WESTERN OUTDOOR NEWS/FIRST STRING CHARTER
FIRST STRING PRODUCED limit style fishing for WON charter at San Clemente Island.
SAN PEDRO — February 20. That was the last time anyone had seen 57-degree water at Catalina. But it was only last week that with storms just clearing out, the chilly water temps, cresting waves, and strong winds all worked together to push First String off her game.
But owner/operator Captain Bradley Phillips would have none of it.
“We will be heading over to Catalina tonight and if there is any kind of window we’ll run out to San Clemente Island at least,” explained Phillips prior to the 9 p.m. departure from Ports O’ Call in San Pedro.
With all aboard the 93-foot sportfisher, Captain Phillips and night driver Dan Colston stopped by the bait receiver for a large-sized helping of candy bait then headed out to battle the elements.
Sponsor-supplied hook packs from Lazer Sharp, Fluorocarbon from Yo-Zuri and $50 gift cards provided by Turner’s Outdoorsman had all been passed out before leaving the docks. Shortly after breaking the wall outside L.A. Harbor most of the now-tackle-laden anglers headed for their bunks. Spool ups on sponsor supplied 20-and-30-pound Sufix monofilament would have to wait for first light and calmer seas.
The pounding waves and rolling seas gave way to the safety of Long Point some five hours later when Captain Colston tucked First String inside and up close to Santa Catalina Island. The wait till dawn would be spent under still-blowing winds, somewhat lighter and less of the bitter cold of the night before.
Deck hands Jason St. John and Mike Martin were already on deck encouraging anglers to get busy. A few decided to wet a line, hoping to find some action at this first stop of the 2½ day charter.
A short while later the engines revved and First String moved off in pursuit of better fishing conditions. A move to the west end of the island produced no fish as did several other stops along the way.
Morning wore-on when, at just past 8 a.m. Captain Phillips announced a game plan that held promise under less than perfect conditions. “The wind seems to be letting up and this 57-degree water is really dirty-green. We’ll head around the backside and then when the wind lets up a little we’ll cross over to San Clemente Island,” explained a frustrated Phillips.
Reports of fish the day prior had come from 65-degree water in the exact same locations as First String fished that first day. The quick change to colder water had given the fish a bad case of lock jaw and nothing was going to open it up.
Pushing across at 10 a.m. First String arrived at half-past noon and set up a drift just off Pyramid Cove. Immediately a few fish started coming over the rail. Spotty catches of sheephead, rockfish, calico and a halibut that seemed out of place, even to lucky angler, Bill Fogarty of Irvine.
The big ’but took a live squid fished on 10-pound test and a ½-ounce egg sinker and weigh-in at 20.75 pounds to win the day’s jackpot for Fogarty.
Late in the day Captain Phillips moved First String around the end on SCI to a spot beyond Pyramid Cove where the bottom drops from 3 to 20 fathoms in just a few feet. The ridge is marked with kelp and rock to the island side and open channel on the deep.
Several anglers connected at this last stop of the day with Matt Watson, of Canyon Lakes, and Richard Beck, of Fresno, finding decent action on sheephead. But it was Adam Haddock from Corona, who fished with his Dad, Mike, and brother Don that would have the story of the day.
SHEEPHEAD AT SCI rounded out the catch for Richard Beck of Fresno.
Tossing out a live squid pinned to a ¾-ounce leadhead, Adam’s bait was picked up and the fish began to run for the kelp. Not knowing what the bruiser could be, a careful hand was needed, but with the kelp so near pressure had to be applied.
As the battle wore on, the big fish moved in and out of the kelp and then Adam felt nothing. The fish was gone. Reeling up it was easy to see why the big fish had escaped. The leadhead was twisted open like a bent nail.
Once anchored for the night the cook set out a prime rib dinner that couldn’t be beat. With all the trimmings, the first rate meal would stand up to any at a local restaurant. And to go along with it the cook, Mark Thomsen, never stopped sharing his big broad smile and good-natured personality.
COOK, MARK THOMSEN baked foil wrapped potatoes to go along with prime rib and veggies.
Though the strong winds next morning still held First String from going too far just yet, Captain Phillips had a few tricks left up his sleeve. “We’ll try working these ridgelines and kelp lines and run offshore to the reefs. Then later in the day we’ll run up to the far end for a shot at some seabass before heading home tonight,” explained Phillips.
Jeremiah Vigil, who attends Graves Middle School in Whittier, fished with his Dad, Jeremy, for some nice sheephead and a bagful of rockfish for the duo.
Ray Daniels, of Lancaster, fishes the WON charters whenever he can and loaded up his bag, as well. Daniels was really happy to be bringing home a colorful chucklehead for his wife along with the rest of his catch.
Another father and son team, locals Rob and Zack Heberer, of San Pedro, seemed to always be ready with a fish and a smile. The good natured pair fished with buddy Jonathan Thomas for a trio of sheephead that looked like they’d come out of the same goat-press.
Jodee Bybee had brought out his Mom, Norma, from Hesperia for the charter. “She fishes every weekend and some times during the week, too,” exclaimed Jodee, beaming. The two spent plenty of time at the rail but it seems Norma Bybee, the only lady angler aboard, put in more time than most and with good result.
Just a single lingcod could be found for the trip, taken by Kim Bullard, of Laytonville. The 8-pound-plus ling proved to be enough to take the second day’s jackpot for Bullard.
AN 8-POUND LINGCOD won the jackpot for Kim Bullard shown by deckhand Jason St. John. WON PHOTOS BY BOB SEMERAU
The move to deeper water for a “better quality of fish,” brought First String to the outer reefs offshore of Pyramid Cove. Several nice catches filled out bags and towards 4 p.m. Captain Phillips called for lines up and moved the boat up the line to the far end of San Clemente Island.
Conditions at the planned spot proved to be no better than those at the east end. With daylight fading and a great spaghetti and sausage dinner waiting, gear began to be taken down.
A last $50 gift card remained from Turner’s Outdoorsman and Zack Heberer was the lucky winner just before First String headed for home.
Despite tough conditions and a limited area to fish, bag limits for most anglers meant plenty of action and lots of fillets being handed out at the docks early the next morning making for some seriously happy fishermen. And one very happy fisherwoman.
Contact: First String Captain Brad Phillips (949) 498-6149 www.firststringfishing.com
BILL FOGARTY FOUND a ’but weighing 20.75 pounds gaffed by First String deckhand Mike Martin. The flatty won the first day’s jackpot for Fogarty.
FELIX FLORES displays just one of the rockfish taken at SCI.
A TRIO OF SHEEPHEAD for family and friends while fishing aboard First String at San Clemente Island.