Heavy winds, swell dictate success on Monterey Bay

Heavy winds, swell dictate success on Monterey Bay
Santa Cruz angler Cody Frank reports there are some big salmon in Monteerey Bay right now. this one weighed in at 24 pounds cleaned.

by Allen Bushnell

As in past weeks, Monterey Bay skippers had to pick their fishing days carefully. Another giant ground swell rolled through featuring waves up to ten feet in height. On top of the swell were wind waves measuring 8 to 10 feet at times genrerated by winds in the 15 to 30 mph range. Particularly vexating, the stiff winds persisted into the evenings and even overnight on a few occasions. Most early mornings were fishable though boats had to be ready to run for home at a moment's notice. Luckily the salmon are still here in force, so early limits were not unusual for the boats that ventured out super early. The commercial fleet was also pounding salmon hard. Added pressure had the effect of keeping the salmon wary, deep and scattered.

Gotta respect bigger charter boats that take the risk and go for salmon. It is often a high expense/low reward proposition. Chris’ Fishing Trips from Monterey sent boats out for salmon this week, scoring up to four fish on Saturday's trip aboard the Caroline. Stagnaro's Sportfishing in Santa Cruz reported seven salmon netted last Friday with "many lost back to the sea,” according to Ken Stagnaro. In Monterey Bay, the large charter boats will mooch (drift fish) for salmon. Trolling is not really an option for the bigger boats. Too many lines in the water, too much weight is needed and the sinker release technique gets real expensive really fast.  But mooching is  a super exciting technique for catching big kings. Using two to 12 ounce banana weights with a four to six-foot leader, moochers typically use much lighter rods and reels to great effect. The longer supple mooching rods are sensitive to the smallest salmon bite. It takes a keen eye, a deft touch and often the patience of a saint to turn that rod tip twitch into a salmon hookup. Without the power of a moving boat behind you and using the lighter equipment, fighting  salmon while mooching can be longer and tougher than a troll-caught fish with more opportunities to lose the fish due to the longer battle. While trolling, the fish basically hooks itself when making a successful grab at the bait or lure.  Then it's just a matter of slowing or stopping the boat while fighting the fish to the net. Mooching carries the added excitement and discipline of seeing the bite, setting the hook and using lighter equipment to battle the stubborn and sometimes acrobatic king salmon.  

The technique works best when baitfish are super concentrated into large groups or "baitballs." Hungry salmon will circle the baitballs, keeping the anchovies or sardines condensed in a defensive mass, and picking off fish from the edges of the teeming mass of bait. Using sonar, savvy skippers will try to find the best baitball, gauge the depth of the fish then work the edges of the bait for feeding salmon. Terminal tackle regulations differ when drift-fishing for salmon. Hooks must be barbless circle hooks with a maximum of two hooks no more than five inches apart on each line. When trolling for salmon barbless still applies, but "J" hooks are allowed for bait or lures. When salmon are somewhat scattered most smaller boats will troll for better results.  Because the boat can cover more territory, hookups are more likely for trollers though fishing around or through baitballs is still an obvious strategy.

Using downriggers, the six-pack charter boats can troll with four to six lines out at a time. Our local six-packs are getting out most days and enjoying limit-style fishing every trip.  Go Fish Santa Cruz reported on Friday. Skipper JT Thomas said, "The salmon bite was ‘hot’ today. Pat and his team had early limits by 10am. Twelve nice king salmon. JT and Greg decided to fish for crew limits. We needed  three to head home.  The rods went off with a quad and had to put one back.” That same day Tom Joseph on the Sara Bella found it a little tougher to get going. "It was wasn’t looking good and finally at 11:45 we found what we were looking for. Bait, whales and big fish. Three limits with the big one going 23 pounds cleaned,” Joseph reported. Rodney Armstrong from Santa Cruz Coastal Fishing Charters submitted another limit report saying, "Today we went big again. We landed 14 nice king salmon. We had about 22 hook ups. When they’re deep they’re hard to keep tight in the beginning.  The fishing was insane.  Birds and bait everywhere.”

The big waves and high winds are keeping nearshore waters very cool. This affects the rockfish, lingcod and halibut bite. Good scores of bottomfish can still be had, though the deeper reefs are most productive. Halibut like calm seas and warmer water and are moving in very slowly so far this year due to the ongoing weather conditions. A few are caught here and there but the bulk of fish have not started their shallow water migration yet. Surfcasting can be very good right now depending on where one fishes. Higher tides are best, especially on days when the waves are big. The strong swells also rip up kelp and seagrass that can make certain beaches unfishable. Right now the best bet are the bigger beaches of the central Monterey Bay. Farther from the reef systems near Monterey and Santa Cruz, they remain cleaner and therefore more consistently fishable. A few stripers have been reported caught from those beaches but most the action is on barred or walleye surf perch.

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