Once you cast a lure tight to shoreline structure or around kelp, you never stop reeling, says Secrest. “You crank slowly when the water surges in to shore and crank fast when it surges back out at you,” he explains. “The idea is to swim the bait away from the structure, sometimes slowing it down midretrieve to let it drop slightly in the water column. But if you stop winding, the fish will lose interest and you are likely to get hung up in the ribbon kelp, and that almost always means losing your lure.
“Once a calico grabs the lure, you just keep grinding, and don’t swing the rod,” Secrest advises. “At the same time, use your trolling motor to pull the fish away from the structure and kelp — that’s the way we get the big boys.”
Despite the shorter days and cooler weather, there is little doubt that the winter months are the hot season for king-size calicos in southern California.
Southern California Calico Bass
Before fishing any coastal or island shoreline in the future, check for fishing closures that might be in place as early as 2012 as part of the California Marine Life Protection Act implementation plan for the South Coast region. Log on to saltwatersportsman.com for the latest updates on the MLPA and other critical issues.
What: Calico bass.
When: November through January.
Where: Santa Barbara, California, to northern Baja California, Mexico.
Who: Boating anglers with reliable craft in the 16- to 23-foot range. A bow-mounted trolling motor is helpful. To learn the ropes, consider enlisting the services of a local guide. Here are three who know their stuff.
Capt. David Bacon
Capt. Barry Brightenburg
Always an Adventure Charters
Capt. Jimmy Decker
Fishing with Capt. Jimmy Decker
You need to match the hatch when it comes to lure size and color, says Secrest. He prefers 8- to 9-inch swimbaits from Big Hammer or MC Swimbaits, with a 1-ounce lead head for big bass on shoreline rocks and reefs, though he may downscale to 6- or 7-inch baits with a 3/4-ounce lead head when the fishing gets tough.
“For the big baits with 1-ounce lead heads and the smaller baits with 3/4-ounce heads, make sure the hooks you use are 3X-strong versions, because you are going to need to put a lot of pressure on a big calico near heavy cover,” he advises. Some of Secrest’s favorite colors are green, brown and red — colors reminiscent of forage species such as topsmelt, mackerel, grunion, surfperch, shrimp and octopus.
When it comes to rods and reels, Secrest prefers a 6 1/2-foot fast-taper trigger stick with a saltwater-style baitcaster reel loaded with 20-pound-test monofilament. “The reel should have at least a 5:1 gear ratio, and the drag isn’t too important because you’re locked down,” he says. “You can’t let these fish take any line.”
Rods: Fast-taper 6 1/2-foot trigger-style bait-casting.
Reels: Saltwater bait caster with at least a 5:1 gear ratio.
Lines: Straight 20-pound-test abrasion-resistant monofilament (with no leader) tied to the lure with a double uni-knot.
Lures: Tady 45 Light and Shimano Waxwing 118 or 138 for search lures; 6- to 9-inch Big Hammer and MC Swimbaits soft-plastics on 34-ounce to 1-ounce lead heads with 3X-strong hooks.