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Tuesday, January 09, 2018
Wintertime Options
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
SoCal Squid

Winter bass
The wintertime bass bite is a “some seasons” kind of thing. Sure, every winter there is private boater opportunity to get out and toss hardware in the shallows for bass. But full-on party boat-style bites on the big bass of winter only seem to happen some seasons. And while big bass winters tend to come several in a row, they’re certainly not an every winter event.

It was something about the way this autumn rolled out that got me thinking of the old days, squid nests are back, and the weather just had that feel. Whatever the reason, I don’t think it has much to do with warmer water temperature.

IS 2018 A WINTER CALICO YEAR? It’s not easy to predict, and a lot of factors are involved, but there are some indicators that quality calicos can carry SoCal anglers through the cooler months this year.

Looking back at the logs, the best bites were in 57-degree water, with some huge scores taken in frigid 52. Although, part of the key was getting there smoothly rather than in an overnight precipitous drop.

Plus, we’re more than 2 years into the new 14-inch minimum size now, and winter biting bass were always the larger grade. The number of winter grade bass in the population is certainly up by now. The whole idea got me filtering back through ancient logbooks, sifting the database for squid use and catch rate.

It was 1995 that popped out. There were bites on sardine to start, but then frozen squid use went off the scale. Live tubes came into the picture. And you know what else? There was a winter white seabass whack too!

February 10, fishing Flag Reef, just a mile in front of the harbor, water temp — 57, 20 anglers pull 110 calico and 29 sandies in a single stop. February 22, 16 anglers pull 160 coastal calico in one stop shopping — 59-degree water. That year we missed January, as our harbor entrance was closed. Typically the bite begins mid-December, but folks are too busy with the holidays to notice.

The classic winter bite is a lead-head and squid bite, live, fresh dead, even frozen. There are many variations on this theme though. One can fish a 1-ounce slider and squid, or the old time classic jig and squid. Russ Izor’s disciples fished the Green Bomber and squid — ancient history.

But the crystal ball seems to show, wait, I can see it coming into view now, it’s a Hookup Bait and squid strip on the slow crawl. Slow crawling a swimbait with a trailer is a winter classic. It’s Hammer time at The Wall.

But there’s no denying the effectiveness of the basics when party boating. The lead-head and squid works like this. One pins a WHOLE squid on the hook in his or her favorite way. There are plenty of aficionados who insist their way is best, be it a single pass, double right side up, triple hooked and slid high on the shank — which becomes a wad at the bend anyway.

The bait is tossed out, and allowed to sink to the bottom. Instantly you’re bit. But it’s rata tat tat… tappa pic pic boink, tap tap tap. A myriad of pickers descend on your bait.

Think of these picker fish as your advertising campaign. Divers instantly recognize what’s going on, having seen it happen as soon as some scallop or urchin gets whacked. They’re mostly blacksmith, señoritas, black and rainbow perch and such.

At some point, all goes quiet for a half-second, then zing! You let the fish take it for a ten-count, ease into gear, wind down and swing hard! Grind fast and hard or get rocked!

Fishing the right rod, you can fish in gear with the rod held high, instead. When bass bite, let the fish pull the tip to the water, then wind down and lift hard! Keep on grinding! It takes lots of length and power in a stick to fish effectively this way.

If the pickers quit, they’ve got it all. Time to wind in and pin a new squish on. On the other hand, maxing the number of bass on a single lucky squid can become the contest.

For whatever reason, often it seems if one keeps fiddling the bait, incessantly pulling and slacking, it never gets bass bit. If you’re a nervous Nellie and find yourself frustrated, toss a fresh bait and slap the rod on the rail. Fish clicker-style, arms folded and try not to scowl too much. When the clicker goes off, pick up the rod! Problem solved!

Other times, the slow crawl can be more effective though. you’ll need a pound or two of terminal tackle, as you’ll spend a lot of time stuck on bottom.

Right now, I’m looking at stable but cooler coastal waters, calm conditions, cold mornings and squid nests all over. While it’s just a hunch at this point, my money’s on a winter bass bite worthy of open party schedules, a flashback to bygone winter bass times.

Actually, we whacked ’em out on the Long Beach/San Pedro 1/2-day turf once already… some crystal ball, eh?

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

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