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Spring 2017

Rods, Rigs and Baits for Catching Halibut in the Surf

By Summer 2017

By Bill Varney Jr.

Grunion runs are blasting the beach and there’s no time like the present to get down there and hunt for halibut. Spring brings both the spawning time and massive balls of grunion together to drive flatties crazy.

Now’s the time to get your equipment together to have a least a fair chance of catching a keeper. Here are my recommendations of what I like to use in the surf for halibut. Rod, reel, rigs and bait all work together to make you a better surf angler. Take these ideas and customized them to your style and situation.

I like to start out with two rods for the surf. A 7’ – 9’ light action parabolic graphite rod and spinning reel for bait fishing and a medium action fiberglass casting rod matched with a bait caster for lures.

When it comes to halibut rigging I use two basic setups. The first is the Carolina rig which works best with bait (and also has some lure applications). The second rig is a lure tied directly to my monofilament mainline.

Carolina rigging consists of a sliding egg sinker, bead, swivel, 18”-36” fluorocarbon leader and a hook. In small surf a ½ ounce egg sinker works well. In bigger surf or when fishing in the wind use a ½ – 1-ounce or sinker to keep your bait on the bottom.

The second setup I use when fishing with lures is either a straight connection of the lure to my mono or using a uni to uni knot to connect my main line to 10lb fluorocarbon leader and then tying on my lure.

Fluorocarbon leader is a good idea whenever I’m fishing near rocks or over structure. Fluorocarbon allows me to use a heavier leader and it’s much more abrasion resistant than monofilament.

Without question hard baits are one of the most productive surf lures. I use the Lucky Craft FM 110, Rapalla SXR-10 XRAP and Infinity jointed lures. These lures are best cast out and retrieved with a stop and go motion. They should be tied straight to your main line or onto a short uni to uni connected fluorocarbon leader. Most halibut move slowly so a fast retrieve may pass the fish by. A fish attractant applied to your lures will also help to attract fish and make them hold on once they bite.

To fish hard baits effectively try this: Cast your bait out in a fan motion to cover as much surface area as possible. Once you cast out reel up all your slack and pull your rod hard to the side (in a snagging motion). This will drive the bait down to the strike zone. Vary your retrieve with slow, fast and a stop start motion. Be sure to slow your retrieve way down once you are about half way in so the lure does not come in contact with the bottom. Once you get a bite reel down to set the hook.

When it comes to spoons the two most effective for the surf have always been Luhr-Jensen’s silver Krocodile and the Acme Kastmaster. These lures are easy to use and should be tied directly to your line. A good size to use is one between 5/8oz and 1oz.

A long fan casting pattern and a slow retrieve, with the lure bouncing across the bottom, seems the most effective presentation. Fishing spoon lures at peak low tide will allow you to cast outside the surf line to offshore structure and holes. Or, fish these lures at high tide and you can concentrate on the inshore trough where halibut hunt for food.

Grubs and plastic lures also work great in both the open beach and near rocks for halibut. Two styles of plastics seem to work best in the surf.

The first, known as a grub, is in the shape of a pollywog. Most grubs in the 1 ½” to 3” range seem to work best. Attach grubs to you line using the Carolina Rig. Look for colors that imitate what the halibut are eating. Common colors are motor oil, white, smelt and grunion patterns.

Unlike grubs, plastic swim baits can be tied directly to your mainline. Use a leadhead that matches the size of your bait and the current you will be fishing in. Once again remember to keep your bait in contact with the bottom and don’t be shy from dunking your plastics in “hot sauce” to attract and catch more fish.

The best colors for finding halibut have been the colors that reflect what the fish have been eating: Sardine, anchovy, smelt, grunion and squid.

Drop shot and twitch baits are made of the same material as plastic baits but require different rigging. These baits are a true crossover from fresh water bass fishing and have become very effective when used in the surf for halibut. Look in your local tackle shop for Basstrix and Sluggo products.

Rig the twitch bait with either a small 1/8th leadhead (or the new Mustad “Power Lock” weighted hook) and tie it directly to your line. You may also rig it using the drop shot method.

The drop shot rig is simply a sinker on the very bottom of your line and a loop 12” – 24” up your line for the hook and bait. When using the drop shot rig, don’t tie the lure directly to your loop. Run the line through the hook’s eye and allow the lure to slide freely on the loop in your line. This will give the bait a much more natural look and help you to entice more fish to bite.

Twitch baits work best when they are cast out and retrieved slowly using stop and go then twitch motion. When using the drop shot rig try to find the lightest sinker you can use and still stay on the bottom. This will help to reduce the number of snags and tangles in the rocks. Look for lure colors that reflect what the fish are eating and fell free to use the “hot sauce” on these baits too.

There are many types of live bait locally available for use when targeting halibut in the surf. Live, fresh dead or unfrozen sardine, anchovy, smelt and grunion all work well in the surf. Additionally, strip mussel lip, threaded on the hook like a worm, is natural bait for halibut and also seems to work well when the bite is tough.

Use either a spinning or conventional outfit and the Carolina Rig. I like to hook my baits (anchovy, sardine, smelt, grunion) through the bottom and top lip with my hook to be sure they swim correctly and give the most natural presentation. Fishing with natural baits requires a much slower retrieval and periods of stop and start that allow the lazy halibut to catch up with their next meal.

Both anchovy and sardines can be purchased at your local tackle shop or at a quality fish market. Smelt and grunion can be caught by anglers and kept alive or fresh dead for bait. You’ll find smelt near docks, inlets and inside local harbors. They can be caught with a bait catching rig or a dip-net using breadcrumbs.

Grunion can only be caught by hand during a grunion run at your local beach—but be careful, as there are specific times they are not allowed to be collected. To learn more about grunion runs and rules check here with the DFW:

Bill Varney’s passion for surf fishing is detailed in his how-to book: Surf Fishing, The Light-Line Revolution available at most tackle shops and on line @ Check out Bill’s upcoming on-the-beach surf fishing clinics under the “Seminar” tab on his site.

