Southern California anglers know when Spring rolls around as the White Sea bass start to feed heavily at local islands and along the Southern California coast. White Sea Bass can be found from Point Conception at Santa Barbara South to the Mexico Border at San Diego and around the Coronado Islands in Mexican Water. Typically these elusive croaker's seem to lose all caution during their spawning cycle starting some time around March and continues through June (approx.). As with most fish species White Sea bass become easy targets for anglers. It is for this reason the California Department of Fish and Game has placed a "one-fish per angler" rule for all sportfishing anglers. White Sea bass must be 28 inches or greater in length to be legally kept. As a result of strict CA DFG regulation, commercial gill net ban and successful hatchery programs, the white sea bass has made an incredible recovery and is now a popular game fish for Southern California anglers. Here are some important tips for a successful deep sea fishing trip targeting White Sea bass - When (what time to fish), Where (top productive locations) and How (lure and live bait presentation).
White sea bass fishing usually begins sometime in the spring with March the typical first month to see good number of white sea bass. White sea bass fishing at this time of year is done mainly around offshore islands such as Catalina Island or San Clemente Island with other islands also having good prospects. White sea bass can also be caught on the coast and all length fishing trips can catch these game fish. Typically the longer fishing trips such as overnight trips or longer are the most consistent at catching white sea bass. Early season white sea bass are almost always caught on live or fresh dead squid. Often white sea bass will locate spawning squid and will actively feed on them. As spring continues white sea bass may also be taken on sardines or mackerel as well as anchovies as they become less keyed in on one food source.
Most productive fishing times for White Sea bass is during their spawning period between Mid-March and June. During this period White Sea bass exert a ton of energy producing eggs and looking for a place to spawn (bed). All this work comes a relentless appetite that drives them to be voracious feeders attacking just about any bait, artificial or live. White Sea bass are sporadic feeders where some days they will only feed a few hours a day or at night. Predicting when White Sea bass will feed can be the most difficult part of catching these fish. Often as with most fish species a good tide change with a strong current can make for good timing when fishing for White Sea bass
By summer you can catch white sea bass on almost any bait or jig. Still favorite baits are large sardines, mackerel, and live squid. White sea bass are also caught in the fall and winter months but usually other game fish are taking the spotlight at this time.
White sea bass are one of our most challenging fish both in getting them to bite and in catching them. There are times when there are literally hundreds of white sea bass all around the boat but for some reason will not bite. And then just as quickly a flip of the switch, and they are biting with abandon leaving you to wonder just when it might stop. White sea bass are one of our largest game fish with weights of 60 pounds or more possible. Average sized fish are 25-30 pounds and they are considered a premium eating catch. There are limits on the number of white sea bass you are allowed to keep and this can vary from 3 fish to 1 fish limits (during the spring months from March 15-June 15 when they spawn the limit is 1 fish). Not only are these fish at times tricky to get to bite, but they are also very difficult to land. They have softer mouths than yellowtail or tuna and they have sharp gill plates that can fray your line. White sea bass are also known for long hard runs and they will often take you into kelp or reef areas if they can, resulting in the line breaking.
I am a huge plastic's (plastic swim bait) enthusiast. For live bait White Sea bass love live squid! Live squid to White Sea bass is like a kid in a candy store. Don't leave the dock without live squid or plans to make bait or transfer some direct from squid boats offshore. It's no coincidence that some of the most popular WSB areas are also some of the most popular squid-catching areas. Use a size 2/0 hook with 20-30 pound test line and a small 1/2 to 3/4 ounce egg sinker that is allowed to slide right down to the hook sometimes called a Carolina rig for fishermen visiting from outside California. This is a typical White Sea bass live squid rig.
White iron jigs with a whole squid or two attached to the hook can work great and is my favorite way of getting the drop on a lunker. Some days may call for more finesse on lighter gear to trigger a strike. Frozen squid, live sardines, anchovies, small mackerel and "brown bait" are alternative baits I suggest only use when squid isn't available or the fish are being line shy or finicky. I caught my personal best White Sea bass off Carlsbad one great day while targeting Yellowtail. I had been "throwing" (casting) white iron "lights" (light weight surface iron jig) with my Cal Star Graphighter 800M along the kelp line up current as always best practice when I caught a nice 30# fish.
White heavy iron jigs in combination with two live squid pinned on is how some anglers like to fish light iron as it's believed this combo mimics schooling squid that White Sea bass love and gorge themselves. Fish the heavy jig just in contact with the bottom, but on occasion has a little motion from the rock of the boat. Many times white sea bass will feed on spawning squid and when squid spawn they lock together at times as they drift to the bottom ending their life-cycle. White sea bass want to spend the least amount of energy for the biggest payout and will slurp up these multiple squid combinations. The white jig with squid pinned on mimics this natural occurrence during a squid spawn. This technique can be very effective on large white sea bass and heavy line is a must 40 pound test the standard. CalStar Graphighter Series make an excellent graphite 8 foot long "M" for medium jig stick with heavy back bone for turning bigger game fish like White Sea bass and Yellowtail. This tackle also works well for fishing Yellowtail by "Yo-Yo" ing the heavy iron jig just off the bottom. I wrote a popular how-to catch Yellowtail by fishing iron "YO-Yo" style.
Another technique is using a medium sized mackerel for bait. This technique works well in the summer months especially when fishing areas where other smaller game fish are abundant. Often using a sardine or anchovy will attract calico bass, barracuda, and sand bass before a white sea bass locates the offering. By using a larger bait it reduces the likelihood of catching these smaller game fish. When fishing a mackerel use at least a 2/ 0 hook and 30 pound test. Unlike yellowtail fishing in which the more lively the bait the more likely to get bit, white sea bass tend to go after semi active baits so your mackerel should not be super active. A slow steady swimming bait is ideal. This technique can work well on even our shortest fishing trips like our ½ day trips. Many very large white sea bass have been caught and lost with just this sort of technique. Letting your mackerel swim naturally and paying attention to your bait is key. When your bait suddenly lives up this could mean a white sea bass is very close. Keep a close eye on your line and if you feel a bump do not yank up (or set the hook) instead give it more line. Often a white sea bass will not take the bait until sampling it for sometime. Once you feel the weight of the fish on your line count to 5 and then bring your line tight while setting the hook. Once the fish is hooked the fun begins.
When fishing with fin baits it is very important to select healthy bait and as carefully as possible hook your bait either in the nose sideways, collar area, or even belly area depending on how you want your bait to swim. Hooking the bait through the nose sideways will cause your bite to swim slightly side wards and at angle to the boat. Hooking it in the collar will also cause the bait to swim sideways as well as slightly downward. Hooking the bait in the belly will cause the bait to swim downward and away from the boat (use when wanting to have your bait go deep). If you are unsure on how you want to present your bait, hook it threw the nose sideways as this will be the easiest and best for the longevity of your bait. Once you have cast your fin bait try to let it swim as natural as possible this means letting it take line out and not pulling on it or creating resistance against the bait. If your bait is staying put and not moving much you can give it a twitch to wake it up. Unlike yellowtail and tuna fishing somewhat lethargic bait is ideal so if it is swimming lazily this is perfect.
When fishing live squid techniques change quite a bit. First you can use a live squid for many casts as a white sea bass will be just as likely to hit an almost dead squid as a lively one. In fact there are times when fresh dead squid is preferred to live squid. There are not too many different ways to hook a squid as you want to hook it in the upper cone area away from the head. Ideally hooking it and then bring the hook back again so it is securely attached. Lots of smaller fish will pick at your bait and if it is not securely attached it will be taken off the hook very quickly by the smaller fish. A large hook such as 2/0 -4/0 is ideal as white sea bass will not be hook shy. When fishing with live squid be prepared to fish both deep and shallow or close to the surface. Sometimes the bite is right on the bottom and other times it will be in the middle of the water column or on the surface. Keeping an eye on where anglers are getting bit is the key to using the right weight for the given situation. Your live squid should not run too much even if fishing without any weight so if it starts really moving it is a fish. Finally watch your line and other anglers line dart from slack to tight when fish are slurping the bait.
Another technique for white sea bass in the spring and early summer months is letting your iron jig or live bait go down deep when fishing barracuda. As barracuda migrate into our waters, they follow balls of bait fish and in turn white sea bass follow them. Barracuda will often injure bait fish as they feed and the opportunistic white sea bass wait as these injured fish sink down. A mackerel also works well in this situation as it limits the deep running barracuda from taking your bait. When white sea bass have been caught recently this deep fishing technique is pretty effective and some trophy sized white sea bass can make a half day trip the trip of a lifetime with this technique.
White Sea Bass fishing take time and practice but the table fare value is some of the best local fish off Southern California's coast. It's a great time to get the gear out with fresh line and get those lines wet in Spring when many boats start running trips to the San Clemente Island's or the Coronado Islands as we saw 2015 June boats out of San Diego had some excellent WSB fishing in between the solid tuna and Ono that even made it this far North. Channel Islands Sportfishing offers some of the best White Sea Bass and concurrent record-class Halibut fishing trips when anglers are looking or waiting on tuna or Yellowtail. Click the book now button to ask me any further questions about tips on catching local fish off SoCal. Rob
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