Six-pack trips don’t have a way of working out for me, at least when it comes to white seabass, but there I was, on the 50-foot six-pack Options last Monday evening after I put another issue of WON to bed on a production day. You know how it is, you have these expectations of such trips, and when your image of how the trip will turn out is gripped too tightly, the crap hits the fan.
THE OPTIONS GROUP scored limits for us and crew to 50 pounds. The final fish came at about 9 a.m. on drifts for halibut. The guys (left to right) are Avet’s Rick Ozaki, Specialty Marine’s Eric Peterson, Turner’s Mike Ngyuen, WON editor Pat McDonell and Ben Secrest of Accurate. WON PHOTO BY BEN BABBITT
Far be it for me to tell Options Capt. Wes Flesch he was fighting the current of my history on six-packs. I just don’t catch white seabass on these trips. I get on skiffs, mine or someone else’s, and I catch my share of fish. Let’s see, I have quite a roster of captains who have seen me fail. There’s Capt. Allyn Watson of the Dreamer on two runs over the years, Flesch on two trips, Capt. Joe Bairian on the Bongos II. Those come to mind, and that’s an A list. Me getting a six-pack charter seabass comes around less often than the Triple Crown of horseracing.
So, I was on another trip, with WON customers and friends, on a trip set up by ad rep Ben Babbitt. There was Ben Secrest of Accurate, Avet sales rep Rick Ozaki of West Coast Marketing; Mike Ngyuen, a top calico bass tourney guy and a buyer for Turner’s Outdoorsman; Eric Peterson, owner of Honda dealer Specialty Marine in Oxnard; Ben and me. Those other guys are all good guys and great sticks, take my word for it. Now, weeks ago, I was sure we were going to Catalina or San Clemente, the Flesch and the Options forte, but when we boarded the 50 footer at Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach around 6:30 for a 7 p.m. departure, Capt. Flesch outlined the basics. Bad weather outside, good white seabass fishing off nearby Huntington Beach with 30 to 40 pounders. Or, run south to a bigger grade seabass off the Barn Kelp where a crowd had formed for the past month as the squid nests multiplied.
With a one-fish limit, the chance at 50 to 60 pounder — or bigger — despite a much longer run — is what we voted for. Flesch steered us to that unanimous decision the way he described it, and he said even if we had to fish in the crowd, he also knew a few spots we could check out on the sonar. Tackle was also discussed. Big fish demand heavy leader. Sixty-pound fluoro was the minimum, and at night, he said, 100-pound is fine on the dropper loop. A white, 4-ounce jig with a couple squid on the bottom was another easy rig, and if the current was not too swift, a leadhead or a sliding egg sinker could work.
THE SQUID WENT on a major float. The screen showed a massive nest, top to bottom.
Long Beach to the Barn Kelp is a four-hour cruise downswell and we’d get there at about 11 p.m., just in time for the still-rising tide to complete its cycle, which from all our Barn reports in recent weeks, seemed to be a good switch point for the seabass bite. We hunkered down for the run. All of us were tired and seabass fishing is an all-night thing. A few miles from the Barn we felt a jolt, a gear shift, and the Options went from 10 knots to a standstill in seconds, the anchor went down and when we’d staggered on deck, Flesch said the meter was clogged with blue — squid top to bottom, with fish mixed in.
“Get the light out, quick,” ordered Flesch to his crewmen Doug Brink and Cal Link (really, Link and Brink?) as they flew down the rail to get things set up. Awesome crew. I am not kidding, within 5 minutes of stopping, we had a nice float and in one drop of the crowder, a massive clump of the candy bait raced into the net. We were set with full tanks of live squid and a trash can full of black-inked chum.
“I wish it were always that easy,” said Flesch. “Sometimes it’s like that.” The spot was a little outside and a few miles north of the blinking lights of the rest of the skiff fleet, and that was a nice feeling that just maybe we’d have our own territory staked out. Going into 30 to 40 boats with a 50 footer is not fun, and Wes is aggressive. He will do what it takes to find a spot and put his stake in, even if it’s in the heart of a few skiff guys. He’s competitive and ruthless, my kind of six-pack captain. It’s often a war out there, with tempers flaring and yelling, all of them secretive and jealously guarding their spots, and the sight of the Options would be as welcome in that nervous gaggle as a turd in a tub.
Instead, we were alone, with live squid coming out our gills, and marking fish. I set up a dropper loop with a 10-ounce torpedo and 7/0 squid hook. I use a Hayward Twist (also called a Roy Rose or Figure 8) knot, and a Palomar for the loop/hook connection. The current was swift so we all, I think, used the dropper loop and held the rods.
ERIC PETERSON OF Specialty Marine with the trip’s biggest seabass, the final fish caught north of the Barn Kelp last Tuesday on the Options.
The game commenced when, of all things, I got bit first. It was about 12:15, and despite being wrapped around the anchor twice, I actually got the fish in, a 30 pounder. Not a 40 or a 50, but I had my limit. The stink was off and I could relax. I put my rod away after Wes took my picture and waited for another hookup, and Mike Nyguen was next, as they came about every 30 to 40 minutes, and it seemed each fish was bigger than the last. Eric’s fish, the final specimen, was over 50 pounds.
At daylight, the bites came more frequently as we fished for the boat limit, nine fish. Ben, of WON, had hooked a nice fish early on and lost it when the Spectra broke, likely from a tiny nick in the line, and he couldn’t get another bite. This is a guy, ironically, who keeps his 22-foot boat in a slip in Oceanside Harbor and seriously spanked the Barn Kelp seabass in the previous weeks. Up at 2 a.m., fishing until 7:30, showering at the Harbor facility, driving to San Clemente to be at work by 8:30. An animal.
During this time when we were hooking them here and there, a few boats would come close, look us over, and see nothing going on. Even if we were hooked up, we never showed a bent rod and gaffed two fish on the other side to block the view.
“All I’m trying to do is protect my next two charters with this weather on the outside,” said Flesch. “That’s all you can hope for, two trips at a new spot. The word just gets out.”
As we were finishing off and pulling anchor, former WON guy Brandon Hayward came up. He’s a charter guy now. Very secretive, like Wes. They grew up fishing together, but they don’t share as much as they used to, due to competition for fish and customers. Hayward shot off a few texts to us. Mine was something like, “so you found my spot. Been on it for six days.”
The word got out quick. I fished Friday alone on my 18-foot skiff at the south end of the Barn, which had maybe 8 boats on it. The Options spot we had four days earlier had 40 boats. It’s why spots are guarded so closely. But folks, it wasn’t me. I told a few friends how we’d done, and they wanted numbers. Sorry, I told them, I never used my phone app to lock them in, although it would have been easy. Can’t do that to a commercial captain. I could never look Wes in the eye again. Anyway, I’ve had enough bad karma with white seabass and six-packs. I think my slate is now clean.
People have calling me about how to contact Camalu pangero Lee Moreno. His number is 011 521 616 10731. The seabass have arrived, but then, they’re up here, too. One thing Lee offers is amazing variety, even if the WSB don’t cooperate.
SEABASS SWITCH: In last week’s edition, I wrote that on or after June 15 the limit for white seabass goes to three fish. Technically, it’s midnight the 15th, so the actual date is the 16th, and wardens will be out looking for early birders.
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Pat McDonell is editor of WON. Reach him at Pat@wonews.com.