Bottom Fishing is a Solid Plan ‘B’

By Summer 2017

By Stan Kaplun

When targeting a certain fish, whether it be bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, dorado, white sea bass or yellowtail, “Plan A” does not always go as planned. Therefore, it’s important to always have a “Plan B”. Sometimes Mother Nature simply does not cooperate, holding you back from making the long run to your desired fishing grounds. Other times, it’s the fish that are finicky and they just don’t want to eat. In either case, a great way to salvage your day, or even enhance it in many cases, is through bottom fishing. Depending on where you are fishing along the California coast, the season usually opens as early March 1st and goes through the end of the year.
With all the species that we have in California, the options are phenomenal. Not only is there an array of different fish to target, there are so many ways to target each fish. One of the staples in our West Coast fishing world, from south of the border all the way up to Oregon is bottom fishing. From rockfish to ling cod, to everything in between, it’s a great way to get beginners and kids hooked on fishing, and it is still quite enjoyable for the avid fisherman.

The majority of the bottom fishing that I’ve personally done, has been in San Diego and south of the border. However, this last year or so, I’ve put in a good amount of time in Northern California, primarily off coast of San Francisco. Regardless of where you are on the coast, there are many crossovers in the techniques of targeting these bottom dwellers.

My preferred way to target the larger models is either with a heavy jig or a heavy bucktail. Depth and current will dictate how heavy of a lure you will use. When fishing at a depth of 200 feet-300 feet, a 2 ounce or 3 ounce lure just won’t cut it. In this situation, you need to go to a 10 ounce to 14 oz jig. There are numerous options out there for this but my preference is from SPRO which makes a great bait called the Prime Bucktail Jig. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors, up to 8oz. They also make a Squid Tail Jig, that is a deadly bait for shallow water bottom fishing, also offered in a handful of colors, up to 3oz. Both the Bucktail and the Squid Tail come in glow in the dark colors, which can be killer and set your apart from the next. Additionally, P-Line makes a great Chrome Jig, as seen in the photo below. It’s perfect for getting to the bottom as fast as possible, even in deep and rough seas. These range from 8oz to 16oz.

Another method, one that will typically out-fish the former in terms of quantity and numbers, is a dropper loop with two hooks. In Northern California, they will typically fish two shrimp flies, and tip them with strips of squid, whereas down south, we often fish bare hooks with strips of squid. Both methods will work in either location.

With all that said, all of the tips and advice provided above, is nearly useless information to know if the following is not done. Keeping your bait on the bottom. Many times, the is the sole difference between getting bit and not getting bit. If you “can’t keep you bait on the bottom”, chances are you are fishing too light. The solution to this is simply a heavier weight to keep your bait down on the bottom properly.

The amount of different rockfish is mind boggling, and they have equally as many nicknames. The following list includes many but not all of the most commonly caught bottom feeders; Boccaccio, Canary Rockfish, Chilipepper Rockfish, Chucklehead Rockfish, Copper Rockfish, Ling Cod, Olive Rockfish, Starry Rockfish, Sculpin, Sheepshead, and so many more. Some are better table fare then others, and some are illegal to keep. The limit per angler is 10 fish, with ling cod, sheepshead, and white fish not included in your total, as they have their own respective limit. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have an identification chart of some sort so you have the ability to differentiate between your various catches. You can find this chart readily available on the DFW (Department of Fish & Wildlife) website.

My ideal set up for this is a shorter rod, ideally between 6’6” and 7’6”. However you can absolutely fish an 8’+ comfortably, it just all comes down to preference. The Cousins CJB 75MH is my go to rod for these applications. Its rated for 30lb-50lb line and is a medium heavy. It’s paired with a Shimano Torium 16, spooled to the top with P-Line 65lb XTCB braid. I like to use a short topshot of P-Line’s Shinsei Fluorocarbon, ranging anywhere between 30lb and 60lb.

As we get ready for what should be another phenomenal offshore and inshore season, keep in mind that not only is this type fishing great for beginners and kids, it’s also a great way to catch some prime table fare, making for delicious fish tacos.

Yucatan Adventure: A Tale of Two Peninsulas (Part One)

By Spring 2017

By Bill Waddle
I have never quite been able to get over the Collegiate Spring Break – Mexico thing. I ran the circuit in Cabo throughout my undergraduate and post-graduate years. I always fished, some years fortunate to have enough money to charter a panga, others very grateful to be on a yacht. Fast forward many years.
This Spring Break I went with my wife and kids to the other peninsula of Mexico, the Yucatan. While we Californians tend to be Bajacentric, the other side of our southern neighbor offers high adventure and a whole other ocean with different kinds of fishes.
Travel with young children has its set of challenges. Travelling five plus hours to another country ups the ante. The Uber car came mighty early and I had already dropped the dog off at the boarding kennel by 7:00 a.m. (my parents’ rescue cat has chosen our beagle as his mortal enemy!) Taking Uber was essential because we flew out of Orange County airport and returned to LAX. Almost to the airport and I realize, oh crap, I forgot my two-piece spinning rods at the house that fit perfectly bundled up at the back of an overhead compartment. Yes, I got my Phenix blanks and had the rods built with this exact application in mind. The reels and mixed tackle bag of Krocodiles, poppers and swim baits made it. Oh well.
Make the flight. Run into my buddy Tom, who is heading south to Puerto Vallarta for another ocean odyssey. We plan on comparing notes two weeks later when we are fishing on my boat, Options. We had a pretty good flight to Cancun, via Phoenix, with some sketchy turbulence over the central Mexican Highlands. My ten year old boy, Blake, is sitting next to me and asks if we were going to crash. Do I say “of course not” or give him the honest “I hope not” because we got thrown around pretty good. The remainder of the flight was fine and shortly after we cleared customs we were aboard our rented Dodge Durango heading south toward Playa del Carmen. Our destination was the Vidanta resort complex just north of Playa.
As inclined as I am to being a hard charger, after a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep, I though day one was best spent with the kids doing beach and pool time. After sleeping in a little, we get our stuff together and head to the beach. What is all of this %$#@ in the water? The white sand beaches of the Yucatan were covered in vegetative rot and the aquamarine water was brown and it smelled. Ok…pool day and a swim-up bar. Looks like I did not need the surf casters anyway!
La Semana Santa in Mexico, or any other Latin American country for that matter, is always an interesting affair. I have spent many Holy Weeks in Mexico and have a series of rituals that I follow, like tossing coins into the sea at the beginning of a maritime voyage. There are other as well…
After the seaweed day we got in out transport and headed south toward the Mayan ruins at Tulum. It was Easter, hot and extremely crowded when we arrived at the parking lot of what is a major tourist destination for Mexicans and gringos alike. I was getting major multi-generational blowback but I trudged them onward, praying that there would be a way to financially encourage our way into a more timely experience. I hired a guide and gave him a buen propina y todo se cambia. Tulum is awesome and I do not say that lightly. Major Mayan temple complexes, pyramids and other significant structures are spread along a ridge that stands prominently above the Caribbean shore. Our guide did a great job and spoke English quite well but he left after the tour was over. Tulum is magnificent but I was a little freaked out by the volume of people…asi es La Semana Santa. Thank God I rented a vehicle and did not come in a bus with all of the other people, but now I have to find it. The pathway along the ridge that edged the Caribbean had multiple ingresses and egresses. I somehow put us on a southerly route but we had the fortunate happenstance of running into a popsicle vendor with a variety of tropical flavors. As mentioned earlier, it was hot and the coconut, mango and pineapple treats were enjoyed by all of us though they were melting quickly as we walked along a coastal scrub jungle roadway. As a taxi passed by, I quickly enlisted his services realizing that a forced march would lead to stiff resistance.
Back to the car, now heading south toward the town of Tulum and the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve. This place is at its zenith. While we were there Rene Redzipi of Noma fame in Copenhagen is doing a pop up restaurant here to the tune of $600 per person. I would have loved nothing more than to experience what his forage centric menu would do with the existing Yucatan approach to food and the local flora and fauna but…three kids! We slipped along the tragically hip strand that along the beach. Cool looking restaurants, art galleries and boutique hotels. They don’t really have running water, sewer systems or reliable power other than generators but it is really cool. We stop for killer burgers at a place called Mateo’s. The kids play a little foosball and we have a cold beverage before heading south toward the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve and realize that this place definitely deserves a return visit.
The next day we are back in the car and drive north from our resort to a little town called Puerto Morelos. We talk to a guy about chartering a boat for the next day and I liked his operation so a deposit was given. Victor Reyes runs the fishing and diving operation for Marina Pelicanos and he was very helpful. We decide what the heck let’s just charter one of the pangas right now and go snorkeling.
The Palancar Reef is the second longest reef in the world and runs from the tip of the Yucatan peninsula all the way to Central America. Within half a mile from the beach it has excellent snorkeling and the seaweed was not a problem. The five of us climbed aboard our panga with the captain and divemaster. Within no time we were in the water and seeing tropical fish everywhere. Parrotfish, Sergeant Major fish and mutton snapper were among the multitude.
“Dad look there’s Dory,” was what sealed the deal, Dory is a blue tang and one of the fish characters from Disney’s Finding Nemo.
This was the first real snorkeling experience for my kids from a boat. No, we do not snorkel from Options at Catalina. I used to do it years ago but the spike in our great white population keeps us in the boat! We had a great time and dove two different sites. Even my little girl, Blaire, who just turned six gave it a try but she got frustrated because the life jacket kept riding up on her. At one point the divemaster got ahold of a ray by the wingtips and the boys got to touch it, way more wild than the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. When we got back to the pier the boat we would be fishing on the following day was tying up as well. They made quite a haul with some big amberjack, king mackeral and barracuda. The next day, April 19th, was my son Bryce’s birthday and though he gets seasick he was willing to deal with it because he loves to fish and was quite excited with the prospects when we saw the dockside bounty.
We were scheduled for an 8 a.m. departure, yeah right! Kids being kids and my wife’s insistence on adding more and more stuff to our backpacks delivered us to the dock around 8:30. We quickly got aboard and were making bait shortly thereafter. I am not exactly sure what the baitfish were but it looked like some type of scad. We caught them on these little hoochie type rigs while trolling near a commercial pier but it was slim pickings. We moved up the beach to the north and used the throw net to no avail. We had a little over half a dozen along with some dead ballyhoo and octopus. Off we went running offshore to some high spots.
While the swells were not very high, there was a fair amount of wind…Bryce got sick. Poor kid but we talked about it prior and he still wanted to go. I used to get sea sick as a kid but grew out of it. I am hoping for his sake that he does because he loves to fish and is a huge seafood fan. The kid eats raw oysters with me and any other thing found in the sea for that matter. We were having a good time on the water but I was starting to get a little nervous. We had been trolling ballyhoo in a spread covering the water column; downrigger, outrigger and one on a flat-line clip. Nothing, not even a knock down, for three hours. The captain signaled for the deck hand to crank in the gear, so I started winding in one of the trolling rids to help get us out of the area even faster. I am not one to sit around on a boat and let the mate do all the work. Besides owning a six-pack charter vessel and being an avid angler I used to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska so getting involved is what I do.
The area we moved to was on some numbers the captain had about four miles to the south and east. When he backed off the throttles I noticed that the water was not as blue as the zone we were in before but whatever, we certainly were not catching anything where we were. The first live bait went on the downrigger and before we could get the outrigger bait set we were on. I directed Bryce to the chair and we got the rod into the gimbal. He was fatigued from being sea sick but he gave it his all and was rewarded with a nice amberjack that looked to be a little better than thirty pounds.
The captain re-positioned the boat and shortly thereafter we were on again. This time Bryce started out in the chair but told me to take the rod. Cookie cutter fish was in the ice box next and I showed the deckhand how we bleed our fish and flush them out with the raw water hose before getting them on ice. He was at first a little baffled but when I explained how much better the table product was he said he would be doing it from now on.
The day ended with a little king mackeral but that fish represented one more off the species list for yours truly.
As we tied up at the end of the Marina Pelicanos pier the sky got really dark, a squall that we had been watching on the way in settled down along that stretch of the Yucatan and the sky opened up. Perfect timing because we were now settled into the Marina Pelicanos restaurant with drinks in hand. As part of your charter with this operation, they prepare your catch for lunch or dinner. I love hook it and cook it and they did not disappoint. The fish came out five ways; blackened, tempura battered, al mojo de ajo style, Veracruz style and my favorite was achiote rubbed and cooked with onions, garlic and peppers. Bryce had recovered from being sea sick and we all gorged on mariscos.
We had another pool day the next day but the day after, our last for the trip was another highlight. We were headed to Chichen Itza but stopped in Valladolid for lunch on the way. We did a little research and found a restaurant called Taverna de Los Frailes that we wanted to check out. When we got there we realized that they did not open for another 45 minutes. Fortunately, there was a very old church next to the restaurant from which it derives its’s namesake. It had just been Easter a few days prior and the church was adorned with beautiful flower arrangements and the smell of lilies perfumed the air. We were the only ones there and had a great time exploring this beautiful structure that had been originally started in the 1550s. I highly recommend a visit to the church and the adjacent restaurant that specialized in Yucatecan cuisine, a truly authentic experience.
Chichen Itza freaked me out. I thought Tulum was crowded and I am averse to crowds. Package tour bus hell is the best way it can be described. Now mind you archaeologically speaking this place is amazing and I love visiting lost cities of antiquity, but it was hot and we were ready to go as soon as we got there.
Heading back to the coast we made a detour north from Valladolid and went to a cenote just north of Tizimin called Kikil. The Yucatan Peninsula has over 2,300 cenotes, which are freshwater filled sink holes, that served both as a freshwater source for the Maya but also as ceremonial sites were sacrificial victims were tossed. The Yucatan is composed primarily of limestone and has no above ground rivers because of the porous nature of its bedrock. We had our swim trunks and after paying the family that runs this particular swim hole we were headed down the ladder to the water’s edge.
“Daddy you go first,” was my daughters request so I did. The rest of the family joined me and we were halfway across when Blake started in. “Dad are there any crocodiles in here?” was his first question. “No Blakey,” came my response. “What about snakes?” came next. “No,” was my guess. Then – “what about chupacabras? I did not respond and just as we got to the far side where the limestone outcropping created a grotto a bunch of bats that had been hanging upside down decided to leave en masse. My wife freaked and would not let go of me as we swam back to the other side with the whole family in tow.
What an adventure and I left out a lot of details. I can definitely say that we shall be returning to the Yucatan and it might even be for Spring Break 2018. Viva Mexico!

Party Boat Yellowtail

By Summer 2017

BY Shawn Arnold
With contributions from Davey’s Locker

Your reel is screaming as your line is peeling off it at a rapid pace. The fish takes a turn to the left and you must follow it. At that point, the real challenge occurs. There are nine other anglers to your left with their lines straight out. What do you do?? Well first off welcome to catching yellowtail on a party boat. Second, you head that way going over or under the other angler’s lines and rods as you chase your fish. This action has many names like the Chinese fire drill, Texas Two Step Shuffle or it sometimes is called something that I can’t print on these pages.
Most anglers who take ½, ¾ day or full day trips on our local boats are pretty good at working in unison with the person who is hooked up. It just takes a little awareness and common courtesy. And usually the captain of the boat or a deckhand will be with you every step of the way with direction on what to do. You may wonder if it is worth it, but yes catching the California yellowtail on a party boat is worth it. These fish can range from 5 to 40 pounds and not only are these members of the jack family good to eat but they are very fun to catch.
Southern California yellowtail fishing usually begins sometime in March-though this year in San Diego it was earlier and continues to November. Our local landings sportfishing trips can all catch yellowtail from ½ day trips to overnight and longer trips. Typically, the longer trips have more consistent catches and in greater numbers, but this is not always the case.
Local yellowtail fishing can be at one of our local islands which is either San Clemente Island or Catalina Island and occasionally Santa Barbara Island. Or it may be paddy hopping. It just depends on where the fish are. Either overnight or ¾ day trips are the best trip lengths to catch spring yellowtail. During warmer water years yellowtail will bite fin baits such as sardines, anchovies, and even mackerel. During normal to colder water spring periods live squid may be needed to get the yellowtail in the biting mood. Yo yoing an iron jig can also be effective as well as sight casting to breezing schools of yellowtail on the surface.
When fishing with fin baits it is very important to try and select a healthy bait and as carefully as possible hook your bait either in the nose sideways, collar area, or even belly area depending on how you want your bait to swim. Hooking the bait through the nose sideways will cause your bite to swim slightly side wards and at angle to the boat. Hooking it in the collar will also cause the bait to swim sideways as well as slightly downward. Hooking the bait in the belly will cause the bait to swim downward and away from the boat (use when wanting to have your bait go deep). If you are unsure on how you want to present your bait, hook it through the nose sideways as this will be the easiest and best for the longevity of your bait.
Once you have cast your fin bait try to let it swim as natural as possible this means letting it take line out and not pulling on it or creating resistance against the bait. If your bait is staying put and not moving much you can give it a twitch to wake it up. If that doesn’t liven your bait, then it is time to change your bait. Change your bait at least every other cast. This is very important as strong bait will get the most bites of yellowtail and almost all other game fish. The only time this doesn’t apply if you have limited bait or a limited type of bait in which case try to make the most of each bait. The deckhands will let you know if that is the situation.
When fishing live squid techniques change quite a bit. First you can use a live squid for many casts as a yellowtail will be just as likely to hit an almost dead squid as a lively one. In fact there are times when fresh dead squid is preferred to live squid. There are not too many different ways to hook a squid as you want to hook it in the upper cone area away from the head. Ideally hooking it and then bring the hook back again so it is securely attached. Lots of smaller fish will pick at your bait and if it is not securely attached it will be taken off the hook very quickly by the smaller fish. A large hook such as 2/0 -4/0 (Owner and Mustad are good brands) is ideal as yellowtail will not be hook shy like they can be with fin bait. When fishing with live squid be prepared to fish both deep and shallow or close to the surface. Sometimes the bite is right on the bottom and other times it will be in the middle of the water column or on the surface. Keeping an eye on where anglers are getting bit is the key to using the right weight for the given situation. Your live squid should not run too much even if fishing without any weight so if it starts really moving it is a fish.
Fishing iron jigs that run deep, medium weighted, and even surface iron can be very effective. One must be very careful though when doing this type of fishing. It just takes one second of not being aware to hook someone in the head. Some boats actually discourage people throwing jigs when the boat is crowded. Safety first. After making sure the coast is clear, cast your jig a good distance from the boat and then letting it sink for varying times allows you to cover different depths and with different angles of retrieves creating different presentations. The key when fishing a jig is to keep it moving. Usually the faster the better. Surface iron maybe the exception as there is times when a slower presentation works. When using an iron jig you can fish along the side and even in the front of the boat and cover a lot more area than by bait fishing. Most of your bites will come while reeling it back and you need just keep reeling as you get bit. The reeling tension and the fish should set the hook. Make sure your hooks are super sharp before you start fishing. When yellowtail are breezing on the surface a surface iron can be really effective and you can cast into the school before they are disturbed by the boat.
Finally before coming out on your fishing trip it is always a good idea to give the Landing a call and find out what bait or baits are available as determining the proper gear for your trip may depend on this knowledge. If you are renting gear then you need not worry about this as several styles of gear can be rented which should be fine for all styles of fishing for yellowtail. For live fin bait, two rods are recommended. Anglers should have 15-20 pound test and a very good reel with functioning drag. The second setup should be 25-30 pounds test on a moderate sized reel, once again with a good drag system. Much of your fishing will be done with the lighter set up for the ½ day and ¾ day trips, but when they do bite it can get very active and having the heavier setup will get more fish into the boat during this time.
The following is a list of some of the landings between San Diego and Ventura who offer sportfishing boats that you can catch yellowtail on. For more information on the landing nearest you just google them. In San Diego are there is H&M Landing, Fishermen’s Landing, Seaforth, Helgrens, and Pt Loma Sportfishing. In Orange County there is Davey’s Locker and Newport Landing in Newport Beach and Dana Wharf Sportfishing in Dana Point.
In the Long Beach area, there is Long Beach Sportfishing and Pierpoint Landing. Marina Sportfishing has closed down but some of the boats went to Pierpoint Landing. A few miles north of Long Beach is 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro. And a little further north of them are Redondo Sportfishing, Marina Del Rey Sportfishing, and much further north there is Hook’s Landing and C.I.S.C.O. in Ventura and Oxnard.

