Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Thursday, October 29, 2015
Three sure-fire places
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Sidewinders and winter surf fishing

El Niño takes aim at surf fishing
Right now, today, we are smack dab in the middle of it. El Niño is warming our water and pushing creatures up from south of the border and West of the continent at an alarming rate. For once there’s no debate — something good is coming to our shores.

Surf fishing has been incredibly good this past year in the most unexpected places.

Last year we began to see the early effects of El Niño. As the water warmed, fishing along the coast went from good to great. Following several years of cooler water the sand crab population was at an all time high. As a result, beaches were flooded with crab and the coast south of Santa Barbara was packed with corbina and perch.

BILL VARNEY HOLDS a nice corbina. Carpinteria State Beach saw some of the biggest corbina on record this summer.

Last year areas like Ventura and Santa Barbara saw more corbina and croaker than in the past years but it wasn’t until this spring that really big numbers moved up the coast. At the same time last year, spots like Torrey Pines and Huntington Beach saw phenomenal corbina and croaker fishing. Fishing in a year that begins an El Nino period always seems to offer spectacular fishing in the spots that are traditionally good.

This year, the second year of our El Niño, saw a mass migration of surf fish up the coast into the Ventura to Monterey area. Fish, which would normally occur in Southern California in big numbers, were essentially gone. While places like Carpinteria had huge numbers of large corbina and Monterey monster perch.

So why would our fish leave the south coast and venture hundreds of miles north?

The answer may seem simpler than one might imagine. Most times, the migration of fish is dictated by the movement, variety and availability of food. This year saw the earliest hurricane on record form off the Baja coast. As the warm water, pushed by southern swells and storms, made it’s way north the water temperature increased and sent both bait and fish up the coast in search of cooler surroundings. Kelp forests that protected and promoted the growth of forage disappeared.

Carpinteria this summer was the hot bed of corbina fishing. If you were in the market for a bucket list fish this was the place to find one. For the first time in my memory, corbina in the twenty-five to thirty-inch range were flooding the beach by the dozens. All in search of food, sand crabs in particular, which were readily available along the beach. Most beaches south of this area were devoid of crabs or had so few their stock of forage was not enough to keep fish around.

In Monterey, a place known for the occasional big perch (and billions of small ones) became the home of monster home-guard barred surfperch. Sand crabs were plentiful here too and days of catching twenty perch over fifteen inches were common. Nothing in the local’s memory has ever compared to this bite. Leading to one unconfirmed report of a barred surfperch taken that weighed over seven pounds!

So what will next year bring?

That’s a guess and certainly a complicated question but we do have some clues that may point us to the right answer. This year’s migration cycle of tuna, wahoo and marlin is a good indicator of what may be coming. As warm water moved up the coast so did the bait and fish. So it’s most likely that bait and fish will move south once the water cools.

We are just wrapping up November and the offshore fishing scene reflects this exactly. Water temps are still around sixty-eight degrees and yellowfin tuna continue to bite right outside the San Diego harbor. The fish that had moved up to the north and filled in around the Channel Islands are now moving back south as the water temperature recedes and bait follows.

This in large part is a microcosm view of surf fishing in general. So as the water along the coast begins to cool with the weakening of El Niño bait including sand crabs, anchovy, sardine and squid will begin to settle back into the traditional spots that have always been productive for both corbina and perch. Then, as has happened so many times before, the Pacific will settle into a cooler water pattern and the return of a La Niña will provide for the regrowth of kelp forests and a larger amount of food for returning fish.

The coming and going of warm or cool water periods along with the best and sometimes worst fishing are nothing more than a common balance our planet has adjusted to over the millennium. The “good old days” are in fact now, but if you do miss them--just be patient as they will be back before you know it. Because, unlike what has been predicted through unfounded science, it’s a cycle and not the end of the earth — so go fishing.

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Listen to Bill on Sunday Dec. 20 on 1090AM Let’s Talk Hookup with Pete Gray and Rockcod Rick Maxa and have a chance to win a Cousins surf rod. On Bill’s site you will find tips, articles and surf fish reports along with some great gift ideas for the holidays.

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