flower garden in shallow.For those anglers who rooted around and looked for birds and spots in tight to the beach, it was a great start to the year. It was only recently that I started making my living out in the deep- water. Before that, all my charters were fishing in tight to the kelp.

Setting up on a spot

Kelp lines and the corresponding bottom structure, specifically is like art and the canvas is always changing. When you get back to the kelp, you may notice that it looks different. There’s no kelp on the surface (Catalina and Clemente). Or the kelp has grown out past the previous marks in the GPS.

While some kelp spots have stringers in sand or on light rock, shale-type bottom without any real hard bottom (like above Oceanside) its hard bottom that holds the most kelp. The kelp line is where the kelp stops and we have a shot at hooking game fish and actually landing them. This line shifts year-to-year, cycle-to-cycle, but hard bottom stays the same. Mark hard bottom. Especially where hard bottom meets sand, or harder bottom—like major rocks. When there’s no kelp left, you will be setting up not on kelp, but hard bottoms. It was setting up on hard bottoms and isolated stringers on an urchin-rich kelp that got me trying different ways to set up on known spots.

Fishing Kelp Beds Tips

When I started guiding for white seabass along the coast in 2012 one of my favorite kelp lines was no longer a kelp line. It was a patch of stringers. The first seabass a client caught on my boat wasn’t on a squid nest, or some flourishing kelp line. It was on a Salas 7X dangled above a patch of hard bottom with three or four stringers on it. And that patch was 106 yards inside the previous kelp line that once had too many stringers to count.

I remember how tough it was to sit so far inside “the spot.”

Fishing Kelp Beds Tips

Now, I do not think about specific spots, but how to sit based on how the kelp is set-up, what the current is doing, and how the fish might be transitioning in and out of the kelp. If you find yourself back in the kelp, but wondering why it isn’t the same as you left, take stock of the changes before just dropping the anchor on “the spot.”

It’s a deep-water bite on the rockfish grounds for now, but now is also the time to figure out the set-ups for later….

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Brandon Hayward splits his time between serving as editor/publisher of The Bight (www.thebightjournal.com) and guiding throughout the Southern California Bight from his 23-foot Parker through his guide service, www.onemancharters.com. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Brandon spent his summers and time post-college working on San Diego-based sportboats before taking on a writing career. He's written three books on Southern California saltwater fishing: The Southern California Angler, Getting Bit, The Local Angler. Brandon lives in San Clemente, California, with his wife, two children and a Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever.