Western Outdoor News
WON FEATURE ARTICLE BY BRANDON HAYWARD
Love ‘em or loath ‘em, white seabass are often the first spring exotics to show up come late winter/early spring. Here’s a look at how to get ‘em.
Believe it or not, the guy fishing the upside down white spinning rod with line that hasn’t been changed this decade isn’t always the one that scores white seabass. Is there luck that goes with seabass fishing? Sure. Still, having the right tackle goes a long way when it comes to getting ready for the upcoming seabass season.
The last day of January had Tino Valantine, the longtime skipper of the former sportboat Phantom, score the first couple of seabass of the year at Catalina. He caught the two fish from a skiff with his buddy, Garth Tarlow. They were school-sized, 10- to 15-pound fish, which is quite typical for this time of year. That doesn’t mean they are all schoolies, all the time: When fishing seabass you often don’t know if it will be a 15 pounder or a big, slob 40-plus-pound biscuit that will eat your squid. That’s how mixed up the schools often are — you just don’t know how big of a seabass you’re going to set the hook on. What you do know, however, is where you are fishing and what the right rig is for where you’re fishing. In a nutshell, fishing in shallow water along beaches at Catalina requires a different approach than the deep-water squid grounds at Catalina or the Channel Islands. As such, you’ve got to have the ability to fish several different rigs. Here’s a look at the tackle used for seabass fishing and their applications.
Spectra/fluorocarbon vs. straight monofilament
The recent trend in white seabass fishing over the past few years has been to use smaller reels loaded up with braided lines to short, roughly 3- to 8-foot, leaders (some call it a top shot) of fluorocarbon. Sixty-five pound Spectra to the leader of 40- or 50-pound fluorocarbon is a popular route, as is bumping it up or down a class (think 80-pound braid to 60-pound fluoro, or 40 or 50-pound braid to 30- or 40-pound fluoro).
The brands of braid and fluorocarbon used are a matter of personal preference. With that said, most opt for green braid, since it blends in with the water and kelp better than white braid.
Many call this rig a “kelp cutter rig” since the low diameter, incredibly strong, braided lines slice through the kelp better than monofilament. Few will argue against this. What some anglers say is that they pull more hooks due to the lack of stretch and unforgiving nature of the braid/fluoro rig versus monofilament. Like anything in fishing, it’s personal preference. Still, many of the anglers who shied away from the kelp cutter rigs a few years ago fish nothing but braid to fluoro now.
Ultimately, you just need a reel loaded up with braid and a spool or two of fluorocarbon. There are options galore when it comes to connecting the fluoro to braid with a small knot that passes through the guides easily. A uni-to-uni is a simple, effective knot. As is an Albright or a Roddy Hays/Tony Pena/Bob Sands knot.
A long rod than absorbs the headshakes seabass are known for is best used with the rig. Some like an 8 (think 270-8H) or 9-foot glass rod, while others like a graphite or graphite/glass composite. Again, one more time, it is personal preference. Remember, the seabass doesn’t see what you are using above the water. It’s all about getting them out of/keeping them out of the kelp, bait presentation and a bit of luck.
Tino Valantine still fishes mono — 30-pound pink Ande to be exact — exclusively for seabass and pretty much everything. Still, he sees the merits of the Spectra rig. Like many, he says you have to know how to fish it, since it’s more of a finesse thing: letting the rod absorb the headshakes, knowing what to do to let the fish saw through the kelp, etc.
Wes Flesch, who worked alongside Valantine on the Phantom, and is now the second skipper on the six-pack MarDiosa out of Pierpoint Landing, fishes nothing but the kelp cutter rig. He says the rig has a lot of positives. “The bonuses of the Spectra and fluoro rig? Cutting through kelp and abrasion resistance. The abrasion resistance is a huge plus. When you hook seabass and they run away from you, the line rubs up against their super sharp gill plates. They also have teeth, so the fluoro is better than mono due to the abrasion resistance,” says Flesch. He admits that you might pull a few more hooks with the kelp cutter rig, but adds, “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.” The positives of the rig are that you land more fish with the kelp cutter rig, due to its kelp cutting benefits. Flesch feels this outweighs the potential negatives (pulled hooks).
After fishing the rigs for about four years, Flesch says that drag settings are everything. “You have to figure it out for yourself, but you can fish a lot heavier than most guys think,” he adds. “I can’t tell you how many pounds to fish, but you can fish a heavier drag with 65-pound Spectra to 50-pound fluoro than you can with 30- or 40-pound mono, that’s for sure.”
