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Practice Days

I’m beginning to think that I jinxed myself when I wrote about fall and winter weather patterns in my article a few weeks ago. Since then every weekend has had some degree of screwed up weather. The wind blew last Saturday and this weekend isn’t looking much better as it’s raining today (Thursday) and there will most likely be enough wind on the tail end of this system to foul things up once again. On weekends like these, it’s easy enough to just leave the boat in the driveway and spend the day puttering around the house.

But staying home gets old really quick and usually by eight o’clock on Saturday morning I’m bored to death and wishing that I was on the water.

Instead of staying home, I have gotten in the habit of fishing for spotted bay bass when the weather is bad. While spotty fishing on a wet or windy day will never make my list of favorite pastimes, it beats riding the couch and although the fishing is probably going to suck, gives me an opportunity to hone my angling skills. I consider these trips to be practice days for when the weather and fishing are better.

Wherever you decide to fish, to take full advantage of a practice day you’ll need to come up with a game plan that will force you to focus on a particular area of your fishing skills that can use improvement.

Take for example the trip that Matt and I took last Saturday. We launched out of Alamitos Bay and chose to spend the day focusing on spotted bay bass fishing, which is by far our weakest discipline. But rather than just go out and try to catch a spotty, we chose a bait (the 5” MC Swimbaits Viejos Series) and a structure type (the rip rap in Long Beach Harbor) and committed to spending the day fishing only that bait in relation to one structure type. This may not sound like a very fun way to spend a Saturday, but it will make you a better fisherman.

We knew going in that the fishing was going to be slow due to the postfrontal conditions. So, rather than wasting time by driving around and looking for biting fish, we targeted several areas we knew to hold fish and spent our day trying to get them to bite the baits we were fishing. For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of Long Beach Harbor, there is riprap lining the channel edges between shipping docks. And while it all looks the same on the surface, the rocks drop off at different grades and into different depths.

The areas we fished on Saturday were those that had riprap dropping off into twenty or thirty feet of water. The grade of the rocky slope varies depending on where you go, but for the most part it’s very steep and in places almost vertical. These steep drop-offs necessitate proper boat positioning and cast placement to get bit, which makes them ideal places to practice.

The fishing was even slower than we expected as the weather pattern had the fish in a particular funk. Not only were our bites few and far between, but the spotties we did get didn’t give their usual enthusiastic and rod jarring strike. Instead, the bites were so soft and lazy that when you set the hook you weren’t sure if you were swinging on a bass or if you’d snagged a clump of seaweed.

It took quite a few tweaks to our presentations to get bit, but we ended the day with three spotties, two sand bass, a halibut and a couple dozen missed bites to go along with them. In hindsight, given the day’s conditions we probably could have caught more fish by downsizing our baits, switching to Gulp, or fishing a creature bait. But our goal wasn’t to go out there and catch a bunch of fish; it was to practice fishing a particular bait in relation to a particular type of structure.

It may seem pointless to try and catch a handful of fish on a bait they don’t really want; but if you look at the big picture you’ll see that there’s more to it than that. Our practice day gave us the opportunity to improve on our boat positioning skills, increase our casting accuracy and most importantly learn to tweak a technique to get bites from fish that aren’t feeding. These fundamental skills extend well beyond spotted bay bass fishing and are the building blocks of becoming a better angler. So next time you’re faced with some less than optimal fishing conditions, make the most of it by turning that trip into a practice day.

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...