You may remember my friend John Curry from his contribution to the article Hoopnetting for Dummies. Yeah, he’s the guy who bought his first saltwater boat this summer and within a month was scoring limits of big lobsters every time he hoopnetted. When I wrote the article, I couldn’t be sure if I hadn’t caught him in the middle of a huge streak of beginners luck, so I followed up with him to see how he’d fared over the last couple months. He reported back; 248 legal lobsters in 17 trips. Like I said before, he’s just a fishy guy.
The reason I mention John is because when he hasn’t been hoopnetting, he’s been catching rockfish. More precisely, he’s been catching limits of big local reds almost every trip, and if you’ve ever tried to catch big reds locally, you already know its no small feat. So, how does a guy who’s only been fishing rockfish for a couple months go out and catch limits of four to six pound reds in some of the most heavily fished waters along our coastline? Well, it isn’t secret spots or magic baits, it’s just basic strategy and some hard work.
“I wish I could say that I just drive out to my spot and load up every trip, but that hasn’t been the case.
On Sunday my brother and I drove around for hours until we found the right grade of fish and because the spot was so small it took us three hours of running back and forth making thirty yard drifts to fill our limits. But when you’re catching big fish you don’t mind working hard to get bites.”
Regarding locating the right fish, John had this to offer. “I’ve been fishing from the 150 Area out to the Southeast Bank and both of these spots are just huge areas of hard bottom with small rocks scattered around them. Due to the uniformity and expanse of the structure, the chances of fish being in the same spot two trips in a row are pretty slim. So rather than just driving to the numbers where I caught them last time and fishing, I’ll start at those numbers and drive around trying to relocate the fish by looking for marks.”
Each type of rockfish marks differently and each fish finder marks rockfish differently, so John stressed that you need to figure out what the different types of rockfish look like on your fish finder. “The easiest way to figure things out is to stop on the first marks you get, drop down and see what bites. Most of the time, small fish will mark as big clouds on your meter, so I’d avoid those marks altogether. But if you get some smaller marks, drop down and give it a try.
If you don’t get any bites or only get small bites when you drop on a certain type of mark, make a mental note of what the marks look like and don’t stop on similar marks in that particular depth range. On the same token, if you do get the right bites remember what those marks look like so you can look for more. If you make a significant change in the depth you’re fishing the marks will look different so you basically need to start over. The good news is that the fish will mark the same next time you’re out so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you fish.”
Once John has located the right marks he’ll use waypoints to keep track of the fish. “If the boat is drifting quickly, I’ll punch in a waypoint when I get a good fish. This allows me to fine tune my boat positioning with each drift and after a few drifts I’ll have the area of biters accurately mapped. Last Sunday, the reds were scattered around a good-sized area but by tracking my bites I was able to narrow it down to a thirty-yard stretch that produced a bite every drift. These sub-waypoints will be useless on future trips, so you can delete them when you’re done and just keep one for the original spot.”
The final piece of the puzzle for John is in figuring out why the fish are biting where they are and how to predict where else they might be biting. “The fish I caught on Sunday were all jugged with octopus and squid. My assumption is that they were fattening up for the spawn and because of that were acting a lot like pre-spawn largemouth do in the lakes. The area I was fishing is basically the same as a giant primary point in a lake where the fish come up the slope out of deeper water to spawn. They’re trying to fatten up, so along the way they’ll stop and eat any bait they find holding on the upslope of the point. The fish then move on to the big flats on top of the point in the 200-300 foot depth and spawn.
Based on that assumption, the fish that I caught on Sunday have probably moved up on to the bank. So when I head back out this weekend I’m going to look along the slope of that point and see if I can find other schools of fish making their way to the spawning grounds.”
While John’s theory sounded good it seemed a bit of a stretch to compare deepwater reds to spawning largemouth, so I did some research on their habits. The first thing I found was that reds do spawn during the months of December through March, so his pre-spawn theory was viable. I also learned that reds can be found in water as deep as 1000 feet but are mostly found in water of 500 feet or less, so they could certainly be coming up the bank to spawn. And while there is no data available regarding their preferred spawning depths, the fact that they do spawn on large flats indicates that he’s likely on track with his guess at where the fish were headed.
John’s success in all aspects of fishing is proof positive that you don’t need to have a ton of experience to take advantage of a particular fishery.
What you need is a strategy, the willingness to work hard to figure things out and the confidence to make assumptions based on experience you have with other unrelated fisheries. Sure you’re going to make some bad guesses now and then, but once in a while you’ll be able to figure out something as outside of the box as reds acting like pre-spawn largemouth and you’ll be able to fill your cooler and go home a winner.