Southern California offers one of the most complex fisheries all year long. I just returned from a week in Key West, Florida. Key West is the small town at the southern most tip of Florida, about ninety nautical miles from Cuba.
Key West, like Southern California, offers a year round fishery in it’s semi-tropical environment. Unlike Southern California, the movement of fish species and their subsequent feeding behavior is fairly predictable year after year.
In Key West, the tarpon will be in the bay, the dolphinfish (aka our dorado) are six miles off shore along with black fin tuna, and the permit and snook make an annual feeding presence in the back bays and estuaries.
Whether you are fishing from the bank or from a boat, Key Westers basically know what to expect throughout the changing seasons. On the other hand, Southern California saltwater anglers remain in a sort of “fishing fog” all year long. The “3Bs”–bass, barracuda, and bonito– were the staple catch for the party boat fleet from late March to November for decades.
Now, it is rare that savvy boat captains encounter those bonita. Occasionally. the “regulation size”5-8 pounders can be found 95 miles on the Cortez Bank. Sometimes, huge magnum class 10-20 pound bonita are encountered when by chance a private yachter decides to pull a tuna feather just for giggles outside the Channel Islands.
More commonly, a scattered school of 1-2 pound bonita, or “micro-tuna”, sporadically make a show at Catalina Island. Where did all these bonita go? For example, the barracuda. For years, the scooters would first appear near Oxnard in late spring. They would school deep, follow schools of sardines, eventually explode in Santa Monica Bay, and then move into the Horse Shoe Kelp and Huntington Flats area through the warmer summers. For years this north to south pattern hasn’t maintained when it comes to barracuda fishing in Southern California.
Sand bass and calicos, up until recently, were the prime local target species. This year, with warmer surface temperatures, the calicos have slowed down significantly. Similarly the sand bass, which would normally boost the boats’ fish count in the summer, have failed to show up in any substantial numbers. Some speculate large numbers of sandies were killed off by the invasion of giant squid. Maybe…
So is there an upside for Southern California anglers? Oh yeah! The migratory pelagic species such as yellowtail, dorado and yellowfin tuna are all within one day range. Private boaters are scoring on fish as close as Catalina Island. We have not seen offshore fishing this good in nearly ten years! The whole scene, from a marine biologist’s view, remains complex for sure.