By: Bob Vanian
One of the good things about the legislated two-month rockfish/groundfish closure in Southern California waters during January and February is that it necessitates a rockfish/groundfish opener. Southern California anglers have endured the two-month closure period and are thankful for the arrival of March 1: the date when fishing for rockfish once again becomes legal.
San Diego area anglers have been keeping busy during the closure period by focusing on species such as calico bass, sand bass and sculpin — and there have also been a few halibut and yellowtail in the picture.
Hard-bottom and structure areas have been best for sand bass, calico bass and sculpin. Productive spots have included the Imperial Beach Pipeline, the kelp stringers off Imperial Beach, the hard-bottom area southeast of the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, the hard-bottom area northwest of Buoy #3 at Point Loma, the Jetty Kelp outside Mission Bay, the hard-bottom area off Pacific Beach located below the Marine Life Protection Act closure area, the Anderson and Buccaneer pipelines and the artificial reefs outside Oceanside Harbor.
The best areas to try and pick up a bonus halibut have been along sandy-bottom areas that are adjacent to the same hard-bottom and structure spots that produced the bass and sculpin.
The best spots to try for yellowtail in the San Diego region have been outside the upper end of La Jolla and also at a hard-bottom area off Pacific Beach that is adjacent to the Marine Life Protection Act closure zone at the lower end of La Jolla. The best depth has been in 15 to 20 fathoms of water, and the best techniques have been using yo-yoed iron or fresh frozen, fresh dead or live squid that is fished on a dropper-loop rig.
The yellowtail bite has been scratchy, but the fish have been of good size — and every once in a while, someone does catch a very nice fish.
The other option for anglers in search of yellowtail has been to travel to the San Miguel Reef outside Ensenada, Mexico. The yellowtail bite was very good during the first two weeks of February, but the bite turned more difficult as the month progressed.
There is still an occasional good-sized yellowtail being caught on yo-yoed iron, but the better fishing in the area has been for sand bass, calico bass and rockfish — for anglers fishing around Todos Santos island and outside Punta Banda.
Some San Diego area sportboats have been running 1.5-day trips to fish areas along the Mexican coast. Most of these trips have been fishing between Punta San Jose and Punta Colnett. They have been doing very well on bottomfish and have been returning with catches that have been highlighted by lingcod and large red vermilions.
Capt. Joe Phillips of Old Glory out of H&M Landing ran a recent 1.5-day trip to fish areas down the Mexico coast. He reported finding limit bottomfishing for his 26 anglers. Phillips said their catch included 88 reds and 12 lingcod, and he said they also had a lot of large chuckleheads that went to 5 pounds. Phillips reported finding his best fishing while working areas between Punta San Jose and Castro’s Camp.
Boats fishing the waters around and about Los Coronados islands have been catching good numbers of rockfish — including lots of reds and salmon grouper and a few bonus lingcod.
There have not been any reports of yellowtail biting around the Coronados, but some better signs of birdlife and bait are being reported around Coronado del Norte (North Island). Conditions are looking a bit better for yellowtail, and it might just take a bit more warming of the water to spark some yellowtail action.
Productive areas for the bottom fishing around Los Coronados have included the lower end of the 9-Mile Bank (while fishing on the Mexican side of the border, in 60 to 90 fathoms of water) and the hard-bottom area north of North Island (fishing in 40 to 50 fathoms).
A tip for anglers targeting lingcod: Use a sand dab for bait on the bottom hook of your gangion.
A recent trip to fish the waters around Los Coronados aboard San Diego out of Seaforth Sportfishing saw 33 anglers return with two lingcod, 268 rockfish and 60 reds.
The warm-water spring surface fishing season is fast approaching. But in the meantime, there are plenty of fun options to keep you busy fishing for some great-tasting cold water species.
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 over the phone at (619) 226-8218. He always welcomes your fish reports at that same phone number, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.