How to Fish

Bait Basics – Fishing Tips For SoCal

Hello Salties.  I’m back in SoCal.  It was great being up in Seattle and having the opportunity to catch salmon off the pier.  I say opportunity, because although I hooked my fair share of fish…let’s just say I brought new meaning to the term “farmed salmon.”  To be fair it wasn’t totally my fault.  The combination of having to use barbless hooks (to be able to release the native fish) and the challenge of not having a deckhand (or “dockhand” in this case) to be there at my side ready to put the fish on the pier made things extremely challenging.  I learned a lot though, had a bunch of cheap thrills, and was able to bring a fish home for mom and me to have a nice salmon dinner during her birthday week.

fishing tips
The one that got away…almost 17 lb. king salmon caught at Dash Point (WA) public pier

Now that I’m back home though, I’m dying to get back out here in SoCal.  As I mentioned last week, the yellowfin tuna really got going the last couple weeks.  Last week seemed a little up and down compared to the previous week and my guess is that the same schools are getting hit pretty hard and responding adversely to that boat pressure.

As I was working to get caught back up on our fishing, a theme emerged.  Most of these fish are getting caught on bait.  So the people having the most success are the ones who are paying attention to the fundamentals of bait fishing.

fishing tips
Yellowfin tuna from Sunday on the San Diego

Bait Selection

The key to successful bait fishing is picking a good bait.  A good lively bait is going to be the hardest one to catch in the hand wells.  While this might sound easy, there is a trick to it.  One thing you can do is put your hand underneath them and guide them into a corner where you can trap them.  Another thing you can do is if they are swimming around, just use the same underhand positioning and set your hand in front of them.  They will swim right into your hand and just wait for the right one to swim in there and carefully grab it.  I like to use my thumb to cover their eyes.  This technique tends to keep them a little more calm, making it easier to put the bait on a hook.  Once it is hooked, don’t touch it anymore.  Also, don’t hook it early!

Hook Placement

I chuckle to myself when I see people get into debates about the “best way” to hook a bait.  The reason why is because the answer is extremely subjective.  The best way is what’s working at that moment in time.  I always start with a circle hook and nose hooking baits.  If I can get away with using a circle hook, I will always go that way first because it negates the potential for getting bit off.  Nose hooking is also great when it’s a long soak type of scenario.  Nose hooking allows the bait to stay hooked on the retrieve, increasing your time in the water.  If the nose hook isn’t working, I’ll try the collar hook.  You get most of the same benefits, but it’s a little bit stealthier (hidden from view 50% of the time).  It won’t swim as naturally though on the retrieve.

fishing tipsIf those two placements aren’t working, then you have to resort to a J-hook.  One buddy, Randy Villanueva (right), rode the Liberty on Friday and hooked 10 yellowfin on bait (hooked and handed the last 5).  Randy said they were stopping on sonar schools and a good butt hooked bait was almost automatic.

Butt hooking will tend to make the bait swim down.  If the boat is stopping on sonar schools and the fish are coming up on the chum, it makes sense that you’d get bit well if your bait is swimming down to meet them.  Ironically, a shoulder hook placement has a similar effect.  One advantage of the shoulder placement is if the fish are coming up on the bait, you might be able to get away with a little larger hook giving you a better chance of not getting bit off.

Change Your Bait, Change Your Luck

In a long soak type of scenario, you just have to go on gut feel.  It’s a 50/50 guess if it’s better to leave it out there, or reel it back and change your bait.  In any other scenario, you’ll help your cause by changing baits often.  Remember, a fresh lively bait gets bit best.

A couple of final notes, you’ve got to be able to get a bait out and away from the boat.  If the bait is really good, cast overhead and get it out as far as you can.  If less lively, you may want to give it a softer underhand toss to limit the impact when it hits the water.  Either way, you’ll never get it to swim away and get bit unless you get it away from the boat.

Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if you have the opportunity to do so, ride a halfie and practice all these skills before laying down the big cash for an offshore trip.

Good luck if you get out there.

Joe Sarmiento
Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing b...