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Sand Bass and Sculpin

It’s amazing just how many excuses I can come up with when I don’t feel like getting out of bed to go fishing on a cold morning. Why even bother? It’s too damn cold and the fishing is going to suck, I’ll tell myself. I bet that the boat won’t even have enough passengers to run today…

This was went through my mind as I lay in bed listening to the alarm clock beep. Eventually, my wife rolled over and said, “If you aren’t getting up, at least turn off your alarm.” I turned it off and got out of bed. I still didn’t feel like going fishing, but I learned a long time ago that the only thing worse than waking up to go fishing when you’d rather stay in bed is sitting around the house all day regretting not going fishing.

I grabbed a couple of rods out of the garage and headed down to meet up with some friends at Pierpoint Landing for a half day trip on the Southern Cal. I arrived to find my friends there, but hardly anyone else and as the 6:30 a.m. departure time rolled around, we realized that we were two passengers short of having enough people for the boat to run. Rather than give up and head back home, the six of us there pitched in a few extra bucks apiece and bought the additional two tickets needed to get the boat out.

We swung by the bait receiver and picked up some live squid before heading out to one of the local reefs to target sand bass and sculpin. It was still cold when we left the dock, so I retired to the galley, put in my breakfast order and joined the poker game that was just starting up.

After a quick stop at the bait receiver and a short run to our first spot, Capt. Ryan Carino anchored the boat on a wreck in 75 feet of water. With only six guys on board, there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out around the boat and within minutes the first sand bass of the day came over the rail.

The go-to rig that morning was a live squid pinned on a 1-ounce banana style lead head.

Just about any style of lead head will work for this type of fishing, but keep in mind that you need to get your bait down into the wreck or reef to get bit, so you want a lead head that’s both cheap and somewhat snag resistant — the banana style meets both of those criteria.

I usually bring two rods when I’m fishing wintertime bass with squid. The first is a Rainshadow ISWB 946 matched with an Abu-Garcia Revo Inshore with 50-pound Spectra and a short 25-pound fluorocarbon leader. This is my general use outfit, but if the big bass start to bite, I put that rod in the rack and grab my heavier outfit — a Calstar Graphiter 900M matched with a Shimano Trinidad 16 Narrow with 50-pound Spectra and a short 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. This may seem like overkill for sand bass, but if the big fish are biting, it’s nice to have a little extra pulling power to get them out of the rocks.

Fishing a lead head and squid for wintertime bass is pretty simple. The most important thing to remember is that to get bit, you need your bait to be in direct contact with the structure you’re fishing. If you don’t feel your lead head banging against structure when it’s on the bottom, you’re most likely fishing in the wrong spot. If you’re not feeling the structure, take a look around and see if anyone is snagging the bottom or catching fish and if there’s room, go fish near them. You can also ask the captain where the structure is in relation to the boat.

Once you’ve figured out where to fish, concentrate on technique. I like to make a lob cast to get my bait away from the boat and let it sink to the bottom before slowly hopping it back. You don’t want to make a long cast when fishing this way because the greater the angle in your line, the more likely your bait will snag the bottom as you bring it back to the boat.

To hop the bait along the reel in any slack line, lift the rod tip slowly and then drop the rod tip reeling in any slack line before repeating. You’re going to snag the bottom when fishing this way, but if you don’t set the hook into the snag, you can usually just shake it free. A good rule of thumb is that fish pull back when you lift the rod tip and snags don’t. So if you feel resistance against your line, lightly lift the rod tip. If you feel a tug, swing for the fences. If it’s dead weight, give the tip a shake to free the lead head from the snag.

We ended our trip with a couple dozen sand bass and at least that many sculpin. Despite the cold weather and scratchy fishing, it was still a great day on the water for the six of us that showed up, and the crew of the boat was glad to have some business during this tough time of the year.

Next time you’re lying in bed listening to your alarm clock, remember that fishing is always better than staying at home.

Join me next week for the first of a two-part series on targeting wintertime sand bass from your own boat.

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...