IMG_5001It kind of came as a shock to me.  I knew I wanted to be down in San Diego this weekend.  Someone dear to me was going to be in town on business.  Of course if I’m going to be in SD, I’m going to fish.  I figured I’d get on one of the 3/4 day boats as the bite has been smoking hot of late.  Trips of 100+ tuna (some days close to 200 fish!) have become common for the last few weeks now.  I’ve never caught tuna on less than an overnight trip, so I wanted to take advantage of the bite.  When I went to make reservations though, I discovered everything was sold out.  And it wasn’t just the normal 3 boats (San Diego, Mission Belle, and Malihini)…many of the overnight and longer boats in the fleet have added 3/4 day trips to meet the demand and still they were all sold out.  The only boats available to ride were the halfies and even then some of their trips were sold out.  I’ve been chatting lately with Brian Castleton, 2nd Captain on the New Seaforth.  I figured I’d ride with him when I got down there Friday afternoon, and my buddy John joined me.  You know what?  It was so much fun, we did it again on Saturday…

Day 1 – Getting Reacquainted With The Point Loma Kelp

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It’s my understanding that at one time the kelp was this thick in an unbroken line from deep down the Baja coast and stretching north past Santa Barbara.  As the population grew along the coastline, the vast kelp forest got broken up.  Today there are patches of kelp along certain parts of the coast and the nearby islands, but nowhere else is it thicker than off Point Loma in San Diego.  Unlike offshore kelp paddies that are broken off pieces floating on the surface of the open ocean, the kelp here is literally an underwater forest anchored to the ocean floor.  What you see on the surface is merely the canopy of that forest.  This forest is home to many species, but the primary target species is the kelp bass, aka calico bass.

Jackson got a legal on the rent rod setup

Jackson got a legal on the rent rod setup

I knew it had been awhile since I’d fished this spot.  I didn’t realize it had been over 3 years!  I’ve gotten much better in all aspects of my fishing game, but it still took me awhile to sort things out.  I started the day out fishing by the gate, ahead of the bait tank, along the starboard side of the boat.  John posted up toward the stern corner, but still on the starboard rail.  The boat was anchored.  We had live anchovies and sardines, with some mackerel mixed in.  I chose to start the day fishing my 30 lb. bait setup (Terez 80H, Avet MXJ).  I’ve got 50 lb. braid on about 2/3 of the spool with 30 lb mono filling in the remainder.  A 2/0 J-style bait hook completed the setup.  John told me not to be afraid to throw the big baits and I proceeded to throw flylined ‘dines and macks as deep into the kelp as I could.  I was getting bit and I managed to score a legal, but I also spent a lot of time in line tangles because the current was pushing my bait toward the stern and people were casting over my line.  I forgot that the afternoon current was strong here.  The last hour or so of the ride, I was able to find an open spot on the stern.  Once there, I was able to put a quick 4 legals in the bag, but lost several more to the kelp.  Notably, I had a big bass on the line that could have very well been a personal best calico for me, but I was never able to get it out.  John got about a dozen and just missed JP by a hair to regular Steve Schott.  Still, I put 5 legal bass in the boat.  Definitely a good day, but I knew I could have done much better.

Day 2 – Optimized For The Kelp

Beer batter bass on veggie fried rice

Beer batter bass on veggie fried rice

When we got back to John’s house, he cooked up the fish for dinner.  John did beer battered style on a bed of veggie fried rice.  I put it down with a couple cold IPA’s.  John asked me how I thought the day went.  I said it was good, but I thought I could do a lot better having lost a lot of fish to the kelp.  We reviewed my setup, and compared it to his – Teramar 90H, Lexa 400 with 65lb. braid to a 4 foot topshot of 40 lb. mono, and terminated with a 4/0 circle hook to fish the big horse sardines and salami sized macks.  Why the short topshot?  “So the braid can come into play to saw through the kelp.”  Why the circle hook?  “Well A) once the bass bites and runs, he’s hooked.  I just wind. B) because I’m throwing deep into the weeds, the bass are going to get hung up.  While I’m waiting for the braid to saw it out, the circle helps keep the fish on.”

Hmmm…makes sense.  I have the same rod, but wanted to save it as my jig stick in case some yellows popped up (Day 2 jackpot was a lone yellow caught on a blue/white Tady 45).  I also wanted to keep my 30 lb. bait setup as is for the same reason.  I brought my Crucial 711H (rated 15-30) / Abu Revo Toro 50 (40 lb spectra to longish 25lb fluoro topshot) combo.  We took off the topshot, filled up the spool close to the top with more braid, then terminated it with a short topshot of 30 lb fluoro (not for the stealth factor, but for the extra abrasion resistance).  When we got on the boat, we made sure to stake out our spots in that starboard stern corner.

Long story short, I did MUCH better and this time I did pull a big pig out of the weeds.  I had gone back to get a new bait at one point.  Brian was standing there when I did.  I was looking for a sardine, but the only big baits in the hand well were large macks.  “Just do it Joe.” Brian said smiling.  OK.  I threw it out and got whacked.  Of course it got stuck, but the braid, and the circle did what they were supposed to do.  Success 🙂

Key Takeaways:

Location Location Location – get a spot in the L from the bait tank back to the corner and along the stern.  Once properly situated, you MUST be able to cast a flylined bait and get it into the weeds away from the boat.  If you can’t get in back initially, be prepared when they rotate and grab a spot.

Be Prepared – The ideal setup is the kelp cutter rig…braid to a short topshot, and terminated with a circle hook.  I talked to Corey Sanden of MC Swimbaits last year at ICAST.  He said he fishes 80/80 in the kelp to throw his big baits.  The fish aren’t line shy.  In fact, I saw a guy fishing straight hi-vis yellow braid and getting bit on the stern.

Bigger Is Better – I noticed the rent rodders setup with a sliding sinker and using the anchovies.  The boat is going to assume your skill level is novice if you are renting a rod.  Ironically though, people who brought their own rigs followed suit.  Don’t do it.  Flyline a big bait.

It was clearly an 80/20 scenario – the 20% of anglers fishing like we did, caught 80% of the fish.  Same thing both days.  The counts don’t tell the whole story.  There are a ton of big fish in that kelp.  Follow these instructions and you will catch them.  Thank you to Capts. RJ Hudson and Brian Castleton for having us out.  The New Seaforth is a beautiful boat and they run a tight ship.  If you can’t get on a tuna run, don’t let it stop you from having fun fishing the halfies.  Along with the bass, you will also have a chance to score yellowtail, white seabass and halibut.  Tight lines!

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