Fall Recap and Lessons Learned

Anello

Giddy Up!!!
Apr 9, 2003
907
381
SD, CA.
Name
Dan
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No
With so few posts, I figured I would offer up some of the lessons I've learned the hard way fishing the surf in the Fall. Would love to hear some of your thoughts, too, if you've been hitting it hard.

I've been busier than hell this Fall with work, so my usual surf fishing schedule has been upended. But, I have managed to get out at least once a week (usually more). Like most so-cal surf fisherman, I was hoping to transition to targeting halibut with the stickbaits or swim baits. However, seemingly every time I am targeting halibut I invariably see a big, lone Corbina, or a pack of Spotfin. So, my peaceful in-the-water halibut stroll turns into a frenzied re-rigging and bait making session on the beach. For that reason, I have given up on bringing 2 rods rigged with halibut gear to the beach for my Fall sessions. One needs to always be ready to drop a bait on the late fall cruisers ... and I try to make two kinds of bait before I start fishing, just in case (more on that below). Anyhow, I figured I would offer up some lessons learned in hopes that it might help you guys avoid my mistakes, and help you catch more fish. My opinion/findings come from being in the water, fishing, and not from reading the internet, so my thoughts might vary some from the garbage online.

Fall Fishing Lesson #1 - DON'T ABANDON YOUR BAIT ROD - Just last night, I got in the water and was slowly walking through an area with some smaller holes and a nice slow current with both rods rigged with swim baits. I like to get out in the water and fish holes horizontally, if possible, as the waves and slop at the home beach make it near impossible to cast straight out/ stay dry, and I find that I can really slow things down as I retrieve against the longshore current (plus, better hook sets). I saw fin bait rolling in the surf, there were terns and pelicans picking at them, and the water looked right. After reeling in my third cast I slowly scanned the water to ensure I was not missing something and I caught a very small movement about 10' from my foot (water was a bit dirty) but could not make out what it was. I froze and when the water cleaned up for a second I saw a huge Corbina (huge = 25"+) very slowly cruising behind me, parallel to the beach. It had no idea I was there. I tried to very slowly pitch the swim bait a good bit in front of it (obviously, not an optimal bait, but that is what I had), but the movement of doing so sent that fish westward at 100 MPH. It is probably to Clemente at this point. My 9' swim bait rod combined with the movement needed to move that thing got me. Had I a second, smaller rod, easily accessible, rigged with bait, I might have had a shot at that one. Zero chance you could have gotten that fish from the shore (60 yards out and water was full of eel grass and kelp), or that I would have known to even try as there were no visible structure signs from the beach.

Having a bait rod rigged is something I often preach to my friends, as the surf only gives you so many opportunities, and it has resulted in some of my biggest Corbina. But ,I simply got too focused on halibut and broke my own rule. There were no visible Corbina or Spotfin in the shallower water, so I got lazy and wrongly assumed that they won't be deeper. As I've mentioned, many times, for whatever reason those bigger fish like slightly deeper water, and they are far easier to hook there. The "skinny" water, in my opinion, is the worst place to hook them, for a number of reasons, but I'll stick to the script here. Anyhow, the point being, had I rigged my sight fishing set up (7'7" rod w 2500 reel) and had it accessible, I would have had a very good shot at that fish. When I say, "rigged," I mean, with bait on the hook, ready to cast ... so, you can literally unhook it from an eye and drop it or cast it.

Fall fishing is definitely tougher than Summer, as there are significantly less fish. So, if you go, be ready to react to what you see. Always, always, have a bait rod at the ready, and never assume anything .... to include oft-repeated online advice.

Fall Fishing Lesson #2 - TWO KINDS OF BAIT - Always have at least two kinds of bait, preferably live, on you. I know that this sounds a bit over the top, but, if you like being successful, do it. I'm including my two favorites below, but this list could easily include others. These are just the ones I can catch myself, locally.

