Kelp Cutter Rig
It’s not as much of an issue right now because of the warm water we’ve had during El Nino. The kelp tends to break off when it gets too hot, so there isn’t the thick mat that we’ve seen in years past. That said, they are called kelp bass, so this rig is still relevant despite the current conditions.
I first learned about this rig in my So Cal fishing bible…“The Southern California Angler“ by Brandon Hayward. The idea here is you want to take advantage of the abrasive quality of spectra to aid in pulling out the big bass from their kelpy home. A lot of the new spectra is made with a smoother finish so you don’t saw through your thumb as you’re guiding line back on the spool. What you want for this application though is the old school, rough braid to enhance its kelp cutting ability. When you are spooling up at your favorite tackle shop, feel the difference and go for the one with a rougher feel.
My current setup is a Lexa 300 HD reel, on my Teramar 9-foot swimbait rod. The Lexa is filled to the top of the spool with 50-pound Power Pro. Corey Sanden of MC Swimbaits fishes his big plastic with an 80/80 setup (braid to fluoro). I don’t know if that is really necessary now given the kelp situation, but when these fish are really on they definitely aren’t line shy, so don’t be afraid to go big. I like to tip this setup with just enough leader to accommodate a couple re-ties and aid in the bait presentation. I like it so the splice knot is just outside the tip guide and the hook is down by my reel. I use fluoro for abrasion resistance, but mono is fine. Fifty braid to 40 or 50-pound fluoro is what I’m using now. I like to terminate with a strong circle hook (tell you why in a minute) that is appropriate to the size of the bait. A 4/0 or 5/0 hook is not too big, especially if you’re fishing a big mackerel.
You can fish this same setup with a hook as I described above for fin bait. You could also terminate with a swimbait hook, or a leadhead to fish plastic, or even a leadhead or slider setup for squid. The key takeaway is that this is the setup to use when fishing “the weeds.”
How To Fish It
Pick a lively bait, pin it on and throw as deep into the weeds as you can.
First of all, I like to fish it with the drag pretty well buttoned down. With a 9-foot stick, I can throw it pretty far. Keep in free spool and allow the bait to swim around and attract attention. If it decides to wrap itself around a stalk of kelp. Fine. Let him sit out there for a while and see if it gets bit. Not to worry, you’re fishing the kelp cutter.
When you get bit, you’ll get hit like a freight train and it will immediately take out line. Point your tip at the fish, then slam it into gear. Wind. The circle will find a home in the corner of its mouth. If it takes out a lot of drag, you may have a yellowtail or seabass, so back down your drag a little. If it’s a calico though, you want to get on it immediately. The deeper it gets into the kelp, the longer you will have trying to get it out. If you do get stuck, a healthy tug of war will commence the kelp cutting process. Just be patient. You’ve got it on a circle hook, it’s not going anywhere. If you reach a stalemate, go to freespool. You want the fish to think the fight is over and swim out. At which point you can yank on it again. A lot of times, you’ll get them out after they’ve dug themselves in and you can just skip them across the water.
This technique takes some practice to recognize when to pull, when to freespool etc. Just be patient. I used to hate this kind of fishing until I learned how to do it. Now I look forward to doing it when the conditions are right. Seems like that time is right about now. I like to practice CPR (Catch, Photograph, and Release), but these fish are really good to eat too. I don’t typically take a full limit of 5 (must be 14″ inches), but I’ll usually bag a couple keepers. Please return the really big ones. They should be the brood stock for future generations. Use your best judgment.
Good luck if you get out there.