The Clemente out of Dana Wharf

Winter is a weird time for fishing in Southern California.  After the Summer primetime, the water cools, and the focus changes toward the lower end of the water column.  The typical trip yields rockfish, sculpin, and the occasional ling cod.  Then December hits.  Ling cod and rockfish season ends Dec. 31st.  Some spots still have good bass and/or sculpin fishing.  You can go to San Diego and fish Mexican water for rockfish.  A lot of anglers pick this time of year to go long range.  Or you can just get your gear cleaned and maintained and wait things out for next season.

Last week, Dana Wharf Sportfishing invited me down to fish their Friday drift day for their Halibut Derby.  I gladly went down to see if I could knock off this elusive fish from my 2011 Top Ten.  What I found was a great alternative to the winter fishing doldrums.

The first thing I noticed about the people lining up for the trip was that there was a core group of regulars that included several ladies.  In doing a little homework before coming down, I noticed that Peggy Stein was the only person on the board so far…catching a 17lb. 21oz. halibut (the Derby started Nov 1st).  Peggy finished second last year with a 25 lb-er, to the eventual winner, Mike Knudtson.  Mike took top spot with a big ‘but that weighed in at over 43 lbs.!   I would meet Peggy later on the trip, as well as some of her fishing buddies.

First short to start the day

At 7am we set off.  After a short stop at the bait receiver (mostly sardines, but some live squid), we left the harbor and made a short ride north.  Just off Laguna Niguel, in 44 ft. of water, we started our first drift of the day.  We lined up on the starboard side of the boat and let out our lines.  I was fishing close to the bait tank toward the stern.  Shortly after someone hooked up!  It was pretty exciting that the first hookup of the day, an angler just around the corner from me pulled in a short flattie to kick things off.  The spot only yielded one legal sand bass though and we moved on.

Nice flattie Jeanne!

We moved south to an area straight out from the harbor breakwater.  There, in about 65 feet of water, things started to heat up.  Again, we were mostly arrayed on the starboard side of the boat.  Suddenly, up the rail, Cyndie got hit hard.  Her pole went bendo and the fish took her down the rail, and all the way around the boat up to the bow on the port side.  The way it went, I expected it to be a large bat ray.  Captain Corey Leiser stood at the ready to net the monster which turned out to be a black seabass (a protected species in California).  It was released and we continued on.  We drifted that general area for most of the morning and it yielded the most action, including this 15lb., 8oz. specimen caught by Jeanne.  Three more halibut were boated in that same spot.  One by Cyndie and 2 more by Jeanne.  One more almost made it, but it literally jumped out of the net from the boat side of the rail!  I kid not, I watched it happen.

While other anglers were catching the target fish, I was enjoying catching a nice variety.  I caught and kept 2 legal sand bass, and returned a short sculpin and pretty nice sized white croaker.  The boat also caught several calico bass, a pretty big cabezon (guessing it was at least a 5 lb-er that got released), one sheephead, a short white seabass, a second black seabass, couple sharks and a rather large lizard fish.

That area started slowing down as the day wore on, and the current started to kick up.  We made our final move to a spot past San Clemente, close to San Onofre.  At that spot, the men on the boat were feeling the pressure to not get skunked on the flatties by the ladies.  We were saved by young Daniel who got on the board with an almost 7 lb-er.  We got back into Dana Wharf around 4pm.  Good day!  5 legals (should’ve been 6), some shorts, and a nice variety of other fish caught to keep everyone engaged.  Thanks Captain Corey and deckhand Alleyar for putting us on the fish and helping make it a fun and exciting day on the water.  Thanks to Dana Wharf Sportfishing for the invite.  I’ll be back!

The Halibut Derby extends to April 30th of 2012.  You are entered to win by riding the Friday drift day boat, or by adding $5 to any 1/2 or 3/4 day ride.  The top 25 halibut catchers will ride free in a fish off scheduled for May 6th.  The prize money will be split between the biggest halibut catcher during the Derby and the winner of the fish off trip.  Last year’s winners split over $4000!  Get down to Dana Wharf and get in on the fun.  Tight lines.

5 Flatties: Jeanne is the one in the middle with the big smile

 

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