(A). Live Ghost Shrimp - I've read that some folks refer to live Ghost Shrimp as candy bait, or the anchovy of the inshore ... and that EVERYTHING eats them, instantly!!! That is a significant overstatement. I try to dedicate a half hour to pumping them before any long surf session. If I can't, I buy them. Yes, it is literally crack for Perch, and most of the time, a Spotfin will eat live ghost shrimp, but not so with big Corbina. To put that into context, I had a pretty good year on Cotbina, numbers wise, and about 3-5% of them were caught on ghost shrimp (with most being small to medium fish with a handful over 22"). I put them in front of cruising fish all summer and into the fall. I also used a double Carolina rig (2 in line baits on Carolina Rig - second hook tied off tag of snelled first) several times in late summer to determine which bait Corbina and Spotfin prefer, and whether 2 baits is better than one. On those rigs I always have sand crabs on one hook and a live Ghost Shrimp on another (1/0 or #1 red octopus threaded through tail, secured with orange bait wrap). I put that rig with those two options in front of a ton of fish this year. Guess which one got eaten nearly every time? The sand crab. I watched medium to larger Corbina drive right by the Ghost Shrimp to get to the crab, or just drive by both (they are similar to Bluefin sometimes).

Yes, Ghost Shrimp will catch Cobina, but they absolutely do not prefer it. The times that I was successful I almost always had tried crabs initially, then switched when they would not eat. On those occasions, the Corbina went after it, full speed. But those instances were very rare, and my sample size is not small, at all.

However, everything else eats them, to include a few legal halibut this year. I pump them, pull the claws off and have them in one pocket with sand crabs in the other. No need for a fancy bait holder, or anything like that (although, I am in the water while fishing, so they are getting wet). So, if you are fishing the surf in the fall, I would suggest bringing live ghost shrimp as a #2 bait as you never know when you're gonna run into ... just know that it is not "candy bait" for Corbina.

(B). Sand Crabs - Never be the person that says, "there are no more crabs." Bullshit. Look for them. Sometimes they are deeper, sometimes they are IN the water (not on the edge or dry sand, but a foot or 2 deep in very visible beds), and sometimes, they are mixed into clam beds, deeper. I have had very few days when there were absolutely no sand crabs, anywhere. Look for them. Last night I found several established crab beds and made bait in 5 minutes IN the water. Birds are often a good indicator of where those beds are if they are in the water (I.e. Egrits, Gulls or Terns on edge of water). If not, just look for the traditional signs, or dig a deep half moon at the water mark, deep. Move and do it again. They are there. Get bait BEFORE you start fishing, and get enough. I think a starting point is 20-25 good ones, but more is better.

Medium crabs with roe remain the best bait on earth for me. Medium crabs without are good. Larger crabs are good for Spotfin, big Perch, Shovelnose, Leopards, and the occasional Halibut. Corbina can be caught on bigger crabs, but they prefer two of the mediums. Always have crabs (sand crabs, not the bad kind), and always start by using them .... with Ghost Shrimp as your back up (or clams, lug worms, etc. if they are in your area, and are accessible).

Overview - Fishing the surf in the fall can be very good for quality/bigger fish, albeit in less numbers than the Summer, but you have to be prepared. Be loaded for Bear BEFORE you enter the water, or begin fishing, and ALWAYS have a bait rod at the ready.

Final Thought - Also, I fish 10LB, 12LB, or 15LB flouro leaders on my Carolina rig, and I always use braid as main line. There is NO reason to use less than that anymore. Aside from what you may have read, these fish are NOT line shy. They are averse to bad presentations, movement, and bad casts, though. So just focus on being a better hunter, and making one cast count in lieu of using trout gear to fish the ocean. I've pulled countless hooks out of Corbina mouths with 4-6LB leaders attached to them which clearly broke off. Don't do that. It is pointless, and in the event you hook and land a big fish, the odds are that it will be in bad shape having expended all of its energy swimming against 1-2 lbs of drag for 10-20 minutes. Spend $20 on a spool of Seaguar Gold or Premier and don't cinch the knot tight until it is snug to the hook or connection (don't burn the leader), avoid my mistakes noted above, and you'll catch more/release more healthy fish.

Fall Corbina Pics which may or may not have been posted before, and one of the slug from last season.

