Bass Fishing in Southern California - Techniques & Seasons
Bass fishing for both calico bass and sand bass is a year round fishery off Los Angeles and Orange County. During the warmer water months from May-Oct provide the most action typically on calico and sand bass, although Nov-April can also provide great action on these game fish as well. Both of these bass species make up the staple of ½ day and ¾ day trips and are also caught in large numbers when overnight fishing at the islands such as San Clemente Island and Catalina Island. Calico bass and sand bass are a challenging game fish and get up to 10 pounds. They fight about 5 to 8 times as hard as their freshwater counter parts with a 6 pound sand bass capable of breaking 25 pound test. They are also great eating especially the smaller to mid sized fish. They do have relatively slow growth rates and the larger fish are quite old as a result we highly recommend catching and releasing them to maintain a healthy breeding stock for the future.
Spring Bass Fishing
Spring bass fishing is a over lap of winter and summer with the early months traditionally fishing deeper water structure and the later spring months getting a mixture of surface and deeper water action. Water temperatures play an important role in what part of the water column you will want to fish. Typically the offshore islands such as Catalina Island and San Clemente Island are the first to transition into warmer water surface action on calico bass primarily. During this period, calico bass can be caught on almost every cast with clouds of bass collecting in the chum behind the boat. Fly lining live bait is very effective not only catching lots of calico bass, but larger specimens. The technique for fly lining a bait is to attach a hook directly to your line with no weight or other attachments. The goal in doing this is to present the bait in the most natural presentation possible and to fish higher up in the water column. Make sure to match your hook with the bait size and when two or more types of bait is available stick with the hook size matching the smaller bait size unless exclusively using the larger baits. Using a hook that is too large for your bait will impact how it swims leading to less bites. To error on the small side with hook selection is much better than fishing with too large a hook for your bait. Below are some helpful tips for hooking your bait and the fly lining technique:
- When fishing with fin baits it is very important to select healthy bait and as carefully as possible hook your bait either in the nose sideways, collar area, or even belly area depending on how you want your bait to swim. Hooking the bait through the nose sideways will cause your bite to swim slightly side wards and at angle to the boat. Hooking it in the collar will also cause the bait to swim sideways as well as slightly downward. Hooking the bait in the belly will cause the bait to swim downward and away from the boat (use when wanting to have your bait go deep). If you are unsure on how you want to present your bait, hook it threw the nose sideways as this will be the easiest and best for the longevity of your bait.
- Once you have cast your fin bait try to let it swim as natural as possible this means letting it take line out and not pulling on it or creating resistance against the bait. If your bait is staying put and not moving much you can give it a twitch to wake it up. If that doesn’t liven your bait, then it is time to change your bait. Change your bait almost every cast. This is very important as strong bait will get the most bites on bass and almost all other game fish. The only time this doesn’t apply if you have limited bait or a limited type of bait in which case try to make the most of each bait.
Along with fly lining a bait on or near the surface for calico bass, coastal fishing for bass during the spring may also be providing this surface action. Spring is the transition period and some weight maybe needed to get to the area where the calico and sand bass are feeding best depending on water temps. Calico bass and sand bass can both be caught in the mid and lower levels of the water column using some weight along with your bait. Two techniques for rigging for this depth are using a sliding sinker and dropper sinker. As a rule the less weight you need to use the better to get your bait into the prime biting zone. Determining what is the prime zone is guided by the water temperature, what type of environment you are fishing, and what has been going on in the day or two before your fishing trip. The magic number for bass to start feeding higher in the water column is 64 degrees, but a drastic change in water temperature may also push bass away from the surface such as a sudden drop from 72 degrees to 67 degrees. So being aware of the above items will help in your selection of what size weight to use. Also watching what other people that are catching bass are using is a really good way to home in on the perfect sized weight. When fishing with a sliding sinker, a small leader maybe 2 ½ feet in length works if fishing on the bottom, otherwise skip the leader and have the sliding sinker just above the hook. Fish the light sliding sinker, the same as the fly line letting your bait swim freely. For the torpedo or heavier sliding sinker you will mostly be fishing the bottom or near bottom areas. This technique is a great technique for those just getting started as it is very user friendly and very effective. When fishing the bottom for bass bumping into rocks and other structure is common and you will lose a number of setups to both snags and to larger fish. That is okay you are fishing the area you should be fishing. By the same token if you are not bumping into rocks, getting snagged, and the captain or crew says you are fishing over a reef, move to a different part of the boat and try a new area as you try to locate the rocky reef. Calico bass and sand bass will stay close to the reef or other structure area so you want to fish in this zone to get the most bites. As a rule the more structure or reef there is the more and larger the bass are. During the spring, fishing for bass will sometimes take place on artificial reefs which have large amounts of structure. Very large bass mainly sand bass can be caught on theses reefs, but you need to fish 25 pound test or more to pull these fish out before they take you into the rocks and break your line. This can be very challenging and frustrating at the same time.
