Words: Mike Murciano

Photos: Ira Waldman

As the rest of the fleet bundles up in foul weather gear and heads west to go toe-to-toe with the offshore banks of the Southern California Bight, we calmly start to shed layers as we head south into San Diego Bay. We’re met with calm seas, and the sun poking out above the city of San Diego. In the distance a group of terns hovering over a small foamer of fish feeding on the surface, only these aren’t bluefin or yellowtail offshore but rather corvina pushing bait in the back bays of San Diego Bay.

The Southern California inshore scene has more to it than you’d expect. Much like the rest of the country we share similar cycles with cooler water in winters, making fish more lethargic and warmer waters in summer activating a variety of species as well as welcoming migratory visitors.

The spring season is truly a special time for the West Coast inshore area and at times can have resemblances and mirrored opportunities to that of our fisheries on the East Coast.

While West Coast harbors, bays and inner waters are far and few between in comparison to the East Coast, what the West Coast lacks in inshore fishing areas, it makes up in lack of fishing pressure and year-round availability of light tackle bruisers.

During spring most of the Pacific Ocean’s inner water are slow to warm, but in the back bays of almost all Southern California harbors you’ll encounter waters that warm significantly sooner and faster. The result is a congregation of species that are more active than they would normally be, a light tackle enthusiast’s delight. On any given day these warm, shallow waters serve up an assortment in the form spotted bay bass, California halibut, corvina, corbina, spotfin croaker, calico bass, a myriad of sharks and rays, even bonefish and striped bass occur at times.

On a recent spring day we spent a brisk morning being mentored by good friend and inshore fishing aficionado, charter captain Eric Risen. What ensued was eye opening in species diversity and application of techniques. Everything from fishing finesse ned rigs on the lightest line, ripping Rapala stickbaits over shallows to tackle busting sharks and rays on chunk bait.

If getting bent, having fun and checking out a wide variety of species then this might just be the gig for you. Tight lines.

A wide range of stickbaits allows you to target a diversity of species. Colors, depths, and actions all result in strikes from different species. This variety is what makes fishing the back bays so much fun, your next cast can be any number of predators looking for bait and warm patches of water. Rapala lures from left to right: X-Rap Saltwater, X-Rap SubWalk, Scatter Rap Deep Husky, X-Rap Twitchin’ Minnow, X-Rap Prop, Skitter Pop and X-rap.

Our back bays are often areas that get overlooked as viable fishing options, but in the right conditions, tide and time of year they can offer great fishing opportunities.
The King of the Castle, the spotted bay bass is arguably one of the hardest fighting species pound for pound. Could you even imagine, how hard a 30lb. spottie would pull? We’d never be able to land it.
Large California Halibut are a common occurrence in spring as they migrate to shallow water. Often they fall for a lipped bait retrieved deep along the edge of structure.
More commonly associated with our coastal kelp beds, in the winter and spring months calico bass will make a visit into the shallower area in search of warmer waters and forage. Always a nice surprise.
Far from being anyone’s favorte fish to handle the Pacific Barracuda can make for some great top water action. Look for the terns to give away their location. Often times Corvina will be feeding in a similar area.
BD Outdoor’s Ricky Fischel with a typical spring time corvina. While often targeted in gray light or at night, in the spring they’ll feed aggresively throughout the day. Feeding frenzies often turning into mini foamers.
Some people travel around the world to fish bonefish, in many Southern California back waters, they’ve taken up residence and provide great light tackle, drag ripping opportunities.
If you’re looking for something a bit more tackle busting, the back bays have no shortage of sharks and rays willing to take any kind of chunk fished on the bottom. Ira Waldman with a beautiful leopard shark specimen.

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