Catalina 2004, an old fishing trip #5

Ken Jones

Staff member
Date: April 28, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Ken Jones

Subject: What fishing is like at Catalina...long

A Catalina Report 2004

Day One — Thursday, April 22, 2004. Following a quick 5 1/2 hour drive down from Lodi, I caught the noon ferry to Catalina (which was late). Checked into the Hermosa Hotel, lathered sun tan lotion on every conceivable inch of exposed flesh, and headed out to the pier.

HOT and sunny but just a slight kiss of breeze — which was welcomed — and a slight ruffle to the water. Rigged up the usual rigging — two size 6 baitholder hooks and a one ounce torpedo sinker and was soon landing a few fish. Did try out a variety of baits: pile worms, ghost shrimp, squid, market shrimp, frozen peas, anchovies, and some exotics I had brought — garden snails and abalone trimmings. The latter two baits had been brought along in an attempt to solve the problem that always exists at the pier. You need small hooks and small baits to get the large opaleye but the smaller fish — senorita, rock wrasse, blacksmith, etc., will generally grab your bait first. You need to have bait that is tough enough to withstand the ravages of the smaller fish but still attractive to the opaleye. The tough little snails actually proved good for this task while the abalone didn’t seem to work as well at attracting the fish.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 2:30-7:30 p.m.

61 Kelp Bass – but only three legal size fish
15 Senorita
11 Blacksmith
7 Halfmoon
5 Rock Wrasse
1 Garibaldi
1 Sheephead
1 Jacksmelt

After a short trip back to the hotel to change into something a little warmer, I grabbed a snack, and then headed back to the pier where I was joined by Gdude and his brother-in- law. As soon as the sun disappeared over the Catalina hills the species changed. That was o.k. since I was seeking out some mackerel, sculpin, and possibly a shark or ray (generally horn sharks or swell sharks). Unfortunately the pelagics were absent, the bass bite had slowed, and the close-in waters were invaded by a hungry group of fat, gravid shinerperch which had the audacity to keep hitting my light line. Even though I switched to larger hooks, the shiners kept grabbing the bait (initially worms but then squid strips and/or shrimp). I was now also using a second rod, and larger rigging for the sharks/ray, but my plans were thwarted by a group of marauding lobsters that seemed to grab hold of the squid bait as soon as it reached bottom. They were determined to frustrate me, and they succeeded. Disgusted by the shinerperch and lobsters, and a little tired out, I decided to quit early and head to the arms of Morpheus.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 8:45-11:00 p.m.

13 Shinerperch
12 Kelp Bass
1 California Scorpionfish

Day Two — Friday, April 23. Overslept and didn’t make my 6 a.m. fishing goal. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful morning with just a slight breeze. Unfortunately the water was a little too placid and crystal clear. Even worse the bite had slowed, due perhaps in part to a grunion run the previous night. Once again good variety but slow compared to the previous day.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 6:30-10 a.m.

19 Kelp Bass
14 Rock Wrasse
13 Senorita
3 Halfmoon — one about a pound in weight.
1 Sheephead — legal size
1 Blacksmith

Was joined during the morning by Joromaca and JimboJack after their arrival from the mainland. Nice to see their familiar faces and they too immediately began to catch fish.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 12:30-2:00 p.m.

8 Senorita
4 Kelp Bass
2 Rock Wrasse
1 Garibaldi
1 Scorpionfish
1 Blacksmith

We all decided to visit the Cabrillo Mole in the afternoon to check out the site of the next day’s derby—and to see if we could get some bigger fish. There was a gentle current and the kelp was avoidable. In addition we located some big opaleye (I got three derby-size fish, one on a garden snail, one on a pile worm, and one on a ghost shrimp). Not too many bass though and all the bass were smaller there than those at the GPP.

Cabrillo Mole
Fished from 2:30-5 p.m.

4 Senorita
3 Opaleye
2 Sheephead
2 Halfmoon
2 Kelp Bass
2 Blacksmith
1 Rock Wrasse

However, the wind came up (as in TOO WINDY). After having the top of my cooler blow into the water (got it back with the help of JimboJack’s net), watching two bicycle racks blow over from the wind, and being just a tad bit uncomfortable, we decided to head back to the hotel before dinner. Following an excellent dinner with the fellow pier rats (around twenty), I took a look outside at the same blustery conditions and decided to call it a night. Gdude headed out to the pier and later said that the wind was much diminished by 10 p.m. or so and that the fishing was decent.

Day Three — Saturday, April 24. Had to get in a little GPP fishing before the derby at the Mole so got up early, woke up JimboJack, and we headed down to the pier. Was greeted by a reduced wind and a beautiful sunrise to the east portending another wonderful day. Expected a possible sculpin or shark due to the early hour but instead found an ocean whitefish hitting my squid bait. Got a picture but it was still kind of dark so don’t know how it will turn out. As usual in the early morning, the wrasses (rock wrasses and senorita) were asleep so initially the action was on bass. As soon as the wrasses’ alarm clock went off they awoke and began to attack the baits — rock wrasses hitting on the bottom, senorita at mid-depth.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 5:50-8:20 a.m.

10 Kelp Bass
8 Rock Wrasse
2 Scorpionfish
2 Senorita
1 Garibaldi – a large fish
1 Ocean Whitefish – legal size
1 Sheephead

At 8:30 headed back to the room to put on shorts and the “official” t-shirt.

