Working Back Up The California Coast

A couple of weeks ago in my Wrapping Things Up In The PNW post, I did a review of the goals I set out for myself while fishing in Washington and Oregon this year.

SoCal rockfishingIn preparation to write that post, I was reviewing the pictures on my phone.  Something that jumped out to me was that at this late stage of 2020, I hadn’t caught a calico bass yet.  I caught several sandbass doing the leadhead and squid thing on the local boats during January and February.  The one at right was on the City of Long Beach out of Pierpoint Landing in February.  It was a notable catch because I brought it up with a lingcod hitchhiker attached to the fish.  Capt. Mitch Christensen was standing next to me, ready to free gaff that fish, but it got a pass because we were two weeks away from the start of rockfishing season.

That was my last “normal” trip of 2020.

Obviously, things changed pretty dramatically in terms of everyone’s year from that point forward.  I had hoped to do a lot of non-tuna focused island trips to chase calicos (and yellowtail and seabass) this year, but that didn’t happen.  I also typically do a few trips every year to fish the kelp beds off Point Loma and La Jolla to target the same fish.

So when one of my Twitter fishing buddies, Chris Fierro (@fishingratu), offered to take me out to fish La Jolla during my visit, I jumped on the opportunity.

La Jolla Skiff Trip

I got off the T-Bird on Sunday night.  Monday morning (October 19th), I met Chris at Dana Landing to do a morning halfie off LJ.

SoCal rockfishing

The local boats in the area have been targeting bonito and catching some yellowtail (and recently, a striped marlin) in the process.

SoCal rockfishingWe picked up a half scoop of bait at the Seaforth bait receiver and went out to see if we could make something happen.  We spent the better part of the morning chasing bird schools and slow trolling sardines through the areas of life.  When some marks appeared below us on his fish finder, we’d try dropping down a sardine on a dropper loop or fishing a yo-yo jig.  We broke the ice on the day with some bonito that Chris kept for lobster bait.  It seemed like every time we’d start to get something going though, sea lions would crash the party and necessitate a move.  With about an hour and a half left in our day, we hit a shallow reef where I was able to get my first calico of the year.  Yay!  It bit a live sardine that I sent down with a half-ounce sliding sinker.  He got himself entwined in the kelp below, but I managed to get him out for a satisfying catch.  Since I was traveling, I decided to let it go.  After taking a picture, I did…only to watch a sea lion emerge out from under the boat and take him.  Dang dogs.  Still a fun outing.  Thanks, Chris, great to meet and fish with you.

Trip Report – Patriot Sportfishing (Avila Beach)

My buddy Vance Contreras has a goal of fishing every landing in California.  I’m totally in for sharing that goal with him.  When I came down last month for my overnight on the T-Bird, he came out and met up with me in Santa Barbara to fish on the Coral Sea on my way back up.

SoCal rockfishingThis time around, we wanted to head up the coast a little further.  There are actually quite a few fishing options up that way in Central California.  While I was busy writing last week’s article and then switching out from fishing offshore to bottom-fishing gear, Vance did all the legwork of finding a ride.  He picked a 10-hour ride with Patriot Sportfishing out of Port San Luis (right) near San Luis Obispo.   This trip would be a first for both of us fishing out this way.

Thursday morning (October 22nd), we were at the landing pre-dawn for a 6 am departure.  As we were waiting, to board the boat, a couple of other passengers were fishing that little corner behind Vance in the picture.  There was a ton of bait (anchovy?) in the water, perhaps attracted by the light.  There were some bigger fish chasing them around.  They thought they were bonito, but it was hard to tell in the dim light, and they couldn’t get one to go to confirm an ID.

It got me thinking about the bait though.  Vance said it would be a shallow water rockfishing trip, but that there might be a shot at halibut.  I knew that halibut is a big part of this fishery.  Unfortunately, they only had cut frozen squid aboard the boat, so that opportunity didn’t come to pass.

CA rockfishAnytime I go rockfishing, my primary target is lingcod.  With this in mind, I brought the usual lingcod toys…jigs, large swimbaits, and the like.  The locals were gearing up though with 2-ounce heads and 5-inch swimbaits…something you’ll want to keep in mind if you get out this way.  One of the guys who was fishing at the dock, Weston, gave me a swimbait, and luckily I had the right size leadhead to pair with it.

Capt. Jay Gavin said it would be about a 3-hour ride south, past Point Sal, near where the rocket launchers are off Vandenberg AFB.  After the long drive, we settled into our first drift, starting in about 120-feet of water.  Vance and I setup on the bow and I put the swimmie to good use nailing an almost legal blue ling on my first cast (1/2-inch short).  My next cast resulted in a brown rockfish aka bolina.  These fish seem to be the dominant rockfish up this way and they’re fun to catch.  They hit hard, like what you might be familiar with from a big chucklehead (copper rockfish).  Vance got a big vermilion.  We were off to a good start.

As the day wore on, the rockfishing proved to be a slow steady pick with mostly quality size rockfish to put in the sack.  It was looking increasingly obvious though, that it was going to be a tough day on the lings.  I switched up to a jig and fly set up so that I could continue giving myself a shot at lings while maximizing my rockfish potential.  The switch paid off as my sack steadily filled to a full limit of 10.  Like I said though, the rig still keeps you in the game on lingcod.  I kept at it and managed to catch another blue ling.  Capt. Jay came out of the wheelhouse to gaff my fish.  He thought it was going to be short, but comparing it to my first fish, I felt like it would tape it out.  It did, and it ended up being the only legal caught for the day.

The day was winding down.  We were in between stops and I mentioned to Vance how we hadn’t seen any sea lions since leaving the harbor.  We were settling into one of the last stops of the day when we found out why…

We had a visit from a great white shark!

It came right up to the boat and nosed around for a bit.  It seemed to be in more of a curious than aggressive mode.  Deckhand and galley cook Lauren tried to bait it to get it to stay and maybe put on a show, but it made one quick pass and was on its way.  That was my first white shark encounter ever and was very cool to see.  That was pretty much our day.  I was thinking that with the only legal ling on board, I was a shoo-in to take the jackpot.  As it turned out though, a fat cabezon ended up beating me out and it wasn’t even close.  Oh well.

We were never in more than 120-130-feet of water and at one point went as shallow as 30-feet.  Ever since El Nino came into play, rockfishing has tended to be a deeper and deeper affair in Southern California.  It was a pleasure to enjoy a solid rockfishing trip without having to go deep.  I’d definitely recommend it.  Good luck if you get up 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 ...