IMG_3122.jpeg


24%22 Fall Corbina.jpg


DA 25%22 Corbina Fatty.PNG
 
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Anello

Giddy Up!!!
Apr 9, 2003
907
381
SD, CA.
Name
Dan
Boat Name
No
Thanks fellas. I'll make it a bit less cynical next time. Just re-read it and cringed a bit. But, I really want to be able to share good info amongst the surf fishing community. And, I love Corbina and Spotfin. More of a love-hate with halibut.

It is getting chilly. But, strangely, the conditions are actually very good right now if you don't mind freezing your ass off a bit. The lack of crowds at the beach has also made fall fishing super nice. Summer seemed to be more crowded than usual.

Gonna try to get down there today if work permits. Still thinking about that Corbina I saw ...
 
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Omarkayak

I've posted enough I should know better...
Jul 26, 2007
1,723
1,099
Northridge, CA
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Donald W. Clarke III
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11+ ft, Ocean Kayak Scrambler, P 'N' Queue Pod
I sorta liked the tone of your piece... Anyway, all sounds like excellent advice. The few corbina I've gotten have come on mussels (messy) or sand crabs. Good fishin'!
 
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Crib

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Jun 14, 2021
4
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La Jolla
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Christopher Anello
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no boat
Lately I've been having success with the long rod and surface iron. I put a large piece of squid on the top of the iron and cast out at least 25 feet from the shore line. The water is cold so I usually cast from the beach. Sand crabs work good, it can be tough to find them this time of year. I like to bring a block of cheese or squid when the crabs are tough to find. A nice piece of cheese on the end of a stick bait or large surface iron works great this time of year. tight lines bro's.
 
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AndyJ

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  • May 8, 2008
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    Dana Point CA
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    Andy Jakubas
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    1984 Cobalt DV 18.5
    Thanks for the great info. Dang, I like my ultralight trout gear, I'll use it for trout and schoolie bass not the salt.
     
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    Anello

    Giddy Up!!!
    Apr 9, 2003
    907
    381
    SD, CA.
    Name
    Dan
    Boat Name
    No
    Lately I've been having success with the long rod and surface iron. I put a large piece of squid on the top of the iron and cast out at least 25 feet from the shore line. The water is cold so I usually cast from the beach. Sand crabs work good, it can be tough to find them this time of year. I like to bring a block of cheese or squid when the crabs are tough to find. A nice piece of cheese on the end of a stick bait or large surface iron works great this time of year. tight lines bro's.

    Lots of good stuff here. Surface iron with a piece of squid on top? Makes sense. Especially within 25' of the shore line. My only question, though, is whether the cheese is soaked in squid before you use it? Seems like it would help, especially on the stickbait.

    Well played ...
     
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    Anello

    Giddy Up!!!
    Apr 9, 2003
    907
    381
    SD, CA.
    Name
    Dan
    Boat Name
    No
    Thanks for the great info. Dang, I like my ultralight trout gear, I'll use it for trout and schoolie bass not the salt.

    Great call, AndyJ.

    Good ultralight gear should NOT see the salt. I love my little trout gear, too, and there is no way I am bringing those rods to the beach. I've had many spinning reels fail due to salt/sand corrosion, and I am relentless about cleaning/re-greasing/lubing them all each time I fish. The sand and salt win, eventually, though. Its just a war of attrition. So, at this point, I only buy Quantum Inshore S3's in 2500 or 3000 as my surf reels for Corbina/Spotfin/Perch/halibut etc. as they are cheap, easy to clean/blow out the sand/salt sludge, and I feel no obligation to make them work for more than a season or 2 in the surf conditions. When they are done, they go in the trash can and I get another off amazon. The stick baits and swim baits usually end up on my bait casters with the long rods ... and I have to be extra careful with them as no bait caster is truly sealed as advertised. Getting them serviced once a year and rinsing/relubing usually keeps them alive for a few years. But, they die eventually, too. I find myself using heavier spinning rods more for the stickballs these days to reduce the days the bait casters are in the surf .... and they are easier to cast a good distance with the spin gear.

    So, to your point, leave the trout gear at home ...
     
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