Summer Bass Fishing
Summer bass fishing is usually really good with limits of sand bass or calico bass common (10 bass per person). Water temps rise during this time and calico and sand bass become very aggressive feeding throughout the water column and on baits of all sizes. Also during the summer months from mid June through mid August sand bass migrate in huge numbers to spawn in southern California in areas known as the flats or mud. Giant schools of sand bass move back and forth in these open water areas and are very aggressive. During this time it is possible to have schools of sand bass so thick that from the surface to 80 feet to the bottom is almost solid sand bass. Needless to say fishing is great with limits or near limits the norm and very large sand bass caught with great frequency. Lighter line can be used for spawning sand bass as there are no snags or structure to lose fish in. Favorite set ups include 15 pound test on a light to medium action rod and using from ¼ ounce to 2 ounces of weight depending on the location of the fish and bait size. Plastic lures can also be very effective during the sand bass spawn especially in active bites or when targeting larger sand bass. Fish traps and plastics that mimic live bait fish are most popular. Cast out away from the boat then let it sink making sure to be in contact with your lure as your line sinks. Often sand bass will bite as the lure sinks and if you aren’t in constant contact you will miss the bite. If either you have reached the bottom or drifted to some distance from the boat (if there is a strong current) put your reel in gear and crank the lure back at a fairly slow retrieve. Stopping the retrieve and letting it sink some and then continuing the retrieve is very effective and covers a lot of area and depths. Sand bass will move in schools and if one or two are being caught there are more around. Using larger plastic lures will on average catch bigger sand bass, but the trade off is you may not get bit as often. Barracuda, white sea bass, yellowtail, and halibut also can be caught in the areas holding these spawning sand bass and without any structure very large fish can be caught on light line if enough patience is practiced. Even during the sand bass spawn it is always a good idea to catch and release the largest fish as they are slow growing and this ensures a healthy population for the future.
Along with spawning sand bass on the flats or mud, both sand bass and calico bass bite very aggressively over the reefs as well and any structure area during the summer months. Flylining a bait can be very effective during this time as well as any other technique for bass fishing. Remember to change your bait on almost every cast and unlike the spawning sand bass these fish can take you into the reef and break you off so once hooked apply ample tension to keep them away from the rocks. A very effective technique for catching large calico bass during this time is to cast a surface iron over the high spot or shallowest part of the reef. This can usually be determined by seeing signs of the reef or by asking a crew member or the captain approximately where the main part of the reef is located. Take care not to tangle those fly lining a bait and proceed to cast around this high spot letting your surface iron sink briefly before reeling it back at a pretty good clip. Big calico bass will explode on your jig and the challenge then becomes how to get them to the boat before they get you to the rocks. Other species including barracuda, sand bass, and white sea bass can also be caught with this technique. Ideally 25 pound test or heavier is recommended as larger fish and the reef can be challenging. Summer is great time of year for taking those new to sportfishing out as lots of action, big fish, and beautiful weather makes for really fun days.
Fall Bass Fishing
Fall fishing is a mixture of both spring and summer bass fishing. During September and October bass can still be caught on the surface in good numbers. Often other larger game fish take the spotlight, but this doesn’t mean it is slow for bass. This time of year can be very good for calico bass and sand bass. Sometime in late Oct through November sand bass feed aggressively getting ready for the winter ahead and fishing for trophy specimens is good with summer like action on large fish. When possible fly lining a bait is very effective as well as using a slider or even a lead head for calico bass and sand bass. A lead head with bait pinned on is very popular as it pulls the bait through many different levels of the water column. Calico bass maybe feeding on the surface or part way down and then sand bass feeding in the mid depths, and halibut and white sea bass feeding along the bottom. If pulling into an area and unsure what to use to start with, a lead head is a good first choice. Try using the lightest possible leadhead to get your bait to sink. San Clemente Island is known for giant calico bass at this time of year with good sized large mackerel the bait of choice. Fishing for these giant calico bass is done close to shore sometimes in just a few feet of water. As you can imagine hooking these hard fighting fish in shallow water is very challenging and very rewarding with many 6-8 pound calico bass caught. Many of these trophy sized fish are released to be caught another day. Medium to small calicos are the best eating for those wanting to take fish home. Weather in the fall months is some of the mildest of the year a great time to be out on the ocean.
Winter Bass Fishing
Bass fishing during the winter is maybe some of the most challenging in terms of landing bass mainly sand bass, but also calico bass. The water temps have usually cooled some from summer by December and surface action maybe about over for the season. During this time reefs, wrecks, artificial reefs, and other structure comes into play. Live squid can make for some great bites on enormous bass as well as other species. When fishing these structure spots 20 pound test is minimum recommended and 25-30 pound the norm whether using live squid or frozen squid. These structure bass are amazingly strong especially for the first 20 feet and a slow reaction time to a bite and your line drifts in the wind. A sliding egg sinker from ¾ oz to 1 oz is a great set up, as is a lead head with a lighter sinker. The lead head places the bait and hook facing up from the bottom, which makes the likelihood of a fish being hooked much greater. Live squid, fresh dead squid, and frozen squid all work well at this time of year. Finbaits fished on a dropper set up can also be effective but keeping them from being snagged in the reef is a constant challenge. Times of day seem to come into play as well with early morning and late afternoon usually having the best bites. Along with bass, huge sheepshead, and halibut are also caught during this time of year along with a number of different types of rockfish. Heavy line and a tight drag will help you to land that trophy sand bass during this season.
Few Other Suggestions/Recommendations For Targeting
Typically the lighter the line the more bites you will get from bass both calicos and sand bass. Unless you are fishing in extremely shallow or rocky areas using over 20 pound test will reduce the number of bites you get dramatically. 15 pound test works well for most surface bass fishing and 20 pound for most reef and structure fishing except for the artificial reefs which require 25 pound test. Once you sample this saltwater bass fishing it is hard not to get hooked. Lots of action and hard pulling fish. Enjoy.