When fishing with live squid you can get away with fishing pretty big hooks, like 4/0 to 8/0. Some of the top seabass guys around use really big hooks. Case in point: Valantine likes a 7/0 or 8/0 hook for fishing squid on. Some like a standard live bait hook, while others prefer something with a cutting point and a long shank to really thread a squid onto — something like an Owner Aki Twist or a Mustad Big Gun hook in the 5/0 to 8/0 category.
Flesh has used the Aki Twist for years, but says that Owner’s 7/0 long shank hook is something he wants to fish more of this season. “Seabass have teeth. The long shank hook keeps the teeth away from the line,” he says of the benefits of having longer shanks on squid hooks.
Ultimately, there are two types of sinkers used for seabass fishing. A sliding egg sinker fished right to the hook is one way to go, especially for fishing the beaches and kelp lines. With a selection of ¼ (quarter) to one-or-so ounce sliders you’ll have your bases covered. It all depends on the water depth, current, and what section of the water column the fish are hanging in.
Colored, or glow-in-the-dark, egg sinkers are a popular option. But does it make a difference having a sinker that isn’t plain lead in color?
“I’m a believer in the glow slider… one bite we had in 60 feet of water at Orange Rocks (a popular seabass spot at Catalina that is far from being a secret) there was this guy getting bit three to one on the glow slider. I think it (the glow slider) just makes the squid stick out better,” says Flesch. “Look at the tip of a squid in deep water (under the lights when making bait): It almost seems to glow.”
Dropper loops are incredibly effective on white seabass. Pack along some 3- to 10-ounce torpedoes for dropper loop fishing. More on this later.
Jig and squid
A white jig with a couple of squid threaded onto it is how many anglers like to fish white seabass. Allyn Watson, the longtime owner/operator of the six-pack Dreamer, says that his favorite way to fish (and see his anglers fish) seabass is with a white Tady TLC with a squid or two threaded onto one of the big, single hooks that the jigs come with. Fishing it is a lesson in simplicity: Drop it down, bounce it up and down real lightly, and hang on —you’ll know when you get bit! Wind tight and set the hook! The crew on the Dreamer keeps a couple rods in the rod holders at night. They’ve got bit and kicked off many a bite in the dark.
A ¼-ounce on up to 1 1/2 or so ounce leadhead with a squid (or two) threaded onto it is how many like to fish seabass. It’s a popular rig for several reasons.
The leadhead offers direct contact, and it also offers more abrasion resistance thanks to its longer shank hook.
“When we are fishing in structure where there are (calico) bass and white seabass, I like to see guys use the leadhead,” says Shawn Steward, owner/operator of the Aloha Spirit, which does 5-to-5 trips out of Captain Hook’s Sportfishing in Oxnard. He fishes Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands primarily. “Out in the mud (over sand and featureless bottom where squid spawn) you can use a lighter leadhead if the fish are up high, or a heavier leadhead, like a 2-ounce, if they are near the bottom.”
“The dropper loop is always a good bet for fishing the deep water. Sometimes when the fish are in the mud they’re ‘squished’ right to the bottom. You can bomb a squid down to the bottom real fast with a dropper loop,” adds Steward.
It brings up the central point to seabass fishing with squid, no matter what the time of year: You have to put your squid where the fish are. After all, why do you think the guy fishing a squid on a dropper loop with an upside down spinning rod has been known to score big seabass? While everyone else is trying real hard, fishing the perfect rod and reel, a fancy hook, etc., he has his squid in the “right place at the right time.”
Those five words sum up seabass fishing best.
Read more about white seabass fishing in “The Southern California Angler”
The Long Beach Fred Hall Show will have Brandon Hayward, WON’s saltwater editor (and the author of this article), selling his first book on Southern California Sportfishing. Titled “The Southern California Angler,” the book is a modern-day guide to Southern California Sportfishing. The book will be sold for the first time out of WON’s tournaments and promotions booth (Editor’s Note: Not the subscription booth). Whereas this article focused on seabass tackle, the book features in depth white seabass information in addition to discussions on everything seabass. Tino Valantine, the skipper quoted in the article and the man who got the first fish at Catalina this year, dishes out some great seabass info in his section in Chapter Five of “The Southern California Angler.” Moon phases and conditions, a detailed look at fishing shallow water seabass, how to effectively fish the deep-water squid grounds and Valantine’s “biggest tip” when it comes to seabass fishing are some of the topics of discussion.
For more information on the book, contact Brandon Hayward at (949) 366-0030, ext 37, or by e-mail at Brandon@wonews.com.
THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ANGLER is a 260-page book on Southern California Sportfishing that covers everything, from white seabass to other popular fish like tuna, yellowtail and calico bass. It will go on sale for the first time at the March 4-8 Long Beach Fred Hall Show.