Get Your Whacks in Early
Most SoCal private-boaters know these areas well, so paddy fishing can become competitive when droves of weekend warriors hit the water. However, the willingness to get out there and work harder than the next guy can make the difference between success and failure.
"You need to be on the water early-sometimes long before sunrise-to improve your chances of hitting a paddy that hasn't been hammered by other boats," says paddy-hunter Jim Hendricks. "The idea is to be in the target area-which might be 30 or more miles offshore-while it's still dark. That way you're ready to start searching at first light."
Stotesbury offers a unique twist to this approach. "If there's an area I think is holding paddies, I'll run outside of it while it's still dark. Then I'll work my way back towards shore, taking advantage of the lightening sky in the east. I'm able to see paddies before the sun's even up, while it's still too dark for guys who are heading out."
No matter what time of day you hunt for paddies, it's important to have good eyes aboard your boat. Every crew member should play an active role in the search for paddies, and a good pair of 7 X 50 marine binoculars can be a big help. Powerful, gyro-stabilized binoculars have gained favor with serious offshore anglers (Stotesbury said his crew has used these binocs to spot paddies at a distance of three miles); however, they can run from $1,000 to more than $4,000 a pair.
Getting as high as possible above the water also helps. During the paddy season, it's not unusual to see two or three anglers on a flying bridge, "glassing" the horizon with binoculars. This isn't an option on an open boat like mine, so I often buddy-boat with other small boats. By working as a team and staying in visual or radio contact, we're able to effectively cover a much larger area of water.
Choose Your Weapon
Once you spot a paddy, the fun really begins. There are many different ways to fish the paddies with live baits or artificials. If you're trolling, pulling your lures past the paddy will often draw a strike. The most common method is to drift by the paddy while fly-lining a live anchovy or sardine on a 15- or 20-pound conventional outfit.
Stotesbury tailors his approach to each paddy by using his depthsounder. "If I've seen a lot of paddies without fish on them during the day, I'll likely meter around each one to look for bait and fish and continue on if I don't see anything," he said. "If a paddy looks really fishy, with birds on it, bait flipping on the surface or fish swimming around, I'll approach in full stealth mode."