DROP in on BASS – BY Bill Schafer

By Featured, Spring 2017 ‎ ‎ A sensitive rod like the Daiwa Tatula and running braid to the fluorocarbon leader can help you feel the subtle bite on the drop-shot rig.

The Southern California lakes are waking up and bass creel numbers are rising for all the local waters. Water temperatures are rising and male largemouth are roaming the banks by the hundreds looking for that perfect place to make a nest for themselves and that giant female mate. It is a time of year when the bass are scattered from the shallowest shoreline to the deepest point on the lake.

The author’s son Bricen shows off a nice El Capitan bass that fell for a drop shot rigged Yamamoto Kut-tail worm

So often largemouth fishermen look for that perfect bait for this time of year and that search sparks a lot of debate amongst us all. Which bait or set up is the best? Jigs, various plastics, spinnerbaits, or crankbaits, which one will draw the most bites this time of year? Well, it may be that plastics have the edge over the other baits most of the time. But, it is not so much the plastic baits themselves, but the technique used to fish them that can make a difference.

There is the Bubba rig, Carolina rig, Texas rig, split-shot set up, wacky rig, as well as a few more locally named rigs in your area. But, the rig that swept the nation’s bass fishermen off their feet and has become the go to rig over the last several decades is the drop-shot rig. This set up can be used from the shallowest shoreline to the deepest point. Sure, you can use some of the other rigs that will work this time of year, but the drop-shot rig can produce in any situation.

The drop-shot rig is most often fished on a spinning rod with a lighter action and soft tip. The line or leader is kept down in breaking strength as well, usually 4 to 8-pound test, with 6 pound being the most popular. I like to line my reel with Daiwa or Maxima braid and go with some Maxima fluorocarbon line for my leader, taking every advantage of new technology. A sensitive tip is the key to drop shot fishing. It takes some practice to detect a bite, but once you have it down it will be hard for you to put this setup away. The braid and fluorocarbon help transmit the bite as well.

The hook is tied to the main line with a palomar knot. The tag, or the end of the line not attached to the reel is left very long, so you can cut it down to size after tying the hook on. Hooks can vary with the bait being used, but usually run small. There are even specialty drop shot hooks. You will leave that tag line anywhere from 12 to 18 inches long and attach the weight to the end of it. The weights will vary with the depth being fished. There are also drop shot weights that can be changed quickly if more or less weight is needed. I still go with the old method of a large split-shot at the bottom.

So, what are the advantages to having the bait above the weight? Well, a lot of the southern California lakes have some type of moss or vegetation growing on the bottom. This rig helps you keep the bait above the bottom. Even if the fish want the bait presented right on the bottom instead of up off of it, the weightlessness of the bait lets it settle on the moss or weeds without being pulled down into it by the weight if it were right against the bait, such as with a Texas rigged worm.

Twitching this bait in almost any situation lets it dart and flutter without being hung up. Even if you hang the weight up on some bottom structure, it will just pull off and you can just quickly put another on without losing a lure or having to take a long time to retie. This set up can be fished around any type of structure there is in your local lake. Right now, the bass are on the cruise looking for nesting spots, but once they lock onto a bed this setup can be deadly as well.

Think about it. The sinker is on the bottom, below the lure. If the bass picks up the bait to take it out of the nest, she doesn’t feel the weight of the sinker as she starts off. This can give you an extra second to detect the bite and set the hook. A lot of the time the female largemouth will just suck the intruder in and blow them off the nest. But, again, this lighter object may stay in her mouth longer giving you extra time to hook her.

Sometimes the males are locked on the beds and the females are hanging off in deeper water, say out on the points leading into the spawning area. This bait still lets you fish deep as well. You may have to put a slightly larger weight on, but the effect is the same. A darting, fluttering, swimming lure looks much more natural to those big wary females.

There are companies that specialize in drop shot weights, hooks, and baits. That is how popular this method has become. Your local tackle shop will have an assortment. Usually, little smaller plastics are used, but almost any type of plastic lure can be put on your drop shot rig. Worms, creatures, grubs, or small shad type plastics, they all work with this rig.

This is the right time of year to gain confidence in a new technique. There are so many males roaming the banks that it is pretty easy to get bit. Once you gain confidence in this setup you will not put it down. It will become your go to rig and you will end up using it all season long. So, get out there and drop in on some bass!

