It’s spring time in Southern California and the fish are biting. Tuna down south, yellows and seabass at the islands, when the weather is good, you can take your pick. When the wind blows, as it often does this time of year your options are much more limited. Next time you’ve got the urge to fish and the weather doesn’t allow, try fishing inside the harbor, you might be surprised at what you catch.
Every harbor in Southern California offers multiple fishing options, but few house the diversity of structure types that are found in Long Beach and LA Harbors. The fishing area is so vast that it needs to be broken down into three sections to be covered effectively. The inner break wall, where the bass in the top photo was caught, offers miles of fishable rock and kelp. The outer harbor, which lies between the wall and the inner shipping harbor and includes the oil islands, is lined with rip rap and hosts lots of submerged structure like wrecks, reefs, banks and pipelines. The final portion is the industrial inner harbor and it’s miles and miles of rip rap.
Regardless of which part of the harbor you’re fishing, if you want to catch fish, you’re going to need to cover water.
If your boat has a trolling motor, drop it in and turn it on fast enough to keep the boat moving along the wall, but not too fast to properly present your lure. Boats without a trolling motor should set up in areas where the wind or current will carry them in a direction that allows them to fish effectively.
I’ll be covering the tackle and specific lures you’ll need in the next article, but the two main presentations are power fishing and pitching. In the casting photo above, Chris Lilis is covering the power fishing application by throwing an Alabama Rig while Eric Bent uses a finesse pitching rig in hopes of appealing to fish that might not be actively feeding. While these presentations are very different from one another they compliment each other well because they can both be fished while the boat is moving forward.
While there are scattered fish all along these rip rap walls, there will be aggregations of biting fish that are usually associated with bait schools that are pushed up against the rocks by wind or current. Find one of these areas and a slow pick can turn into wide open action. Once you find these biting fish, try and keep the boat on them as they’ll usually continue to bite as long as the bait school is around. If the rip rap isn’t biting don’t be afraid to go out looking in deeper water. The Navionics+ Regions Chart shows multiple small wrecks as well as pipelines, channel edges and hard bottom banks, all of which can hold biting bass. I’ve spent entire mornings driving around hitting the submerged spots on my chart and catching fish.
The inner harbor fishes much like the outer harbor but the fish can be much more particular about the baits and presentations they’ll bite. The water is usually a cleaner and calmer in the inner harbor, and the fish can get a really good look at your bait so finesse is sometimes the key to getting bit. The interesting thing about the inner harbor is that it’s very deep in most areas, there are spots that are 60+ feet deep and it holds a ton of fin bait year round. These factors make for some surprising fish at times. Last year, we were fishing spotties during a tournament and my partner Matt Kotch cast a crankbait in the gap between a commercial dock and the rip rap wall. As he retrieved the bait past the end of the dock, a lit up 25-pound class yellowtail chased it all the way back to the boat. Like I said, some surprising fish.
The inner harbor gets quite a bit of water movement during large tidal swings and the biting fish will orient themselves in specific areas during specific tides to take advantage of bait fish that might be carried their way by the moving water. When you’re driving around make sure and look for points and corners that created eddies that might trap a wayward bait fish as those same spots will hold biting bass.
Most importantly, just go into it with the intention of having fun. Most of the bass you’ll catch will probably be small, but you never know when the next bite will be from a big calico or sand bass or one those 4-pound spotties known to haunt the inner harbor.