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September 21, 2007

California's Hidden Bones

Bona fide bonefish are turning up in the backwaters of Southern California, with some indication that they're here to stay.

Dredgin' Bones

"How do you know where to start fishing?" I asked Christianson, scanning the wide expanse of the bay's largely featureless surface once the boat had come off plane.

My host threw me a wry smile. "You don't."

Meanwhile, Christianson's 15-year-old son, Ryan, was busy threading a live ghost shrimp on his hook. Ryan and his dad had "pumped" a fair number of shrimp from the mud flats the night before, so we had a good supply of the kind of baits Christianson said bonefish like best.

As we began our first drift in 11 feet of dirty-green water and I pinched a small split-shot on my six-pound line, Christianson explained that much of the back bay was of a similar depth--nothing more than a flat mud bottom. "You just pick a spot and start drifting," he said. "If you don't get bit, you just keep moving around until you find the fish."

I was the last one to get a bait in the water, but I hadn't bounced bottom for more than a few seconds before my line tightened abruptly. Instinctively, I set the hook hard and felt something solid. Christianson laughed. "Must be a bass. If that had been a bonefish, you'd have broken him off."

As I struggled to bring in what indeed proved to be an 11-inch sand bass, Christianson explained that back-bay bonefish often slam a bait with authority and take off like a lightning bolt, so setting the hook hard is a good way to snap the light line. "Believe me, I know," he said, rolling his eyes.