Calico Bass fish tips - Fishing for Calico Bass How-To - Kelp Bass - Elusive Calico Bass

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Tips for Landing Calico Bass Using Plastic Swim Baits, Iron Jigs and Live Bait Off San Diego, California

In this article I will cover plastic swim bait tips, techniques and conservation for landing more Calico Bass. Over the years lots of practice and learning from other Captain's and anglers has resulted in landing more of these awesome, elusive fish I'd like to share with others.


Calico Bass live in waters off California. They can be found on all our local islands and almost on every beach. They are a surface fish, that can be pretty easy to locate. Find some kind of structure and you have most likely found some Calicos.

They are usually in waters of 25 fathoms (150 feet) or less around structures like kelp beds, rocky reefs, or shipwrecks. Calico Bass are a non-migratory species so after they hatch the closest structure is where they will likely make their home for the rest of their lives. Calicos will use this structure as protection from predators and for assistance in their ambush style of feeding. Calicos become very active in the spring and summer when they begin to spawn but can be caught year round.


Calico's are very slow growing fish and it has been documented that an average 12" Calico Bass is about 5-7 years old. Their slow growth rate and their homeguard behavior makes them extremely vulnerable to over-fishing. For this reason I choose to release females and large "old-timers" who personally I give respect by releasing the bigger models as well.

Choosing a Spot for Fishing

When fishing the kelp beds pick a open hole or line down the kelp and cast the live swim bait or live bait into the hole. Let the plastic sink. Usually the fish will take the bait while it's sinking. Retrieve fast enough to get over the kelp with the tip rod up to avoid snags. For Iron jigs like my favorite, the Tady 45 Light (iron jigs come in light and heavy models for surface and deep yo-yo respectively) Pick a open line upcurrent preferrably from where you are fishing and cast close to the line without snagging any loose kelp stringers. Let the jig sink a few seconds and retrieve trying different sinking depths and retrieve speeds. You may get bit on the first sink or on the retrieve.

Getting Bit

When hooking a fish first try reeling fast and short pumping to get them through the kelp. The key is patience if the fish wraps you in the kelp. If this is the case, keep pressure on the fish and wait. Sometimes you may need to alternate between pressure and slack. Usually the fish will come out then reel fast and keep pole tip high.

If the fish are being shy try lighter line (though riskier because of line breaks in the kelp). Most reels like the popular Penn 500 Jigmaster has quick change spools. Line type is a whole other article but in general whether using braid with a top shot of mono or fluorocarbon or just straight mono as I use always have fresh line and drags set properly before fishing. Especially true for the kelp where line takes a beating and snags or common. The reward fishing the kelp on plastics is big old timer bull Calico's.

Open Water Fishing

Similar rules apply when anchored in the open water. Don't be obsessed for a stern rail spot. I rarely bother and instead take my favorite spot mid boat behind the wheelhouse and in front of the bait tanks. This way if the boat starts dragging on the anchor, the boats will drift over the original stern spot and meter marks. Pick the rail side with the wind to the back of the head. If lines down the rail are wndering under the boat change sides. You want your bait or plastic to drift or swim away from the boat.

Now cast up current and let the bait sink and drift back toward your position taking up slack as needed. This is when strikes usually occur so watch your line for "pick -ups" and wait to feel the strike a couple seconds then set the hook (or just start reeling if using circle hooks). Fish can throw a bait or plastic if you let slack in the line so keep it taught and if they run let the drag do the work.


For tackle I use an 8ft G-Loomis Saltwater Series for fishing plastics with 15lb - 20lb test. The standard rental rod or similar 6 foot rod with a Penn Jigmaster 500 or Squidder work just fine, are sturdy and very reliable. For bait casting use a #2 or so bronze hook with a 1/4 ounce to 1/2 oz sliding egg lead weight. It's all trial and error and a lot of patience with Calicos which makes it a lot of fun. If you get in an area with thick mackerel or Barri's more weight will take the bait to the Calico's or Sandie's without losing your bait.

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If you're fishing the stern usually you can just give the plastic a flip and let it drift back in the current. This is a good time to expect a bite. Mix up the retrieve with speed and depth and if something works keep doing it. When fishing the side rail of the boat on anchor, i like to fish with the wind on my back casting up current.

Over the years, with much success after 100s of days fishing and working local party boats out of San Diego, I have found varying technique and color plastic in a good current brings good results. You will find a color and technique that works for you regardless of what anyone may tell you. I have pulled my biggest fish ( and I always release carefully these enormous "old timer" Calico's) on bigger size baits or plastics while the boat sets the chum line. Fish the inside of the chum circle until the boat anchors.

Swim Bait and Iron Jig Color

The swim bait color (purple) I generally use is usually for fishing for Albie's on the slide. When fishing out of Oceanside, the plastic of choice is a cody, green or red with a yellow head for big sandies of calicos. Purple doesn't work so well out of North County spots. I have found the bite is much different in North San Diego waters off Camp Pendalton down to the treatment plant in Carlsbad. I like brown's and green's off San Diego picking darker colors for darker water and lighter color plastics for lighter blue water for starting out. Pay attention to anglers around you and who is getting bit.

Hope these tips are helpful. Thanks for your interest. Good luck!

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Accurate Boss Valiant Fishing Reel

A favorite reel for local tuna and Yellowtail is Accurate Boss Valiant, a saltwater fishing reel every Southern California angler needs in their mix of tackle. Help support if you buy one of these reels by making purchases from Amazon. I've searched and selected my local favorites for San Diego and SoCal sportfishing where diversity and several rod/reel combos come in handy when on a moments noticed you hook-up a 100#-200# class Bluefin Tuna show up at the side of the boat just five miles off San Diego as visiting and local San Diego, CA anglers have been blessed with this 2016 summer.

Multiple Rod/Reel Combos Rigged and Ready!

Big events happen fast and unforgiving when tuna fishing - the key is to be ready seconds after you hear the angler or deckhand yell hook-up! - You can easily be on a fishing trip on anchor near the Kelp Beds fishing for Calico Bass when a plethora of other species live in the same environment. This is what I think makes growing up as an angler in San Diego using my years of Largemouth Florida Strain Bass around San Diego Lakes, later I found very similar behavior and technique saltwater fishing for the very elusive Calico Bass. Having a 8-9ft. jig stick like my CalStar 800M or L matched with a Daiwa Sealine X 30 and 40# test for the thick kelp it's a great opportunity with the right tackle here to try for White Sea Bass or Yellowtail. If you can have multiple rod/reel fishing combos you can be ready for any change in conditions or wish to try something else if Calico's aren't biting. Having multiple setups all ready to go is awesome and can mean the difference between that bucket list 150# class Bluefin Tuna I mentioned earlier just five miles from San Diego. Not to mention ending up in proud pics and on the plate that night over a beer telling the story how glad you are you invested in all this top-quality saltwater fishing tackle this guy Rob at suggested he get! lol jk of course again I just love helping fellow anglers land those hard to get once in a lifetime fish.

On the same 5am to 5pm offshore trip you can hook up a 20-30# class Yellowtail on the Yo-Yo Iron Jig, a bucket-list San Diego 2016! 150# Bluefin Tuna on a light Tady 45 surface iron, a 50# White Sea Bass or a 50# class Halibut on live squid or a personal favorite of mine (Rob Mailly Owner, a old timer slow-growth lunker elusive Calico Bass while flippin' 3-6' plastics using either my Shimano Calcutta 400

or for lower price and unbelievable casting distance my Daiwa Sealine X SLH20 matched with my 7' G-Loomis 1998 Saltwater Series my total favorite for flippin' plastics and record casts of live bait. I sell all fishing tackle I mentioned here and part of my personal tackle (I chose fishing tackle over a snappy car and wife, lol jk of course) Here's the best deals on Amazon I found for the Boss Valiant BV-300, Daiwa Sealine Series, Avet and Shimano...I haven't left out the first and very best most trusted fishing reel ever made - Penn's Jigmaster 500. My father taught me as a little kid fishing local 3/4 day Coronado Island's trips to learn how to cast a conventional (bait casting) reel using a Penn Jigmaster 500 and a rent rod. He said "son if you can learn to cast a inexpensive old die-hard like a Penn 500

every saltwater fishing reel you cast from now on no matter how expensive and full of features will be a piece of cake and envy of other anglers. It's all about picturing a pendulum and not how hard you cast but proper technique that takes years to perfect for most. Also thumb pressure and controlling backlash which newer high-end saltwater fishing reels like Accurate and Avet have engineered into their respective products. That's another article I will cover.

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