Ghost Hunting In The 805 Channel Islands

I’ve often said that when the white sea bass start biting up in the Channel Islands, it’s a good idea to drop whatever you are doing and get in on the action. It may be your best opportunity of the year to catch sea bass. And it’s never a given that the bite is going to come back around.

white seabass report

I never felt the urge to chase the elusive ghosts more so than this year. After being stuck in Seattle during the season last year, I took my own advice and booked some trips as soon as I saw that Capt. Tucker McCombs had gotten into them on his boat the Endeavor at the end of last month.

white seabass report

These bites are predicated upon the existence of squid…

Having live squid does not ensure success, but not having it (or at least some good fresh dead) almost guarantees you will not achieve your desired outcome. The big volume of squid that kicked this bite off is mostly gone. The commercial seiners that scooped up the bulk of it are mostly gone as well. The squid that is left is too spread out to make it commercially viable for them to stay. The good thing is that there is still enough to keep the white seabass around. The bad thing is that it’s not available at the bait receiver and you have to go find it and make it yourself. Success in this portion of the trip is an important piece of the puzzle.

Sometime after 4am on Thursday morning (May 6th), myself and a handful of other passengers were up trying to help the crew of the Endeavor make squid. It was far from a benevolent gesture on my part. The crew knows who helped, and access to the good stuff (when it’s a scarce commodity) is going to go to those who made the effort. There was plenty of it around, but it didn’t float and we had to jig it up. The process went reasonably well and we made enough to last our fishing day.

We ended up staying in the spot where we made bait.

whitefish

Tucker wasn’t marking fish when he made that decision, but the combination of squid and the water temperature being a little warmer there made it a good option to start our day. Other than some donkey-sized whitefish though, the call didn’t end up playing out. We went looking. Eventually we made our way around to the front side of Rosa and found the rest of the fleet accompanied by a flotilla of private boaters “finding their own fish.”

We anchored up on top of squid about 20 yards or so away from the Pacific Dawn. Capt. Mike “Mad Dog” Nickerson was on them. We could see multiple anglers bent on fish from our vantage point. One fish after another was gaffed on the Dawn while we watched, hoping that some of these willing fish would find our hooks too. The Mirage was in the same predicament as us on the other side of the Dawn. Tucker told us to wind up and he made a small adjustment. That move was the ticket and we limited out for both passengers and crew in the next 30 minutes. I caught 2 on the high dropper and missed one on the light leadhead.

white seabass report
With Ryan Kruskamp, his girlfriend Sarah and his dad John

Ryan and I had met around this time 2 years ago on the Endeavor. It was really cool to enjoy a successful trip again together and I wanted more. I was trying to convince him to re-ride with me when Tucker heard us talking about it…

“Right now there are still 8 spots left for tonight on the Pac Dawn. It will probably be sold out by the time we get back, but I can call it in for you guys if you want to go.”

Capt. Tucker McCombs

Most of the fleet limited out on Thursday. The bite was on full swing! Ryan needed to get back to his business. I had originally planned to surf fish on Friday, but seabass… “Yeah, I’ll go Tucker!”

white seabass report

That night I boarded the Pacific Dawn for another overnight trip. Early the next morning, I got up again to help the crew make squid. Fortunately though, they cooperated and floated up. The crew was able to deploy their crowder and tanked up the boat with enough squid that we actually passed 3 scoops to another boat that didn’t have it as good.

The bite on Thursday had happened mid-morning on the tide change. After making squid I went back to sleep. A couple of anglers were rewarded though fishing through ’til dawn with one nice yellow and a better grade (35-pounds?) seabass hitting the deck. We got going and made our way over to the spot of the previous day’s action. By the time we got over there, it was close to the primetime tide change time of day. Conditions though were noticeably different from the previous day. The calm of the previous day was replaced with choppier conditions, but the fish were still there. This time I was on the Dawn and we saw that Tucker was on them on the Endeavor.

