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I’ll miss you, La Nina

It is said that it takes half of an ended relationship’s total length to get over it. And the time I spent with her, those four solid years, the filthy, dirty nights where we’d do our thing until the sun came up—that’ll take more than a couple of years to forget.

Because of her I had the confidence to quit my job, strike out on my own, figure out who my real friends were, and spend every spring and summer night with her. Yeah, things got kinky. I shared her with my friends. Even made a little money off her. Sold books about her secrets. She showed me what I want, all I care about, all I will ever care about: fat girls on the beach.

Most thought she was an ice princess. I’ll admit, she’s a cold bitch every time she comes around. But she warmed me from the inside out. I’m not sure if she’ll be gone five years or 20. Most hope they never see her again. But La Niña left enough behind that I will make it without her. With her lessons, I will soldier through this warm water event that has everyone else so stoked.

Those bummed that La Niña is a thing of the past include anyone who made a living off squid and/or seabass, and the recreational guys who got to experience our incredible squid grounds coastal fishery.

2010 was a season most would rather forget—no offshore fishing will do that to anyone who doesn’t know the difference from uphill and downhill. But it also kicked off this incredible run of local seabass, huge yellows, and halibut. Sure, 2009 had some good coastal seabass bites, highlighted by a mackerel deal off Camp Pendleton and a Northern Baja squids grounds bite that gave many San Diegans their first 50-plus pounders.

2010, though, that’s when La Niña made her presence felt. Cold water. Squid almost year round. The squid fleet hitting its quota for the first time. La Jolla biting from June to October on the seabass. Skiff guys fishing everyday, while sportboats sat at the docks.

Offshore fishing stayed tough in 2011. At least a dozen boats went on to foreclose. La Niña was a cold-sweat nightmare for most earning their keep fishing in SoCal. But La Niña—and whatever you call that best-of-both-worlds we had last year—I’d sign on the dotted line to have that forever.

In 2012 I started guiding for white seabass, mostly, and just like 2014 things fell perfectly in place—squid and seabass in May along my favorite stretch of coast. Being the first one on regenerations and fresh spots. Getting in on insane stretches where no other boats caught on. In 2012 that meant doing all the little things to keep it to myself. In 2014 all the big things—small tuna offshore, close-to-home offshore angling for those starved for red meat late in the season, the light boat fleet drawn to Monterey—came together so that midsummer nights were dreams.

Miss La Nina

2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 all had something in common: come April there was little squid. Most wanted to say the squid/seabass thing was over, an anomaly. But as one year went to four it became clear to many that this was also the new normal, the summer squid floats and everything that comes with them. Those who worked on the art of importing bait had a kick-out-of-the-crowd, whip-into-the-kelp-line strategy. In 2013 I fished by myself for 42 trips in a row. In 2014 word got out early and I got pouty, only to have the best to come in July and early August.

This season, many are saying that it’s all over. Squid cycle done. And for the first year I am kind of in agreement. We’ll get some squid, but there is no way it’s going to be anything like 2010, or even 2012, not with red crabs and 63-degree water in February after a season of wahoo and blue marlin.

Nobody scientific wants to cop to this being El Niño, even though it’s clear we are experiencing what anglers consider the real deal. Look through historical squid landings, and you will see that El Niños and their backsides wreak havoc on the squid fishery. Example: the last major El Niño in 1997/1998 had only 54 of the 240 squid vessel permit holders land more than two tons. But there has never been such a five-year boom in recorded squid history. Nor has the seabass fishery been this robust. Could this be the new normal? Seabass are going to swim through—they are lurking around this winter in the deep water; it’s just a matter of doing what it takes to get bit. That may mean having a strategy beyond friends waving friends into crowded bait grounds bites. My wish has long been for a limited-squid, structure-based seabass season. It’s more work and more fickle, but it’s got a lot more going for it than the bait grounds crowd scene.

So what’s my prediction now that La Niña has flushed us out?

Catching coastal tankers won’t be getting any easier than it has been, but those who fished them before getting spoiled by this last La Niña are going to have an edge.

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Brandon Hayward splits his time between serving as editor/publisher of The Bight (www.thebightjournal.com) and guiding throughout the Southern California Bight from his 23-foot Parker through his guide service, www.onemancharters.com. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Brandon spent his summers and time post-college working on San Diego-based sportboats before taking on a writing career. He's written three books on Southern California saltwater fishing: The Southern California Angler, Getting Bit, The Local Angler. Brandon lives in San Clemente, California, with his wife, two children and a Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever.