A fat Baja yellowfin tuna caught by angler Barry Martinez while fishing from his kayak near Los Frailes in the Eastern Cape.
Dock totals 1/23 – 1/29: 654 anglers aboard 38 half-day to 1.5-day trips from last week’s San Diego landings caught 37 barracuda, 56 bocaccio, 235 calico bass (124 released), 3 halibut, 117 ling cod, 97 lobster (75 released ), 1 opalee, 44 bass, 4 rock crabs, 1,589 rock fish, 437 sand bass, 684 bullheads, 36 sheephead fish, 2 trigger fish, 220 white fish and 1 yellowtail.
salt water: January and February are not typically the best months for fishing in Southern California’s offshore waters. This is the slow-moving season when cool water pushes pelagic species south and endemic species mostly seem to close their jaws. Rockfish, the usual winter table-top destination in northern Baja, is closed in Southern California waters through March, and our early spring targets, whitefish, barracuda and bonito, have yet to show up. Although yellowtails are occasionally caught by the seaweed beds for those fishing from La Jolla to Del Mar, they are what we call “homeguards,” or fish thought to be among the select few that don’t migrate , when the water drops below 62 degrees .
Surf fishing can be hit and miss as the normal baits in the swash, sand crab and sandworm, burrow deeper and are harder to find for the anglers who use them to catch surf bass and corbina moving away from the crowded ones Bait feeds the choppy waters on the beach from breaking waves. It could be sad if there weren’t the plethora of options available to anglers residing in the nation’s most populous state. Let’s look at these options.
First we have to backtrack a little and acknowledge that although the bait is harder to find, the surf can still be productive.
Surf bass and corbina are present year round, albeit in lower numbers than during their peak season for them in summer and fall. Using scented lures such as Berkley Gulp imitation sand crabs and sandworms can be productive, and shells can be collected at low tide, which also tempt to bite. Guitarfish or shovelnose sandsharks are always around, although like other predators they will be less numerous in the shallows. Most caught here are released, but the long loins that emerge from behind the head and extend the length of the tail are a prized table fare in many cultures. Flavor is subjective and preparation varies widely, but I like the firm scallop-like texture of “guitaras”. Maybe you didn’t eat it, maybe you did; Many taco stands south of the border use battered sand shark bits to fill fish tacos.
California halibut are also in our waters year-round. During the winter months they tend to slip deeper into flats along channel edges and shelves in 30 to 100 feet of water, but can be caught by beaches, piers or jetties in the shallows behind the surf or in the bay. As batch spawners that typically become active around May, they can spawn at any time of the year. Since their spawn runs about two weeks at a time, there are generally more in the same area that one will be caught if they are found in the shallows with egg roe.
When searching for halibut in deeper water, a popular method is to use a large live bait, e.g. a 6- to 9-inch mackerel or a fat sardine. A bounce ball setup is basically a three way swivel with a 1 foot hooklink with a weight heavy enough to keep the bait on the bottom and another 2′ to 3′ hooklink, that goes to the hook. A slow drift is best and the angler simply lifts the tip from time to time to ‘bounce’ the bait along the bottom. In shallow water, live baits become less productive than plastic and crank baits because you can cover a lot more area when casting and retrieving, while baits are typically moved slowly, if at all, when fishing for halibut in less than 6 feet of water or so.
There have been some good catches so far this winter, with most coming from the shallow waters along the channels in San Diego Bay, and some good catches from the surf as well. Because fishing in the bay can be done from a small boat, kayak, or even float tubes, fishing for halibut in deeper water is accessible to most. When a boat isn’t available, Fisherman’s Landing’s Dolphin offers a halibut-specific half-day excursion Wednesdays through February.
Aside from halibut and surf species, calico and sand bass generally bite well during the winter months. Although tough off shore, our perch are a great option for anglers with access to any legal vessel that can safely reach kelp beds or sandbars in 40 to 80 feet of water. Again, a half-day run on a speedboat is a good option as they target bass until Rockfish opens on March 1st.
Of course we are in high season for long distance trips but for the average angler they can get expensive. A Baja adventure either side of the peninsula, from Ensenada or San Felipe to the tip, is also an option for budget-conscious San Diego anglers seeking warmer waters. Yellowtail bite well from Ensenada to the south, but especially off the fishing villages in the middle of the peninsula on the Pacific side. Medium quality yellowfin tuna bite very well off the southern Baja coastal waters, and further out and south the large yellowfin cowfish are the test gear and backs of anglers who target them. One report from this area caught my eye last week:
While fishing in the Sea of Cortez north of Cabo San Lucas from his kayak, angler Barry Martinez hooked an impressive yellowfin tuna and fought the gaff. The fish was caught on a 200 gram silver and green flat case in 250 feet of water off Los Frailes. That might sound like a long paddle, but the 100-fathom turn runs a good mile from shore there. You can reach 250 feet of depth in about the same distance as paddling from La Jolla Shores beach at the Marine Room to the kids’ pool. But it was by no means an “easy” outing or catch. Von Martinez (the fish) “broke my Trevala jigging rod with a Daiwa Saltist reel using a 60lb hooklink to 80lb braid”.
Either way, a fish caught is a fish caught, and a 60-pound yellowfin tuna out of a kayak is quite a catch. Whether it’s coves, lakes, the beach or offshore, the off-season deep sea fishing in San Diego can be pretty damn good, and with our sport fishing fleet and the Baja Peninsula as our southern neighbor, our area is one of the premier fishing destinations in the world for good Ground.
- In preparation for the Youth Fishing Derby on February 5, Lake Poway will be closed to fishing from January 31 through February 5 at noon.
- Lake Hodges will reopen for fishing on Wednesday 2nd February after its annual seasonal closure from October to February.
fish plants: February 3 – Lake Poway, Trout (1,500) February 7 – Lake Jennings, Trout (2,000), February 10 – Santee Lakes, Trout (1,500)