I have not had a chance to get on the water in a while. That is an itch that just has to be scratched, so when I saw a break in my routine, I seized the opportunity to wet a line.
I headed to Shelter Island and launched my pontoon off the beach just past the boat ramp. I hit the water near the top of a rising tide just as the sun peered over Mount Miguel and lit up the San Diego skyline. A good start, fish or no fish.
I had a two fly rig on my TFO 8wt with a small bucktail streamer about a foot above a Crazydad (thank you Richard!). This is my standard bay rig because it is a proven formula. I fish it on a sink tip line with the fastest sink rate I can get. I use a full sink line if the water is over 20 feet deep but prefer the sink tip for ease of line handling. I mix up the retrieve until I find what the fish like. Usually slow and twitchy, sometimes a bit more bouncy, and ocassionally a fast strip.
I let the tide take me down the line of moored boats in about 16 feet of water. It only took 10 minutes for the first tug on a quick retrieve. It was a small but scrappy spotted bay bass.
I’m often asked why I use an 8wt for fish that rarely exceed a couple of pounds. First, the heavy rod is for the weighted double fly rig and sinking line. A 7wt could do it and I have fished a 6wt, but the 8wt turns over the heavy rig much better. Secondly spotties are not the only thing to catch in the bay and any cast may find you tied into a big halibut, bonito, corvina, or even bonefish. So, I go heavy, prepared for anything.
I kept drifting, and again got a hit on a fast strip. I could tell this was a better fish than the first. Soon a nice sized spotty was puffing up for me as I removed the hook. Spotties clamp down their jaw and flair their gill plates and fins when threatened. I know halibut like to eat them but maybe this technique works to avoid being dinner as they get bigger.
It didn’t take long until another grab jolted my line. I strip set and felt the fish head deeper, but it was small and I changed its course with the backbone of my TFO custom shop 8wt. Then, the fish seemed to grow on the line and head to the bottom with twice the resolve. I increased pressure, putting a pretty hood bend in the rod. As I hoisted the fish up from 18 feet, I saw color – times 2. Spotties hang out in gangs; it is not unusual to hook one and have another jump in on the action. I’ve also had other species grab my second fly like mackerel or smelt. This time it was two spotties.
I kept drifting with the tide until I reached a flat that is 10-12 feet of water right in front of the Bali Hai restaurant. I dropped the hook here to wait for the tide to turn and take me back to my launch point. I could cast to the edge of the shelf into 20+ feet of water or just work the grass on the shore side of the flat. Its been a good spot for me in the past. Today it was great.
Second cast into the channel was a hard hit on a jerky retrieve. I felt the fish in the grass and thought it was snagged. A bit of tug-o-war made me realize it was all fish. Again, two flashes winked at me as they came up. Both were nice fish.
The bite was on and I wasted no time in getting my flies back in the zone. Two strips in and I had another hard strike. This fish however came up alone.
I kept working the drop off and caught 3 more small spotties and one calico bass, all on the Crazydad. I shifted my cast to the shallower water and had just counted to 6 on the sink when I got bit. Again that tug was multiplied a second later. Soon my third double of the day was in front of me. The bigger fish has the smaller fish wrapped around his tail, but I quickly got them both back in the bay.
I kept working the flat and caught 3 more small spotties. Then I cast back to the channel and let my flies sink deep before bringing them up the slope. A couple strips in something slammed my fly hard. It was fiesty and then it too got company with a take I felt with a fish already on. They gave me a good scrap and a surprise when I got them in. I had a spotty on the streamer but a barred sand bass or sandy had eaten the Crazydad.
The tide has turned and was ebbing out. I pulled up the anchor and drifted back, casting to the grassline. A couple more small spotties, a small calico, and another sandy took the Crazydad. I worked into 16 feet of water and then felt a stong take. The head shakes and bottom dive indicated spottie and the a second hit indicated my fifth double of the day. Indications were correct and two more spotties were between my fins.
After releasing both fish, I cleared the entrance to the boat ramp without getting run over and worked the rocks of the breakwater to the southwest of the ramp. Two more small calicos and a small spottie came to hand. I made a swing into deeper water outside of the moorings and fished in 30 feet of water. On the second cast as I was bringing it up off the bottom I got a hit and the speed told me it was not a bass. The fish move erratically and I could feel the tail vibrations. It was either a small bonito or a big mackerel. Soon I had color and the could see I’d hooked a big mackerel on the bucktail.
It was a good way to end the day. Wisdom says to leave ’em biting and end your last cast on a fish, so I did. A couple hours on the water and I’d caught over 2 dozen fish, 10 of them as doubles. Yep, it was a good day indeed. Maybe I should have gotten a Lotto ticket!
Fish on! Joel