One thing about Fall fishing in SoCal, is dodging the early Northwesters (low-pressure systems) and navigating the fog that always seems to creep onshore anytime our coastline air temps hit 75+ degrees. Over the last couple weeks, we've had to postpone or reschedule several offshore trips due to these exact weather phenoms, which is always a P.I.A. and a bummer to say the least.
To make up for these "lost days", we usually gear up the skiff and push our way out of the jetties and out to some of our favorite inshore structure zones in search of "uglies" as we like to call them, or better known as California Halibut and Lingcod. Our techniques vary from bouncing BIG swimbaits and scampi's off of heavy cover to dragging trap-hooked live baits (macs/sardines/smelt/sand dabs) across the structure down below. To keep things interesting we like to focus on using lighter gear (think heavy calico stuff) and fishing in 90-140 feet of water. This makes for some good fun and some serious bust-offs, but as they say... "Ya gotta pay to play".
When fishing these predatory fish, it's very important (as in most cases) to "match the hatch", which basically means, use the same kind of bait that is in and around the habitat in which you are fishing. For instance... if you pull up to a spot and there's smelt being worked by either birds or other predatory fish, then you want to focus on using that exact bait or a replica of the smelt thats being eaten around you.
Case in point last week... we pulled up to a zone that was plugged with three-to-four inch sardines. Fortunately we stopped and picked up a scoop of bait (instead of making it) and low-and-behold it was a nice mix of small and large sardines. First drift, we dropped down a couple of the larger version sardines and didnt get so much as a whiff. Decided to reset and try the smaller sized baits. Drop 'em down and it was instant umbrella, with nicer fish to boot. Matching the hatch was key and I can't tell you how many times over the years I've watched similar situations occur.
Another sure-fire tip to fishing this style, is to use straight braid with very short flouro or mono top shots. The main advantage of fishing straight spectra to short top-shots is sensitivity. It's not like fishing with a full-spool of mono, where a attempted hook-set more replicates the stretching of a rubber band... its real-time, no stretch, bury the hook in the fishes face goodness. And even better, once you get the "feel" for fishing the braided line, you can easily depict whether your bait is bouncing off the reef, being pulled thru the mud or being mauled by a lingcod. Once you get that down, I can guarantee your bite-to-fish ratio will improve dramatically. Now for the actual top shots, I like use only about 3-4 feet and I actually prefer mono, as it's a bit more resilient to abrasion from rocks/reef/teeth. That's important because a single "knick" in flouro can lead to heartbreaking bust-offs and foul words a plenty.
Finally and possibly most important, is how you work the structure. Ive noticed that 90% of private boat anglers simply set-up on their desired structure and repeatedly do uncalculated drifts over it, with out actually trying to "work" it from as many angles as possible to find which part is holding more or bigger fish. This can be done in a few different ways, but I find the best is to simply use your plotter and start every drift a few feet from your last. Make sure you pay good attention the the direction of wind and your drift. You can also use your motor to guide you slightly to the left or to the right. Bottom line is to get the most (fish) out of the "cover" youre fishing, you need to hit the entirety of it.
Those are just a couple little techniques we use while fishing the Fall lings and halibut. Hopefully you can utilize them and put a few more fish on your boat!
As always, your comments, questions feedback and additions to this post are always welcomed!
Hang em high!
- Duane "DuaneDiego" Mellor