By: Bob Vanian
The two-month seasonal rockfish/groundfish closure in Southern California waters has finally ended. Now that March has arrived, anglers up and down the SoCal coast are once again able to pursue some of the best winter fishing that is available.
In years past, there has been very good bottomfishing right off the bat on the opening day, with good fishing that continues into the spring surface fishing season. Being one of the first to drop down to the bottom to fish these spots that have been closed for two months provides a special excitement and anticipation about what might be lurking down deep and biting, once you get your bait or jig to the bottom.
During the closure period anglers, fishing the San Diego area coast kept busy catching sand bass, calico bass, sculpin and halibut. There has been some noteworthy halibut fishing, and some skippers will likely continue to spend some time fishing for bass and halibut even now that rockfish/groundfish closure is over.
The Imperial Beach area has been producing bass, sculpin and improving numbers of halibut for boats drifting areas in the zone of the Imperial Beach Pier.
Capt. Ron Baker of Point Loma out of Point Loma Sportfishing has been focusing on halibut and sand bass while fishing the Imperial Beach area. On a recent three-quarter-day trip, 10 anglers caught five halibut and 18 sand bass.
The halibut catches have been good-sized fish, up to around 25 pounds. The best bet has been drifting in depths ranging from 20 to 60 feet of water.
The Jetty Kelp in front of Mission Bay has been productive for sand bass, calico bass and sculpin. Another productive zone for bass and sculpin has been at the hard-bottom area outside of the kelp beds, along the middle part of La Jolla.
There have also been a few halibut biting for boats drifting the sandy bottom outside of Mission Beach. One of the better specific spots for halibut within that zone has been along the sandy bottom around the Yukon shipwreck.
Hard-bottom and structure spots in the Oceanside area have also been producing a mix of sand bass, calico bass, sculpin and halibut. For bass and sculpin, some of the better spots have been the Anderson and Buccaneer pipelines and the artificial reefs in front of Oceanside Harbor. For halibut, try fishing the sandy bottom adjacent to those structure spots.
Capt. Joe Cacciola of Sea Star, out of Helgren’s Sportfishing, reported that on a recent trip fishing hard-bottom and structure spots in the Carlsbad region, nine anglers caught 25 sand bass and six calico bass. Cacciola said that using a strip of fresh frozen squid on a dropper loop rig was a productive strategy.
The anglers aboard enjoyed a good amount of overall action, and they caught and released seven large sheephead. A thresher shark produced a short-lived hookup.
For long-range anglers in Mexican waters, the 1.5-day trips fishing the Punta Colnett area have regularly been producing limits on an assortment of bottomfish — highlighted by catches of large red vermilion rockfish and lingcod.
The past weekend also saw some schools of 10-pound class bonito above Punta Colnett. The bonito were not biting very well, but Constitution out of H&M Landing got a couple of bonito on their 1.5-day trip. A total of 21 anglers caught 46 rockfish, 32 lingcod, 130 reds and two bonito.
Los Coronados islands have been producing good numbers of bottomfish. Boats fishing on three-quarter-day trips have been catching an assortment of rockfish that usually include quite a few reds. As an example of the recent fishing, San Diego out of Seaforth Sportfishing had a recent trip where 11 anglers caught one lingcod, 9 sheephead, 26 reds and 53 rockfish.
A couple of the better areas for rockfish have included spots along the outer ridges between South Island and the South Kelp Ridge, as well as at the lower end of the 9-Mile Bank in Mexican waters.
Skippers are looking for yellowtail around Los Coronados islands, but fishing has been slow. The best place for a chance at yellowtail has been around Todos Santos island, outside of Ensenada, Mexico.
Three areas around Todos Santos island have been producing yellowtail, under working birds: San Miguel Reef and Todos Santos; along the inside of Todos Santos island; and in the gap between Todos Santos and Punta Banda.
Yellowtail have been biting best on iron. The spots of breaking fish have not been staying up very long, so if you get to a spot that has already sounded, using yo-yo iron has been a good way to go.
If you get to a spot of working fish that stays up, surface iron has been working best. If the fish have just “sunk out” upon your arrival, let the surface iron sink a short way before beginning your retrieve.
There is also a chance for anglers to finding some yellowtail action at La Jolla. The past several weeks have produced occasional showings of yellowtail under working birds — and some schools of fish have been spotted with scanning sonar.
Showings of fish have been erratic — but if you are at the right spot at the right time on the right day, you’ll have had a chance at hooking a nice-sized yellowtail. Give surface iron a try, if you see fish working on the surface. The best bet has been to try yo-yo iron, should you meter a deep swimming school of yellowtail.
Spring fishing season is not far off, and the latest weekly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration update continues to call for an easing of the cold-water La Niña conditions over the next couple of months. This is encouraging news for anglers, as we could be in for some warmer water and better fishing during our upcoming spring and summer fishing seasons.
Keep on fishing, and I hope to see you out on the water.
Bob Vanian is the voice, writer and researcher of the San Diego-based Internet fish report service 976-Bite at 976bite.com. Vanian also provides anglers with a personal fish report service at (619) 226-8218. Vanian’s reports can be heard at 8:20 a.m. each Sunday on the “Let’s Talk Hookup” radio show, at 1090 AM. He always welcomes your fish reports at (619) 226-8218.