Our usual routine at Catalina in years past has consisted of spotting “boils” (fish working on the surface), and repetitive casting to cover as much water as possible when the fish are not showing. Most of us utilized “splasher rigs.” A splasher rig is a top-water rig that utilizes a weighted float (cast-a-bubble, Launcher floats or drilled golf balls) with a leader of 4-8 feet (preferable good fluorocarbon). At the business end of the rig there are a variety of options that will work (and you should keep a good selection of these in your tackle box!). Lures for a splasher rig can be a simple as a couple of rubber bands tied to a bare hook, fancy flies and feathers, and even small plastics. I’m sure a squid strip would do well on this rig also, although I’ve never tried it.
Scooterfish (Scott Geerds) and a bonito
The most popular (and effective in my opinion) color for bonito lures is chartreuse, while white, olive green and other colors can be effective at times also. All of these colors will benefit greatly when combined with a good bit of silver flash or chrome.
About a month or so prior to the event Hashem had visited Catalina and posted about the technique that was most effective at the time. This rig is very similar to the splasher rig, but the float is replaced with a 1-3 oz. torpedo sinker. I stocked up on 1-3 oz. torpedo sinkers and found a Bass Pro Shop version that includes an integrated inline swivel on both ends marketed as a trolling sinker. These proved to be indispensable at Catalina this year. This rig casts farther than a splasher, can cover the entire water column, and is much easier to work in the water. It also is more flexible as far as lure options. I was able to use this rig with flies, plastics with jigheads, and even a 3 1/2” X-rap with the middle hook removed (caught a good bonito on that one!).
When casting a rig with a longer leader, braided line and a weight in between, I find it necessary to slightly modify my casting style and leader. If you attempt to cast this rig overhand, it will foul almost every time because the weight will shoot straight out, the leader will straighten behind it (parallel to the braid mainline) and then spin around the mainline causing a tangle. This is a worse problem if you use thinner diameter leader material (like 10-15-lb). I had my best results using P-Line CFX 25-lb fluorocarbon, which is a bit thicker and stiffer than the 15-lb version I usually use. This makes it far more resistant to wrapping around the mainline, and easier to free up if it fouls.
I modified my casting style to a semi-sidearm (maybe 45 degrees from vertical), with a sweeping follow through down and to the left (I am a right hand caster). When casting this way, the weight flies forward first leaving the rod with a straight trajectory about 2 feet to your right. The leader and fly will follow in line with the weight. The follow through part of the cast holds the mainline off to the left for a second so that it is not parallel to the leader during the initial flight of the cast when speeds are high and fouling/wrapping is more likely… This casting technique worked really well when casting nearly weightless flies. If you use plastics with a light leadhead, or heavier flies with lead eyes, the follow through part of the cast becomes less important.
SteveO and a bonito
On each and every cast, as the rig is about to hit the water, I touch my finger to the mainline to slow down the weight, and the fly or lure will shoot forward ahead of the weight as it splashes down. I follow this with two quick and firm jerks of the rod to straighten out the leader. This is where the swivel equipped weights really shined. A couple of jerks on the rod almost always cleared the line for a good retrieve. On rare occasions, the leader would wrap a few times and stay that way throughout the retrieve. Most times you can pull the rig out of the water, jig it lightly a couple of times and it would resolve itself, ready for the next cast. This is a very easy rig to cast when you use a 1oz torpedo with a ¼ oz. leadhead and 4” plastic. This has opened up my fishing options for just about everywhere I fish! A ¼ oz. leadhead with plastic on this rig can be cast long, long distances and will cover much more water than the leadhead alone. The Rapala X-rap behind a 2 oz. torpedo can easily be thrown 90+ yards (this could make a killer striper rig for some spots).
You can fish this rig surface, shallow, deep, fast, slow, dead drop, etc. We had quite a few hits on the dead drop. Just cast out, straighten the line, and wait. Or stop for 5-10 seconds mid-retrieve. A very, very versatile rig that is as simple as can be!
The most effective lures this year were flashy chartreuse flies in #2 and #1 sizes. Clouser Minnows, Deceivers and Bunny flies all worked well. The interesting thing was that the more bloody, mangled and sparse the fly would get, the better it seemed to work. I knew that small sparse baits were effective, and many of the flies I brought had been trimmed down in advance to simulate a smaller, thinner profile bait. The flies seemed to hold up very well, with 10+ fish on one fly before it started to become ineffective. Most of the damage to my flies actually was not from the fish, but from grasping the shank of the hook with pliers for hook removal. For some reason the Jack Mackeral shredded flies far worse than the bonito, even though the bonito have visibly bigger teeth. I was also able to catch using the torpedo rig with a standard ¼ oz. leadhead and the Space Guppy 4” SWA plastics that I have had success with in years past. I tried the Rapala for a while, and landed one bonie on it, but that was more of an experiment to see if the rig was still castable with a hard jerkbait, and it is! I did try throwing tins/metal jigs this year for a brief time, but with no fish to show, so I concentrated on what worked. G-dude did manage a few on his smaller BuzzBomb I think
- Pelagics —Pelagic species are open-ocean water fish and the larger pelagics, such as tuna and billfish, are rarely found close to shore. However, some of the smaller and mid-sized species do migrate into inshore waters; included are jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel, Pacific sardine, Pacific bonito (discussed above), California barracuda and yellowtail. All can show a wide variance in numbers depending upon the ocean currents and water temperature (down during the La Niña cold-water years and up during the El Niño warm-water years).
Kyle Pease with a bonito
Jack mackerel seem to be found at Avalon most of the year and some years their similar-looking cousins from the south, Mexican scad, also inhabit local waters. Pacific mackerel, although one of the main fish found at mainland piers, seem to be less common in Avalon. Nevertheless most years will see mackerel but usually not until the summer-fall months. Pacific sardines were showing up at Avalon in the early years of the new century but I have not seen a single sardine at Avalon since 2013. Given their recent overall drop in numbers in SoCal waters, it’s perhaps expected.
KJ and a kelp bass
All of these fish inhabit mid to top-water zones. A high/low held a few feet below the water’s surface can catch both jack mackerel and Pacific mackerel if they are present.
The jack mackerel have proven to hit on most of the listed baits, everything from worms to peas, and since most are fairly small 6-10 inch fish, small hooks are best.
Redfish (Robert Gardner) with a pileperch
Generally the Pacific mackerel will hit best on a small strip of squid or a bloody piece of mackerel and as a general rule the mackerel prefer to show up two times a day—early morning and early evening into the night. Many times I’ve seen pier anglers in the morning go fishless while nearby anglers who arrived an hour or so earlier had a full bucket of mackerel. Or, I see people leave a pier fishless while as soon as the sun drops the macks are in full mac-attack mode.
Nighttime fishing for the mackerel can be exciting. At night you’ll see various rigs, either people using bait or Sabiki-type bait rigs fished under a glow-stick (although 3-6 mackerel twisting up a Lucky Lura/Sabiki leader isn’t so lucky—it often results in the loss of the $2-3 leader). Often when the macs are hitting, glow sticks will be headed every which way and you will need to keep track of which line is yours so that it isn’t tangled with a neighbor’s line. It can be a little crazy at times but fun. But, a high/low baited with a piece of mackerel and fished under a glow stick is just as much fun and rarely means a loss of rigging (and remember that bringing in a Sabiki with 4-6 mackerel through the kelp at the Mole is no easy task).
Summer to fall months will also see some barracuda, some during the day and some at night. The best bet to catch them is generally a gold- or silver-colored spoon like a Kastmaster or Krocodile but Megabaits also get a fair share.
PFIC regular Steve with a barracuda taken in 2009
Most years will also see some yellowtail show up, usually in the August-October months, and most will be the smaller firecracker-size fish. This can change during the warm-water years when more fish will show up, the run can start earlier in the summer, and larger fish may also visit the pier. As example, during the El Niño conditions in 2015 there was an extended run of yellows in September, mostly firecrackers in size but also some of the larger “tanker” size fish. Most of the yellowtail were caught on live bait fished under a float of some type with “Spanish jacks” (jack mackerel) being the best bait. A few were also hooked on lures—spoons such as Megabaits and even soft plastic baits such as Big Hammers and Fish Traps. One of the keys if you do hook a yellowtail is to keep it out of the kelp. Keep a net handy and use it as soon as the fish tires and is near the pier.
Redfish (Robert Gardner) and a sheephead
- Artificial Lures — Due perhaps to the kelp, most anglers do not use artificial lures at the Mole. However, a few locals seem to come out each night in pursuit of kelp (calico) bass and soft plastics such as Big Hammers, Fish Traps, and even Berkley Power Sand Worms seem to get a few hits and sometimes these are big fish.
Since I am not an expert at using such lures, I yield to the advice of another PFIC angler—DaveMcD. For a period of time he was stationed on San Clemente Island and while there he often fished at the Navy pier at Wilson Cove, a pier with very similar conditions as the Mole.
In one message he said, “I recommended 4” and 6” swimbaits, 3” and 5” curltails, in colors such as Red Shad, Rainbow Trout, Chartruese, Pumpkinseed, and Golden Brownbait; these work well around the kelp (as well as open water) for calicos, yellowtail, an occasional sheephead, and white seabass. Krocodile spoons 4-6” models, and Tady 45 irons (green and yellow combo seems best).” In another message he said “I used a second pole with 10-lb line to cast 4-inch, Red Shad color, Bass Assassin curltails that I rigged weedless with a ¼ oz. bullet sinker, and some Mustad, size 1, worm hooks that are blue and have the double 90 degree angles near the eye. I put the angle part so the hook shank comes out on the back of the Assassin (and lies flush on the outside of the back) and then poke the point back through so the point lies tucked up between the two belly flaps of the Assassin. This made it extremely weedless for dragging through the kelp and at first I wondered if this would affect the hooking ability, but the bass proved this didn’t hinder them at all. I cast out into the weeds trying to hit the holes and let it sink as far as it would, and then a very slow sort of yo-yo retrieve. The line would lie on top of the floating kelp strands, so I would bring the lure up until it would go over the next kelp strand, and then let it fall again into the next hole. Worked great, got two calicos about 3+ pounds each and a third about 1 1/2 pounds, all while watching a beautiful orange and rose sunset over the Pacific.”