Crappie Craze -BY Stan Kaplun

By Featured, Spring 2017


When fishing the lakes and reservoirs throughout California, from north to south, its safe to say that the most commonly targeted fish is the largemouth bass. This is true, even when many of these bodies of water hold record sized catfish that are seldom targeted, monster carp that are widely considered trash fish, and massive trout that are stocked throughout the state. As you make your way northward, the bass fishing begins to diversify and you begin to see stripers and smallies, followed by the spotted bass, the last of which just recently saw it’s world record broken yet again at Bullard’s Bar. Salmon and steelhead flood the rivers, accompanied by pre-historic looking sturgeon in the delta, the options are phenomenal and sometimes overwhelming, in the vast amount of choices. With all the above, the fish that is often forgotten is the black and white crappie.
The Crappie is a predator. They feed on prey just like bass do. Having said that, everything is relative and they can’t inhale a 10” bluegill or a 2lb trout like a largemouth can. They have been known however, to feed on the young of their predators, such as Pike and Walleye in the Mid-West and Northeast, but locally, they will gladly eat smaller bass and pan fish as well, specifically the fry of these fish. Predominantly, if there is a prevalent baitfish population in a respective lake, usually shad or minnows, that will be their main source of food. During the summer and winter months, crappie will often school in large groups and follow these schools of baitfish.
Additionally, like many other types of pan fish, crappie will also eat insects, insect larvae, plankton, and worms. This is typically the case in lakes and ponds where large baitfish populations are normally uncommon. While they follow the bait, where bait is present, many times the larger models will prefer to hang out around structure such as stick ups, brush piles, lay-downs, and ledges, positioning themselves for a quick and safe ambush attack. Depending on the time of the year and the water temperature, you can find them schooled up at different depths. When they are spawning, or moving into the shallows to spawn, they can be found in water as shallow as 1-3 feet deep. When the water is colder, typically under 45 degrees, they will hang out in water as deep as 30-50 feet deep. However, as the water gets too warm, upward of 70-75 degrees, they typically go back towards the deeper water, and will become somewhat sluggish post-spawn, to conserve their metabolic energy.
Anglers that are just getting started in targeting this fish, quickly realize that one of the largest problems is hooking crappie, followed by keeping them on the hook. They have been dubbed the infamous “paper-mouth” for a reason. They have an extremely soft and paper-thin mouth, and setting the hook too hard will often tear the membrane, followed by a quick exit of your hook from its mouth. Because you will typically be fishing an extremely light and finesse set up, you must be gentle in not only hooking the fish, but also fighting the fish, while still maintaining constant pressure. If you allow for any slack in your line during the fight, you are giving the crappie a high percentage chance of shaking the hook free and swimming off. This is why having the proper set up is extremely important in having the best chances of hooking and landing this delicious fish.
In terms of targeting these fish, there are tons of different ways to do so. Some of the more popular ways, in regards to artificial baits, range from micro jigs, grubs, spinners, small crank-baits, and small jerk-baits. On numerous occasions, while fishing for bass, the respective outing turned into a wide-open crappie bite on the bass gear. While they are primarily targeted with smaller sized bats, they will also commit to the larger baits as well. You can see that this is the case in the photo below. It shows a quality model I caught on a SPRO Aruku Shad 85, which would be considered a large lipless crank bait, with a weight and size of 1oz and 85 mm respectfully. While many, including myself, prefer to target crappie with artificial baits, they fish will gladly eat live bait, with crappie shiners being a particular favorite.
My go to bait for targeting crappie, and one of my favorite all around lures, often underestimated because of its size, are the SPRO Phat Flies, designed by Bill Siemantel. They are made in 1/16oz & 1/8oz, and come in 5 different colors, ranging from “baby bass” and “bluegill”, to several different variations of shad, as well as a bright chartreuse. They use a Gamakatsu hook and its world-class sharpness plays a large role in hooking and landing the fish. These baits are great for being able to “match the hatch” to some of the most prevalent bait fish in our California waters. The primary technique for which Bill designed these jigs, is the Float and Fly method. Because of their design and balance, they sit under the bobber horizontally, enhancing the level of presentation, but also increasing the hookup ratio. They can also be thrown like a “mini-jig”, which is typically what I do for panfish and trout. Having said that, the Float and Fly method can be quite effective for these fish as well, in addition to the trophy bass that it was designed for. With the mini jig method, it’s a short and constant twitch of the rod tip, and your tackle plays a huge factor in being able to execute it properly.
An ideal rod for these applications is one that is highly parabolic, meaning it has a slow action. It’s all about preference in terms of length, but I prefer something between 6’6” and 8”. However, longer rods will allow for a marginally farther cast, so a 9’-10’ rod can be a good fit for some as well. The rod I throw is the Cousins RSP 651. It’s a 6’6” composite blank, meaning it’s composed of both fiberglass and graphite, and it’s perfect for fishing applications such as the ones mentioned above. Paired with a 500-sized reel, the rod feels extremely light and well balanced. It’s competitive in pricing, and like all Cousins rods, made locally in Huntington Beach, CA.
In addition to rod and reel, the line size is also very important. In my opinion, the lighter the better, especially when fishing clear waters, but anything up to 6lb will work. The line diameter may affect the action of the jig, and if the fish are finicky, it will unnecessarily increase the line visibility, which can be the difference in getting bit. The line that I prefer to use is the P-Line Fluorocarbon in 2lb test. I feel more connected to the bait with the lighter line, and don’t feel it necessary to fish heavier line. Having said that, if your fishing around thick brush and stick-ups, having the 4lb or 6lb may allow for you to get the fish out if it gets hung up in structure. P-Line also just came out with a new line of Fluorocarbon called Tactical. It’s extremely strong and abrasion resistant, and comes in 6lb, which works great for the Crappie. Fluorocarbon is generally more abrasion resistant than monofilament, so even with the lighter test, you should feel confident in fishing for these panfish.
Lastly, Crappie is fantastic table fare. They’re arguably my favorite freshwater fish to eat, and are very simple to make. Once the technique is dialed, like with any fish, the filleting process is smooth and quick, and preparing them for consumption is even faster. I prefer to pan fry them using the following recipe. Take a large bowl, and empty a bottle or a can of beer into it. Add corn flour, salt, pepper, and creole seasoning. Take a separate bowl and fill it with sufficient flower. After washing the fillets, coat them thoroughly with flour, followed by the beer batter. Once you get the golden color you desire, you can drain the excess oil on a paper towel, and serve with lemon wedges and hot sauce! For those who enjoy a nice cold beer, it can accompany this meal very well.


