A Week of Mostly Good Winter Fishing

It’s been another mostly good week of wintertime fishing in Southern California. I added the word “mostly” because at this time of year the fishing can change day by day at any given location and if you’re lucky to time it right you can have a good day and if you don’t, the fishing could very well be poor. As it turned out, my first trip of the year fell into the latter category when I ran to San Clemente Island on Thursday.

While I neglected to snap any photos, this picture of a fish caught by my friend James Little over the weekend pretty much summed up the action at the island. Some nice quality calicos are willing to bite weedless swimbaits, but those bites are few and far between. I’d originally planned to fish Catalina since my fishing partner Matt Kotch had to be back early to take a COVID test before leaving on vacation. As we made the crossing on a flat calm ocean, we made a last minute call to sacrifice a couple hours of fishing time and make the longer run to San Clemente Island.

We arrived at the island a little after 8:00 a.m. with a plan to be on our way home by noon. While that’s a pretty long run to make for four hours of fishing time, in my experience, if the fish are biting four hours is more than enough time to catch all you want and if they aren’t biting, four hours can seem like an eternity of driving around and making fruitless casts. When we pulled up on east end to find 30-foot visibility and no current, I had a feeling that it was going to be a long four hours. As it turned out, we found enough biting fish in areas with conditions, but those areas were so few that we ended up leaving the island after three hours to try and finish up the morning at Cat, which didn’t bite either.

On a bright note, the weather was good all day and the water temperatures from the coast to Clemente were steady at 59 degrees. While we ended up fishing on an off day, these stable conditions have made for plenty of opportunities for anglers across Southern California. The bulk of sport boats are still fishing for sand bass and sculpin along the beach and most boats have been reporting decent fishing on lead head and squid combos. The sand bass are biting for private boaters as well, but I recommend leaving the squid at home as the fish will readily bite a swimbait or slug.

In non-bass action, the bonito are still biting for boats fishing the east end of Catalina. I saw several spots of bonito pop up while we were fishing bass at Catalina but they were up and down fast enough that I didn’t get any casts on them. If you’re looking to target bonito you can locate them by trolling a small hardbait like a Lucky Craft DD100 or a crankbait at 3-4 knots along the island in 90-100 feet of water. Once you find them you can usually catch a few on hardbaits or small jigs. There are also some halibut biting at Catalina Island for the private boaters who are targeting them. If you’re a sport boat angler and want to target halibut, Dana Wharf Sportfishing is running their yearly halibut derby and have been catching fish.

Finally, the boats that made the run down to Colonet over the weekend found cooperative yellowtail. The Pacific Voyager returned from their last trip with over 100 yellows all caught on the yo-yo iron. These trips are also targeting rockfish and have had good results. The boats that made the run to Tanner Bank found that there are still some bluefin out there but they are small and not biting all that well. I’d expect that unless something changes out that way, trips are going to start focusing down the beach where fish have been caught by the long range boats. We’ve got more good weather in the weekend forecast, so good luck if you’re heading out!

Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal...