I got out this week (and I’ll mention it down below), but it’s that time of year to take a look back on the year that was…

January 2021

After being in Seattle for the majority of 2020, I was very happy to return to So Cal. I spent the majority of my fishing time doing leadhead and squid bass fishing, but the highlight of January was the annual pilgrimage to Colonet.

Unfortunately, the streak of good yellowtail fishing came to an end. But while our trip aboard the Pacific Queen was light on yellows, it was good for a big download on red rockfish during the seasonal closure period in Southern California.

Capt. Danny Ericson on the New Del Mar
Yellowtail on the Pacific Queen

February 2021

More sculpin and bass fishing on the boats.  I also started spending time on the sand.  It was too early to find sand crabs, but fishing plastic grubs and worms resulted in coaxing some surf perch and yellowfin croaker into playing.  The highlight of surf fishing was getting a halibut to go on the grub.

Shore pound paying off.

March 2021

Rockfish opener!

Because I was in transition moving from Seattle back to So Cal, I didn’t make plans for a bigger trip during the opener.  As a result, I mainly fished local boats out of Marina del Rey and Long Beach.  My first bigger trip was an overnight aboard the Amigo out of 22nd Street Landing.  We fished at San Nicolas Island.  The story of that trip was larger grade rockfish…especially big reds.

Later in the month, the yellows started biting at the Coronados.  I got out on the San Diego and scored my first yellowtail of the year on a Seaforth Landing branded scrambled egg yo-yo iron.  Had a really good day and got 3.  The first 2 came on the yo-yo iron.  Then I made a play for a lingcod/yellow day, but instead got a 3rd yellow on bait.

Quality Yellowtail on the YoYo off the SAN DIEGO.

April 2021

By April, I settled into my new place in Rosarito.  I was excited to fish the beach that was my new front yard, but it was unproductive.  Little did I know it would continue to be unproductive throughout the rest of the year. 

Capt. Shawn Steward, owner/operator of the Aloha Spirit out of Channel Islands Sportfishing in Oxnard launched service in 2021 of his new six-pack boat, the Graylight.  My first of 3 Graylight charters was in April.  The hope was to get into seabass, but it wasn’t quite time yet.  We tried for yellowtail early and I lucked out and got the only one.  After that, we spent some time in the shallows throwing plastic for halibut.  My buddy Matthew Lowe managed to get one.  Then we went outside and rockfished.  We quickly put limits of reds on the boat before turning our attention to lingcod.  My buddy Scott Swaving (below) scored big on a 12-ounce knife jig that was a lucky garage sale find.

May 2021

When I was in Seattle last year, I wasn’t able to get back during seabass time.  I’ve always said that when the elusive ghost chooses to bite, you need to drop what you’re doing and go.  Because I didn’t even get a chance the previous year, you better believe I went all out when they finally showed in May of this year. 

My first one came aboard the Endeavor out of Ventura Harbor Sportfishing with Capt. Tucker McCombs.  That was a really fun trip where my buddy Ryan Kruskamp joined me along with his girlfriend Sarah and dad John (below). I scored again later in the month with Capt. Shon Roberts aboard the Fortune out of 22nd Street Landing.  For that trip, Shon drove all the way up from San Pedro to get into the hot seabass bite at Santa Rosa Island! 

I wrapped up the month heading out to Venice, Louisiana with my buddy Tony Caira.  Tony hooked up a bucket list trip for my birthday with Capt. Jeff Motes.  I had my first taste ever of catching redfish (aka red drum).  I even managed to leader an alligator to the boat fishing a bass rod!

June 2021

I put it off and put it off, but I finally went out bluefin fishing in June aboard the New Lo An with Capt. Adam Williams.  I did manage to catch a small one on the fly line sardine, but my trip was a series of disasters finding new and creative ways to lose a bigger model.  I lost one on the knife jig where the fish swallowed past the 200-lb leader and sliced off the 100-lb mainline.  I lost one on the 80-lb sinker rig when I had a hook straightened out.  And I lost a bigger fish on the fly line at color when it broke me off on 40-lb after an almost 1-hour fight.  My buddies Nick Lam, Anthony Cannulli, and Alan Pera had a much better trip than me. 

I redeemed myself on my 2nd Graylight charter adding another seabass to my 2021 tally.

July 2021

Got out for my 3rd and final Graylight trip of the year.  Now that the seabass limit had gone up to 3, I was hoping we could finish out strong on the elusive ghosts.  Capt. Shawn Steward was motivated too and told me to have our group ready at 3 am!

