WOW, What a Day!  Rockfish, Halibut and Black Sea Bass

by Jason "jas" Morton



Sunday August 11, 2002

Saturday night I decided to check the tide predictions for Sunday.  “Low tide at 6:08am.” I was excited as I knew the tide would be building throughout the morning. Just knowing that the tides were perfect for an early morning launch was enough to get the juices flowing.

There are a number of fishy areas in Malibu, CA to choose from.  I decided on Leo Carrillo State Beach as it's known for lush kelp beds and rocky reefs.

I launched with my good friend Tom to clear skies, subtle breeze and 1-2 foot waves.  We decided to head towards a few lone kelp stringers. We tied up to the kelp once the depth dropped to about 50ft. I began my day by dropping hand-tied shrimp flies tipped with strips of squid.  I immediately started to pull up Olive rockfish.  After about 6 fish I switched to a plastic root beer scampi lure.  That was a hit with the rockfish.  I started pulling up a “mixed bag” of Olives, Treefish, Gopher and Red Vermilions.  It's fun battling those rockfish with the light gear and plastics.  Tommy was of course experiencing the same good fortune as I was. After about 20 plus fish we decided to make a move to search for larger game.

I made a move to a reef that wasn’t marked by any kelp or lobster trap buoys.  Once we found the edge of the reef, our fish finders lit up with markings.   The lower column between 40-52ft deep was packed thick with fish. Drifting slowly over the reef was the ticket. I immediately started hooking up with more rockfish. The scampi drifting slowly on the bottom with a twitch here and there was pulling the Reds in one after the other.  Though the olives were still the predominant fish being pulled up. 

The wind started to pick up as the wind waves did soon after. Some 3-4 foot rollers started to pass beneath our kayaks making for some rough fishing. Nothing these two hardcore (ha ha) kayak fishermen couldn’t handle.  The wind quickly blew us off of the reef into Sanddab, Sand Bass and Halibut country.  I soon had 4 Sanddabs and 2 Sand Bass to add to the mix of fish caught and released. 

Time for lunch, I baited up a shrimp fly rig on the top dropper loop and a 2/0 hook with a small whole squid on the other.  Starting to eat my sandwich I felt my bass rod begin to twitch.  I put the sandwich down and tended to the fish knocking at my door.  After giving the fish some time to take the whole squid, I decided to slowly wind.  The fish was on.  I knew by the weight that it wasn’t a Sand Dab.  After catching about 25 Rockfish, a few bass and Sand Dabs, I landed a 24” plump Halibut.  What a day!  I guess good karma for releasing most of the fish I catch.

The wind really started to howl.  The water was getting murky.  Tommy and I had drifted about a mile and a half away from our launch.  It would be a hard paddle into the 15-20 knot wind.  I decided to tie off to some kelp east of Nicolas Canyon.  I started to toss the same scampi plastic I had been using for the previous 3 hours.  I was tossing my scampi, focusing on this one area, letting it bounce along the bottom on the retrieve.  On my third drop I felt a fish taking nice strikes at the scampi lure.  On the third strike I set the hook.  WOW, BIG FISH!!!  The fish immediately started to tow me against the current and thankfully, away from the kelp.  Though we were surrounded by kelp so it was just a matter of time before it would come into play.  This fish was huge or decent size and very powerful.  I hooked up using an 8’3” hard graphite California Calico Bass Rod with an Abu Garcia 5600 strung with 120 yards of 15lb mono line.

The whole time I was just hoping that my knot would hold.  The fish towed me about 80 yards towards the first section of kelp that would eventually come into play.  I tightened the drag down, put the rod in between my knees and began to back paddle.  I couldn’t do much but it did seem to turn the fish’s head around, preventing it from reaching the kelp.  The fish started towing me to the other end of the kelp line.  There were kelp stringers to the left and right of me but somehow I kept the fish out of the kelp.  My luck soon changed.  The beast headed straight into the kelp bed.  I again put the rod in between my knees and began back-paddling as hard as I could.  When I grabbed the rod I could feel the line wrapped up in the kelp.  My expectations were low though I was able to miraculously untangle the fish out of the kelp.  I still didn’t know what I hooked up to. Though I had concluded that it wasn’t a Bat Ray nor one of the species of sharks you might find common to that area.

I was really hoping for a huge White Sea Bass.  It's a prize fish eagerly sought after by West Coast anglers.  They've been know to reach up to 70-80lbs (very tasty too). 

I played the back paddle game for another 20 minutes.  Because of the light line and the amount of kelp that was constantly being wrapped around it, I had to use an aggressive but gingerly approach to the fight if I was going to bring the fish to the surface.  At about the one-hour mark, I was able to see color.  It was a Giant Black Sea Bass.  Caught on a plastic scampi in less than 40 feet of water.  The fish was tired and so was I.  It was a nice site to see.  Especially after the kind of battle it was using the light gear.  We took a few pictures, stared at her, pulled the scampi lure from her mouth and released her.  Wow, what a battle!  The fish out powered me for at least the first 30 minutes.  From my experiences, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I paddled against the strong wind back to my original launching zone.  Fighting the Black Sea Bass made it  even that much tougher of a paddle.  I was beat!

This is an approximate total for the morning:  Olive Rockfish 15+, assorted Rockfish 8, Red Vermilion Rockfish 4, Sanddabs 4, Sand Bass 2, keeper Halibut 1, Black Sea Bass 1.

I kept a few Olives, one Red Vermilion, one Sand Bass and the Halibut.

What a great day of fishing!