I remember back to when I first started fishing here in Southern California. The San Diego had gotten into a good bite (for that time…over 20 fish) of yellowtail at the Coronado Islands. I booked a ticket for later that week and made plans to travel down to San Diego to try my luck. At the time, I was very green. It wasn’t going to be my first yellowtail, but it was going to be my first since I had made a commitment to going all in on this salty way of life.
During this early time in my learning curve, I had luckily stumbled across Brandon Hayward’s first book, The Southern California Angler. If you don’t have this book, try to get it. It’s out-of-print, but maybe you can find a used copy. That book was the bible in my early fishing development here. Anyway, at this point, I had met Brandon. He was still working at Western Outdoor News at the time. I reached out to him and asked for some tips on catching yellowtail. Looking back on it, the advice he gave me was very basic…find a good bait and cast it out and away from the boat.
I’m sure there was more, but this is what I remember of the conversation. Long story short, I caught one and thanked him later for the advice.
Crystal clear in my mind was his reply, “Pay it back by teaching the next guy.”
I took those words to heart, and I’ve tried to live by them since. So whether it’s taking a kid out and showing them the ropes, or taking the time to show someone how to tie a knot on a boat, I do what I can to pay back the many mentors that have taught me how to fish along the way.
One of those mentors is Randy Toji (right in picture above). I call Randy my “Surf Sensei” because it’s largely due to his tutelage that I’m any good at catching fish off the beach. The picture above is from a 2014 surf fishing seminar at Sav-On Tackle. It popped up this week on my Facebook page…one of those “Your memory” reminders. At the time, I was brand new to this particular kind of fishing. Now it’s my favorite way to get a quick fishing fix in between boat trips.
I’ve been thinking a lot about surf fishing lately. Like a lot of the fishing we have available to us right now, it’s been kinda sucky (to use a technical term). But I saw a good sign the weekend before last (the really windy one). I was poking around with Ken Kim (my visitor from Washington) and we made a stop at my favorite corbina beach. The wind was howling, so we didn’t even bother to rig up, but we walked to the beach because I wanted to check out “Crab Corner” to see if was holding any sand crabs yet. This spot is where I caught my new personal best corbina last year.
It’s very early in the season to find sand crabs. They’re not going to be obvious in the sand like they are in the summer. So if you can find some, they will typically be hiding next to the structure and buried in the sand. Sure enough, I reached down next to a rock, during a receding wave, and found one.
I went back a couple of days later (Tuesday, Feb. 16th), after the wind had blown over, and was lucky enough to make about 6 pieces of bait. Not a bunch, but enough to see if I could make something happen with them. Since I only had a small amount, my strategy was to fish the Gulp worm until I found where some fish were holding up, then switch to the crab. As it turned out, the fish didn’t respect the work I did in making bait. They didn’t want the crab, but I caught a barred surfperch and a yellowfin croaker using the worm. Definitely not wide open, but decent given the time of year.
I called Ken on the way home and we made plans to come back out on Thursday.
We tried to make crab when we first started on Thursday. Given the experience of Tuesday, we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. When we didn’t find any quickly, we bailed and proceeded to start fishing using the Gulp worm.
We walked and fished. If we felt a bite, we’d stop and fish that spot. By the time we made it to the next stretch of beach, I had caught 2 (one walleye perch and a yellowfin croaker), but Ken hadn’t caught any yet. We started making our way back. I stopped fishing so that I could stay close to Ken and try to give him pointers. I talked him through when to cast to maximize his fishable window in between sets of waves. I pointed out where I was seeing the structure and how best to reach it given how the water was moving. Ken caught on quickly given his experience reading the water in the rivers fishing salmon back in the Pacific Northwest. It took some persistence, but we finally made it happen and he caught his first ever fish off the sand in SoCal.
We didn’t set the world on fire, but he was happy to catch. And now he knows a place to go, what bait to bring, how to rig up, and how to fish it. He can go back by himself if I’m not around and know enough to be able to catch fish there.
I was happy too because my previous efforts to put him on fish had failed and I’ve been eager to pay back everything Ken had taught me about catching salmon over the course of last year. If he hangs around longer, we’ll fish more and hopefully catch more. But for the time being, it was a good start to paying it back.
There are a lot of good reasons for paying it back. It expands our sport and keeps it healthy by bringing new participants into it. It’s good karma. What comes around goes around and you don’t want bad fishing karma clinging to you and ruining your next outing.
But most of all, it’s just the right thing to do.
Good luck if you get out there.