Del Mar, California

Although it's often cold, the fishing is hot...

Late fall and early winter in Southern California are excellent times to break out the fly rod and head to the beach or just offshore. For one thing, the conditions typically are favorable, and although it's often cold, the fishing is hot.

Along the beaches of Del Mar north of San Diego, surf perch begin showing regularly, and usually a few corvina are still around as well. These fish swim inside the breaking surf right along the beaches, looking for small shrimp and crabs washed out by the waves. Just a bit farther offshore, but often within reach of some fishing piers, the main attraction becomes bonito, which have shown in big numbers and sizes for the past few winters. Around nearshore kelp beds you can expect to encounter barracuda and a variety of kelp bass. Anglers in the know can even find California halibut both in the kelp beds and around shallow inlets.

You'll mostly need lighter gear, like a 6-weight rigged with either an intermediate or a sinking line. Most fish hold deep this time of year; even the bonito and mackerel make few surface appearances, so you need to get down to them. In addition, a floating line gets washed around far too much in the surf, even in the shallowest conditions. In these situations, your leaders should be short - maybe 4 or 5 feet. For fishing the Southern California beaches, shrimp and surf-crab-type patterns, and small weighted bonefish flies are best. If you do choose to head into the surf you'll need waders and boots with soles made for walking along slippery rocks. Avoid fishing during slack tides and be careful to watch incoming water so that you don't get cut off.

The best sources of local information are Andy Montana's in Coronado (619-435-9992; www.andymontanas.com) and the San Diego Fly Shop in Solana Beach (858-350-3111; www.sandiegoflyshop.com). Both offer guide services and can give you current reports and   fishing information.