capt steve1

                   Capt. Steve Virtue

This trip is one I look forward to all year.  It’s been sold out for months, so I guess I’m not the only one.  It happens aboard the Pacific Islander out of Channel Islands Sportfishing, and departs on the Friday night after Thanksgiving.  A big part of the reason everyone enjoys this trip is due to the excellent crew led by Capt. Steve Virtue…2nd ticket Dan, Bryan and Ron on deck, and Laura holding it down in the galley.  The other part of the equation is that this trip consistently produces for what we all covet when it comes to rockfishing, and that is catching lingcod.

I go on this boat by myself all the time, knowing I can count on the crew and the trip to deliver a good time.  This trip is special though because many of my best fishing buddies join me to share in the fun.  Despite all the positives of this trip, every year I stress out leading up to it, hoping the weather will cooperate.  During the week, strong winds killed fishing along our entire coast.  If it’s windy down the coast, it’s a given it’s extra nasty up at the outer Channel Islands where we go.  By the time we got to the boat though, the weather outlook for our fishing day looked positive.  We had some good looking sardines (with a little mack mixed in) and cut frozen squid for bait.  Capt. Steve did his normal trip briefing and everyone was fired up when he wrapped it with his signature, “Let’s kill some fish!”

IMG_0434Steve mentioned in his briefing that we’d start the day in a deeper spot – 200+ feet depth looking for lingcod.  Starting out looking for lings is a little bit of a departure from the normal schedule for these trips.  He told me it’s been hard lately to consistently find the larger size rockfish that usually fill the bags first.  Given this intel, I setup 2 rigs, a heavier “jig and fly” rig using a jig from our trip sponsor,; and a standard double dropper rig with 12 oz. of lead before hitting my bunk.


The next morning, I awoke to a pleasant surprise.  We were already at the far west end of Santa Rosa Island and still moving toward San Miguel.  The water and wind conditions were calm.  It was going to be a good day.  Laura was already cooking, so I ordered a burrito as I anticipated the start of our fishing day.

IMG_0438We settled into a spot off the east end of Miguel.  “OK guys let ’em go” Steve directed.  I was by the starboard stern corner (opposite of the drift side) and let it fly.  The action was immediate.  I saw the first ling of the day get measured and sacked before my friend Perry Pascual connected and landed a monster.  When the beast hit the deck, mouth open, it looked like it could fit a volleyball inside it’s gaping jaws!  It was an easy 20+ lb. fish that set the bar for the day.

Perry got it on a strip of squid tacked onto a shrimp fly.  It didn’t take me long to get a keeper, but it came on the shrimp fly/squid strip above my jig and not the jig itself.

Meanwhile, my buddy Mark Smolak, was killing them on the bow.  After that first stop, he was already limited out and adding to the body count.  The “rasta” swimbait was doing the trick for him which was creating a dilemma for me.  On the one hand, I could see they were responding to bait.  On the other, Mark demonstrated the swimmie was working well.  Another friend, Treve, was fishing close to me and doing well on a double swimmie rig (big on the bottom, smaller matching one above).  I decided to switch to the swimmie and tied on the Donkey Donk from Reeb’s Lures, a 12″ swimbait that I’d been wanting to try.  I went up to the bow to find Mark, Kyle, Ron and John doing work.  I squeezed my way in and threw it out starboard side.  That decision proved fruitful as I quickly found a ling that wanted to play.  I got it to color when a sea lion tried to steal it away.  I pulled hard though and popped it out of it’s mouth.  Bryan was quick on the gaff and we saved it.  Unfortunately, he managed to gaff the swimbait too, so I needed to switch it up again.

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At this point, we were close to limits on the lings and I was still short of 3.  Rather than waste time tying up something new, I grabbed my bait stick that was already rigged and fished the sardines.  I started loading up on chuckies, but no lings.

A school of mackerel swam through.  I caught a big one and put it in the handwell for bait.  I had made some pre-tied trap rigs for just this scenario and put one on.  I attached the salami mack and sent him down.  Ka-thunk!  Oh eat it.  Yes, YES.  Awwwww.  Free spool.  Oh.  Let it eat longer this time.  Yes.  Got you.  Arrrgghhh!!!  The mack came back thrashed and dead.  It wasn’t a total loss.  I slabbed it out and got another…significantly smaller one (because of course that was my 20+ fish, right?).

At this point, we were done on both lings and rockfish.  We went shallow for a bit and bagged some whitefish and a couple sheepies to end the day.  What a fun day on the water.  My buddy John Anjard came up all the way from San Diego to go.  John’s one of the saltiest guys I know and a San Diego fishing snob.  He had never fished big plastics before for lings and it was an eye opener for him.  He can’t wait to come back.  Perry took JP with his early monster.  Mark was high stick with 10 legals, his first double digit day.  Limits of fun and smiles all around.  Thanks to Capt. Steve and his awesome crew for delivering on expectations.  Thanks to everyone who came out and shared in the fun.  I hadn’t seen several of you in awhile and it was great to spend time fishing and catching up.  Thanks to Jesse of and Treve for the giveaways.  We will definitely do it again next year.   LING-A-PALOOZA IV 🙂

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Related article – Jigging For Rockfish


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