At the Mole I set up next to Joromaca and JimboJack in the same spot where we had enjoyed success the previous day. Unfortunately the conditions were not the same in the morning: no wind, bright sun, and an uncooperative current that kept the leaves of the kelp directly in the path of the lines. Tournament time and slow fishing, a somewhat disconcerting chain of events given the fact that a photographer from Inside Sportfishing was scheduled to film the derby for posterity. But a nice turnout: Baitfish and Rebecca, Rich and Tammy, Ark and Josephine, Shorepounder and Cindy, Josh, his brother and dad, Pescador, OB PierRat, Joromaca, Jimbojack, the large Liu clan and a few people that I failed to get the names (sorry).

Cabrillo Mole
Fished from10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

3 Garibaldi
3 Kelp Bass
2 Giant kelpfish
2 Opaleye — one weighing in at 1.6 lb.
2 Blacksmith
2 Senorita
1 Halfmoon
1 Jacksmelt

All in all the fishing was slow (except for Shorepounder and Cindy who used slip sinkers, size 16 circle hooks, and frozen peas to attract a number of good-sized opaleye up to their waiting arms). But the company was great, got a chance to socialize with the fellow pier rats, and even got to partake of some of Gdude’s famous pot stickers once again. What more do you need? As for the photographer, his camera malfunctioned and the audio wouldn’t record properly. He took a couple of pictures of Cindy pulling in some opaleye but that was about it.

At 2:30 the derby ended, the prizes were given out (thanks again Inside Sportfishing—and Adam), and some final group pictures were taken.

Prizes: Ist Place—Cindy with a 2.5 lb. Opaleye; 2nd Place—Joromaca with a 2 lb. Opaleye; 3rd Place—KJ with a 1.6 lb. Opaleye. Several sheephead were close to these weights in size.

And, as the festivities wound down the tidal conditions changed and the fishing picked up.

Fished the Mole from 3-5:30 p.m.

6 Garibaldi
5 Jacksmelt
5 Blacksmith
4 Senorita
2 Kelp Perch
1 Sheephead
1 Striped Kelpfish

Shared a good meal that night with Adam, Rebecca, Shorepounder, and Cindy before retiring once again to the soothing sounds of Catalina at night.

Day Four — Sunday, April 25. Got up early in order to get a little more fishing before the required 11 a.m. exit from the motel. Most of the worms were now gone as well as much of the shrimp and squid. Decided to use anchovies and, as usual, that meant more bass.

Green Pleasure Pier
Fished from 5:50-9:50 a.m.

30 Kelp Bass
4 Rock Wrasse
4 Senorita
2 Blacksmith
1 Jack Mackerel
1 Garibaldi
1 Scorpionfish

Once again headed back to the hotel with memories that will last a long, long time. And, once again, the ferry was late.

Some lessons learned:

1. The species and their numbers at the Green Pleasure Pier have changed little over the past four decades. With the exception of more sheephead and (I believe) more sculpin (scorpionfish), the records are almost the same. In fact, my fish per hour and point totals are nearly identical to those recorded in the ‘70s. The biggest variance year to year is in the pelagic species — Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel and Pacific sardines. Some years finds all of these present, some years none, and some years just one or the other. The bottom species are pretty consistent.
2. Late afternoon, and a LITTLE wind, seems to helps the fishing.
3. The bass love worms, cut anchovies and mackerel, and strips of squid best.
4. The rock wrasse love worms fished on the bottom; worms hanging mid-depth may get you some bass, blacksmith and halfmoon but usually will result in senorita who seem both more numerous and more aggressive.
5. Halfmoon definitely prefer strips of squid.
6. An ungodly number of bass, many legal-size, hang UNDER the pier, but there are so many ropes, cables and other obstructions that it can be almost impossible to fish that area let alone land a big fish if hooked in that area.
7. At night, bait aside or under the pier will almost assuredly attract a bug (lobster) and that often means lost riggings if you are using light tackle.
8. The opaleye are there but are more wary in the crystal-clear waters around the pier than at the mole. Light line and small hooks are your best bet along with peas as bait. The trick though is having the bait survive the onslaught of senorita, blacksmith and halfmoon until such time as the opaleye grab the bait.
9. Nighttime is often the time for pelagics as well as bass and sharks/rays. Senorita, rock wrasse and sheephead sleep at night so they will not be stealing your bait (and the blacksmith and halfmoon seem less active). So there is definitely a different fishery here during the daylight and nighttime hours. Nighttime is also your best opportunity to catch some sculpin (scorpionfish) as is usual at most piers. Some time needs to be invested at the pier in the very early hours — with live bait — since white seabass are so common in these waters.
10. It is apparent that recreational angling from the pier takes a definite backseat to the commercial activities and private boating taking place in the harbor. I wonder how many of the powers to be remember the fact that Coastal Conservancy monies were used in restoration of the pier in 1989 (and usually that means that the pier is to be used, at least in part, for pier angling.

One last note is that you will not enjoy the action if you only want large fish. If you cannot enjoy the fishing itself and the beauty of the surroundings you may be disappointed. I enjoy small fish on light tackle so was very happy as usual with the action. And—all fish were returned to the water.