2011 Socal bays: Bubble and Boil
Keep in mind my reports are mostly to maintain a personal record of fishing trips, so I apologize if it is far too long for the average reader to remain interested in reading. As always, all fish were carefully released.
There are many times that a friend, coworker, or random passerby will query me with that eternal question: “Of all the things that you could do with your time, why would you choose to waste it fishing?” It’s difficult to quantify the type of pleasure that I receive from fishing because it appeals to so many aspects of my character. The solitude away from the nagging social traditions of daily life, the thrill of seeing new or interesting species of fish, the feeling of accomplishment upon capturing a wild animal using a virtual cornucopia of acquired skills, or even the simple joy of performing actions in remembrance of past nostalgic memories. However, regardless of the fusion of reasons that drive my day to day obsession with our aquatic friends, never once have I felt that the hours of my life spent fishing have been wasted. After all, it is only in these times when we feed our passion that we are truly spending our time wisely.
So there it is, the cliched concept that true anglers recognize exists deep down within them: we are born to fish, forced to work. Acknowledging that our passions must be fed with some type of currency, we slave away at our daily methods of gaining funds while our minds wander to the next time that we may have the opportunity to live out our angling fantasies.
And here I am, looking at a printout that stated my academic worth, a black and white expression of my intelligence compared to that of my classmates. Having reached the midway point of one of the hardest quarters that I have been exposed to thus far in my student life, I felt tired of the rat race. I felt tired of trying to keep afloat of my fellow classmates in hopes that I would place in a residency that would help pay off my exorbitant student loans. Yes, I realize that I should study because the research deadline is approaching, I still have a lab project to finish, and we have a pathology quiz on neoplastic diseases tomorrow.
But I need a break.
I glance at my schedule, do some mental calculations, and figure that I should be able to get back in time to accomplish everything I need to. Today, I don’t fish to heed the beckons of my passion for angling, or for the act of hunting unusual species. Today, I fish for the purpose of renewing my spirit.
II. First Light
I wake at 4am and the stillness of the world envelops me. I silently prepare my fishing gear and quietly stow away into the darkness. The sun still has 2 hours before it will explode across the horizon, exposing baitfish and predators alike. I should arrive at my intended fishing location in San Diego County before that magic time, giving me enough time to scout a few locations to attempt and locate some baitfish before the morning feeding frenzy begins.
Today is a luring day, and my tactics will be centered around targeting the surface busting activity that occurs in the hour or two around daybreak. Thus, walk the dog stickbaits, surface jerkbaits, and spoons were high on my list of lures that would see action today.
I arrive at my first potential fishing location at a little past 5am. The surface of the water is glassy smooth and the horizon is still completely dark. Shoot! Although the tide was supposed to be low at this time, it is much lower than I had anticipated. I take a moment to allow my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting and watch the surface of the water. No puddling, no ripples, no spashes, no flashes. I think for a moment about whether I want to fish here, but decide against it. I quickly hop into my car and move to the next spot.
Now, a faint rosy glow is just starting to appear over the horizon. At my second location, things look promising. I see faint ripples that break on the surface of the water periodically indicating small baitfish. A splash here and there makes my heart beat a little faster, but carefully watching the silhouettes, I can see the thick cylindrical bodies of mullet as they leap clear of the water to clean their gills. Not today, I silently say to them, my mullet fishing gear is not ready yet. The concentrations of baitfish call to me despite the lack of any predatory signs, and I toss out a stickbait to see if the desperate splashes garner any attention from patrolling piscivores. Unfortunately, the only piscivores it attracts are a pair of terns who circle a few times before screeching out their calls and moving on to more fertile hunting grounds. The sun has now broken the horizon and things should begin to speed up, if indeed any predatory fish were around.
Although I like fishing stickbaits for their surface fish calling ability, I also have very little confidence in their ability to retain hooked fish well. Having fished them for barramundi in Thailand, I found that unless the fish were extremely aggressive and willing to repeatedly strike a lure, subsurface or shallow running lures tended to allow for better and more secure hook holds upon first strikes. Thus, I switched out the stickbait to a shallow running jerkbait. Fan casting the shoreline, I get a nice strong strike that immediately brings my rod into a good bend. The fish struggles frantically, giving an almost rockfish like fight to mind. I feel it dive hard for the substrate, but I don’t give it a chance to find a snag and pump it quickly to the surface. After a spirited tussle, a medium sized spotted bay bass appears. Interesting catch on a surface bait, considering that the species is strongly cover oriented. This must mean the water is really shallow at this location. These grumpy looking little monsters give a great fight and have such personable little faces.
