Spring fishing in Santa Barbara Channel

santa barbara spring fishingWe take our salmon fishing mighty seriously on the Santa Barbara Channel. That’s because this is as far down the coast as salmon are caught in appreciable numbers. The season begins about early March and gets going strong by April. The bite frequently lasts well into June and sometimes beyond. These are the best salmon of all – kings (Chinook). Smaller fish are 12 to 15lbs, and they range up to over 30lbs. When one of these magnificent fish hits the deck, high-fives and backslaps are in order!

There are two basic methods for catching these salmon; mooching and trolling. The big open-party sportboats must mooch because they have too many people aboard to troll. Mooching entails anchoring or drifting over big baitballs and lowering a bait on light line and a small hook. The light tackle makes catching a big fish alot of fun. I prefer trolling because I know that over the course of a season I can hook up with more fish for my passengers by covering some territory and dragging irresistible objects in front of the salmon. Downriggers and weight releases can be used with equal effectiveness. A flasher blade imitates a school of baitfish, and the bait or lure trails along behind.

Calico bass go on a rampage in mid-spring. The are quick to rise to the top of the water column and voraciously attack baits and artificials alike. It is great fun to anchor just upcurrent from a kelp bed or reef and build a wide-open bass bite by steadily chumming with live baits, chunked baits, or store-bought buckets of chum. Once the bass leave the structure and come up the chumline into open water, the fishing gets wild. I like to rig spinning outfits with a small hook and a splitshot. The splitshot isn’t necessary for the fish, but gets the bait down a foot or two where the pesky seagulls can’t quite reach.

I consider the Santa Barbara Channel to be California’s calico capitol. Miles of fish-rich kelp forests dot the mainland coast between Point Dume and Point Conception. The Channel islands are home to the biggest populations of calicos anywhere in the SoCal bight. The north shore of Santa Rosa island and the west end of Santa Cruz island are two of my favorite calico hotspots. Here’s an interesting note. The movie classic, King Kong, was filmed on Santa Cruz Island. In honor of that movie, any big calico caught near that island aboard my charterboat, the WaveWalker, is affectionately called a “kong calico” instead of the usual term “toad calico”.

Spring is the time to begin fishing sandy shallows for halibut. The vast Ventura Flats hold plenty of the tasty flatfish. Other good areas include Carpinteria and Summerland, Goleta, Ellwood, and Hollister Ranch. Some of the best places at the islands are Bechers Bay and the north shore of Santa Rosa island, and both the west and north shores of San Miguel island. Drift fishing with live baits on the bottom is a popular method, however bounce-balling with a flasher blade and trailing hoochy is even more effective.

White seabass move into the shallow kelp beds during the springtime and pleasantly surprise us while we fish for calico bass. Live squid is the deadliest bait when specifically targeting white seabass, but if the candy bait is unavailable live baits such as sardines and even anchovies will work. Plastics also catch white seabass, however the most effective artificial is a white jig tipped with whole frozen squid and jigged actively in the lower third of the water column..


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