A new year and a new season once again fire up the hopes of a banner fishing year! As of March 1st this year bottom fishing for the usual species opens once again, which means there’s no longer a need to make the runs into Mexican waters to catch rock cod, lingcod, white fish and such. Given the unsettled state of fishing in Mexican coastal waters, it saves a few headaches too. While officially the only thing that’s needed to fish in Mexico is a Mexican fishing license, we have been advised that the smart thing to do is bring a passport or passport card with you when you fish, just to avoid any potential issues.
On the local front, the bottom fishing should remain steady through the spring until the kelp beds kick into gear and the barracuda begin to show—hopefully this year with bonito as well! Until that time, the usual assortment of tasty bottom critters should keep any angler busy enough and provide plenty of fine table fare. Red rock cod, or red snapper as they are called locally, are the featured target, but you’ll run across plenty of brown rock cod, starry rock cod and a host of other species like cabezon, greenlings, white fish and lingcod. There have been a few regulation changes regarding the number of some of these species you can keep, so make sure you’re up to date on the latest information by visiting the DFW Web site at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/sportfishing_regs2013.asp.
Keep in mind that in this colder water there are a few opportunities for the stout of heart that can produce a true So Cal Trophy. During the colder months, we regularly see schools of homeguard yellowtail–the largest of the species we encounter here in San Diego. Often these fish can run as high as 45 pounds. While the percentages are a long shot, the payoff is huge for those patient enough to try. There are days when the fish show readily, but most days you won’t even know they’re there. On those occasions when they go off, usually with a squid run, the bite should last a few days. Bear in mind there is no way to plan to target these fish with any reliability. If a squid run happens, that’s your best bet, but they are hard to predict. In these situations, white seabass also take advantage of the smorgasbord and fish upwards of 60 pounds are not unheard of.
The other species that is normally targeted this time of year is halibut. Again, it’s a low percentage game, but worth it if you put in the time. Sand bass should begin showing sometime in March as they start their spawn on the local sand flats. New regulations exist for these guys as well, finally protecting a valuable local game fish. Calico and sand bass must now be a minimum of 14 inches to keep with a bag limit of no more than five. Smart and conscientious anglers will keep fewer and release all fish over 16 inches as well. While the fish are okay table fare, they are worth far more as game fish than food.
Offshore the only real option this time of year is blue sharks, which show in excellent numbers even though the water seems a bit chilly. Occasionally you might encounter a mako as well, but they usually don’t show until much later in the spring when the water warms to around 63 degrees consistently. Keep in mind that whales are a common site while shark fishing almost year round, and dolphin and porpoise also make frequent showings as well.
Runs into Mexico to fish around the Coronado Islands will produce the same types of fish, only limits are different. Frankly, the longer run doesn’t necessarily equal more production either, so make your decision wisely. March is generally too early for yellowtail to show in earnest at the islands or the Rockpile and your odds of finding them are better locally unless a bite breaks wide open. Just make sure to ask your captain and crew what your options are before you book and again before you leave the dock in case something changes!
Our season is just beginning, and it will only get better from here!