• Published:May 31, 2013
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"I brake for kelp paddies." It's a popular, albeit cheesy bumper sticker in Southern California. The reason? No other style of fishing has the potential for kicking out wide-open action offshore like kelp paddies. Find just one floating kelp and the day can be made.
A kelp paddy (and it's paddy, not patty) is basically a chunk of floating kelp that breaks free from larger bodies of kelp and is not attached to the bottom. Kelp paddies float free in the open ocean. And this season, the SoCal private boaters are finding close-to-home yellowtail on kelp, an early treat for sure.

Kelp paddies are like any other floating object in that they host small organisms that baitfish feed on. This in turn attracts game fish such as tuna, dorado and California yellowtail which circle the kelps.

The warmer water seen so far this season has brought yellowtail to the kelp paddies as close as a few miles from Dana Point in 66- to 67-degree water. It's a scenario that usually happens in July, if it happens at all. However, California's offshore season is shaping up differently, thanks to water conditions that go beyond prime.

It seems like most regions have fisheries that focus around anything floating. Hawaii has its FADs (fish aggregating devices) that kick out tuna, mahimahi and billfish. Florida anglers target weedlines for dolphin and wahoo. Here in Southern California, everything offshore, from tuna to marlin, show up on the kelp paddies.

"Private boaters have been scoring yellowtail off kelps just a few miles off the coast from Dana Point to La Jolla."
With May's south swells and winds combined with warmer-than-usual water pushing up the coast, kelp paddies with good yellowtail fishing are appearing just a few miles off the coast. May's water temps have been the warmest we've seen in over a decade, at 66 to 68 degrees, and the San Diego boats are finding solid yellowtail fishing on kelp paddies. Any kelp found in warm, clean water has the potential of holding yellowtail.

The best way to find success is to take a look at the sea surface temperature and chlorophyll charts found on FishTrack.com. Pick a good section of water and dust off the binoculars. When you get out there, tack around between the 500- and 1,000-fathom curves.

You'll need that paddy savvy to pick off that first kelp of the year. There's no need to go far and burn fuel. Private boaters have been scoring yellowtail off kelps just a few miles off the coast from Dana Point to La Jolla.

Farther south and offshore the waters around the local banks like the 425 have held some good kelps for the skiffs that go into Magellan mode and take a look around.

Buzz Brizendine, who has been running the sportboat Prowler for decades out of Fisherman's Landing in San Diego, offered these three tips for finding and fishing chunks of kelp. Use his paddy savvy to guide you on your offshore jaunts. After all, he and his crew find more kelps in one season than most private boaters will in a lifetime.


Finding a line of kelps to stop on starts by identifying water edges. Catching yellowtail takes more than just finding kelps offshore, it takes finding kelps in the right kind of water. In the spring and early summer, every trip starts with a look at the sea surface temperature charts before leaving the dock.

"The availability of water charts allow us to not just find the warmest, or warmer water," says Brizendine, "but it also lets us find temperature edges. It's these frontal boundaries that give us lines of kelps."

Kelp paddies stack up on these temp breaks and current rips. To locate the temp breaks, study the charts on FishTrack.com.


Whether you spot the kelp miles away or it just popped up off the bow and you almost ran over it, the set up is what leads to getting bit as opposed to spooking all of the yellowtail back into the kelp.

"I like to position the boat downwind, not too close to the kelp, but close enough, like bait-casting range," Brizendine says.

He slowly bumps the boat up to the kelp, so he does not spook the fish or accidently run over the kelp. "I approach somewhat gently," adds Brizendine, "then we drift away from it, downwind."


It's incredibly rare, bordering on impossible, really, for the second pass to kick out better yellowtail fishing than the first drift, but it can still produce. Brizendine will try a second drift on kelps when fishing is tough, but if the next big boomer stop revolves around finding a new kelp, he is apt to keep rolling and looking for a fresh one after drifting a kelp once.

Private boaters, on the other hand, can fish one kelp over an over for an entire day. A few lines in the water and a stealthy approach can lead to yellowtail action on every drift. But head Brizendine's advice and go easy.

A little savvy goes a long way on these early-season yellowtail. Not so much in rod-and-reel tactics, but in terms of reading the water and finding the kelps that end up getting talked about over hamachi and hand rolls.