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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.

Wide Ranging

A couple of warm-water events later and these fish appear to be thriving in the harbors, bays and estuaries from Long Beach to San Diego. Understandably, the wide expanse of San Diego's back bay seems to hold the greatest numbers, but anglers to the north are hooking bonefish, as well. My dad caught his fish in Dana Point Harbor, and Steve Crooke says he knows of fishermen who catch them regularly in Newport Harbor's back bay.

"Huntington Harbor has them, too," says Mark Wisch, owner of Pacific Edge tackle headquarters in Huntington Beach. "People occasionally bring them in and want to know what kind of fish they are." Wisch says the bonefish live in the shallows in the far reaches of the harbor. They run from ten to 14 inches, and have been caught on everything from ghost shrimp and mussels to plastics, small plugs and flies.

Even though he hasn't caught any bonefish recently, Jed Welsh claims to have seen post-El Nino evidence of the species in Alamitos Bay--once when he came across a shore angler with a brace of two- to three-pounders on a stringer, and again when he spotted a school of a half-dozen bonefish along a back-bay beach. The staff at Rick's Bait & Tackle in Long Beach confirmed that bonefish are being caught in Alamitos Bay, but would only say that to find the fish you need to "go as far back in the bay as you can."

The same advice seems to hold true in San Diego County. Besides San Diego and Mission bays, it seems only natural that the lagoons, estuaries and sloughs north of San Diego would provide a good home for bones.

The fact that bonefish are being caught from ten to 18 inches long indicates that fish from different year-classes are present, and begs the question: Are these fish continually migrating northward from Mexican waters, or are they part of a resident population that is reproducing locally? What seems certain is that the fish are growing in both number and size, and can be taken year-round, even though it may not yet be possible to target them predictably. Time will tell if a dependable fishery can be established, as well as how large these fish will get, but it will be exciting to find out! In the meantime, Southland anglers have another inshore game fish to pursue, and that's certainly something to celebrate.