As mentioned in my Fishing Resolutions post a few weeks back, one of my areas of focus for 2022 was to improve my winter bassing game. I’ve had a chance already to fish several bass-focused trips this year. I’ve observed closely how the crew and regulars are rigging up. Those observations and the advice of the crews have led me to make some subtle adjustments. So far, those adjustments are making a positive difference for me. Adapting my rigging to the type of bait available has made the biggest difference. Allow me to explain…
The header image is aboard the Sea Watch out of Seaforth Landing. The boat is on their winter schedule doing bass-focused trips (Tuesdays and Thursday-Sunday; 9 am-2:30 pm). They have fished locally in the La Jolla area, but their best trips have been when they fished along the submerged pipe off Imperial Beach. It’s a long drive from Mission Bay, but well worth the effort. There are more keeper-sized bass, and the terrain is more like what I am used to fishing up north in Santa Monica Bay or Long Beach. By that, I mean that the hard bottom along the pipe proper is rocky in a similar way to the artificial reefs where winter bass fishing happens up north.
Recently, during the drive down to the pipe, I was sitting in the wheelhouse with Capt. Kris Karpow. I was trying to get a visual in my mind of what to expect when we got down to the pipe. Kris said the terrain is like cobblestone. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. Kris made a call on the radio to Capt. Paul Fischer of the Outer Limits. While waiting for him to reply back, Kris explained to me that Paul had done some survey work on the pipe and would know best. Paul said that it’s not big boulders like jetty rocks. It’s smaller stones like what you might see underneath a railroad track. His description helped me visualize what my rig would encounter down there. When I was able to fish it…casting and dragging along the bottom…Kris’ statement made more sense to me.
With that cobblestone terrain, I understood why Kris likes to use the spearhead-style leadheads vs. the banana-style favored up north. In practice, they just seem to skip along those smaller stones a little cleaner without getting hung up. Also, whereas 1.5 to 2 ounces is the recommended weight up north, they’re fishing much shallower down here in San Diego. So instead of 1-2 ounces, It’s more like 3/4 to 1 ounce instead.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BAIT
How you rig up is largely driven by the bait you’re using and the presentation for the targeted species. My experience fishing wintertime bass is grounded on fishing whole, frozen squid as bait, due to that being the predominant bait used on the sportboats working in Santa Monica Bay and off Long Beach. Consequently, the two main rigs are either the banana-style lead head with a whole squid or a sliding sinker to a long shanked J-hook (like an Aki Twist) and a whole squid.
The live bait right now at the bait dock by Seaforth Landing is a really nice, smaller sardine (side note – the crew has been having success using it to drift for halibut after work). However, their standard operating procedure has been to anchor up and seed their spot with “chud.” Chud is smashed up sardines that they put into a canvas bag, drop to the bottom, and then release into the water below the boat. It takes a while for the chud to build interest in the denizens below, but once they get activated on it, they want nothing to do with live bait. From the fish’s perspective, why expend the effort to chase a live bait when you have a chud protein shake wafting through the water in front of your face? The appropriate angler response is to use a chunk of dead sardine on the spearhead vs. using cut squid or live bait.
I did a double a couple of weeks back heading north to fish Santa Monica Bay. I rode the New Del Mar (above) out of Marina Del Rey Sportfishing for their afternoon half-day on Thursday, Jan 13th, then followed it up on Friday for the ¾-day ride on the Spitfire. The NDM is still managing to get off the dock fishing their normal 2 daily rides, plus twilight bass fishing on Fridays and Saturdays.
For the Thursday afternoon half-day with Capt. Danny Ericson, I stuck to the basics and fished the traditional leadhead (banana style) and squid presentation, albeit “knocker rig” style with a small slider on top of the leadhead. The conditions weren’t great with little to no current. We struggled to get 5 sculpin around, before ditching the rattlers and focusing on bass for the remainder of the trip. Long story short, my buddy Marcus Fain (who I consider to be an expert at this style of fishing) only managed 2 bites for one legal bass. It was the jackpot fish though! I went 1-for-1.
The next morning, Marcus and I were back at Dock 52 to ride the Spitfire with Capt. Jeremy Maltz. When Jeremy was giving his trip briefing, he mentioned galley cook Fabian Ulloa’s “secret” rig. While Fabian (below with the calico) was cooking up my breakfast burrito, I asked him for the specifics of his secret rig. Fabian explained that the bass were loving the anchovy that they currently have up there for live fin bait. But instead of fishing it on a dropper loop (which would have been my first inclination), the fish really wanted the bait right in front of their face. So instead of a dropper, he uses a 1 to 2-ounce sliding sinker, then a glow bead, to a small circle hook.
I really liked the idea of Fabian’s rig because one of my biggest issues fishing leadhead and squid is knowing when to set. Sometimes the bite can be very subtle. On the one hand, you don’t want to set early when they’re just starting to give your bait a little attention. But if you set too late, you end up just feeding the fish and missing the opportunity to hook up. It’s a difficult line to straddle, and that’s kind of the magic part of being proficient at it. But deploying the “Fabian Rig” the fish were grabbing the ‘chove and running. Because of the circle hook, there’s no need to set. Consequently, my hook-to-land ratio improved dramatically.
I can’t say that Fabian’s rig was 100% the reason I went from catching one legal bass the day before to catching a full limit the following day (I only kept 1, but I caught 5 legals). As I mentioned before, the conditions were terrible on Thursday. But the rig was definitely a big contributing factor.
I tried fishing the “Fabian Rig” in San Diego, but the fish didn’t want anything to do with a live bait once they got activated on that chud. In either case, setting aside my preconceived notions of how to fish this fishery and paying close attention to the crew recommendations yielded successful outcomes. I feel like I am getting better at fishing the traditional leadhead & squid style that I first learned, but having these variations in my back pocket and knowing when to use them has definitely furthered my game this year. You should give it a try. Good luck if you get out there.