Feature Article: WON_Freelance Charter

WON charter aboard Freelance dips into mixed bag at Catalina

BY MIKE STEVENS/WON Staff WriterPublished: May 18, 2017

NEWPORT BEACH — It may be the shortest trip on the Western Outdoor News charter schedule, but the extended ¾-day trip (6 to 6) aboard the Freelance out of Davey’s Locker is certainly one of the most popular. The 2017 edition sold out in just a few weeks and fell on Cinco de Mayo. Like one might expect from any mid-spring Catalina trip, very mixed-bag fishing was the name of the game.

deckhandfrankstandsDECKHAND FRANK STANDS by with the gaff as Chris Patrizio brings his second of two yellowtail to color. His first was the first fish on the boat that day, and it was good enough to earn him the jackpot cash as well as a pair of Costa sunglasses that was added to the JP take on this WON charter. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Upon checking in, each of the 34 anglers — many of which were familiar faces from previous Freelance/WON charters — was handed a pack of VMC’s new Coastal black Flyliner hooks and a voucher good for a free twilight trip out of Davey’s Locker. As it turns out, the 2/0 VMCs were perfect for the racehorse sardines we picked up in the harbor, but that wouldn’t be the only live-bait option passengers would have that day at the island. WON also put two bulk spools of Daiwa J-Braid, 4 spools of Sufix mono and plenty of Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon on the boat for anyone who wanted to load it up during the trip. Four $50 Turner’s Outdoorsman gift cards were also raffled off on the ride across to Cat.

When the Freelance got underway and headed across the Channel, Captain Chris Gobels got on the mic and threw an idea out there.

“Hey guys, there is a squid boat at the island, and if everyone pitches in 5 bucks, we can get some. I will even throw down 20 of my own,” he said.

Two hours later, the Freelance was anchored beside the Redondo Beach-based Pacific Carnage and a trash bag of galley beers was included the transaction, ensuring the squid guys could have a Cinco de Mayo celebration of their own. The overcast, cool conditions that greeted us in the morning was starting to give way to sunshine almost as soon as the first live bait hit the water near Goat Harbor.

qualitybarracudaand445QUALITY BARRACUDA AND bonito were a blast on light tackle, and many of them were caught on artificials. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Deckhand Frank suggested a light 1⁄4-ounce egg sinker for the squid so they would remain near the surface. The first stop was a quick one, not far from the squid boat that didn’t produce, but Capt. Gobel saw birds working just north of there and that’s where we headed. West­minster angler Chris Patrizio quickly decked a yellowtail on a squid rigged on a light jighead. Five minutes later, Chris Jackley of Fresno fooled a nice bonito on the squid/sliding egg rig. Patrizio struck again and popped a smaller yellow, and a handful of rat yellowtail were caught-and-released by guys on the bow slinging iron and FlatFall jigs.

After another short jaunt north, boilers popped up in the pre-anchor chumline, but they wouldn’t fall for hooked baits at first, though the jig tossers on the bow enjoyed a quick flurry of wide-open action on short calicos, football bonito and a mix of log and short barracuda. It settled back into a just-steady-enough pick on those species, and jigs clearly out-performed live bait for this middle part of the morning, and Capt. Gobel noticed a pattern.

“They don’t like the anchor that much,” he said after repositioning the Freelance several times to keep passengers in the strike zone. “As soon as we drop the anchor, the fish seem to disappear.”

His next move was south to Frog Rock, where we ran into excellent fishing for quality barracuda, which was a blast. On a personal level, I used this bite as an opportunity to try my newest outfit: a heavy 7’6” Daiwa Proteus rod matched with Daiwa’s Saltist BG35 reels loaded with 50-pound J-Braid and a 30-pound Sufix topshot. Overkill for even these barriers but I had to cast and put a bend in it. I was able to chuck metals like the new Ahi Live Deception jigs Coltsnipers, Megabaits further than I’d ever need to (almost the entire topshot), and the outfit — that I put together as an all-around offshore set-up — made quick work of these log ’cuda and a personal-best bonito.

THE 2017 WON CHARTER aboard the Freelance out of Davey’s Locker was very much a mixed-bag affair. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

There was some extra excitement at this stop when Patrizio hooked up to a drag-puller of some brand that took his braid under the boat and possibly around the prop. Deckhands Frank, Fernando and Jose, and Capt. Gobels nearby, went out of their way (for about 20 minutes) to get it untangled, since they could tell there was still something alive on the business end of it. After crisscrossing the stern half-a-dozen times and trying every deckhand trick in the book, they finally started handlining in what turned out to be a big bat ray that got snagged by a Coltsniper. Quite a let down, but a good show nonetheless.

The last couple stops of the day found the Freelance near Catalina’s East End where some final calicos and barracuda came over the rail before heading back to Davey’s Locker. On the way back to the barn, the Capt. Gobels asked anyone with a trolling rig (and there were several) to drop back some feathers because he ran over a spot of bluefin, but there were no takers.

That first yellowtail caught by Chris Patrizio was good enough for jackpot, and like many WON charters, a premium prize was up for grabs on top of the JP cash. He also scored a pair of Costa sunglasses (of his choosing) which, as a regular on this particular trip, I’m sure he will have on next year on the Freelance.

The fish count for the trip was 3 yellowtail, 26 barracuda, 21 bonito, 13 calico bass, 12 ocean whitefish, 1 sculpin, 10 rockfish and 5 halfmoon.

Editor’s Note: Something happened on the way over to Catalina that had me fired up before the fishing even began. On the way to Catalina, I watched a British gentleman methodically rigging up his gear, all of which was well-used, well-maintained, and it all looked like stuff that would be top-of-the-line say, 10 years ago. He mentioned to me that he had been out fishing for 5 years and was getting back into it, and he was amazed at how far tackle has changed, mainly as a result of braid becoming so widely utilized.

Anyway, I wandered off and came back to find him rigging up one of the spinning combos that was a rent rod on the boat, with a sour look on his face, to which he tied on an iron jig of all things. I looked at him with a “what the heck?” look on my face, and he said he was missing the clamp hardware for his Pro Gear reel, and couldn’t put his favorite iron combo together. He was going to resort to using a spinning rent rod for throwing jigs. “I’ve never even used a spinning reel in saltwater,” he groaned.

About 15 minutes later, it occurred to me that I had one of those Penn clamp kits (the kind that used to come with every Penn reel) in the bowels of my tackle bag, and I remembered back in the day it was well known that those fit a wide variety of reels, even other manufacturers. That stupid thing has ridden in my bag for 20 years, taking up space, just in case ONE DAY it could come in handy on a boat.

Well, I’m sure you can tell where I am going with this. I tossed it to the guy, and told him he’s welcome to see if it fits. He ran off with it to his gear like a 16-year-old kid whose dad just unexpectedly tossed him the keys to the Mustang and stuffed a 50 in his pocket on a Friday night.

He returned with his jig stick and reel Frankensteined together with a graphite Penn clamp and mismatched screws (because he did have some of his own stuff), but it was a solid fit, and it made his day.

He tried to pay me, but I declined, partially because I knew I had about 5 more of those things in my garage, and I also thought it might give me some big yellowtail or white seabass mojo for the trip we were on.

There would be no mossback or biscuit for me, but I’m hoping it can still pay off later this season.

pacificcarnagePACIFIC CARNAGE — Already loaded up on sardines, Capt. Gobels asked WON/Freelance charter passengers if they all wanted to pitch in an extra $5 for squid. That was a no-brainer, and the Freelance linked up with the squid boat at Catalina. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

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