Calico Bass Fishing Techniques

Like with any fishery, calico fishermen encounter dozens of variables every time they hit the water. This includes wind, water temperature, color, clarity, feeding patterns and seasons. So rather than focus on the specifics that will get you bit on a specific day, I’d like to focus on the basic techniques that once mastered, will allow you to confidently adjust to the variables you’ll face the next time you’re on the water. And while there are also dozens of adjustments you’ll have to make, all of them are based on the four basic techniques of calico bass fishing.


The term “boiler rock fishing” encompasses any situation where you are casting your bait up against rocks that are at least partially submerged and are being washed by the ocean’s surge. This can include a wave-swept rocky shoreline, a sheer cliff that’s pounded by surf, or a rock that is sticking out of the water well away from shore. Whichever the case, almost all traditional calico bass baits can be effectively fished in these zones, but there are a couple that will work better than the rest.

Calico bass fishing in boiler rocks

When fishing boiler rocks, the goal is to cast your bait up into the surge around the rocks and make it look like a baitfish that is floundering in the surf. This is best done using either a weedless swimbait or a regular swimbait on a weedless lead head or a swinghead like the Warbaits Neck Breaker. And since you’re going to be trying to pull big bass out of the rocks, you should be fishing either your heavy setup or your weedless setup.

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The technique involves pulling your boat to within casting distance of the rocks, making sure to stay a safe distance away, and having someone running the main motor to keep you out of harm’s way. Once positioned, simply cast your bait directly into the surge around the rocks, retrieve it, and repeat the process until you get bit. Variables include; retrieve speed, whether or not to let the bait sink, and choosing the right color and size of swimbait to get bit.


Fishing the edges of kelp beds is as simple as it sounds. Just locate the up-current corner of a good-looking kelp bed and work your bait along its edge. All of the baits listed will work for this presentation but the Lucky Craft and the weedless swimbait excel in this scenario. When fishing the Lucky Craft or any hard bait, you’ll want to make a cast that will allow you to retrieve your bait along the edge of the kelp without snagging the stalks. Once you’ve made your cast, retrieve the bait with a fast stop and go retrieve. Since all hard baits have unique swimming styles, you’ll want to try different retrieves to find the one that works best for the bait you’re fishing.

Calico bass technique for fishing kelp bed edges

The weedless swimbait, in this technique and the next one, is fished by casting your bait along the edges of the kelp or into gaps between kelp stringers. You don’t need to make long casts to get bit and a good thing to remember is that the farther from the boat you hook a fish, the better the chance that it will wrap you in kelp and shake the hook. There’s really only one way to fish the weedless, which is to cast it and wind it on the surface, but retrieve speed and bait color choice can be huge factors. The standard pattern is a slow retrieve when the water is cold and a fast retrieve once it warms up. Color choices should match the natural forage in the area where you are fishing.


Pitching kelp stringers is one of the most effective ways to catch calicos when the water is cold or the fish are feeding deep in the water column. Just like in the previous example, you are going to want to start in the up-current corner of a bed, preferably one that has isolated stringers (like the one in the photo). The only two baits you’ll want to fish when using this technique are the standard swimbait on a weedless leadhead and a spinnerbait.

Calico Bass Techniques

The presentation is the same for both baits. Just pitch your lure up against a kelp stringer, let it sink to the bottom, then retrieve it and repeat. The fish will often bite the bait on the sink, so be ready to swing on any variations in the speed at which your bait is falling. Once on the bottom, swimbaits can be hopped along before being retrieved, but spinnerbaits are best retrieved immediately. Choosing the right bait color and lead head weight are the keys to getting bit with this technique.


The fish aren’t always on the boiler rocks, nor are they always on the edges of the kelp. So if you find yourself targeting fish that are scattered around a kelp bed, the most effective way to catch them is by focusing on the lanes. These lanes, or open stretches in the bed, give bass the opportunity to hide in the kelp while waiting for a meal to swim by.

Calico Bass Techniques in kelp lanes

Accurate casting is the key when fishing kelp lanes as you’ll want to bring your bait by as many likely ambush points as you can with each cast. Since the fish aren’t aggregated on the up-current edge of the kelp, you’re going to have to cover water if you want to catch fish. Ideally, you should position your boat in a way that will allow the wind or current to move it through the kelp while you cast down the lanes ahead of your boat. When fishing this way, I’ll throw a weedless swimbait or a big bait like the 9” MC Swimbaits Viejos Series on a weedless lead head.

As I said in the beginning, there are dozens of variables, which are compounded exponentially when you introduce the different baits and techniques you’ll use when targeting calicos. But instead of getting overwhelmed by the details, just focus on mastering the basics and always pay attention to what’s happening; especially when you’re NOT getting bit. Everyone is an expert when the fish are biting, but the really good fishermen are the ones who can read the signs shown to them on a slow day and use that information to figure out how to get bit.

Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal...