Working the Column Like an Expert Saltwater Fisherman

I have personally been on more than 500 of my own, popular Owner Hooks Fishing Schools Charters since 1989. Over 31,000 anglers have “graduated” from my program in which a team of our instructors actually provide on-the-water tutorials to novice fishermen.

Throughout these decades of teaching beginners how to become more expert saltwater fish-catchers, we have preached a gospel of working the entire water column. This is the zone that ranges from the top to the bottom for inshore conditions. This could be down to roughly 150 feet. Offshore where waters may exceed 6000 feet, the column instead becomes the zone from the surface to a depth of about 200 feet.

Southern California party boats are legendary for their ability to put enticing scoopfuls of bait chum in the water to attract surface-feeding species like barracuda, sand and calico bass, bonito, and occasionally yellowtail.

Live bait chum may include sardines, anchovies, squid, and sometimes mackerel. Typically, the neophyte angler wants to fly-line these baits with little or no weight either on or just below the surface. For certain, you will get bit in this zone. But what so many anglers fail to realize is that a great number of fish may be suspended at greater depths ranging all the way to the bottom.

Interestingly, it is also common to catch the larger specimens at the deeper strike zones. Frequently, the smaller, more aggressive fish cluster near the surface and feed on the chum, while the trophy fish lazily wait for the crippled baitfish that the smaller fish have thrashed through in the frenzy.

The same occurs on a grander scale while fishing for tuna or yellowtail on the offshore banks. Although it is exciting to cast into fish boiling on the surface, here again a majority of the school may be located at 90 feet or deeper. Veteran charter boat captains term this the “15 fathom rule.”

It really doesn’t matter so much whether you are fishing with bait that is live or dead, jigs, spoons, swim baits, or jerk shads. It is all the same. You just have to be more interactive with your bait or lure choice, and aggressively work it through the entire water column, and not only the surface.

One other point worth noting is that heavier lines with bigger diameters sink slower when you fish with traditional monofilament. This is one of the reasons I prefer to scale back to 12–15 pound test mono for inshore, and 20–30 pound for offshore. I will simply cover more of the water column in a shorter amount of time by using the lighter monofilament.

But be sure that no matter what pound test mono you prefer, don’t scrimp on filling your reel spool completely. Also, stick with premium grade monofilament. Line in this class has greater abrasion resistance and knot strength. When it comes to saltwater fishing, quality fishing line still remains the most important link between you and the fish!

Ronnie Kovach

Ronnie is a former freshwater bass guide and has written five bestselling books on the theory and practice of successful angling. His weekly show “Radio Outdoor Expeditions” is in its twentieth year on the Angels Baseball Network. Ronnie’s popular “Fishing Ventures Television” has garnered 14 prestigious Telly Awards and is aired weekly on Fox Sports West. As a current world record holder, Ronnie continues to teach at his Owner Hooks Fishing Schools (established in 1989), and spread a message for planetary stewardship.

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