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First White Sea Bass, Fishing Aboard the Sea Jay

by: Jeff Jones 6/16/2014
What could be better than fishing for a full day with friends on a private charter and catching your first sea bass, to boot?  We left early on John Fuqua’s Sea Jay out of Channel Islands Sportfishing, Oxnard, and headed for Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, part of Channel Islands National Park.  Our goal was to find white sea bass, and maybe some yellowtail and calico, too.

The Sea Jay is a small but comfortable boat that has 12 bunks below deck.  We had 9 anglers which made this trip even more comfortable and roomy.  We left early, about 3:45 am, and I think I was asleep in my bunk before we hit the harbor mouth.  I crawl in a bunk, get comfortable with my earphones in, close my eyes and let the rocking of the boat lull me to sleep as we leave town.

Capt. Fuqua began the morning by hitting several spots off the Anacapa shore looking for sea bass and yellowtail.  We made several stops early that produced a few calico’s, a ling cod and two yellowtail that got everyone excited.  Unfortunately these were the only two yellowtail of the day.

After a few stops to check for a morning bite we fished for squid for about 20 minutes.  I learned that it is not wise to stand near the bait well when fishing for squid since everyone on your side of the boat has to bring their squirting catch over or near you as they bring them over the side and to the tank.  I found myself uncontrollably ducking to one side or the other as squirting squids, often 3-5 at a time, were lifted out of the water and heaved over my head on their way to the hole.

Side note:  As I have learned to do when returning from a saltwater trip I rinsed and cleaned my rods and reels in the garage sink before undressing and putting my salty, squid-pocked clothes in the washing machine.  The spots came out of the pants, but did not come out of the fishing shirt I was wearing.  The good thing is that that particular shirt was a black and white printed Abu Garcia shirt and the black blot blends right in like a just off-center badge on the chest.

That is the way the day went for the most part.  Hopping around looking for schools, stopping to check areas that showed some activity and catching calico bass casting ¾ oz. jigheads with swim bait bodies to the kelp beds nearby.

Getting later in the day there was a somewhat somber mood with comments like, “Well, we didn’t find any sea bass today but at least we had a nice day and a good time catching calicos.  Maybe next time”

Then the fun started.
Then the chaos began.
Then all hell broke loose.

We pulled into a spot and everyone picked up their rigs for the dozenth time that day, moving a little slow, thinking, ‘here’s another spot, maybe we’ll get a few more before time to call it a day.’

Capt. Fuqua, with the advantage of viewing his graph, picked up his mike and excitedly instructed, “Get the lines down!  They’re there!  All over the place!  Everyone get their lines down!  Get ‘em down!!!

Like magnets the guys hit the rails and you could hear the reels spin and the braid and fluorocarbon sing through the guides as we dropped our squids over the side.  Almost immediately there were about 5 hook-ups.  A few seconds later a few more.  And finally, I felt the hit at the end of my line as a sea bass took my bait and all of my attention.

I’ve never caught a sea bass before.  All of the saltwater fish I had caught during last year’s trips were smaller and most often deeper.  Before that hit I had caught a variety of rock fish, small grouper, ling cod and calico bass.  In my defense, when using a dropper rig I was used to feeling the bite, setting the hook and reeling the fish in, without concern for setting the drag!  This time, my first bite lasted about 10-seconds before breaking the fluorocarbon about 15-inches below the leader knot.

By this time the whole boat was hooked up.  Rods bent and guys scrambling to not get tangled as the sea bass dragged their lines one way or the other.  With all this action going on I ran to my tackle bag and began to retie.

Behind me and mid-ship someone was working a rod-pumping action to bring his fish up.  At the stern two more were fighting fish and in the bow someone was calling for a gaff.

I clipped the left-over leader off, peeled off a length of new Pro Spec and began to tie the fastest John Collins knot ever.  I bet I had the new leader tied in under a minute!  I’ve never tied braid to fluorocarbon so fast and so right.  I captured the mate as he passed by between gaffing and asked him to tie on a loop since I still don’t know how to do it.  He did so and I tied on a 6 oz. torpedo weight and grabbed a squid as I went by the bait well.  I was back in the water in 3 minutes!

About that time Capt. Fuqua reminded the boat that each person was allowed only one sea bass.  Since some had already landed and returned to fishing he said that if they hooked up again to give their rod to someone who had not landed a fish yet.  So everyone would have a fish.

I arrived astern and let my squid drop.  As it descended, Jason, next to me, hooked into a second fish.  He said, “I already got one, here take this!”  I handed off my Penn Bluewater Carnage rod to his open right hand and moved behind him to take his rod from his left side.  Just as I reached for his fishing pole my Penn in his right hand began to jump!  “You got one, you got one!” he exclaimed as I ran back to his right side and took back my Penn!  For a few seconds there he had two rods jumping, one in each hand!

Like the first time I forgot to adjust my drag.  I fought the second fish for about ten seconds before the line broke again, this time right where the hook met the loop.  I put my Penn down and Jason handed his fishing pole off to me and the first thing I checked was the drag.  This one I landed.

Getting into a school of white sea bass was one of the most exciting 15 minutes I will ever remember.  At one point I think everyone was hooked up.  All around the boat.  I didn’t catch the largest fish that day but the one I did have provided enough fillets for about 8 meals for two!

I even gaffed my first fish as both the Captain and Mate were reeling in fish of their own so we would not be over the limit.  The Mate in the bow was calling for the gaff and there was no one else to grab it, so I did.  I missed the first stab but got it the second time, pulling the fish up and over the side and into the boat.

I’m going again soon and this time we are each allowed 2 white sea bass.  I hope I get both of them and, not to be greedy, this time I’d like to catch my first yellowtail.  We’ll see!
A pic of the Sea JayAnacapa IslandNew saltwater rigs.  Abu Garcia Volatile rods and Revo reels, Penn Bluewater Carnage rods and Fathom and Jigmaster reels.
Martin had one of the biggest sea bass of the day.My first white sea bass.  Notice the squid ink blot above the `A` in Abu.My After the Catch pic
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Jeff Jones
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