Words: Ricky Fischel / Ira Waldman
Photos: Ira Waldman
As winter transitions into spring here in Southern California, our fishing opportunities begin to grow. There is a direct correlation between rising water temperatures and better fishing which we observe here in San Diego during the springtime months. However, we’ve had an exceptionally cold winter by Southern California standards, accompanied by strong winds and frequent rainstorms. With the water taking longer to warm up than usual, and offshore fishing grounds being almost inaccessible due to less-than-ideal weather, we’ve had to explore and find a fishery that can provide us entertainment and big bites as we wait for this prolonged winter to depart.
Enter Southern California’s back bays and lagoons. These shallow water flats are the hidden gems of our inshore fishery. As the days become longer and overcast skies turn blue, water temperatures rise drastically, and once lethargic fish become hungry and aggressive.
When this time of year arises, we look to capitalize on certain fisheries and there’s no better way to do this than with a certified pro. Lucky for us, we were able to connect with friend and guide Eric Risen of Risen Tide Sportfishing. Eric is an inshore and San Diego Bay specialist who we trusted fully to provide us with as much fishing action as conditions would allow. We couldn’t have asked for a more productive day, as throughout the morning we were treated to countless aggressive bites and a substantial variety of species.
From the smallmouth country of the Midwest to the lake chains of the south to the California delta, crankbaits have accounted for countless tournament wins and personal bests. However, where they are often overlooked is in the salt. Freshwater bass fishing and the inshore fisheries of southern California have many parallels. From the predatory nature and behavior of the various species to the techniques employed by anglers, there is much to learn from the crossover of these two styles of fishing.
Swimbaits, jigs, A-rigs, and spinnerbaits have all shown why they deserve a place in the SoCal inshore fisherman’s arsenal. However, the crankbait is one bait that holds incredible potential for the angler willing to try something new.
What makes crankbaits so useful is the pace at which they can be fished throughout the water column. By adjusting the size of the bait from shallow to deep and the speed of one’s retrieve, it is possible to fish these baits in almost any place that an inshore species resides.
Docks, grass beds, deep structure, break walls. You can dissect each one of these inshore habitats with a crankbait. And with the ability of a crankbait to deflect off structure, you can fish aggressively and without the concern of snagging.
In addition to the versatility with so many options of crankbaits to choose from, the main reason why it has proven to be such a productive bait is the reaction that it can illicit. Whether it is the dead of winter or a hot summer bite, a predatory species is going to be hard pressed not to react to a crankbait moving past them. The speed, action, and color provoke an instinctual response to lash out of anger, hunger, or both!
One fishery that reveals the power of the crankbait is San Diego Bay. Long sloping flats, deep rock structure, and lots of tidal movement create an environment where a multitude of species thrive. The Southern California inshore regulars of spotted bay bass, halibut, and corvina can all be found here. However, there are also some less common bay species that flourish in these waters. One of these species is bonefish.
Often referred to as “gray ghosts” due to their exclusivity and weary nature, bonefish primarily inhabit the warm tropical waters of Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and Hawaii. However, a healthy population has taken hold in the bays of Southern California. Primarily feeding on ghost shrimp, other crustaceans and occasionally small baitfish, these fish offer an incredible angling opportunity. Bonefish are built for speed. Streamlined and hydrodynamic, feeling these fish go on a run and peel line off your reel is nothing short of exhilarating. On our explorations throughout the bay, we had multiple encounters with bonefish. Despite the excitement of catching such a sought-after species, the highlight of the day was experiencing the power of catching such a wide variety of species on crankbaits.
Halibut, Corvina, Spotted Bay Bass, and Yellowfin Croaker all fell victim to the crankbait throughout the morning. As we fished across the bay from docks to flats to deep structure, our targeted depth fluctuated from around 10’ to 15’. Most of our fish came on the Rapala DT series of crankbaits. What is ideal about the DT series from Rapala, is that you can pick up a bait and immediately know what depth it will run at. Rapala DT8s, DT10s, and DT14s all scattered the deck as we switched baits for each given spot.
The feeling of having a crankbait stopped full speed by a Spotted Bay Bass is something that I hope every inshore fisherman can experience. Pure predation instinct meets a fast reaction bait. Fishing a crankbait truly reveals the full ferocity of spotted bay bass.
Being a fisherman that grew up primarily fishing freshwater, finding ways to apply successful freshwater techniques to saltwater applications is something that has always interested me. The crankbait epitomizes the success of traditional freshwater lures in the salt. Crankbaits exploit the predatory nature of inshore species and allow anglers to fish for them in a variety of inshore habitats. By experimenting with depth, retrieve cadence, size, and color, crankbaits hold the keys to endless successful days on the water.
The spotted bay bass fishing throughout San Diego Bay has the potential to be downright phenomenal at times. This chunky bay bass absolutely slammed the DT20 on a dropoff along one of San Diego Bay’s many channels.
The bonefish belongs on every anglers bucket list. Ira Waldman was treated to multiple drag ripping runs while we targeted these fish in the shallow target rich environments throughout the bay.
Not all spotted bay bass are giants, but fish like this are the reason we keep on casting. We caught and released 50+ spotted bay bass for our half day of fishing, and big or small none of them hesitated to make our crankbaits their next meal.
Do not overlook the amazing bay fisheries that we are lucky enough to have here in southern California. They provide us with excitement throughout the winter and spring months when most other fishing is slow. A few things to keep in mind when targeting species that have made the bays their home:
• Time on the water is crucial. The more time you’re able to spend fishing in the bays, the more knowledge you will obtain, which will ultimately lead to more fish.
• Experiment with baits. While we have shown that crankbaits can serve as an excellent search bait, don’t be afraid to test out different different techniques if you are struggling for bites.
• Be prepared for anything. There are numerous species that reside in our bays. You can catch anything from corvina, spotties, calicos, halibut, bonefish, corbina, croakers, and even several species of sharks.
• Catch and release as much as possible. Handle your catch gently and attempt to release it back into the water quickly. Taking care of this fishery will ensure that these prized resources will be available for generations to come.
For any and all information about Rapala’s wide variety of crankbaits, head to their website and check them out for yourself!
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