California sheephead

Right when we got on the spot, the sinker on my double dropper got stuck in the rocky reef below. The line below my dropper loop broke off. Knowing this was probably THE opportunity for the day, I didn’t take the time to re-tie. I opted instead to tie a loop for the weight above the hook and make it a reverse dropper loop. I baited up, and quickly dropped back in. Once the weight hit bottom, I cranked up a few times to get my bait off the bottom. I got bit! About 30 seconds into it though, my line went slack. The loop that my hook was tied onto failed. I made a call. It didn’t work out. At least I got bit and had the opportunity. My consolation prize for the day was a big sheephead. The boat finished with 11 seabass, 4 halibut and the one yellow (plus bottom grabbers of course) for 21 passengers.

I spent Friday night in Los Angeles. I had gone 2 for 4 opportunities on seabass over the two trips. I was bummed about the one I missed on the light leadhead. I was only allowed to take one fish home anyway, but I should’ve waited longer and let the fish eat it.

yellowtail

Becky came up to meet me. We were going 1.5 Saturday night aboard the Fortune with Capt. Shon Roberts out of 22nd Street Landing (San Pedro). Going into the trip, I anticipated that we’d fish San Clemente for the yellows that bit there the previous week. Unknown to me at the time, Capt. Shon previously ran the Coral Sea out of SEA Landing in Santa Barbara…so he’s familiar with the Channel Islands. I knew a bunch of the guys that were on Saturday’s ride and they told me it was SLOW. The yellows didn’t bite except for one that my buddy Tony McLaurin (left) pulled out of his hat in the bottom of the ninth. Given that experience, Shon purchased squid from Long Beach Carnage (a commercial seiner) and made the call to make the 100-mile drive north to get in on the seabass bite.

By the time we got up there, that morning tidal change was quickly approaching.

We headed straight to the spot I had fished aboard the Endeavor and Pacific Dawn on Thursday and Friday. Thankfully, the conditions were more like Thursday’s calm, than Friday’s chop. Unlike either of those trips though, nobody was on them full speed when we got there.

white seabass report

I started out fishing the high-dropper. Shon would occasionally say that fish were under the boat, but the bite was scratchy. Knowing this was probably going to be the best of it, I decided to switch out to my light leadhead setup. I hoped a change in presentation might spark a bite. It worked. I was fishing on the bow and could see I was getting attention. Since I was mid-column and not right on the bottom, I guessed it was the right kind. The experience of missing that fish on Thursday’s trip was fresh in my mind though, and I waited agonizingly for the fish to commit to a bite. It finally did and my rod started to load up. I raised up the tip to put pressure on the fish. It’s always more fun of a fight when you hook them in the shallows. I enjoyed the ride fishing my bass gear, a 9-foot Fishing Syndicate FSG-900L (graphite rod rated 15-30) paired with a Tranx 400.

I was really happy to get that fish and redeem myself for the one I missed on Thursday.

That was basically it. We did some rockfishing to fill sacks. We came back for another try at the end of the day, but the conditions and the bite had completely deteriorated. It was fun though to fish shallow, tight to the island. I released a keeper bass to end the trip. Final count was 6 white seabass, 6 halibut and assorted bottomfish for 18 anglers. It would’ve been 7 seabass, but the thrill of the day was seeing a great white take an angler’s fish!

calico bass

Couple Final Notes

I saw a lot of people lose fish primarily due to the fact that their drag was too tight, and/or they tried to swing on a bite. Be patient! They have a soft mouth and it’s easy to pull the hook. Wait for the fish to commit and the rod to load up before you start fighting the fish.

Also, I noticed a lot of people fishing lever drag reels for seabass. I prefer to use a star drag because even though you can manipulate the lever from less drag to full drag, sometimes the gradation can go from light to full and skip the in-between. The whole thing with seabass is surviving that first run. I like to set the drag pretty low, and then I might bump it up a little toward the end to close the fight.

We’re coming up on the new moon, so hopefully this bite continues. 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 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 ...