Trip Report – Santa Cruz Island On The Aloha Spirit

I mentioned in my article last week how there was a nice little pop of seabass up in the 805 over Labor Day Weekend.  The draw was too much for me not to want to give it a go, so I drove up early Wednesday morning (Sept. 4) to ride with Capt. Shawn Steward on the Aloha Spirit out of Channel Islands Sportfishing in Oxnard.

Shawn is to seabass as Capt. Ryan Bostian of the San Diego is to yellowtail.  He’s the guy.  But this wasn’t one of those trips where the bite is hot and you need to drop what you’re doing, call in sick and go.  It was more of a situation where there was enough signal of game fish around that I knew Shawn would try to target them and that’s what I was looking for out of the trip.  My only expectation was to have an opportunity, and from that perspective, the trip didn’t disappoint.

It was looking dicey that we’d even get out.  As my colleague, Erik Landesfeind, mentioned in his Friday article, weekday loads are pretty light post-Labor Day.  It’s a double-edged sword…you may get out and enjoy a roomy trip, or you may get up early and find yourself looking for options if the boat doesn’t get off the dock.  As of early Tuesday afternoon, I was the only reservation.  Thankfully, due to a strong social media effort and some last-minute walk-ups, we got out with 18 anglers for the 5 am departure.

By the time we boarded, the boat was already tanked with live, mostly smallish sardines.  Some were so small that I had to double-take and make sure they weren’t anchovies.  The average size was 3-4 inches, with a smattering of small mackerel and larger sardines in the mix.  On the way out, crewmember Kelly Carlberg said that the primary ways fish were getting caught was on a 25 or 30# set up with a 1/4 to 1/2 ounce slider.  I brought 4 setups, so I did the recommended setup with 30#, a surface iron setup, a kelp cutter rig, and a high dropper loop.

Santa Cruz Island

Chowder approves

It was a long drive out.  By the time we got into the zone, the 4 am boats were already anchored in what Shawn said were the prime seabass spots.  We drove past them and started looking where the boat had caught some yellows the previous day.  We settled into a spot just outside the kelp line and anchored up.  It didn’t take long before an angler on the bow got heavy fishing a dropper loop sardine.  It ended up being a big halibut.  The same angler got heavy again with a 70-ish pound black seabass in that same spot.  We caught a few bass and moved on to the next spot.  There was a lot of life in the area.  A lot of it was short barracuda.  I had a ton of baits come back destroyed from the mid-section back.  This was the pattern for the day as we moved from spot to spot…catch a few bass, a lot of short cuda, mix in a game fish or two, then move on.

The big thrill of the day came as we were moving on from one of the spots…

All of a sudden, a HUGE spread of yellowtail popped up behind us.

Shawn turned the boat around in time for a few of us to throw surface iron on it.  I got bumped but it didn’t stick.  We anchored up nearby where Shawn said they would likely congregate after popping up.  I fished my slider setup and sure enough, I got heavy on a long soak.  I was rewarded with a 12-13-pound yellowtail.

Santa Cruz Island

That spot ended up being the best one.

Santa Cruz IslandIt yielded 2 more yellows and a nicer sized seabass caught on a dropper with a meatball of squid strips.  When it was all said and done, our count for the day was 3 yellows, 2 seabass, the halibut, several calico bass, a bunch of whitefish and a few sheephead, blue perch and rockfish to round things out.  The halibut weighed out at 28-pounds to just edge out the larger seabass (left) for jackpot.

My personal count was one yellow, 4 calico bass and a Johnny bass (olive rockfish).  We didn’t set the world on fire, but I had a blast.  After about 1 pm, the current completely died.  The only game going on was the short cuda, so I finished out the day amusing myself trying to catch one on surface iron.  Had I taken time to downsize to a smaller iron, I might have succeeded, but it was fun nonetheless.  The most amazing part of the whole day was that we didn’t rockfish once (unless you wanted to).  That was a first for me fishing the 805.  All in all, it was a very fun day that wasn’t reflected by the final count.  Thanks to Shawn and his excellent crew for a great day on the water.

If you go up without expectations, you’ll get your shots to bring home a nice gamefish.  If you want to bring home meat, that option is available to you as well.  Good luck if you get out there.