Yellowtail, White Seabass, Barracuda and Calicos Delight Local Anglers

By: Bob Vanian

The early part of the 2012 surface fishing season continues to blossom, as more highly desirable angling choices keep emerging to add to the list of what is available for San Diego County area anglers to target in local waters.

There are currently yellowtail and barracuda biting out at Los Coronados islands, there are lots of calico bass and rockfish biting at the coastal kelp beds and there is a run of large white seabass going on south of San Onofre.

The picture for San Diego area fishing gets even brighter when you add the news of recent catches of bluefin tuna weighing around 100 pounds that are being made by the long-range fleet while fishing 200-plus miles south of Point Loma. There was even an albacore caught with the bluefin over the past weekend.

SoCal anglers hope that the fishing the long-range fleet is currently experiencing is a sign of things to come in more local offshore waters.

The surface fishing out at Los Coronados islands has been providing a mix of yellowtail and barracuda, along with improving numbers of calico bass. The quality and size of the yellowtail being caught has been impressive, with most of the yellows ranging from 15 to 30 pounds.

The best areas have been around and below South Island — and productive spots have been the Ribbon Kelp, the Five Minute Kelp, the Lighthouse at the south tip of South Island, the South Kelp and South Kelp Ridge. The Rockpile and Middle Grounds areas also produce yellowtail action now and then, and they are worth a look.

Most of the fishing has been done from anchored boats. Some private boaters have also reported success while drift-fishing and while slow-trolling live sardines. Sardines and surface iron have both been effective for yellowtail and barracuda.

Private boater Pete Gray of the “Let’s Talk Hookup” radio show took a recent trip to Los Coronados islands and reported catching a 30-pound yellowtail on surface iron while fishing at the South Kelp Ridge.

Gray said that before catching the big yellowtail on surface iron, they had hooked and lost four big yellowtail while slow-trolling nose-hooked sardines. He said the yellowtail they hooked were all large fish that were holding in 90 feet of water.

These big yellowtail were very tough fish to stop and get to the boat, Gray added. The combination of the large size of the yellowtail, the relatively shallow depth of the water where they were hooking them, the kelp that was around in the area and the numerous aggressive sea lions here made for very challenging fishing conditions.

The 30-pound yellowtail Gray caught was taken on a Salas 7X light jig that was fished on 40-pound test line. Gray said he had to pull as hard as he could with the 40-pound test to be able to get the fish past all the obstacles and into the boat.

Private boater Sam Minervini of Sailfish reported taking a recent solo trip to the Coronados. He caught a 30-pound yellowtail while drifting a live sardine along the inside of the middle part of South Island, in 65 feet of water.

Minervini reported seeing many seals stealing hooked fish from other boats in the area, and he felt fortunate to get his big yellowtail past the seals and to the boat. He used 30-pound test monofilament line with a 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. Both the fluorocarbon leader and the monofilament main line were brand new and he said that using the new line and leader gave him the confidence to pull hard enough to have a fighting chance of getting the big yellowtail past the seals and to the boat.

Private boater Capt. Bob Woodard Jr. of Christina Lynn and Dropback fished the Coronados and reported catching three yellowtail that bit on live sardines. Woodard found his best fishing at the Middle Grounds and said that there was also some action for boats fishing at the Ribbon Kelp along the lee side of South Island. Aggressive seals were once again a challenge, and word he used to describe the seal problem was “brutal.”

Private boater Tony Abbassian of Izuna reported catching three yellowtail while fishing a recent trip to the Rockpile. Abbassian said that they caught their three yellows while drifting with live sardines in 110 feet of water. Their three yellowtail weighed 15, 17 and 29 pounds. It was a morning bite that slowed down during the late morning hours. After leaving the Rockpile, they came up to South Island and caught and released three barracuda while fishing at the north end, before heading for home at noon.

The calico bass fishing has been good at many of the kelp bed areas along the San Diego County coast. In the Point Loma Kelp Beds, a couple of the best spots have been outside of the Green Tank and outside of Point Loma College.

The Jetty Kelp area in front of Mission Bay has also been a productive spot. Boats fishing the edges of the kelp along the upper-middle part and the upper end of La Jolla have also been doing well on calico bass. In North San Diego County, the kelp beds at Leucadia have been a good spot for calico bass.

Anglers and skippers should be familiar with the closed and restricted Marine Protected Area (MPAs) imposed under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and make sure to say in compliance with the law when fishing California coastal and island areas. The Department of Fish and Game website has all the information that includes maps with GPS coordinates at We may not like having these closed and restricted areas, but it is the current law.

Capt. Kelvin Nettleton of La Jolla Fishing fished a recent trip to the La Jolla Kelp Beds. Nettleton reported using plastics for bait, and catching and releasing 15 calico bass. Most of the calicos were reported to be on the smaller side, but he did catch and release one jumbo calico bass that was a beautiful 24-inch-long fish.

Capt. Joe Cacciola of Sea Star out of Helgren’s Sportfishing reported about a recent trip to the kelp beds at Leucadia and Solana Beach that produced very well. The trip was for a “Sportfishing with Dan Hernandez” television show charter, in which they filmed the trip for the television show. Cacciola reported excellent fishing for a variety of species and said that the boat had 18 anglers catching 18 reds (2- to 3-pounders), 43 calico bass, 12 sand bass, 24 sheephead (15 of them were big jumbos), a 32-pound halibut, 12 rockfish and one cabezon.

Cacciola said that in addition to the fish listed above, that they had a lot of other action: They lost a second big halibut when the line broke at the boat, they caught and successfully released a 100-pound black seabass, they lost another black seabass hookup, and they hooked and lost a couple of large fish to the kelp that he suspects were yellowtail or white seabass.

They were fishing the outside edges of the kelp beds at Leucadia and Solana Beach — and Cacciola said they were working the Leucadia and Solana Beach kelp bed areas while staying outside of the MPA fishing closure zone.

Cacciola reported using squid strips and sardines for bait on the bottom, fished on dropper-loop rigs. He said that they were also flylining their smaller-sized sardines into the kelp to specifically target calico bass.

He reported they had 6-inch size sardines and larger — and that the smaller the sardine, the better it was for the calico bass. Plastics were also reported to be effective for bass, and Cacciola said that green color combinations were working best for them.

White seabass have been biting in an area a short distance south of San Onofre. The white seabass have been good-sized fish that have gone to 50-plus pounds, and there has been talk about some 60-plus-pound fish being caught, as well. This has been a fishy area and has also produced a few large halibut and yellowtail that have taken live and fresh dead squid that were originally intended for a white seabass.

The best depth range has been in 70 to 80 feet of water, and it has been best to fish depths staggered from right near the surface on down to the bottom. The white seabass action has occurred during both the daytime and nighttime hours — and the early morning, late afternoon and evening hours were generally the best.

Private boater Capt. Billy of E Fish N Sea reported fishing a recent trip to the white seabass grounds below San Onofre and catching a 48-pound white seabass. He fished at night and during the morning hours. He said the white seabass they caught took a live squid that was fished below a balloon that had 25 feet of line beyond the balloon.

There have been a couple of squid boats selling live squid at the white seabass bite area below San Onofre. The best way to raise the squid boats to see about buying live squid has been to give them a call on VHF radio Channel 11.

There is plenty of fun fishing going on that involves high-quality fish — and, with the offshore tuna season ahead, we are just getting started.

Bob Vanian is the voice, writer and researcher of the San Diego-based Internet fish report service 976-Bite at 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.

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