By Featured, Spring 2017

American Angler jackpot winner Dr. Chong Chang, with Penn’s Jeff Ingram and trophy.
What is the ultimate fishing trip? I just might be an 8-day “variety” trip in the September-October time frame, onboard a San Diego long range boat- just like the one that A group of PENN Fishing University anglers took last October aboard the 90-foot American Angler out of Fisherman’s landing, captained by longtime veteran skipper Sam Patella.
Although “cow” yellowfin tuna are not usually on menu on these variety trips, virtually everything else that swims in Baja waters may be encountered. In fact, almost all trips see not only the major game fish species, but at least one or two individuals that need to be carefully researched in a good fish ID book!
The group was made up of anglers ranging from rank beginners to seasoned old salts. Some 10 of the 24 anglers were repeats from the previous year’s 8-day expedition. By the end of the trip, every single “wahoo rookie” had managed to land their first ‘hoo.
American Angler jackpot winners, names as noted. L-R- Dr.Chong Chang 50.2lbs wahoo, Eric McKenna 49.0lb. wahoo, Steve Osborne – 48lb. yellowtail , Tom Kvitli 48.6lb. wahoo Spring Valley, CA,


Wahoo are usually the glamour species on 8-day variety trips. Good catches can be made anywhere from late July to early December, but mid-October is almost always “prime time”. Wahoo were definitely foremost on Captain Patella’s mind, as he made a beeline straight for Alijos Rocks after departing San Diego.
Within two minutes of arriving at Alijos and putting the trolling jigs in the water, the first wahoo strike occurred. Avid angler Sean Chong of Portland, OR was the lucky troller, and it was his first-ever wahoo to boot. After that it was hot and heavy, with red-hot action and numerous lost fish as is normal with wahoo fishing. When the smoke cleared after the first day of fishing, 54 wahoo were in the fish hold, and all but one of the anglers had tagged at least one.
Productive wahoo lures included Tady 45 and Sumo 7X surface irons, along with KK Pono and Captain Jimmy Bombs. Live sardines were certainly a good choice, usually fished on 30-40-pound tackle, with an 18-24 inch singlestrand 40-pound wire leader and a size 2/0 Owner Gorilla hook. Some anglers tried a short length of 125-pound fluorocarbon with success, and a handful of lucky anglers managed to boat a wahoo on nothing but straight-tied 30-pound fluorocarbon.
The wahoo indeed hit on a wide variety of offerings, but the anglers learned that hooking a wahoo and landing one are two completely different things. “At one point, I lost seven wahoo in a row”, lamented the trip’s host, PENN’s Jeff Ingram. Chiming in on the topic was tackle shop owner Walt Bailey, “I was very fortunate, and landed 10 wahoo, but lost at least 40!”
A key observation was made by Ingram that is the primary mantra of wahoo fishing with lures. “I was using a reel with a 38 ‘Inches Per Turn’ rate, which is pretty fast. However, I noticed that the anglers who were using the PENN Fathom FTH40NLD2’s, which have a 42 Inches Per turn rate were getting a LOT more bites than I was. It did not seem like a huge difference in speed, but the fish obviously noticed.”

Captain Patella made a perfect move after two days at Alijos, and steered the American Angler to the Ridge. After a bit of expert looking around and maneuvering, Patella located a bunch of school-size yellowfin tuna that were ready to bite on almost anything. The 15-40 pounders eagerly hit on live sardines, along with numerous different jigs. Several anglers participated in tossing poppers, with Williamson Jet-Poppers and Popper-Pros in almost any color drawing spectacular bites.
One more day at the Ridge saw more of the same on school-size tuna. Lurking among the tuna were a number of wahoo, with about 15 landed along with the tuna.

Walt Bailey with a beautiful wahoo.
Yellowtail are the bread and butter of San Diego-based trips of 8 days or less. Plenty of wahoo and tuna meant that yellowtail moved to the back burner, but they are always present to some degree on 8-day trips. “Most of the yellowtail were caught at Alijos Rocks”, related PENN’s Ingram. “Getting up and fishing a dropper loop rig at 4:00 AM worked well for the anglers who wanted to target the big yellowtail that live there. A decent number of nice yellows hit the deck, topped by a beautiful 48-pounder.”
Depending on the time of year, yellowtail may be caught almost anywhere an 8-day trip can reach, and at depths from the surface down to 350 feet. A wide variety of lures are effective, with blue/white Tady 4/0 jigs fast becoming the “default” choice for yo-yo fishing. Just about any live or even cut bait also works. The dropper loop rig is especially popular, and consists of heavy 50-80-pound tackle, a 12-16-ounce sinker, and a super strong 4/0-6/0 Owner Gorilla hook.

With the emphasis on wahoo during this trip, only a handful of dorado were caught incidentally. During many 8-day trips, stopping on a floating kelp paddy can yield a literal bonanza of dorado, often of much larger grade than commonly seen closer to the border. When these conditions are encountered, limits of dorado in the 20-30-pound class are commonplace.
Another species that is seen in widely varying numbers is striped marlin, and about 15 stripers were released during the PENN trip. Normally a “glamour” species under other circumstances, aboard long range boats they are not a target species, and are released. If marlin are present in large schools, a boat may actually have to relocate to find a higher percentage of tuna, wahoo, etc.

Don Amboyer journeyed all the way from Michigan to catch the American Angler 8-day trip’s largest tuna, this 40.4 pounder

