One of the most prevalent nearshore habitats that hold a variety of game fish are the kelp forests. Rockfish, halibut, striped bass, seabass and a myriad of baitfish will call the kelp forests home, and anglers who know this and can learn to fish the somewhat frustrating belt of water can do quite well.
There are actually two types of kelp, the giant kelp found mainly south of Monterey Bay, and the bull kelp, ranging from there northward. Giant kelp is a perennial, overwintering and regrowing year after year. The bull kelp is an annual that fulfills its life cycle in one year.
The giant kelp is the king of kelp. Growing as much as two feet per day, giant kelp outcompete bull kelp, which grow an average of 4 inches per day. That’s why there is no bull kelp much farther south from the northern tip of giant kelp range.
Either variety have some unique traits that make fishing in around kelp forest interesting. They have air bulbs at the top of their growth that suspend them upwards. Instead of roots, they have anchors that secure the plant on rocky structure. The stronger the rocks, the more likely the plant will survive, and not be separated by a big surge and swept up on shore. This vertical garden is easy enough to fish in, but when the tide is low, kelp make a matt that covers the surface of the ocean.
Kelp is prime forage for abalone, so kelp forests are a great place to find abalone. Unfortunately, more than one ab diver has become entangled in kelp, panicked and drowned. While low tides are favored for abalone diving in some areas, high tides are much better for diving in kelp infested areas, because the kelp doesn’t form that solid matt.
For innovative anglers, fishing the kelp has become a kind of mirror in tactics borrowed from black bass anglers. For years, black bass fishermen have been enticing and pulling fish out of similarly thick weeds in freshwater lakes and ponds. Many bass lures, designed to be weedless, work great in kelp. Texas rigged plastics, with or without the bullet slip sinker, are great for enticing rockfish. The use of braided line also helps by cutting through fronds once a fish is hooked.
Another neat trick adopted by kayakers is to fish vertically in the kelp. At higher tides, you can often slip a swimbait or similar lure down to the fish in pockets in the kelp. Of course, taking a propeller driven boat into the kelp is asking for trouble, but even party boats have been known to flirt with fishing the edges of the kelp beds.
A few more interesting notes about kelp that transcend beyond the anglers interest include the potential for this weed’s use in fertilizers, foods and other uses. Kelp has a high iodine content, so can be used, in concentrated form, as an antiseptic. With such a high rate of growth and no need for irrigation, kelp has been considered for production of methane and ethanol. It’s also used extensively in Japanese cooking. Prior to the 1800s, kelp was a main source of soda ash, and alginate, derived from kelp, is used to thicken food products like ice cream, jelly, salad dressing and even toothpaste. There is a fairly large commercial kelp business in Southern California waters.
But for us, kelp means mostly one thing; where it’s the thickest, the fishing is great.
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