Last week’s column discussed the basic tackle you’ll need to target spotted bay bass in Southern California’s bays and harbors. If you missed it, I would suggest giving it a quick read prior to starting on this week’s column, as I will be making references to the lures and tackle it described while explaining techniques.
Spotted bay bass range as far north as Santa Barbara Harbor, but the further north you go, the fewer spotties you are going to encounter. So it would be prudent to concentrate your efforts in any of the ten harbors or bays between Marina Del Rey Harbor and San Diego Bay. While each of them offers different layouts and topography, they all have similar structure (docks, moorings, riprap and eelgrass beds) and the basic techniques will be the same regardless of where you fish.
Since spotties are ambush predators that spend the majority of their time hiding in structure while looking for their next meal, boat docks that offer lots of hiding places are usually the most productive area to target them. When fishing around docks, success depends on getting your lure into the parts of the dock most likely to hold fish –and the harder that spot is to get your lure into, the more likely it is to hold a spotty.
In the photo above, SWBA Tournament Director Eric Bent flips a jig towards a piling on a dock that is ripe with casting targets. These targets include multiple pilings, the shadows cast by moored boats and the shadow from the dock’s gangway. Any of these ambush points might hold a spotty, but the trick to getting bit is having pinpoint accuracy in your casting. Since spotties won’t move far from their ambush point to bite a bait, a cast that lands a foot from a piling probably won’t get bit, while a cast that lands an inch from that same piling will likely result in a bite if there is a fish there.
When fishing docks, you’re going to want to use pitching baits like the swim jig or crawdad jig showed in last week’s column. While accurate casting is important, equally important is making sure that your bait falls straight along the piling on its way to the bottom. If you just cast to the piling and let the weight of the sinking lure pull line off your reel, it will not fall straight but will pendulum away from the target and back towards the boat. To prevent this from happening, once your lure hits the water, quickly strip some line off your reel to give the lure enough slack to sink straight to the bottom.
While the bait is sinking, keep an eye out for any jumps or twitches in your loose line as these are often indicators of a strike.
If your bait makes it to the bottom unmolested, it’s time to begin your retrieve. Presentations vary depending on the bait you’re fishing, but a good rule of thumb is to shake or hop the bait a few times until it’s away from the piling and then give it a slow drag for a few more feet before retrieving the bait and repeating the process on the next likely-looking target.
Empty docks or the gaps between docks can also hold spotties, but are fished with a different presentation. If you find a dock with a long casting lane, try casting a spinnerbait, crankbait or swimbait down the length of it while being mindful to bring that bait through any shadows and directly past any pilings along the dock. Presentation again varies depending on the bait you are using, but the trick is to keep your bait as close to the bottom as possible.
Fishing with spinnerbaits and swimbaits means slowing down your retrieve and pausing occasionally to let the bait settle to the bottom.
Crankbaits, on the other hand, need a faster retrieve to keep them in the bite zone.
When fishing a crank I will usually make a few fast winds to get the bait down to the bottom and then slow my retrieve using a crank, crank, pause cadence to bring it back to the boat. The cranking causes the bait to churn up silt from the bottom which will get the spotty’s attention and the pause allows the bait to float up above the silt and become visible as the fish moves in. More often than not, the fish will hammer the crankbait when you pause your retrieve.
This technique also translates into the other areas that you’ll target spotties, like eelgrass beds and rip rap. Eelgrass beds are patches of eelgrass plants that clump up on the sand bottom in some bays. They’re pretty easy to find if you’ve got a fish finder on your boat as they’ll show up as a thick rough bottom instead of the thin line you’ll see when metering a sandy bottom. Riprap is a generic term given to any rocky shoreline or jetty that you’ll find in a harbor. If you’re going to fish an area of riprap, you’ll want to make sure that the rocks extend down into the water, because those that stop at the waterline are not going to hold fish.
When fishing either of these structure types, long casts are the rule. You’ll want to position yourself down current of the spot you are targeting and cast in a direction that will allow you to retrieve your bait in the same direction the current is moving. The reason behind this is that spotties (or any fish for that matter) need to point into the current and swim slowly to hold their position when there is current. So stationary fish will always be looking directly up current and that is the direction that you want your bait to be coming from.
Spotties will bite a variety of baits in these areas with weedless baits (like the MC Split Tail Slug on an Owner Sled head) and spinnerbaits working best in eelgrass beds and swimbaits and crankbaits working best along areas of rip rap. Whichever bait you fish, you will want to keep it in contact with the structure as much as possible. So if your bait isn’t hitting the rocks or occasionally snagging up in the eelgrass, you aren’t putting it where it needs to be to get bit.
Looking back, I’ve barely scratched the surface of spotted bay bass techniques; so don’t become complacent once you’ve mastered these fundamentals. Instead, work on figuring out the effects that tides, moon phases and water clarity have on the spotty bite and try to connect the dots as to how those factors play in to whether or not you catch any fish on a particular day. Once you can make those connections, you’ll be able to figure out where to go and what to fish based solely on your observations of the conditions and it will result in more time spent catching and less time spent scratching your head as to why you’re not getting bit.