Variety is indeed the name of the game, and this trip was no exception. Some 22-different species of fish were caught, and no doubt a few more were lost before making it to the boat. This trip logged yellowfin tuna, wahoo, bluefin tuna, yellowtail, striped marlin, sailfish, amberjack, skipjack tuna, dorado, black skipjack, white bonito, California bonito, hogfish, triggerfish, sheephead, whitefish, calico bass, starry rockfish, rudderfish, hammerhead shark, and even a jack crevalle, plus a garibaldi that was carefully released.
Depending on the exact localities fished, and the vagaries of the fish gods, many additional species are commonly seen aboard fall 8-day variety trips. Commonly seen are several varieties of grouper, at least three different pargo species, common local species like barracuda and halibut, contrasted with exotic tropical visitors like rainbow runners, and of course huge number of different rockfish species, plus lingcod. Cedros Island stops may see the oversize gold spotted bass found there and almost nowhere else.
Blue marlin, sharks and black seabass may be encountered too, but the crews do their best to avoid them, and work diligently on their release when hooked. Aquatic oddities pop up all the time; including snake mackerel, louvar, oilfish, spotted scorpionfish, rose threadfin bass, and my favorite- sarcastic fringehead. Somewhat rare, but nonetheless on the “possibles” list include bigeye tuna, kawkawa, and once in a blue moon, broadbill swordfish.
School-size tuna like these were biting ferociously at the Ridge for the American Angler’s passengers.
Many avid anglers may hesitate before signing on for an 8-day trip, thinking they don’t have the needed heavy tackle, or the necessary specialized skills. In reality, the skills most local anglers have, such as flylining baits to finicky fish, serve them even better aboard a long-range boat. Regarding the perception of the need for heavy tackle, the huge 50-wide size reels filled with 130-pound line used on longer trips are generally used only for trolling, and occasional kite fishing duty on 8-day trips.
Anglers aboard the trip included Walt Bailey, owner of Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle in Oceanside, who regularly helps out first-time long rangers. “Everybody comes in thinking they want a 50W and super heavy rod”, observed Bailey. “The reality is that something like a 2-speed PENN Fathom FTH40NLD2 will land almost anything you will encounter on these trips. Put on a 50-100 yard topshot of 50-pound mono, over 80-pound superbraid backing, and that becomes your go-to combo for everything from wahoo bombs, to yellowtail on yo-yo iron, to flylining live sardines for 60-100-pound tuna. To that, I add more PENN Fathom 2-speeds for different topshot tests; an FTH25NLD2 for 30-pound topshots, an FTH30LD2 with 40-pound topshots, and an FTH60LD2 with 60-pound topshots. The only time I use 80-pound is for trolling. If you can swing it, having a 9-foot jig stick with an Abu-Revo 60 is also pretty fun to play with.”
Bailey continued, “Once you board the boat, just relax, you will have plenty of time to get rigged up. Get situated, and say hello to the crew and your fellow passengers. A good mindset will make a huge difference. Don’t over pack, just think it through. Of course, don’t forget plenty of clean socks, and sun protection is huge. Go to a tackle shop that is familiar with long-range fishing to be sure you get what you need. Out on the water, the easiest piece of advice I can give is to look at the guy who is catching fish, and copy him!”
Lots of big fish were caught, and the official winners were: Overall Jackpot winner was Chong Chang with a 50.2-pound wahoo [he also had a 60.2 pounder caught trolling]. Chang took home a PENN Fathom 2-speed reel. Second and third place in the jackpot were Eric McKenna and Tom Kitli, with 49.0 and 48.6-pound wahoo. Largest yellowtail was a beautiful 48.4 pounder, which earned angler Steve Osborne a new PENN U.S. Senator US113N reel. Heaviest tuna was a 40.4-pound yellowfin, caught by Don Amboyer, and the “Hero Fish” was the amberjack caught by Eric McKenna, and Joe Bailey had the “Most Unusual” with a 15-pound jack crevalle.

Bluefin Tuna Fishing on the O95 By: Kyle Farmer

By Featured, Spring 2017

I got back from a 1.5 day aboard the O95 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the trip was nothing short of epic. My two friends, Coleman and Andy, joined me for this trip. Let me start out with saying that Capt. Rick and the crew of the O95 are top notch and will do their absolute best to put you on fish and stay till late to get bit.
We started out the trip with the captain telling us it’s been a grey light and late night bite with a slow pick during the day and everything went exactly as the captain ordered. Weather was a little nasty the night before and we had to pace ourselves out to the Tanner. The boat didn’t start fishing until about an hour after first light, so we missed the grey light bite. That was kind of a bummer but there was nothing anyone could do about it.
We got on the first school at around 7 am and about four people hooked up within 20 minutes. A few fish were landed up to 100 lbs. One was a Shimano flatfall fish and the others were on 1.5 oz. glow in the dark sliding sinkers. For the next 8- hours we did the exact same thing, except fishing was even slower and only picked about one fish per drift for the boat. The fish were on the meter they just weren’t willing to eat a bait for some reason. All day our group had been pumped up for the night bite and hoped it lived up to our expectations so we weren’t too worried when the whole boat only landed 5 in the daytime fishing from 7am to 5 pm.
About an hour after sun set I hooked my first fish of the day. The captain said he was metering fish down at the bottom at 240 feet, so I put on an 8-oz. sinker rubber band rig and dropped straight for the bottom. Winds and swell were up so it was crucial to have enough weight get to the bottom quick. I hooked up about 10 seconds after reaching the bottom, 1 crank up. While I was fighting my fish the rest of the boat asked how I hooked up and soon enough they all had heavy weights on. About three more guys hooked up on fish, all of which were lost. I got mine to the boat after an hour of pain with my single speed Shimano Torium. The Bluefin taped out at 104 lbs. The Captain said we were going to start another drift but if it doesn’t shape up we are going to head home. By this time, it was already about 8 pm.
On the way back up the bank, Capt. Rick said the meter was starting to stack up with fish like the other recent wide open night bites from 180 ft. to 240 ft. He said he was metering solid Bluefin. The boat pulled up to our next drift and sure enough it went semi-wide open with about half the boat bent. If you could get a bait anywhere within 50 feet of the bottom, you were bit. It was also a bite every drop on the glow in the dark flatfall. We could see squid rising up to our boat so we must have been right over a squid bed. You didn’t need to have glow in the dark sinkers to get bit at night time, anything that got you deep worked. We repeated this for 3 more drifts and our boat ended the night with 34 Bluefin to 112 pounds. The Captain kept us out there until 1 am battling those big Bluefin, and I’m not complaining. And neither was anyone else. Most of the fish were around 70-90 lbs each. I would guess that everyone on the boat had a chance to get a fish because by the end of the night a lot of people were offering to hook and hand. I also heard the Fortune got a few fish up to 300 pounds. I ended up going one for four on the bluefin. Those with the right gear could have had at least 3+ fish each. The trip ended up being a trip of a lifetime and my friends and I all went home stoked as ever. I ended up feeding my family Bluefin for Thanksgiving dinner. That was quite a treat for everyone. Thanks to the crew of the Oceanside 95, truly one of the best operations out there. Thanks to Daryl Duong for taking photos.