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Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009
December’s Damage Assessment
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
The Silly Season

Winter Wonderland

Making the most of the off-season’s uncrowded waters

Two sets of storms recently rolled through Southern California. That’s a sure signal that what passes for winter is finally here. So is the fact you can see your breath many mornings. It’s a most wonderful time of the year for kayak fishing.

The hardcore who are out on the salt week after week already know this. The uncrowded off-season months offer plenty of rewards for those too stubborn to hang it up until spring. There are homeguard yellows to be had, and the bass and even halibut are still around and available for those who tweak their techniques to match the conditions.

The weather windows bring sunny days and some of the calmest seas of the year. That’s so long as you carefully pick your shots. Rough seas can put a real hurt on those who don’t know when to say when. One group of La Jolla kayak anglers has already suffered the fright of their lives. Fortunately the only casualties were rods, reels and other gear.

Dress to survive those cold water temperatures, wear your PFD and bring your communications gear. Watch the forecast carefully and, tempting as it may be, respect those Small Craft Warnings. There’s always tomorrow.

Now let’s take a closer look at how some of the sport’s most committed year-round anglers approach the winter months. When cold water depresses catch numbers, every bite counts.

These days OEX Sunset Beach owner Andrew Allen is a bass man. With Huntington Harbor just out his back door, the spotties are always available to play. Winter slows these feisty little fish down quite a bit, so Allen follows suit.

“I’ve been fishing the bass crossover stuff. Creature baits, weedless stuff, and loving it,” Allen said. These freshwater style jigs can be crawled every so slowly across the bottom without hanging up. Allen says the key is to wind them in with steady, even pressure.

“I’m just fearless with them,” Allen said of going weedless. He loads his baits up with Unibutter and drags them right through the heaviest grass beds and around jetties.

Lobster season has a while to go yet. Those out for a buggy bounty will profit from a tip or two from Promar’s own Jim Salazar, author of the excellent Hoop It Up how to hunt lobsters book. As of late December, Salazar said a lot of guys are still scoring in shallow water. That’s typical kayak territory. It will dry up or slow down soon as the bugs move deeper. Although it’s not for every kayaker who hoop nets, chasing them out to 60, 70 or even 80 feet can pay big dividends.

“I think it’s doable, especially if you only need one or two (hoop net) sets,” Salazar said as he acknowledged the extra effort required to hand-haul nets from the depths. Focus on those shallow water rockfish spots, places where deeper water comes close to shore. You already know several kayak friendly spots: La Jolla, Pt Dume, and Redondo.

Malibu Kayaks staffer Greg Tsujiuchi has a knack for halibut. This guy has produced a series of impressive catches at tournaments going back years. He doesn’t stop what he’s doing just because it’s a bit colder out. He does change his starting point, or where he looks first on any given fishing outing.

“In the harbors the halibut seem to be in shallower where the water warms sooner. In the ocean I look deeper, around 60 feet,” Tsujiuchi said. If only it were that simple. Even for Tsujiuchi, patterning these flatfish in winter is no sure thing. “It is different year to year,” he said with a laugh.

Here’s another Tsujiuchi nugget. Because the ocean is often clearer in winter, when the organisms that generate warm season red tides are at their ebb, he ditches the heavier sinker he uses to attract attention when the water’s murky. Gearing down to a 2-oz sinker when fishing live bait allows a more natural presentation. “I let the bait do what it can,” said Tsujiuchi, who maximizes his bait’s effectiveness by using 20-lb test mono and a single circle hook.

Finally but not at all least, winter is the season of the La Jolla slug. The fat homeguard forkies are most reliably targeted when the smaller pelagic schoolies are down south for the winter. Over the years the word has spread, and what was once a closely held secret is now fairly widely known.

Inshore Kayak Adventures guide Josh Pruitt is particularly fond of La Jolla’s hardest-pulling denizens. He shared a couple of tips for fishing the bruisers with yo-yo iron. Number one, and this should go for any scenario, is expect a strike at any moment. Those who relax on the drop are only half as effective as they could be.

“On a soft hit, the line just goes slack. It’s more challenging to pick up on that bite. It might be the only hit of the day. That’s huge,” Pruitt said. So is the disaster that can follow from an inattentive approach. Anglers who aren’t ready to flip the reel into gear and start cranking are likely to suffer a backlash on a hit and spit.

Pruitt feels that casting for yo-yo fish is unnecessary. He sticks with a vertical approach, dropping his iron straight down. Anything to make that bite on the drop easier to notice.

La Jolla’s homeguards are usually wary and hard to catch – there’s a reason they grow so big. That all goes out the window when the squid float. During a candy-induced frenzy, the fish bite with abandon. Once the word gets out, the crowds hit summer levels. In bumper boat conditions, fishing with more than one line is asking to tangle with trouble. Kayak anglers should stick with one line during the wide open fishing bites Pruitt calls a blitzkrieg.

For those lucky enough to experience one of these crazy scenes, Pruitt has a well-intentioned reminder. “These are our local fish, our local crop. Let’s take care of our local fishery,” Pruitt said. Save most of these monsters for later. Yellowtail release well. Catching two or three and letting them go is a great way to warm up on a winter’s day.

WINTER’S BIGGEST KAYAK PRIZE – The temperatures have dropped but otherwise the off-season offers frequently torrid action. The bass are still there, if a little sluggish. Catching a kayak staple such as halibut might require a minor change in technique. Best of all from a big fish perspective, winter is homeguard prime time at La Jolla.
WINTER’S BIGGEST KAYAK PRIZE – The temperatures have dropped but otherwise the off-season offers frequently torrid action. The bass are still there, if a little sluggish. Catching a kayak staple such as halibut might require a minor change in technique. Best of all from a big fish perspective, winter is homeguard prime time at La Jolla.

Reader Comments
Another great article for the yak fishers. I do with Paul would have spoke about why some prefer to cast the iron but otherwise a great article. Thank you WON for your support of the paddle fishermen. John
John Pawlak
My old Drifter by Ocean Kayak is under the lucky angler Randy Janush from Candy Catchers! I do believe it was his first Yellowtail on the kayak!
Jeff Krieger
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