I mentioned in my last article how I had planned to get out fishing last week on a bottom fishing trip out of Westport, WA. At the time I wrote that I was waiting to find out if they would have enough people to get out. There was a party of 3 signed up in addition to me. I tried to rally some people up here to go, but people aren’t about calling in sick these days. What to do?
I got the call Wednesday that the trip was going to be a go!
My goal going into this trip was to come home with full limits. Up here, that’s 7 rockfish and 2 lings. I figured that would set up Mom and me for the rest of the time I’m here in Seattle. My stretch goal was to get that trophy 20+ pound ling that I’ve been chasing for several years now.
I checked into the office for Ocean Sportfishing around 5:45 am. They had 2 trips going out. My ride would be the Angler. We departed from the boat’s berth at Float 14 around 6:30 am. Capt. Chris West gave a safety briefing on the back deck, and then reviewed the day’s fishing plans. We’d be starting off close and shallow to see if we could load up on limits of rockfish as quickly as possible. Whenever we hit that number, we’d devote the rest of the day to targeting lingcod.
Sounded familiar enough. I introduced myself to deckhands Colin and Paul. Colin was the senior guy. Paul was new to a sportboat but had spent a lot of time on commercial boats. They were setting up the rent rods with a standard double dropper loop rig. Orange and yellow shrimp flies terminated each loop and a 12-ounce weight anchored the setup. I checked in with Colin to see if my planned jig and fly setup was cool with him. “Yep, that’ll work.” He stationed me at the starboard corner. Perfect. Each station had its own rod holder. There were only 7 anglers on board, so plenty of room to avoid tangles (and social distance). I set up using a 9-ounce P-Line glow jig on the bottom and a white and mylar flash fly about a foot above the jig.
Two hours later we started fishing. Chris set up a drift in about 120 feet of water. He said the fish were suspended about 5 cranks off the bottom. The water wasn’t moving much and the drift was pretty slow…as was the associated bite. No bait was used, just the bare fly. The first drift only yielded 3 fish, all black rockfish. I’ve become familiar catching blacks fishing the jetties from Eureka (Northern CA), north through Oregon and now in Washington. These were a much better grade though in the range of say 2 to 4-pounds. I broke the ice on my first fish of the day.
It took a few tries to find some good biters, but once we did it was quick work to put together limits. Almost all the fish were blacks with only a handful of quillbacks and a canary filling out the rest of the box. They didn’t tag the rockfish (or seabass as they refer to them here). They all went into a community box. Once we were done though, they reminded us to note our sign-in number for catching lings.
The water still wasn’t moving that much.
At this point I’d managed to lose both my jigs, so I let Colin tie me up one of their rigs. He tied my braid to one end of a 12-ounce banana style weight. Colin had pre-tied a bunch of leaders using what looked like 25 or 30# mono. Each leader was about 14-inches long and featured two snelled octopus style hooks. The lower hook was about 3 inches below the upper. He tied one of his leaders onto the other end of the lead and baited it with dead herring. Even though the water wasn’t moving, my corner spot allowed me to fish a wide wedge of water in front of me. Most everyone else was straight up and down. Cover more water, improve your odds. I got my limit early with 2 fish just over legal (22-inches).
We were still fishing pretty shallow. With my initial goal of limits being met, I figured I’d play around and see if I could get one on plastic. I chose to go with a 7-inch MC Swimbaits Viejo on a 4-ounce leadhead. I went up to the bow and tried that for a while, but couldn’t get anything going. I asked Chris where we were as a boat on the lings. “Your two. Another guy has his limit. That’s it. I’m going to make a move and go deeper.”
The new spot was about 260-feet in depth. We had maybe an hour and a half or so of the fishing day left. I switched back to my bait setup and dropped in. Both the wind and current had picked up now. Chris missed the spot on his first try and we quickly drifted over some muddy bottom. He told us to reel up. To my surprise, I found a live 6-inch sanddab on my line instead of the dead herring I started with.
This was a gift from the lingcod gods.
As he set up the next drift, I was excited about the potential of fishing live ling candy. I dropped in. It wasn’t long before potential turned into reality. Oh wow! This was exactly the bite I was looking for. The rod I was using is an OG brown Shimano Teramar 86XH rated 30-50#. When I had it customized for me, we chopped 3-inches off the tip, so it’s probably more like a 60# rod. This fish had it doubled over! I had my Tranx 500PG almost fully buttoned and this beast managed to pull drag. I got it about half the way up and it came off. That really let the air out of my tires.
The bait got crushed about halfway up its body. The fish was a hitchhiker. It never got hooked.
It was no longer live, but obviously they wanted the dab so I used it…again and again. I ended up getting 3 more bites on it. I converted the next two bites into two fish bigger than the ones I already had. Upgrade. Nice. We were running out of time. Time for one more drift. The bait was really destroyed at this point, but there was enough that I fished it anyway. The leader was pretty beat up too. I really wanted to tie one with a heavier line, but there wasn’t time. I did the next best thing and tied on a fresh leader. It was a good decision.
I dropped in for the last dance. We were moving really fast. By the time I got to the bottom, my line was already right from straight down. In no time, I was pretty scoped out. I was afraid there wasn’t enough time to start over, so I kept letting line out to stay close to the bottom. Then I started getting bit. Paul told me, “You’re getting bit.” I know, just trying to make sure it gets on there. The next thing I know, the rod doubles over and the fish is pulling me into the opposite corner. I tried to stand my ground, but the guy to my left got bit too and was headed my way. I inched over toward the other side and made my final stand about mid-stern. Big headshakes. Pulling drag. It was obviously a nicer fish. Paul was at my side but had to leave to go net another fish. By the time he got back, I was getting close. When it finally started coming to color, I gasped. It was long with a HUGE head. It still had some fight in it though and was resisting getting into the net. It finally did though and I was able to breathe again. It was a monster!
In addition to getting us to boat limits, that last drift produced some really nice fish. I thought my stern buddy, Dave, had the big for the day, but on the way home we compared them and weighed them on a digital scale the crew had. I just edged him. My fish went 22-pounds and change…a new personal best!
That was the day. Thanks to Chris, Colin, and Paul for a memorable day on the water.
As I write this article, the San Diego is back out on the water for its first trip since the shutdown. The announcement was made Sunday that San Diego County boats were re-opening. Obviously great news for the fleet and all anglers in Southern California. Capt. Ryan Bostian called in a morning report and they already had 48 yellowtail onboard.
The long wait is over. Let’s go fishing. Good luck if you get out there.