Capt. Shawn paid off that effort though and we got full 3 fish limits for my charter group.

Graylight Sportfishing coming through with the Grey Ghosts

August 2021

In August I ventured back up to the Pacific Northwest.  The hope was to score some salmon to bring home for my mom’s birthday.  I was really disappointed that the Dash Point Pier where I spent so much time in 2020 jigging for salmon was closed.  I had to venture down to Oregon to fulfill my salmon quest and score aboard the Umatilla II

Just prior to boarding my plane to Seattle though, I quickly hit the beach and managed to get my best corbina of the year in what proved to be an extremely slow surf fishing year compared to years past.

September 2021

September marked my return to Bahia de Los Angeles with Baja Fishing Convoys and Joel Sportfishing.  My first trip ever there was in September of 2019.  My hope for this trip was to try and top that trip by getting a bigger gulf grouper than I had that time.  For 3 days of fishing in BoLA, my plan was to target grouper for two of those days.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and I lost one of those days of gulf grouper fishing.  The one day I did go, I didn’t get the bite I was looking for.  On the second day, we had to find something else to do based on the conditions on the water.  I made the best of that day leopard grouper fishing. 

October 2021

October was pretty eventful.  I got a nice legal halibut fishing in San Diego Bay with my buddy John Anjard on his 18-foot aluminum skiff.  I was supposed to go to Gonzaga Bay for the first time, but it was really windy and that trip didn’t happen.  I got to fish San Felipe as a backup and caught corvina.  While there, I also learned a lot about how the illegal totoaba trade affected the fishing in San Felipe.  Out of everything though, my favorite part of October was going to Castro’s Camp in Erendira, Mexico for the first time.  I was supposed to go in August of 2020, but couldn’t make the trip because I was still in Seattle. 

At the time this year, it was that small window of opportunity that yellowfin tuna actually bit this year.  The fleet was getting them about 120 miles south of San Diego.  I went to Castro’s with my buddy Justin Domaguin, hoping that we could manage to get into those fish on a panga.  Our plan actually worked out!  It was lucky too because that ended up being the only yellowfin tuna I caught all year.

November 2021

That Point Loma, deep-in-the-kelp calico bass fishing never really worked out in the Summer of 2021.  That’s why it felt really unusual that I was able to get in some good bass fishing at this late point in the year.  It wasn’t the flyline, kelp-cutter rig bass fishing of the summer, but it was still fun fishing aboard both the Dolphin out of Fisherman’s Landing and the Sea Watch out of Seaforth Landing scoring bass in November. 

In November, I also lost another heartbreaker bluefin.  That happened on a charter I put together on the T-Bird out of Point Loma Sportfishing.  I lost a bunch of line in a tangle on that trip in the middle of a hot sinker rig bite.  My buddy Rob Tressler let me borrow his 80-lb sinker rig setup and I got bit on what WOULD HAVE been a big upgrade on my current PB bluefin.  I hooked into a big one that ultimately was lost when the braid abruptly snapped.  Come to find out later that the second guide on Rob’s rod had a cracked guide.  Ugh. 

I managed to redeem myself though on a Fishing Syndicate crew trip, fishing aboard the six-pack boat the Reel Life with Capt. Daniel Lecuna.  That was an opportunistic score.  We were in the middle of a deep drop for swordfish when to our surprise bluefin popped up under birds right next to the boat.  We cut short the swordfish effort to chase the bluefin and I got lucky slow trolling a mackerel to score the only one on the trip. 

December 2021

Mostly back on the rockfishing tip.  Whenever I rockfish, my goal is to catch lingcod.  I did well catching lingcod with Capt. Jeff Villapando aboard the Eldorado at San Nicolas and when I went to San Quintin with Capt. Gordo of Garcia’s Pangas Sportfishing. 

This weekend I took advantage of their BOGO trips and rode the Eldo again.  No lingcod for that trip, but I got a full download of jumbo reds to close out my 2021 fishing for the year.

It was a more familiar year of fishing with some fun and interesting twists. It was great to be back in So Cal and to do more fishing in Baja Mexico.  Hopefully, 2021 was a good year for you too.  Many thanks to all the captains and crews that made my return year in So Cal special. Thanks also to all my fishing buddies for taking me out, coming with and/or introducing me to new fishing experiences. Best wishes for the holidays and see you at the rail in 2022.

Good luck if you get out there!

Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...