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The Lost Art of Trying

Fishing in the communal swimming pool of the three most populous counties in the United States forces a different approach to fishing; it’s the style that’s different, mainly, from the tackle and live bait receivers, to the mentalities and mindsets of the people who get and share fishing information from Los Angeles to San Diego counties.

Despite southern California’s sprawl moving beyond urban, even the oldest of old timers are hard pressed to recall on-the-water times like these. The big-game fishing along the coast the past, call it six seasons, has been all-world, thanks to a confluence of events. La Nina, a record biomass of squid, and the long rebound after the gillnet ban has made the coast shipshape for white seabass, halibut and yellowtail. While many were cursing the horrible offshore seasons—dare we remember 2010 for offshore anglers?—La Nina was a child of privilege for anyone whose fishing hinged on market squid.

A Kelvin Wave shoving hot water in the direction of the Southern California Bight has brought with it not just top-shelf 2014 tuna fishing, but also bonito and yellowtail in snug to the coast this El Nino season. For myself, this all came after the best spring/early summer yet on yellows, seabass, and ‘butts. But still, there wasn’t enough to go around and everytime it got crowded the bite petered and then turned off—which has become the common theme in SoCal, from offshore drifts to inshore anchor jobs.

No matter the volume of fish, when zones get jam-packed the bite slows.

Bites turn into gangbangs. Excellent fishing amongst tribes turns into picks amongst the crowds, be it an hour after stopping offshore, or five days after some lucky bastard gets to enjoy a squid nest with just his boat and whatever is under it. Lest we forget that someone starts every bite that other boats get on.

Pavlovian conditioning has created classic scenarios in SoCal; the stimulus comes in many forms—usually a stopped boat offshore, or a text/phone call that starts with “I heard…” about an inshore or island bite—and from there the classic unconditional response (if the information hasn’t already been hemorrhaged): “Where?”

Where, I have always said, might get you bit that day. But why and how is what results in a lifetime of angling success. The thing is, it’s tough to break out and work on why and how. It sounds good on paper, but it’s tough to push through from theory to practice. Or even attempt to think outside the box. When there’s only a Saturday or a Sunday, a few days a year, it’s easy to gather numbers but tough to find out where they are biting, where everyone else is, and go the opposite direction.

Much is lost when it is all about getting the numbers; thinking about the tides and breaks and conditions and someone’s Magellan mission that started it all is not part of the trip’s program. It may only be a forethought, or not a thought at all. If you’ve ever been in a crowded bite and thought, “I really feel bad for whoever found this stuff first!” you know what we are talking about.

All this has created a fault in the angling landscape.

There’s a set that looks for boats to stop on in between looking for fish. And there’s those that do their best to fish away from the pack, while at the same time realizing there are times when everyone is going to have to fish in a postage stamp area because that’s all that’s going on. And then there are those that who would rather miss, either strike out or hit a home run. They skirt the perimeter of stopped boats offshore, look for a new spot to anchor up on when Alpha and Bravo are sewn up. Charlie isn’t an option. It’s not hard to guess what group posts pictures of most every fish they catch—from the grounds, nonetheless—while the other end is worried about spiking, bleeding and icing in between thinking about why they got bit and how to do it again. And how to keep this one quiet if nobody else is on it and it’s too close to home…

I know, this might sound strange like a strange read coming on a website that is all about fish reports, one that’s sister company sells GPS numbers and is all about where, and from a new columnist who switched his sauce from how-to instructional writing to creating a high-end saltwater journal that is more about why we fish than the how, in that of The Bight.

But here’s the thing: reports and GPS numbers are tools. They can be the best tools we have to work with. Arguably the one pulled out of the bag most often; call it the hammer. Thing is, when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We need all the tools at our disposal to build our own bites. This column will be about how to put it all together, to help anglers plumb their brains around the little things that add up to making big differences. It’s never going to tell you where—but it will help put your brain and skills in the two best spots.

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Brandon Hayward splits his time between serving as editor/publisher of The Bight (www.thebightjournal.com) and guiding throughout the Southern California Bight from his 23-foot Parker through his guide service, www.onemancharters.com. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Brandon spent his summers and time post-college working on San Diego-based sportboats before taking on a writing career. He's written three books on Southern California saltwater fishing: The Southern California Angler, Getting Bit, The Local Angler. Brandon lives in San Clemente, California, with his wife, two children and a Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever.