Fishing California Kelp Paddies – Fish Kelp Paddys
In the first part of this series, I explained how to use the tools available to you to find kelp paddies off the Southern California coast. If you have not already read that portion, make sure to go back and check it out (click HERE to read part 1).
I explained how to use sea-surface water temperature charts and chlorophyll imaging to locate current breaks in fishy water.
Now it’s time to discuss how to make the most of each opportunity when you come up on some free-floating kelp paddies.
Finding the paddies is only half of the challenge. Knowing how to fish them directly impacts your success rate. Here are some tips to help you improve your catch rates.
Kelp Paddy Fishing — The Approach
Once you locate a kelp paddy, the first thing you want to do is figure out which direction to approach from. As you get closer, it is important to slowly slide up on the kelp. Pull the throttles back to idle speed when you are about 75 to 100 yards away. This may seem like a long distance, but you have to remember that the fish do not always hold tight to the paddy. This is especially true of tuna. Most of the time the yellowfin and bluefin tuna will patrol the kelp from 20 to 200 yards away.
I will usually tell the anglers in the cockpit to set a bait in the water as I pull back on the throttles and we will slowly troll up to the kelp. Designate one angler to drop back a long bait, and another one to set out a short bait. This helps avoid tangles and let’s you work different zones. Keep the short bait about 10 to 20 yards behind the transom, and the long bait back 20 to 40 yards behind the boat. If you have more anglers, just be sure to stagger their baits to avoid tangles.
Monitor the swell and wind direction as you get close to the kelp paddy. Try to approach from the up-sea or up-swell side and slowly work your way past the kelp while staying 30 yards off of it. Pull your motors out of gear as you slide by the kelp. This helps you present your baits so they will move right past the paddy as you drift by. The direction of the swell will dictate the drift of your boat, so stopping the boat up swell and about 30 yards past the kelp will give you the best presentation.
Present Your Baits
Now that you are lined up and drifting past the kelp it’s time to get busy. To get the most action out of each kelp paddy you come up on, you should be doing three things: chumming, fly-lining baits and working a lure or bait down deep. Depending on the size of your crew, this process can be easy or require some multitasking.
Like hunting for kelps, it’s important that every crewmember knows his or her role on the team.
You should have one or two guys fly-lining back a bait. Another angler should be fishing a yo-yo iron or vertical jig from 200 feet deep up to the surface. Finally, one angler should be doling out a steady stream of “ones and twos,” tossing over one or two baits every 30 seconds to a minute.
While chumming, mix in a few “pop-eye” baits. While holding a sardine in your hand with its head sticking out between your thumb and forefinger, use your thumb to pop one eye out before you toss it overboard. This will cause the bait to swim in circles frantically on the surface. This little trick will get even the most finicky game fish all revved up.
Hopefully by now you have them boiling in the corner and all the boys are hooked up and screaming. If not, don’t despair.
Keep tossing baits in the water and working the jig down deep. Sometimes it takes a while to get things rolling.
Know Your Sounder
As you drift by the kelp, watch the fish finder and assess the volume of life below to help you determine how much effort you want to put into fishing this particular paddy. You want to set your fish finder’s range to 200 feet deep and really study what is being displayed on the screen. More often than not, the paddy will be loaded with bait so you really need to learn the difference between baitfish and game fish on your machine.
Bait usually shows up as small, loose chunks or large clouds of lighter colors such as orange and yellow. Game fish should show up as larger marks of red or orange with yellow outlines. Familiarize yourself with the marks your sounder uses to identify the different species. The process requires practice and discipline, but it’s well worth it.
Next time you find yourself in a wide-open bite, take a couple of minutes to watch the sounder and pay close attention to the shape and color of the marks and apply them to the particular species you are catching. Don’t be afraid to take pictures of the screen to study later. Some machines have a function that allows you to take a screen shot and save it. If you are diligent, you can learn the various kinds of fish under the boat with impunity.
Dorado and yellowtail usually hang close to the kelp but the various tuna species might be as far as a half-mile away. If you don’t catch fish close to the paddy on your first couple of drifts, don’t hesitate to drift a quarter-mile or more away. Make sure to keep a close eye on the kelp so you don’t lose track of it.
If you don’t spot any bait or fish on the first drift, you might want to give it a quick second pass before you decide to move on. If you saw fish under the paddy or metered them on the sounder, work the kelp for 20 to 30 minutes longer and try to get a bite. If the fish have a case of lockjaw, mark the kelp on your plotter, take note of the drift direction and maybe hit it later in the day or on the ride in if you’re still in the neighborhood. Keep in mind that the kelp will be drifting at a speed of .5 to 1 nautical mile per hour. Try to predict where the paddy will be down-swell later in the day and intercept it.
When resetting on the kelp, leave the baits out if they are still strong and continue to slow troll the baits (they must be hooked through the nose for trolling) back up to the kelp. Again, troll past and up-swell before shifting into neutral and setting back the fly-lined baits. Continue to repeat the process until the boat is plugged with fish or you’re completely positive that there are no biters down below.
A Few Notes on Etiquette
Another item I would like to touch on is fishing etiquette. During the busy summer months, tons of boats swarm the local grounds and a fishy area can turn into a parking lot. Most boats are running blind, looking to poach someone else’s paddy until they stumble across one of their own. I’ve had several boats come charging over and run right up on us, nearly crashing into the boat when we were stopped, taking a bathroom break and nowhere near any kelp. If you’re not careful, you’ll make enemies pretty quickly out there. Please resist the temptation to run up on someone else’s paddy without permission.
There is nothing wrong with stopping a half-mile away and politely hailing the other vessel on the VHF and requesting permission to share their spot. More times than not, the other boat will wave you in, or give you some info as to what they’ve been catching. And if you’re setup on a productive piece of kelp and you’ve stuffed the boat, do the right thing and call in a few other boaters. The good karma will always pay off in the future. You never know when you will be the one called in to the magic paddy.
If you work together in this manner, it helps everyone catch more fish. It also raises the level of enjoyment on the water. All it takes is one donkey to ruin everyone’s day. The idea is to go fishing and blow off some steam, not get into a brawl over a piece of kelp.