The lack of surface activity at this location however, quickly forces me to switch locations yet again. The tide was probably too low for this place to see much activity, anyways. So back into my faithful fishmobile and we were off to yet another place along the water.
Part III. Chasing Boils
Arriving at my third location, I am lucky to find the skies still slightly overcast thereby prolonging the morning bite. In these lower light levels, predators are able to find silhouetted baitfish schools and still remain undetected.
It begins without warning. It can happen anywhere from the periphery of your vision, to the water directly in front of you. However, when it happens, any angler’s heart will begin to beat faster. A few dozen yards to my right, I see the water surface splash hard while something silver and incredibly fast slashes and foams across the water. To be honest, when fishing a surface bite in San Diego, you could be tied into a number of different species. From mackerel or needlefish, to barracuda and bonito, many migratory and pelagic fish will all cause the same phenomenon. In fact, I have even seen a lizardfish fly out of the water, while attacking a school of smelt.
Regardless of species, however, when a boil explodes like that, you have a few options. One, you try to cast directly into the boil and hope whatever was there hasn’t moved on. Two, you try to anticipate which direction the boil is headed, and have a lure in position by the time the fish get there. The last option is one that not many anglers are aware of, but during a surface boil bite, you can fish far below the boils, underneath the surface breaking fish where larger fish or fish of differing species will be found, feeding opportunistically on injured or disoriented baitfish from the surface attack. It’s a crap shoot which option will yield fish. Throwing into a boil can sometimes spook fish, anticipating where a boil is moving towards is basically fortune telling, and sometimes there won’t be anything at all feeding opportunistically underneath the boil.
However, the key to fishing boils is to do something, and do it FAST. The fish are moving, and they will be gone before you know it! So, option one it is, I race over to where the last boil occurred at and cast out my jerkbait. Breathing hard and heart at my throat, I retrieve the lure in a frantic and slashing motion. No luck, the fish are either not interested or have moved on.
I pause with the lure ready for a cast, and see another boil, a dozen yards down the other way. Running over at top speed, I unleash another cast. Same thing, the lure comes back untouched. Now, I slow down slightly to observe the boils. Slashing activity, silver color, fast motion. These fish may simply be mackerel boiling at smaller baitfish. OK, lets give option three a try. I cast back out to where the last boil was, and bring my rod tip all the way down so that it hovers just above the surface of the water. Now I have my lure running deep, 2-3 feet underneath the surface, and my retrieve is slow, halting, imitating a mortally wounded and tired baitfish.
I feel the pulses in my rodtip as my lure wobbles it’s way back towards me. Suddenly it is stopped hard. Instinctively I bring my rod tip back for a strike, and it is met with solid resistance. Nearly instantaneously, my rod is suddenly wobbling everywhere as a fish at the end of my line nearly head shakes the rod out of my hand. It then goes on a hard drag peeling run straight down. I hold on tight, and begin to fight it. Careful not to horse it, I play the fish letting it go on another 2 short runs, before gently directing it towards the shore. With the lower tide and clear San Diego water, it is only a few minutes before I see my quarry. A beautiful california halibut glides up from the depth. This is the first non-surf halibut I have caught, so it was amazing to see it fight in calm clear waters. For the first time I saw the head shakes that halibut are so well known for, and realized that it is actually a vertical shake, almost like a head nod, instead of side to side… It should have been obvious given the flat morphology of the fish, but seeing the fish perform those head nods was really interesting. I also noticed that halibut can swim backwards, using undulating motions of their bodies. No wonder they are so adept at shaking hooks, given the bag of tricks that they possess!
I quickly beach the halibut and at around 18”, he is a respectable size. After a quick picture, he is put back into the water. He seems quite tired however, and rests in the shallow waters for a few minutes before moving back into the deeper water. It’s always a pleasure seeing those flatfish with gnarly jaws and vicious teeth.
