SAN NICOLAS ISLAND ON THE ELDORADO

I’ve been writing a lot lately about wanting to chase lingcod. Going into this trip, I want to say that I’d only caught two legal lingcod this year, and both barely measured up to make it in the sack. Part of the problem was I hadn’t gone on many rockfishing trips this year. That was largely due to the fact that I wasn’t seeing great counts on lings, so the draw really wasn’t there. Either way, with the year wrapping up, I’ve felt a hole in my 2021 fishing experience, and a desire to resolve it. I got it last week on the Eldorado.

Trip Report: Overnight On The Eldorado

I boarded the Eldorado out of Long Beach Sportfishing on Thursday night (December 2nd), fishing Friday. Capt. Jeff Villapando was leading our trip. The boat was already tanked with live squid and sardines when we boarded. Our destination would be San Nicolas Island.

I hadn’t heard about anything going on out there other than rockfish, so I kept it simple in terms of setting up. I did a heavy setup fishing 40# to throw jig and fly using the Fishing Syndicate 800H (30-60) and a Tranx 500; a medium setup fishing 30# for a standard double dropper using the FSC 800M (20-50) and a Trinidad 14A; and a light setup 25# using the FSC Inshore 900M (20-40) and a Tranx 400 to do a single dropper or sliding sinker setup when we hit the shallows for whitefish, sheephead etc.

We arrived at the island at about 3 or 4 am. We stopped and anchored, I looked at my watch. “Rockfish isn’t a pre-dawn bite” I told myself, so I went back to sleep as the anglers around me rushed to get up on deck. Around 5:30, I decided to head up and see what was going on. We were anchored in the shallows. The outline of San Nic could be seen in the pre-dawn darkness. Everyone fishing was oriented toward the stern. The current seemed to be strong, pushing everyone’s lines far behind the boat. No one was catching anything so I went into the galley to coffee up and wait for the sun to come out. Jeff wasn’t up yet. I walked out on deck to assess what was going on. To that point, only a small chucklehead and a cabezon had been caught. Not worth the effort to crowd into a spot on the stern in my opinion. I went back inside and waited it out.

Around 7 or so, I saw that Jeff was up. I knew we’d be on our way soon. I went out to double-check my setups, Jeff came on the intercom to tell people to wind up. He said we’d start off doing some shallow drifts. We started off inshore in about 50 feet of water. Since we were drifting, the sliding sinker setup I had rigged wasn’t cutting it with an ounce of weight, I switch up to the double dropper with strips of squid and started nailing whitefish.

There were some smaller ones in the mix, but most were of better quality…not quite Santa Rosa level, but very good.

Here and there a rockfish or sheephead would get caught, but it was mostly whitefish coming over the rail. After putting 5 in my sack, I tried fishing the sardine to see if it would change what was biting. It didn’t get bit. I tried fishing the live squid (vs. strips), more whitefish. I opted to go inside and have breakfast.

Once we were loaded up on the whitefish, Jeff headed outside into deeper water. In this case “deep” was only about 200 feet or so. Here was where the better quality rockfishing started happening. Big reds and chucks started filling the sacks. I was still fishing the double dropper at this point, but getting a little frustrated with the anglers around me tangling up.

I put the double dropper away and headed up to the bow with my jig and fly setup. It was nice to be opposite of the drift side by myself. On my first cast, double big chuckies.

“Well that doesn’t suck.” Capt. Jeff remarked from his window above me.

Another angler joined me up there throwing a heavy Colt Sniper. He managed to get the first ling of the day on it. Good! My target fish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any ling action myself. The morning wore on in much the same fashion. I was consistently finding quality rockfish, but no lings. I knew we’d probably have to leave the island by say 12:30-1pm, so I went back to fishing live sardine on the double dropper to see if that might get one to go. Nada.

Jeff made a move. It was now about 11am. Time was running out. The current had backed way off and we were barely moving on our drift. Time to go back to jig and fly. I returned to the bow. While I was casting and dragging the jig and fly setup, a guy opposite of me fishing double dropper nailed a nice ling. That’s definitely the right kind!

That catch encouraged me. I kept at it. A little while later, I finally got one. It was smaller and bit the lingcodjigs Supafly that I had on my top hook. A chuckie bit the jig. I took it back to measure, but it was an inch short. Keep going. Right after that, “Oh, that feels like the right kind.” Headshakes. Still fighting halfway up. Got it to color. It definitely looked legal, but it wasn’t huge. The bow on the Eldo is pretty high off the water. I didn’t want to risk it and called for the gaff. Yay! Got one.

I pressed on. A little while later, I’m dragging my jig and fly set up along the bottom again. I lifted up to let it drop back down and it was wedged into something. I put it out of gear, tightened back up on it. Shook it around. Still stuck. I wound tighter on it to see if I could pull it through whatever it was hooked into.

That’s when it decided to pull back.

Pull back indeed. It actually started pulling drag. I was winding furiously on it and not only was I not gaining line, but it was still pulling it out. Wow! Ok, I tightened the drag a little bit. That’s when I finally started gaining line and pulling it up off the bottom. I put my rod on the rail and slowly wound up. Along the way, it kept fighting and the rod tip was bouncing all over. “Please stay hooked” I get it to color and it looks really good. Called for the gaff. While I was waiting for the deckhand, it had another drag-pulling run and went back down to deep color. At this point, the deckhand was at my side, gaff ready. I wound it back up, laid him out and it got stuck. “Heck yeah!”

That was pretty much the day. We ended up bugging out around 12:30 for the long drive home. I was really happy I got the fish I was looking for, AND I was taking home a limit. One of the other passengers had a luggage scale and let me borrow it to weigh my bigger fish. It went 13.1 pounds. There wasn’t a jackpot, so I couldn’t see how it stacked up against other fish. It would’ve probably lost to a bigger sheephead, but that didn’t matter to me.

Thanks to Capt. Jeff and his crew for a fun day on the water and giving me the opportunity to get my fish. They’re doing their BOGO trips beginning this week. Buy a ticket now, and get a ride in 2022. These trips are typically very popular (for obvious reasons), so take advantage of it. Get your freezer filled now, and have a free ride to look forward to for next year. 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 ...