California’s offshore islands provide outstanding fishing for a great many species at different times of the year, and the white seabass is one of the favorites of SoCal fishermen. The seabass arrive around the islands with the market squid, and the specialized techniques described here will help you catch them.
A blanket of clouds shrouded the hills of San Clemente Island, some 50 nautical miles off the coast of Southern California, as Capt. Gary Adams positioned his 50-foot six-pack charter boat, Rail Time, outside a kelp bed. “Let’s see if those seabass are biting,” he said, as the crew dropped anchor and anglers cast live squid toward the kelp.
Within seconds, the first angler hooked up, then another and another. And so it went for the next 45 minutes. By the end of the frenzy, all six anglers had caught their three-fish limits, and it was only 8:00 a.m.
Fish the right place at the right time, and the action can be fast and furious on white seabass that regularly reach 50 pounds, and seem to be growing larger each season.
Good skippers know signs that indicate that white seabass are feeding, whether at Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina or San Clemente islands. Each island has its own characteristics. But they also share indicators, in particular, the presence of opalescent (aka “market”) squid.
The first place to start looking is on the squid grounds — sand- and mud-bottom areas in 90 to 120 feet of water where the squid go to spawn at night.
While squid might show up anywhere, traditional squid grounds include Bechers Bay at Santa Rosa Island, Chinese Harbor at Santa Cruz Island, the front side of Santa Barbara Island, the Palisades at Catalina Island, and Pyramid Cove at San Clemente Island.
Light boats — commercial squid fishermen who follow the squid — rank as the most obvious indicator.
The fish finder helps you pinpoint squid nests on the bottom where squid have been laying their translucent egg sacs, which show up on a fish finder as a light-blue fuzz. Squid usually return to a nest each night, so if you find a nest, anchor over it.
As darkness falls, your goals are first attracting squid, then attracting white seabass. Attracting squid takes on even greater urgency if you don’t already have frozen or live squid in the bait tank.
Live squid are sold from live-bait barges in Channel Islands Harbor, Marina del Rey, Long Beach and Newport Beach; or you might find bait boats selling them at the Channel Islands or Catalina. If you find live squid being sold, buy some (usually $60 per scoop), as catching your own isn’t guaranteed.
White seabass will readily eat fresh-frozen squid, so bring some as insurance. To attract your own live-squid bait, 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 livewell.
Sometimes squid hang below the boat, beyond reach of a dip net. This is when anglers employ a crowder, such as the Pacific Edge PE56M — 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, then pivoted outward and lifted to the surface to capture squid.
When squid refuse to come up, squid jigs are employed to catch enough bait for fishing. Among the most popular jigs today are the 3-inch Izorline Lighted Squid Jig and the Ahi Squid Catcher, which includes five small jigs on a gangion. The hooks are more like barbless spikes, which entangle the squid’s tentacles and also make it easy to unhook them.