Days and Nights in Catalina

Ahh, 4th year. Residency applications filled out, clinic hours racking up and most importantly, the least amount of didactic classes I’ve ever had in the last 11 years of school! Less class equals less tests equals less studying equals moar feeshing (yes, yes, I know I have part II boards I should study for, let me enjoy my ignorance for now lol).

To celebrate our newly acquired taste of freedom, my classmates and I decided to take a small camping trip to the Southern California island paradise known as Catalina Island. Although it would not be the first time I have fished the island (see previous reports at, it would be a nice chance for me to pursue some of the more rare species of fish that have eluded my capture thus far.

Taking the 6:15am boat to Catalina Island via the express, we arrived shortly after sunrise to find cloudy skies and very few fishermen at the Mole. My excited classmate had immediately set her fishing outfit up and was busy fishing away with our luggage still piled up on the bench!

As always, the fish were eager to bite on the various baits we had brought ranging from peas to shrimp and squid. However, the next few hours yielded only the same dominant species: immature Calico bass, senorita wrasses, topsmelt, and blacksmith. Small garibaldi, sheephead, and sculpin, kelp rockfish, and opaleye rounded out the species count and added some variety to the mix. Interestingly, the fish seemed much more line and hook shy than I had previously remembered, and I wonder if the summer crowds had caused increased fishing pressure in the area?

Although I threw out a large bait on a clicker to the edge of the kelp, I only got a few good rips which felt generally like larger calico bass. I was able to get one heftier Calico bass in, but the others were lost as I tried to bring them through the kelp fortress that surrounds the Mole.

After enjoying a morning of catching small fish with my classmate, we traveled inland to Hermit Gulch, where we setup our home base. At ~1.5 miles from the Mole on a slight incline, it’s definitely a hike when you are fully loaded with camping and fishing gear. Here, we would meet the rest of our classmates when they finished their rounds and took the 7pm ferry over to the island.

Plans were made for a 4 am fishing expedition at the Mole, and although we watched the sun rays beam over the Pacific in a glorious display, the fishing was rather lackluster save for the ever-eager tiny Calico Bass.

After a quick breakfast, we made our way over to Green Pleasure pier, where we managed to pull up a dozen large opaleye with some extra large blacksmith mixed in for good measure and of course countless calico bass. Interestingly, there was a huge lack of baitfish in the water, and a jigged sabiki yielded nothing.

After lounging around in the afternoon heat, the decision was made to take a skiff out for a few hours. The girls enjoyed playing captain as we maneuvered north out of the Mole. Stopping at a fishy kelp bed, we let out some dropper loops and the ladies once again enjoyed catching a variety of usual Catalina kelp bed species including some hard fighting ocean whitefish. Unfortunately, I did not bring enough fishing outfits for everyone and some of the girls got bored so we headed back in as the bite slowed.

At nightfall, the decision was made for the boys to visit the Mole to do some night fishing, and the search for my chief targets of this trip, the swell shark, horn shark, and California moray eel, would begin. Unfortunately, the fishing was immensely slow, and not even a single fish bite would occur during the entire night of soaking bait. I specifically say fish bite, because we would get pestered the whole night by bites from a different kind. Around the tide shift, we found our baits to get violently attacked, but hooksets met nothing. Eventually my friend managed to bring a bend to his rod on a savage hookset, but from the depth appeared two tiny glowing eyes… and none other than a Spiny Lobster. Soon we would end up catching not one, not two, but six Spiny Lobsters on our hooks including one massive specimen that was easily 5 lbs. Of course all lobsters were released (I would have loved a picture of the big granddaddy lobster, but he auto released when we tried to heave him over the railing).

After the disappointing night, most of the group was too tired to wake early for the morning bite at the Mole. However, arriving at the Mole at mid-morning the next day, I watched as the surface of the ocean erupted in surface boils. Are the hard fighting bonies around?! Perhaps… but my spoon and sabiki attempts to the easily castable boils only resulted in large pacific mackerel, pacific sardines, and pacific jack mackerel. My astute classmate mentioned that these small fish would probably make great bait especially if we had a boat… and the wheels started turning. Having caught the most fish on the skiff the previous day, she was eager to get back on a skiff, so we happily obliged her request despite our ferry leaving in a few hours.

On the skiff, we managed to quickly jig up a handful of mackerel, sardines, and jack mackerel before heading south, towards an area where local rumors had mentioned california yellowtail had been caught recently. Arriving at a rather fishy kelp bed, I started out by dropping a dropper loop with a live jack mackerel down before helping the others set up. Within seconds however, my rod tip was bouncing as something from deep below engulfed my lively bait. Curious what it was, I soon pulled up a picture perfect bocaccio rockfish.

My classmates were eager to catch fish as well, but by that time it was impossible to fish with our live bait… Firstly, our “livewell” bucket with no circulation had quickly caused most of our bait to turn. Secondly, a veritable crowd of Brandt’s Cormorants had descended upon our little fishing vessel and every single live bait was quickly gobbled up, including those that were quickly dropped on dropper loops! Although this made for some hairy escapades (or should I say feathery), any unfortunate bird had their hooks quickly removed from them and were released to terrorize another skiffing party.

Luckily, during the attack of the cormorants, our skiff had drifted into a healthy kelp bed, where it attracted the attention of a lively school of halfmoons. These broad perch shaped fish eagerly engulfed lightly drifted strips of squid, and put up a hefty fight, especially on the lighter gear that my classmates were fishing.

At one point, I watched as a small 5 lb yellowtail lazily amble by the boat while I could only helplessly glance at the empty livewell bucket.

Although I had irons I could probably have tossed, time was up anyways. Our ferry was quickly approaching, and we hightailed it back to the Green Pleasure Pier, where the skiff was swiftly returned, our fishing gear was broken down, and we returned to our non-fishing companions holding our spot in the line to board. Although the total number of new species that I racked up in the 3 days of fishing at Catalina came out to an even zero, I had a great time helping my classmates learn new techniques of fishing and got some nice pictures of species that I have already caught. Until next time, Catalina!

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