The boils are still occurring sporadically, but I’ve caught on to the pattern today. Seems like the larger predators may be just slightly deeper than whatever is breaking at the surface. However, one of the boils explodes near me that seems slightly different, being larger with a slower more deliberate motion. With my furthest cast just barely able to reach it, I get one good jerk of my lure before something takes it with a hard hit. I set the hook, and there is again an immediate response. This time, there are no headshakes and instead the fish goes on a hard drag burning run. After a short rapid run, the fish comes in towards the shoreline relatively quickly. Once within 10 yards of the shore, however, the fish begins to bulldog hard, and refuses to surface. With short spurts of energy, the fish maintains it’s distance for a good 5 minutes before I am able to finally tire it out and surface. As it’s silvery flanks flash purplish near the shore, I think for a second that I have hooked my first white sea bass from the shore. However, as soon as I beach it, I see there is no barring on the flanks, no belly zipper, no yellow tint to the fins, and most of all, a pair of menacing fangs.
This was my first shortfin corvina of 2011, and as it measured out to 18”, a new PB! Unfortunately, one of my jerkbait hooks was embedded at the junction of the gill plates, and I was worried that the fish would not make it. Although it bled for a few seconds when I initially removed the hook, it stopped bleeding quickly and the fish swam away pretty well. Hopefully it survived the ordeal to grow and reproduce more of the beautiful species.
Although it is well known that corvina hunt in packs, these packs tend to be composed of smaller 12-14 inch specimens that are relatively tightly associated and also move fairly quickly. However, over the next two hours, I found a great corvina bite, landing 3 additional specimens, bringing my total to one 18”, two 17”, and one 16” fish. None of these fish were caught close to each other, either in location of time, leading me to assume that the conditions at that location were simply ideal enough to attract various lone hunting corvina. Regardless of the reason, these fish are without a doubt my favorite socal fish, and they were a definite welcome addition to my day’s catch.
The last 17” corvina gave one of the best fights with a corvina I have had thus far. For the most part, corvina fight with a very generic style and the only distinct characteristic that I have noticed is that they bulldog hard with a series of short fast runs when near the shore and don’t surface easily. Although a great fighter, they usually don’t compare to that of say an equal sized bonito that will go on long drag burning run after run. However, this last fish went on a speedy run of nearly 20 yards making me chase it. Then, it bulldogged straight into some rocks causing me to snag up momentarily. I thought I had lost it, but after giving it a few minutes and some slack, it freed itself and continued to fight me. Eventually, I was able to tire it out, and I was somewhat surprised that it was only 17” given its tenacity and power during the fight. Lightly hooked, I was able to quickly release it after a single photo and it eagerly powered away into the deep.
Part IV. Surface Irons
With my available fishing time nearly depleted, and the surface boils finished for the day, I decided on trying a new tactic that I had been hoping to learn for a while now. Having acquired my first baitcaster at a rock bottom price, I decided on practicing my casting. Using a heavy “surface iron” type of lure, I turned half the brakes on, adjusted the spool tension, and began to process of learning my repetition. I had used a lead to practice casting a few times at home, but did not have the time or space to really try to see what type of distances I could get while casting the outfit.
Slowly but surely, I increased my casting distances, and actually did not birdsnest more than what I was able to almost immediately fix. I wasn’t really expecting to catch anything since I was just practicing my casting, but on one of my casts, I felt a small tick and gave a small strike. Although something felt different while reeling back in, I didn’t think much of it until I lifted my lure out of the water and realized that I had caught my first fish on a baitcaster! It was a diminutive california lizardfish, but nonetheless, it gave me confidence that at least what I was doing was somewhat capable of catching fish.
A few last casts to finish off the day and then during the retrieve, bang! An actual hit! I struck and I felt a fish struggling against me. Without a doubt, I can say that baitcasters have an obvious torque advantage over spinning reels. While I could feel the fish struggling hard, the baitcaster just continued to pull the fish in. In general, it simply gave a more direct feel of attachment to the fish. Having barely pulled any of my moderately set drag, the fish was soon splashing up a storm in front of me, and it was small juvenile california barracuda. Although small, again, it was great to have affirmation that my fishing technique was working. With yellow tinged fins, this particular fish was a young male which I quickly unhooked after my picture and sent back into the water to terrorize more baitfish.
After that last catch, my fishing time had expired and I had to leave the fishing grounds. Although my hectic life awaited me, my shoes felt a little lighter as I hurried back home with my spirits buoyed by the fun filled morning. Why spend valuable time fishing? Because fishing is chicken soup for the soul.