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June 21, 2013

Paddy Whackin'

California kelp holds a mother lode of game fish.

Paddy Whackin'
Game fish such as yellowtail often forage around floating kelp paddies, which is why successful anglers know to key on these natural fish-aggregating devices.

Do you see what I see, at about eleven o'clock?" I asked my friend, squinting into the late-afternoon sun and hoping to catch a glint of burnt-orange on the face of the next swell. After a long, unproductive day of cruising, trolling and staring at the sea surface, I needed affirmation that the patch of kelp in front of us wasn't a hallucination.

As we drew closer, our "fish oasis" revealed itself in all its glory. We pulled in the trolling lures and positioned our 23-foot center console upwind of the paddy, then rigged our bait rods with lively sardines.

No sooner had our two baits landed near the paddy than we were each fast to a yellowtail. Minutes later, two more baits produced two more hook-ups. Jim Hendricks, who was buddy-boating with us on this early October trip, noticed we were stopped and came running in his Cabo 216, Split Decision. Soon we were both involved in an hour-long bite that provided steady action with yellowtail, yellowfin tuna and dorado.

Such is the nature of offshore kelp-paddy fishing, where you can go from zero to hero in an instant. For my money, it's one of the most exciting ways to fish the offshore waters of Southern California and northern Baja. "Paddy whackin'" combines the aspects of hunting and fishing, as you search vast expanses of open ocean looking for that one big fish haven. Even in the midst of an all-day skunking, your spirits can't help but be buoyed by the hope that a mother lode of game fish might be waiting over the crest of the next wave.

Home to Summer Exotics

Starting in early June and running through the fall, kelp paddies off the coast of Southern California serve as home to a variety of summer exotics, including yellowtail, albacore, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna and dorado. Actually, they're more like roadside diners for migrating schools of blue-water fish-hungry, weary travelers who know all too well that baitfish gravitate to the shelter provided by the floating mats.

"Before you can catch them, you've got to find them," reasons Greg Stotesbury, director of sales for AFTCO Manufacturing and a blue-water expert who spends much of his free time at the helm of his 25-foot Skipjack, Kawakawa. One of Stotesbury's favorite spots to hunt for paddies is an expansive area known as The Ridge-a chain of high spots running approximately from the 302 Fathom Spot in the south to the 181 Fathom Spot to the north. "Along the entire ridge there's a huge drop-off, and this kicks up a big current that gathers the paddies," said Stotesbury. For these same reasons, many popular high spots in Southern California and Mexican waters, such as the 277 below the east end of Catalina Island, or the 182, 43 and 425 Fathom Spots and 14-Mile Bank in southern waters, all have the potential to hold kelp paddies.