My last couple columns were spent discussing sport boats and their relationship with the private boaters who spend the summer following them around. In response to these columns, I received multiple messages from readers telling me that I was wasting my breath because, “Those private boaters will never learn”. However, I didn’t receive a single comment from anyone admitting to be, or defending, the boaters who followed the fleet. I’m not all that surprised that no one spoke up, I certainly wouldn’t if I were them, but silence doesn’t equate to not caring or wanting to learn, maybe it’s that they just don’t know what questions to ask.
So if you’ve got a “friend” who spends their fishing time following the fleet and would like to get them help, I invite you to send me a message with any questions about fisheries that your “friend” would like to see covered in future columns.
Let’s get back to fishing. The calico bass bite has been excellent, both locally and at the islands, over the last few weeks and it offers great fishing opportunities far away from the weekend crowds. Take last Saturday for example; Matt and I, along with our buddy Mike Dumalski, launched out of Davies Ramp in Alamitos Bay. The ramp was crowded and there were lots of fishermen heading out. On our way out of the harbor we watched all the boats around us hang a left and make a beeline for the giant fleet of boats piled up on the mediocre barracuda bite on the east end of the Horseshoe Kelp.
Instead of joining the fleet, we made a right and headed up to Palos Verdes, which was deserted when we arrived. While the fishing wasn’t wide open, we ended up catching around fifteen bass for the morning and several of them were in the four to five pound range. Sure it wasn’t as exciting as fighting with seals over barracuda or getting in a yelling match with an inconsiderate boater, but it was exactly what I needed after a long week of work; just a fun, stress free morning on the water with friends.
While my buddies and I were relaxing on the coast, other friends of mine were fishing at San Clemente Island. They too avoided the crowds, but their day was anything but relaxing. I talked to Captain Jimmy Decker, www.fishingwithdecker.com, who ran a guide trip to Clemente for James Little’s group that day. While there, they absolutely torched the big bass, up to nine-pounds, and the best part was that they were able to do it without another boat in sight. Catalina bit over the weekend as well, kicking out lots of big bass for those who were willing to venture away from the overcrowded yellowtail and seabass grounds.
If you’re interested in targeting calicos on your own boat but haven’t had much success in the past, or even if you’ve never tried it, this is a great time of year to give it a try. All it takes is a willingness to drive away from the fleet and explore new fishing areas. Here are five steps that will get you pointed in the right direction.
1) Learn how to fish a swimbait. While you can catch plenty of calicos on live bait, using a swimbait is a much more efficient way to fish and it gives you the ability to target fish in areas that aren’t conducive to live bait fishing. If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend checking out the MC Swimbaits Website www.mc-swimbaits.com . There are several videos on the site, each of them explaining not only the different styles of baits but their individual applications. Once you’ve learned the terms and techniques involved in swimbait fishing, try searching those terms on our message boards and you’ll find a ton of good information.
2) Learn how to read conditions. Be it in a kelp bed, over a reef or in the surge around boiler rocks, conditions play a huge roll in determining whether or not you’re going to catch any calicos. Since preferred conditions vary by location and time of day, there isn’t a specific formula that will work in all cases. But the key to figuring out that day’s formula is to pay attention to water temperature, clarity, color and current direction.
3) Learn the basics and expand on them. Fishing the kelp beds will give you your best shot at catching calicos right now. But that doesn’t mean pulling up in some random patch of kelp and drifting around aimlessly.
Think of a kelp bed as a buffet style restaurant where people are scattered around at the tables, either eating or just relaxing after they’re meal and thinking about maybe going back for more.
And while everyone in the restaurant is in an eating mood, the only people actively looking for food are those who are in line for the buffet. The same thing happens in a kelp bed; the only difference is that the location of the buffet line is dependent upon conditions. At most kelp beds, the buffet line is usually located on the up current corner, so that’s where I’ll check first. But if it’s not there, I’ll look for other factors that might influence or indicate its position. Birds and bait can be very good indicators. If there are birds diving on bait anywhere in the kelp, there’s a good chance that there are hungry bass in the immediate vicinity.
4) Learn how to position your boat. Once you’ve found the buffet line, you need to figure out how to position your boat to effectively fish it. A good rule of thumb is to position yourself far enough up wind and too the side of the spot that you can reach it with a long cast. Doing this will give you the opportunity to get several casts in front of the fish before you drift past the spot. Also, try to position yourself in such a way that you don’t drift into heavy kelp. It’s okay to drift through sparse kelp, but once you drift into a heavy mat you will no longer be able to fish effectively.
5) Learn how to take risks while still playing it safe. The biggest bass will often come from the areas most difficult to reach and that means that you’re going to need to take a few risks if you want to catch them. But there is a big difference between taking risks and being reckless. As you get comfortable with how your boat handles in shallow water or heavy surge, it’s okay to take some chances and try to fish the harder to reach spots. But until you’re comfortable with it, have one person at the wheel at all times (with the motor running) and always take baby steps, instead of rushing right in, as they are easier to correct. If you always err on the side of caution and never turn your back on the ocean (even on the calmest day), you will do just fine.