Southern California’s islands provide outstanding fishing for a large number of species at different times of the year, and one of our favorites is White Seabass (WSB).
When to Fish for White Seabass
Fishing The Islands
SoCal has many islands off our coast, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Barbara Island, Catalina Island, and San Clemente Island. The islands do have resident WSB but most people fish for them when the migration starts in early spring. The key to fishing white seabass is fishing the right place at the right time. Sounds easy I know, but many will be fishing in the right place, but just not at the right time or the right tide. What I have found that works for me the best is to be at the squids grounds a few hours before the sun comes up. This is where most fishermen miss out as they do not like driving their boats in the dark and our best fishing time for WSB is in the early morning or evening. If you are one of those people that do not like driving in the dark of the night you might want to leave the afternoon of the day before you fish and plan on spending the night on the anchor. For those of you that are new to WSB fishing getting there the evening before will help you in finding the squid grounds and getting set up on them.
A good skipper that has been doing this a long time, know the signs that indicate where white seabass are feeding and over the years they will have their go to spots, but for the newer boat captain just getting started you are going to want to learn the local island to you; be it Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina or San Clemente islands. Each island has its own characteristics. But each one also shares indicators that you will need to learn to look for. The two biggest are how to found squid spawning grounds and where to find bait size mackerel.
The first place to start looking is on the squid grounds sand and mud-bottom areas in 75 to 120 feet of water, where the squid go to spawn at night. Squid might show up somewhere else, but here are some spots to start you out that are consistent: Bechers Bay at Santa Rosa Island, Chinese Harbor at Santa Cruz Island, front side of Santa Barbara Island, the V’s at Catalina Island, and Pyramid Cove at San Clemente Island.
The easiest way to find the squid grounds is to look for the lights on the commercial squid fishing boat or other fishermen will also have their lights out trying to make bait at night. The fish finder helps you pinpoint squid nests on the bottom where squid have been laying their translucent egg sacks, which show up on a fish finder as light-blue fuzz. Squid usually return to a nest each night, so if you find a nest, anchor over it.
This is very important to remember White Seabass are VERY skittish and spook VERY easily, so when dropping the anchor let it down by hand not letting the chain hit anything and definably not the boat. Once the chain is in the water you can let the rope roll over the roller. But NO loud noises and NO dropping things on the deck. Get out some lines, before the sun goes down. I like to be completely set up to fish and catch bait all night, until I have more than enough to fish the whole day. Because sometimes finding squid when you run out is not so easy. As darkness falls, your goal is to be on the spawning grounds, because when squid spawn they die, making an easy meal for the WSB. As they swim along for an easy meal and your bait is fresh in the right spot you will catch White Seabass.
Attracting squid, takes on an even greater urgency, if you don’t already have frozen or live squid in the bait tank. On every trip I stop by the Chinese market and buy some fresh frozen squid, just in case we have a hard time catching our own. You can buy live squid at one of the bait barges in at the harbors. Google can help you get the locations, depending on what harbor you will be fishing out of. Make sure you call them to see if they are open and to make sure they have the kind of bait you want. You might find bait boats selling them as well. Best way to find them is to call them on the radio, typically 72 or 68 is a good start, if not hopefully another boat captain will fill you in on what channel they are on. Most scoops of squid sells for $60 a scoop. White Seabass will readily eat fresh-frozen squid, so bring some. I catch just as many WSB on fresh-dead as I do live and sometimes it works even better if you’re around the spawning grounds at the time that the squid spawn out and die. Needless to say, I always have a dead squid on a dropper loop a few feet off the bottom.
To attract your own live-squid so you can catch it, put out an underwater light, such as the 12-volt Hydra Glow LED submersible fish light. The two-foot model draws 1 amp, yet puts out a bright-green glow that attracts squid. If the school comes to the surface in sufficient numbers, use a long-handled fine-mesh dip net to fill the live well. Sometimes squid hang below the boat, beyond the reach of a dip net. This is when Crowder is a good thing to have on the boat; you can look it up on google as well to buy one. A Crowder is a wide, flat fine-mesh net with a telescoping pole on each end. With a man on each pole, the Crowder is lowered straight down vertically, then scooped up outwardly and lifted to the surface slowly so you don’t chase them out of the net.
When squid refuse to come up, you need to use squid jigs to catch them, this can take a long time but is very productive when the squid are around. Remember you need enough bait for fishing the whole day. Squid jigs come in many different sizes, but the most command is in the 3” inch size. I like to use the ones that are already made into a gangion with 3 to 5 small jigs. I like them in white and glow in the dark. The hooks are more like barbless spikes that go all the way around the lure. When you hook a squid you do not want to ever let slack in the line as it has no barbs to keep them held on the lure. Just wind up steadily and if there is a swell make sure you don’t let the line get slack in it.
When I make bait the first thing I do when I get my first squid is too bait it up and send it to the bottom, give it 2 cranks and put it in the pole holder with the clicker on. Then get back to making bait.
