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Gearing Up to Fish the Channel Islands

As they do most years, the Channel Islands are beginning to kick out their spring stock of white seabass, halibut and yellowtail.

If you’ve been thinking about heading out to take advantage of the bite, here is a list of the tackle you’ll want to bring and the things you’ll need to know before booking your trip.

The regularly fished Channel Islands include Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. These islands vary in distance from the dock and not all trips have the time to run to the farther destinations. So, when booking a trip it’s important to pay attention to which of these islands is biting.

If the fish are biting during the day at Anacapa or Santa Cruz, an all day trip departing at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. will get you there in plenty of time to fish. But if the fish are biting at Santa Rosa or are biting at grey light, you’re going to need to book an overnight trip to put you in the bite zone. Both Ventura Sportfishing and Channel Islands Sportfishing offer trips on boats including the Aloha Spirit, Cobra, Pacific Eagle, Pacific Dawn and the Pacific Islander. All of these boats run limited load trips and offer top-notch service.

Regarding tackle, you’ll be well covered with the following three rod and reel combinations.

Dropper Loop / Heavy Live Bait Rod

This is going to be your workhorse when fishing seabass, yellows and halibut.

My preferred set up is a Penn Fathom 25N full of 65# spectra matched with a Penn Carnage 800M rod (rated for 20-50 lb test). This medium duty 8′ long rod has a light enough tip to keep from pulling the hook on a seabass, but enough backbone to turn a big yellow before it can get you in the rocks.

Rockfish / Light Live Bait Rod

Since the seabass bite at the Channel Islands if often tide dependent, most boats will spend part of the day fishing rockfish or calicos. My combo for this type of fishing is a Penn Squall 15LW full of 50# spectra matched to a Rainshadow 1088. This level wind reel and 9′ graphite rod (rated for 20-30 lb test) works double duty for fishing a squid on a sliding sinker or dropping a bait for rockfish.

Plastic Rod

The bass and rockfish at the Channel Islands will readily bite a swimbait fished on a heavy lead head, so I always add a plastic rod to my quiver when fishing up there. My go to combo is an Abu/Garcia Toro 50NaCl full of 50# spectra matched to an 8′ heavy action graphite bass rod, like a Rainshadow 946 or an Abu/Garcia Volatile 80-6. This rod will be used to fish the swimbaits listed below.

Here’s what I’ll pack in my tackle box:

Hooks:

Owner 5/0 Aki Twist

Owner Ringed Flyliner in sizes 2, 2/0 and 4/0

Owner Mutu Light Wire in sizes 1 and 3/0

Weights:

Torpedo Sinkers in 8, 12 and 16 ounces

Sliding Sinkers in 1/4, 1/2 and 1 ounce

Leader:

Fluorocarbon in 25 and 40 pound test

Swimbaits:

7″ MC Swimbaits Viejos Series in brown and red colors Shad style lead heads in 1, 2 and 3 ounce sizes

Other:

12 ounce Ahi Assault Jig in Blue Bass or Mackerel pattern

Ahi multi hook squid catcher

It’s always best to check with the crew before rigging up to see what’s been working, but there are some basic rigs that usually work.

When fishing the squid grounds, the most productive rig is the dropper loop. I’d tie this on my heavy rod using 40-pound fluorocarbon. There are several different knots that can be used to create the dropper loop, but I prefer the spider hitch as it’s fool proof and has good knot strength. Once I’ve tied the dropper loop I’ll attach a large hook, like the 5/0 Aki Twist or the 3/0 Light Mutu, using a Palomar knot. After that, I’ll just tie a torpedo sinker to the tag end of the line and I’m ready to fish. The distance from the hook to the sinker should be at least two feet, but sometimes it works better if it’s longer (up to six feet), so check with the crew before tying on the sinker.

If the fish are suspended in the water column or you’re fishing for them along a kelp line or beach, I’d use the same rod and reel set up but trade out the dropper loop rig for a sliding sinker. If you were targeting seabass I’d use the same hook too. But if fishing yellows, I’d switch to the Ringed Flyliner as I seem to have a better hook up ratio with that hook. As with anywhere, hook size is dependent upon the size of the bait you’re using. If you find that you’re catching more bass than exotics, you can switch out to the light live bait rod and 25# fluorocarbon leader.

When fishing rockfish, if you’re fishing in less than 150 feet of water, I’d start off with a swimbait. Use the lightest head that will get you to the bottom and pay attention for bites on the sink. A lot of times the bites will come surprisingly far off the bottom. If you make it to the bottom without getting bit, hop the bait along, bring it up a few cranks, drop it back down and repeat until you get a bite. If you were fishing deeper than 150 feet I’d recommend switching to an Ahi Assault jig on your dropper loop rod or a two-hook gangion on your rockfish rod.

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 an...