This upcoming weekend I’ll be fishing in the Salt Water Bass Anglers (SWBA) Tournament Series “Border Town Brawl.” It’s a spotted bay bass event that takes place in San Diego Bay.
Teams have eight hours to fish the waters of San Diego Bay and Mission Bay with the goal of catching the heaviest five-fish bag. This is the second of the six tournaments that comprise the SWBA season and after our dismal 54th place finish in the Newport Harbor event, my partner Matt Kotch and I need to do really well in this one if we’re going to have any hope of making the season finale.
Matt and I aren’t the world’s best spottie fishermen, so we planned to pre-fish the bay as much as possible. We were hoping to get at least eight or nine trips in before the tournament, but due to a combination of work, the Fred Hall Show and several weekends of bad weather, we only managed two trips. To make matters worse, our second trip was cut short by the 30-plus knots of wind that blew through the bay last Sunday. But we did manage to find several areas that were holding fish and formulate a somewhat solid game plan for tournament day.
San Diego Bay is a big body of water with varied topography. Although it can be easy to catch fish there, it isn’t necessarily an easy fishery to figure out. I fished San Diego Bay for the first time last year. Corey Sanden, owner of MC Swimbaits, took Matt and I out on his boat and promised to show us the basics of the fishery. We only had a few hours to fish that morning — it was Christmas Eve — but we caught quite a few big spotties in several areas.
Our day was so successful that we decided we didn’t even need to pre-fish for the 2011 Border Town Brawl. We figured we’d just go back and fish the areas Corey showed us. Well, we did just that and our 48th place finish proved that just because you can catch fish with a local pro doesn’t mean that you can catch them on our own. So this year we set out to get a better handle on the fishery.
Figuring out the fishery in San Diego Bay is no different than figuring out the fishery in any other place.
Step one is to gather information. The easiest way to do that is to search for intel on the message boards like those found in the forums on BD Outdoors. The downside is that you may get too much info, so you should filter it down by talking to someone familiar with the area. If you’re lucky, they might invite you to jump on their boat and show you how it’s done.
Step two is to get on the water and apply what you’ve learned, but try to do it in a way that makes sense to your style of fishing. I learned that there are four structure types that consistently hold spotties in San Diego Bay — docks, mooring cans, eel grass beds and channel edges. With limited pre-fishing time before the tournament, I didn’t bother trying to figure out the channel edges. Instead, I concentrated on docks, eel grass beds and mooring cans. I’m familiar with fishing around such structure and familiarity leads to confidence, and, as we all know, confidence leads to catching fish.
The third step, which is really an extension of the second step, is to fish with baits that are proven producers in the area you are fishing. I was told that the big spotted bay bass in San Diego Bay will eat a much larger bait than I normally fish, so I brought some of these big baits along. I tried fishing one, but I was basically fishing a bait that I had no confidence in and as a result, I was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to get bit. Rather than continue to beat my head against the transom, I tied on a chartreuse-and-white Bladerunner spinnerbait, which is my ultimate confidence bait. I caught a fish within a few casts. Once I’d established that there were fish in the area, I was able to confidently throw the bigger baits. After trying some different retrieves, I got bit.
The final step is to develop a pattern by catching multiple fish on a particular lure or in a particular area. To do this, you need to pay close attention to what you are doing at all times. Maintaining focus is not easy when the fishing is slow, but patterns are always detail-driven. If you caught a spottie because you were slowly hopping your bait across the bottom right next to a mooring anchor, you’ll need to make note of it so you can repeat it.
That’s my theory on catching fish in unfamiliar area using an unfamiliar bait. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if I can convert that theory into a decent finish in the tournament. I’ll be back next week with an in-depth look at the areas I fished and the techniques that I used on tournament day. Wish me luck!