Making sense of San Clemente Island Closures and Weather

Bass-Calico-bd-rightAfter reading some recent posts on our message boards, it’s clear that quite a few anglers are confused about San Clemente Island’s website and the Navy’s operating schedule. I don’t blame them; it’s a long run to make to find out that the island is closed. But just because it looks closed on the website doesn’t mean that you can’t still fish certain parts of it during different parts of the day.

To start off, you’re going to want to visit the website at

San Clemente Island Weather

Once there, you’ll want to click “Schedule / Safety Zones”. The next page that pops up will be this very confusing looking map. You’ll want to click on the date you plan to fish on the calendar on the left hand side of the page.

Don’t panic if the island is completely red!

Once you’re on the date you plan to fish (I selected March 18th), take a look at the part of the island you plan to fish. If it’s green, you’re good to go. If it’s red, click on it and you’ll get a pop up window.

I clicked on the east end backside of the island and the pop up window shows SHOBA 18-MAR 12:00 to 18-MAR 18:00. This tells me that the closure starts at noon and ends at 6:00 p.m. If I want more information, I can look at the list of closures at the top of the page and see that the SHOBA closure is in effect from sea level to an altitude of 5K (5,000) feet. The altitude has no effect on this closure, but it sometimes can. I’ve seen air space closures from 1,500 to 40,000 feet that show up red on the map but still allow you to fish in those zones.

San Clemente Island Weather

Once you’ve found out when your spot is closed, you can look around and find the closure times for other parts of the island. In this case I selected the middle back side. As you can see, the MTR 2 closure starts at 10:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. so it looks like you’re not going to get much fishing done on the back side of the island after noon.

Checking the weather is a must when planning a trip to San Clemente Island and it pays to get it from more than one source.

To start off, I’ll always check the National Weather Service site at

San Clemente Island Weather

This micro forecast page allows you to get pinpoint weather forecasts but it requires several steps to get there. The first step is to select the weather block you want. To do this you’d click in the section by San Clemente Island. This will take you to the next page.

This page will give you the marine zone forecast for that sector, but it can be inaccurate if you are fishing one of the edges of the zone. As you can see, the west end of San Clemente falls just inside its outer edge. So you’ll want to click within the light green box near where you’re fishing. In this case I clicked on the west end back side of the island. This will take you to the micro forecast page.

San Clemente Island Weather

The forecast on the left corresponds to the green square on the map and will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect in that general area. If you’re planning a trip to Clemente, you need to watch out for afternoon west winds forecast to be in excess of 15 MPH as that can make for a brutal ride home. Also watch the ratio of the swell height to its interval. The 3-foot at 9-seconds that is forecast should make for a smooth ride but that same 3-foot at a 4-second interval would make for a rough ride. A good rule of thumb is if the interval is at least double the swell height it should be fine. Also take a look at the wind-wave height. Depending on wind direction, these smaller waves can make for washing machine conditions. As a rule 1 to 2-feet is not a big deal.

San Clemente Island Weather

San Clemente Island Weather

The final step is to get a bigger picture view of what the weather is going to be like on the way to and from the island and to take a look at anything that might change the forecast.

I like to use the Sail Flow iPhone app for this purpose.

It’s a free download and I suggest getting it. By selecting the forecast map and scrolling forward to 2:00 PM on the 18th, I can see that while the weather is forecast to be calm at Clemente, there is some significant wind outside the island. If the forecast holds, that wind won’t mean much. But if I were at the island on the 18th and the wind started to blow harder than forecast, I’d know that the weather system probably slid inside and it would be in my best interest to get out of there before it got any worse. Looking at this map you can also see that the ride from Catalina to Long Beach is probably going to be the worst part of the return trip as the winds are gusting through there.

Erik Landesfeind
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...