• Published:May 15, 2017
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White seabass will keep you guessing.

Ask any Southern California angler what the last fish to cross off their bucket list is, and the answer will most likely be white seabass. These fish, which are actually in the croaker family and not a seabass at all, drive anglers crazy.

Thanks to shifting water temps ranging drastically since 2010, from 55 to 75 degrees, anglers have had to adjust their techniques massively to stay ahead of the white seabass.

From 2010 to 2013, La Niña conditions created long winters and springs. Kelp thrived. Spawning aggregations of squid sprouted (squid is the favorite food of seabass) and regenerated up and down the coast. Come May all it took was a fresh nest of squid to kick out a huge white seabass.

It was the easiest white seabass fishing the coast has ever seen. What the Southern California Bight lacked in terms of offshore exotics was made up for with coastal pelagics.




The 2014 season was a weird blend. It was the last season the coast held squid and produced regular white seabass bites.

The two years of El Nino (2015/2016) saw a quantum shift away from the La Niña styles, and Old-School definitions. During La Niña there was squid everywhere. During El Niño the lightboats and seiners sat at the docks. There was literally no squid going to market. Catalina and Clemente islands were barren of squid, and also the favorite habitat of white seabass, kelp. The new water structure had local anglers’ brains plugged into quality tuna, wahoo, and blue marlin. Not white seabass, California halibut or yellowtail.

CURRENT CONDITIONS
"You can target seabass day and night, but keeping notes of past catches, water temperature, moon phases and spawning cycle will serve you well."
-- Capt. Brandon Hayward
The kelp is back, squid are showing signs of a rebound, and, for the first time in recent history, Catalina produced late-winter white seabass. Those who appreciate white seabass for the challenge are cautiously optimistic for this great season to only get better heading towards June.

When it comes to finding WSB, if you wait to hear that seabass are biting, it’s too late. Finding fish with a beautiful backdrop and not having to worry about getting tangled in anchor lines and big egos, for me, is what fishing for white seabass is all about.

This is a fish that has multiple personalities and styles. As a local guide who spends 100-plus days a season fishing for seabass, I have started to figure out how to put the puzzle pieces together. You must pay attention to moons and tides, and keep great notes. Seabass are an incredibly tidal and lunar fish. Season to season they go through different phases — migrate in, feed, spawn, move off — based on the lunar cycle. However, no two seasons are the same.

PERSISTANCE PAYS

It’s one of the few steadfast rules to the game. You can target seabass day and night, but keeping notes of past catches, water temperature, moon phases and spawning cycle will serve you well. And nothing beats out spending more time on the water.

White seabass are a structure-orientated fish, so think about where you are casting, where your bait is going in terms of the structure and how the seabass relate to the bottom. Look at your chart plotter and if fishing on a sport boat, ask the captain where to cast.

Don’t fish randomly. Have a reason for using the rig in your hands. Pick a sinker based on the conditions (current or lack thereof), and where in the water column the fish are feeding. Watch how others are getting bit, trust your electronics and know how much current there is and where it is taking the line in relation to the structure.

There can be hundreds of seabass swimming behind the boat 20 to 40 feet below the surface, but if all the baits are bulleted to the bottom, they will dive right past the fish. On the flip side, if there’s a strong current and the fish are under the boat, but your sliders aren’t getting you baits to the bottom until they are 100-plus feet behind the boat, you are not going to get bit.

KNOWING YOUR TARGET

Don’t use a rig just because it produced in the past. Fish a rig, be it a sliding sinker, a leadhead, or a squid under a balloon, because it seems like the best technique to get bit. For many fish, you can target them the same in any ocean — think tuna or marlin. There are nuances, but in the end, trolling and fishing live bait works anywhere in the world.

White seabass are different. To fish them effectively, a range of approaches are required. When it is a live squid bite, it all plays the same, be it along the coast or at an island. Yet, there are often huge differences in approach when it comes to fishing islands versus the coast, especially over the last two years.

From a personal standpoint, my success increased when I started looking at seabass as being more like a salmon at times — traveling a huge swath of coast. Other times, they’re more like a grouper, and structure-based.

To know this fish requires an open mind to put together the full equation. Finding them is the key, and being able to predict where they may be tomorrow will help you solve the case of the white seabass mystery.

If you'd like to learn more about targeting white seabass visit the author's website or book a trip with him at onemancharters.com


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