Bass Fishing for California YellowtailBass Fishing for California Yellowtail What an exciting experience to tap into the lessons I learned battling everything from largemouth bass to walleye, crappie to catfish.
By Howard Wright
I am not used to being screamed at while on the water. Don't misunderstand me. I am no stranger to belting out a good hoot when I catch a lunker or cry like a baby when I miss a strike. I remember on more than occasion shouting at my buddy, Bill, to watch out for the back of the boat while I was trying to retrieve a snagged spinner bait off a boat dock. It’s just that fishing for me, bass fishing especially, is a peaceful, serene and calming exercise in the art of finessing a fish. Cast the pumpkin twin tail grub alongside a brush pile and retrieve the line just enough to feel the lure as it drops. Watch the line, feel for a tug, be the fish. Beautiful.
Nevertheless, here was Capt. Eric, the 6-foot, three-inch, 250-pound owner and operator of the Redondo Special, an hour out of King Harbor, glaring at me in his bait soiled sun bleached blue sweat shirt and faded jeans. He screamed at me not to lose my fish. “Don’t you lose that fish Rent-rod,” shaking his gnarly fist at me. “Don’t you lose that fish!” Did Capt. Eric just call me Rent-rod? Really? Rent-rod?
I must admit I did rent the rod and reel and my tackle box was a one-gallon plastic bag holding four weights, a few 6/0 hooks and needle nose pliers. I arrived at the dock at 7 a.m., found my way to the tackle shop, paid Scott the manager $5 for the rental setup and headed out. The outfit consisted of a 7-foot saltwater rod and a weathered Senator 1/0 Penn reel with new 30 pound Double X line for the half-day trip.
To try and keep degenerates from stealing the outfit, the pole was painted a nauseating fluorescent yellow. This gear let everyone on the boat know that I was the resident newbie. I was the only one on the boat who rented equipment. The gear looked pretty good so I did not mind the name Rent-rod too much.
Now, the reason Capt. Eric was screaming so loudly was because on party boats like the Redondo Special, boat owners lived and died by the daily fish counts posted online. We had 22 anglers on a boat that could hold 60 fishermen and anything less than three fish per angler was death by math. Without a decent fish count, anglers were not about to plop down their hard earned $45 dollars to spend half a day on the water, so there’s no room for sloppy fishing. I had one heck of a fish on the line and Capt. Eric wanted to remind me in the strongest way possible how important landing the brute was for all concerned. Looking back over my shoulder I glared back toward the captain hollering, “Don’t Worry about me, you just clear the rail.” It was at that moment that I realized that most guests on the Redondo Special didn’t typically yell back.
Located at the Redondo Beach Pier for over 50 years, the Redondo Special, or the Special as it is called, is 65-feet long and typically operates with a 3-man crew running half-day trips twice daily. Looking back now I can understand why this guy questioned my ability to land the fish. He knew most of the locals who frequented the Special and seeing the rental rod, my nifty zip lock bag for gear and the fact that he had never seen me before made him cautious.
Party boats were often crowded resembling the opening day of trout season. Guys standing shoulder to shoulder using every trick in the book to land the fish of the day. Lines get twisted, gear “misplaced” and tempers can be short. Before you know it one inexperienced, self-centered or mean spirited person can cause real problems for everyone.
Captain Eric had no way of knowing that, while I was new to group fishing charters, I had stood on many occasions, fly rod in hand, waiting for the horn on opening day of trout season. That I had spent years catching fish of all kinds on Lake of the Ozarks, Sam Rayburn, Lake Casitas and White River. He didn’t know I fished deep in Lake Michigan and shallow in Lake Erie. He didn’t know I was a bass angler and he didn’t know I was lucky.
By 8:30 am we were anchored about a mile off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 125 feet of water. We were supplied with 6-inch live mackerel which we hooked with a 6/0 hook through the nose onto our 30 pound line. The California Yellowtail are members of the Jack family of fish typically weighting between 15 to 30 pounds and move in schools of hundreds following warm water from Mexico. Finding Yellowtail this far north is a rare treat and catching them is extremely rare. Watching the other fishermen and following suit, I cast the bait with a cautions overhead cast about 25 feet from the boat and let the reel free spool with my thumb giving just enough pressure to keep the spool from rats nesting the line.
The moment the mackerel hit the water it dove to a depth of about 10 feet and swam at a slow meandering pace away from the boat. I let the line play out inch by inch, watching as it played out moving from the boat out and to my left. Relying on my experience fishing for largemouth bass, I knew I had to keep the bait in front of me so, keeping perpendicular to the line, I slid left along the boat railing respectfully ducking under some anglers while reaching over the top of others, always keeping my line straight out in front of me and cautious to make certain the mackerel was swimming free and unobstructed.
Soon after the bait was about 50 feet from the boat the strangest thing happened, something that I never experienced before. Watching the line and feeling the bait fish, I felt the mackerel become nervous. I watched the line play out for about 10 minutes when suddenly the line started unspooling a little faster and the subtle beat of the swimming mackerel could be felt to pick up ever so slightly. It was almost like I could sense the mackerel’s panic, like I was sharing in a small way the horror being experienced by the baitfish as it was being hunted beneath the water.
Gently shifting the butt of the rod to just above my left hip and sliding my right hand in front and below the reel, I readied my left hand to throw the leaver and engage the reel. As the line continued to free spool faster and faster, I knew the baitfish was no longer carrying the line, that instead the baitfish was dead, consumed whole and the hunter, the California Yellowtail and I were joined. Pointing the tip of the rod to the water I flipped the lever, the line stopped dead and I set the hook as hard as I could.
It took me years to learn to set the hook on a fish. You don’t want to pull so hard and so fast that you yank the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Then again you don’t want to wait too long, have the fish recognize the line and end up missing the fish. You need to pause long enough for the fish to hold the bait firmly and then set the hook hard enough to force the hook through the skin in the fish’s mouth but not so hard as to break the line. You need to take into consideration how much line stretch you’ll need to overcome and lastly you have to consider the amount of force necessary to turn the fish’s head around. Seeing the incredible way the Penn reel was spinning and knowing I had well over 75 feet of line out, I knew I was going to have to set the hook hard.
I set the hook with one fast powerful motion, arching the tip from a downward pointing direction all the way back to behind my head. It was here, as the reel was screaming and the rod now bent to the water that Capt. Eric first realized that I, Rent-rod, had a good Yellowtail on the line and his own brand of encouragement made its debut.
Pulling me around the boat, the Yellowtail forced me from bow to stern as I fought to keep it on the line. The Yellowtail made four hard runs stripping line that I had previously struggled to reclaim. Like a lunker largemouth bass I could feel its head shake and the raw power of the fish. Between the scream of the reel, the threats from Capt. Eric and my own groans, I finally saw the color of the fish. Using a 10-foot gaff the deck hand swiftly and expertly snagged the fish and muscled the 30-pound Yellowtail aboard.
Over the course of the day I landed four California Yellowtail, two in the 30 pound range and two in the 20 pound range. By the time I hooked the last Yellowtail, Capt. Eric finally realized that this was not my first time fishing and stopped screaming orders at me on how to land a fish. Was his decision to let me battle the Yellowtail on my own because he finally saw that I, a Missouri largemouth bass fisherman, knew how to land a fish or maybe it was because he got tired of dealing with someone from the Show me State.
Simply put, it was a great day fishing on the Redondo Special. What an exciting experience to tap into the lessons I learned battling everything from largemouth bass to walleye, crappie to catfish. Allowing the bait to move free, watching my line, hammering a good hook set and keeping enough consistent pressure on the line made fishing for the Yellowtail a success.
At the beginning of the charter we were given the option of kicking in $5 to be part of the big fish pool. The angler who caught the heaviest fish won the money. Fifteen guys were in on it. I lost by about 2 ounces on a 30-pound fish. Well, you can’t win them all.
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