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SWBA Border Town Brawl – Targeting Spotted Bay Bass

I had one goal in mind as I sat waiting for the start of the Salt Water Bass Anglers Border Town Brawl tournament. I wanted to be the first boat to fish a particular section of riprap located in the north end of San Diego Bay. We were the eleventh boat out of the starting gate, but some of the faster boats passed us up during the eight-mile run to our spot.

It seemed like the entire 69-boat field was ahead of us and heading for our spot. By the time we reached the marina we planned to fish, there were already three boats fishing. Our intended starting spot was not visible from the main channel, so we didn’t know if someone was already sitting on it. As luck would have it, we arrived to find the spot deserted and were able to get first crack at it.

We’d found this little stretch of riprap — a small rocky ledge that drops into 10 feet of water — while pre-fishing. On that day my partner Matt Kotch caught three fish in about five casts off this spot and they were all two-pounders. Hoping for a repeat of that bite, I used the trolling motor to guide the boat within casting distance of the spot and Matt hit it with a Strike King Series 6XD in chartreuse shad.

Three winds into his retrieve and Matt’s bait got hammered by a 1.5-pound fish. I netted the fish and handed him another rod with the same bait already tied on. He made a second cast while I unhooked his first fish and by the time I got it into the live well, he was calling for the net again. A 2-pound fish found its way into the net this time and we swapped rods once again. A couple casts later he hooked a third fish, which ended up being the same size as the first.

That was it for the spot and just like during pre-fishing, five or six casts resulted in three nice fish and then no more bites. In the previous tournament, it took a grueling seven hours and 48 minutes to catch our first-and-only legal fish. So we felt pretty damn good about having three fish in the well within the first 10 minutes.

With the pressure off, we decided to fish some docks in the immediate area, but gave up after going almost an hour without a fish. I had originally planned to fish this zone until 9 a.m., but left at 8 a.m.

At the awards, I found out that three of the top five teams caught their fish in the area that I left, so in hindsight I probably should’ve stuck to my original game plan and gave it another hour.

After leaving our first area, we hit some docks and mooring cans in another marina for zero fish. This dry spell continued until approximately 10:30 a.m. when I stopped on some mooring cans that had produced the previous week. That day, the fish were scattered around in the moorings and chasing bait schools.

The first thing we did was to use the fish finder to find the bait. Once we located the bait schools, we put the trolling motor in and started fishing. I fished Bladerunner Tackle’s new 1.5-ounce chartreuse-and-white spinnerbait and Matt fished an MC Swimbaits 7-inch Viejos Series bait. This is the big bait that I mentioned in last week’s column and as you can see in the photo, it is a lot bigger than the standard 3-inch swimbaits we normally associate with spotted bay bass fishing.

It took quite a while to determine the presentation the fish wanted in that zone, but we figured we only needed a couple more fish and had several hours to catch them, so we just kept trying different things until we got bit.

It turned out that they wanted a very slow presentation, with lots of starts and stops, fished perpendicular to the current and only in water that was between 13 and 16 feet deep. Due to the baits we were using, this presentation ended up with a very low percentage in the bite-to-hook-up ratio. It’s hard to hook a fish that bites when you are dead-sticking a spinnerbait and the same holds true for the 7-inch swimbait. There was a lot of swinging and missing going on.

Even with the low hook-up ratio, we caught another seven or eight legal fish and even managed to cull a couple times before heading for the weigh-in. We don’t weigh our fish on the boat, so Matt and I were guesstimating the weight on the way to the scales. I figured we had around a 1.25-pound average with a big fish of around 1.75 pounds, which gave us a total of approximately 6.5 pounds. This was disappointing because there is usually a big log jam of teams in that range in spotted bay bass events and we didn’t need a 40th place finish to go with our 54th place from Newport Beach. Matt took the fish up to the weigh-in while I waited in the boat.

He came back looking somewhat dejected, so I asked him how we did.

“Not good,” he said, “We overestimated again. Our bag weighed 6.34 pounds.”

I was completely devastated by this and spent most of the ride back to the launch ramp cursing myself and my inability to catch spotted bay bass.

Just when I was getting ready to drop Matt off to get the truck, he turned to me, smiled and said, “By the way, our actual weight was 7.57 pounds!”

My frown turned into a huge grin and all was right in the world again. It wasn’t a huge bag by any stretch of the imagination and was almost 4 pounds less than the winning weight of 11.37 pounds, but it was enough to put us in 19th place in the event and move us from 54th to 30th in the season standings.

We’ve still got a long way to go if we’re going to make the season finale, but now we’re only 14 spots back instead of 38 and we’ve got high hopes for the next event which is an open-water tournament out of Long Beach.

Join me again next week as I’ll look at some specific tackle and techniques that you can use on your own boat, a rental boat or even a kayak or float tube to target spotted bay bass in any of our local harbors.

SWBA Border Town Brawl

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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 and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal Scene, Erik keeps all of the BD readers up to date on what's biting in Southern California. Erik divides his fishing time on local boats, long-range trips and Mexico excursions. For the past eight years, Erik has been competing in the SWBA (Saltwater Bass Anglers) tournament series and has multiple tournament victories to his credit. His sponsors include Batson Enterprises / Rainshadow Rods, Robalo Boats, Tilly's Marine, Abu/Garcia, Penn Reels, Navionics, Raymarine, MC Swimbaits, Uni-Butter Fishing Scent and Bladerunner Tackle.