Fishing At Night
After you have caught all the bait you will need and the sun is not up yet, leave the underwater light on, as the more squid in the water, the more likely a school of seabass will come to investigate. After we get done making bait I like to put two squid on a fly line, as WSB will feed on from the bottom to the surface at night, so I will have bait at different depths just to make sure I have bait at the depth they want to be.
Dropper-loop with a 4/0 - 7/0 circle hook, depending on the size of the bait. I like to tie the dropper loop about three feet above the sinker, depending on your depth and how much current you have, you can use 4oz. up to 12oz., send it to the bottom, give it a few cranks to get it off the bottom and put your rod in the rod holder in the front of the boat, just watch for the anchor line. Second rod should be set up for mid-of the boat with a white or glow in the dark iron jig. (If you can find one of those jointed iron, made by Action lures, this is the best WSB jig I have ever used, but not easy to find, but I do buy every one of them I find. If you can’t find them I like Tady’s as well. I like my irons as light as I can for the depth that I am fishing, the lighter the jig the more action you will get out of it, you might have to swap out the treble hook to a single hook. These are best fished from rod holders in the middle side rail. Next you will need a rod set up for a fly-line, on the back corner, I would use a balloon to keep one of my fly lines baits close to the surface. The other one I would use is a dyed squid and that one I am hand feeding the line out and I keep my hands on it at most of the time and let it sink on its own.
White Seabass rarely swim close to the boat, so make sure your bait is just outside the glow of the underwater light. Fishing at night can be difficult if you're not used to it, so keep the deck clean of unused rods and tackle, make sure your deck lights are on so you can see your way around. WSB are a powerful fish that put on a great fight, you don’t want anything getting in your way once you have one on.
Your rod should be a 30 to 60 pound rated. Your line should be between 30 and 50 pound test. White seabass are not particularly line shy, especially at night. The heavy tackle allows for very tight drags, to help keep your fish close to the boat and as vertical as possible. Seabass have a decent set of sharp teeth, so the heavy line also helps prevent the fish from breaking off.
Action on the squid grounds sometimes extends into the morning hours, and some of the best fishing can take place between first light and sunrise. But you can’t count on it. Too many times, anglers show up in the gray only to learn that the bite happened hours earlier. I have seen many go home after the sun comes up to only have the bite happen as they are on their way back to the dock. I will fish until about 9 or 10 am. Not that I don’t catch WSB in the midday, you can catch WSB at all times of the day, but I like to combo my fishing trips and look for halibut, but that is another article that you can look for on our web site alltheoutdoors.com.
Daytime fishing can pay off once you learn how to fish them on the outskirts of the kelp bed, and the shorelines. They like to linger in the shadows looking to ambush a bait fish or squid. It is important to watch the tides; White seabass are more likely to be on the outskirts of the kelp forests when there is current. If you just can’t make the morning and evening bite and you can only fish during the day you need to watch the currents and fish on the days that have the highest and lowest tides together. This will happen around the full moon and the new moon most of the time. When fishing shorelines I’m looking for spots of sandy beaches that open up with structure on both sides but sand in the middle. I like casting into the shore as close as I can get, I am looking for strikes right were shoreline dirty water meats the clearer open water, depending on your boat I like to set anchor way out like 200 to 300 feet past were I want the boat to end up, I let the drift take me back into the shore as close as I feel safe. Then I will set my lines out one straight down with a broken back Action Lures (send me a email if you can’t find them) with a whole squid pinned on about 2 cranks off the bottom, one on a dropper loop casted out to were the water turns just on the clean side. If you have others with you, cover as much real estate as you can handle with your rods. Fish hard for 15 to 20 minutes then move down the beach to the next sandy opening and repeat until you find them.
When fishing the kelp, what you need to be looking for is milky colored water breaks extending from the edge of the kelp. White seabass tend to travel and feed along these breaks. Fishing around kelp for fish that weigh in at 20 to 60 pounds is no easy task even for seasoned anglers. But there are ways to up your chances. Any time I fish around kelp I use 60 lb. coated Spectra with 50 lb. to 60 lb. fluorocarbon leader at about 3 feet long. Whenever you get tangled in the kelp I lighten up on the drag and it will cut right through the kelp. Once I am free of the kelp I lock down the drag and give him all I have to get them to the boat and don’t let him get his head turned because if you do let him, he is going right back to the rocks or the kelp.
So it’s important to stay well outside the kelp line. Get in too tight, and you might have a difficult time landing a big one that powers its way back into kelp forest.
In the beginning of this article I covered fishing the bottom, middle and surface covering the entire water column with a combination of bottom rigs, metal jigs and surface baits. I can’t stress enough how important it is to cover all of the columns every time you fish for WSB. Unlike fishing the squid grounds the kelp will be shallower. But the way you fish it is the same.
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