BY DYLAN DEPRES
Black Pearl Sportfishing operates out of Virg’s Landing in Morro Bay offering a variety of trips targeting primarily rockfish and lingcod. This fishery can show its excellence in quantity and quality if conditions are favorable. Reportedly from owner Lisa Tardif herself, November and December traditionally put up the best counts of big lingcod. She also recommends jumping on a “long-range,” trip they offer of either 12 or 14 hours for the best chances at lingcod and the bigger rockfish. The bigger rockfish should not be understated.
Owner Lisa Tardif called on many of her regular anglers who’ve supported the Black Pearl the last few seasons for a private charter that would fish the Saturday of Thanksgiving week. Everyone was instructed to show up for check-ind no later than 4 a.m. as we would try to depart earlier than normal around 4:30. We’d be making a long run up the coast, more than 40-miles from the dock and past the Piedras Blancas lighthouse. Anglers signed up for some delicious breakfast burritos prepared by Tardif herself and afterwards, many went down below for a nap on the 4-hour ride to our initial fishing destination. We were told we’d be starting around 300 feet of water to target reds. Buckets of stripped squid were placed around the boat for angler convenience and before long we were in the zone.
We had good conditions with a flowing current, and anglers succeeded by using a 12- to 16-ounce weight for the 300-foot descend. The sought-after vermilion rockfish were aggressively biting immediately on our first drift, and they weren’t picky. Anglers fishing metal jigs got ‘em, anglers fishing traditional double droppers got ‘em, and even bare shrimp flies were picking them up. The reds were a super grade, averaging 4 to 6 pounds with some gaffer 7- to 8-pound models coming aboard as well. Captain Brian Walker bounced around a few spots in a tight region and each was as productive as the last. Mixed in with the reds were monster bocaccio averaging 8 to 10 pounds, and other “super rockfish,” like big boscos, yellowtail rockfish and olive rockfish. However, it’s worth noting that 90 percent of our take was straight reds. Within an hour of drifting the deeper water, we were approaching limits of reds and Walker announced we’d shoot up the line to try some shallower rocks for lingcod and our miscellaneous rockfish. It would be a 30-minute move and that we’d be trying around 150 feet of water.
We had many seasoned anglers aboard this charter who were proficient in lingcod specific techniques. Up in Morro Bay, it’s pretty common knowledge that a whole mackerel (ideally live, but dead also works well) can be deployed on a trap rig to target lings. This rig has a single dropper loop with a long leader, a big j-hook and a treble hook snelled to it. The J-hook goes through the nose of the mack and the treble about halfway down its body through the side. Lingcod are notorious for “t-boning,” the bait and biting it in the middle so the added treble increases the hookup ratio for bites. The trap rig caught the majority of our lingcod, but anglers also found success on metal jigs. We’d pick away at the lings getting a couple on each drift over the crags, rocks and pinnacles in 120 to 150 feet of water. Mixed in with the lings were healthy gopher rockfish, brown rockfish, China rockfish and plenty of other miscellaneous. It was interesting to hear from owner Lisa Tardif that gopher rockfish fetch a ridiculous commercial value.
Bouncing around spots targeting lingcod in the shallows, our bycatch of quality rockfish started adding up nearer to boat limits. 5-around on the reds, 5-around on the miscellaneous meant heavy sacks of fish and happy anglers. Near the end of our fishing time, deckhand Cody made rounds around the boat taking lunch orders. On the menu were bacon cheeseburgers, chicken salad sandwiches, chili cheese dogs and chili-Frito boats. Epic boat food which deserves recognition! Anglers gladly wolfed down some delicious food, rounded out their rockfish limits and took a final swing at bagging a lingcod. Around 1 p.m., the 5-minute warning was called and everybody was stoked. We ended up catching 11 lingcod along limits of reds and rockfish for our 20 anglers.
DYLAN D’S PERSONAL ANGLER REPORT
From the get-go, I had a plan to knock out my limit of reds then spend my entire active fishing day targeting lingcod. Dropper-rig was the initial plan for reds before I’d switch to a diamond jig to target lings. Luckily the reds played along and really weren’t picky to what was presented. In a pinch, for the most part on the reds I’d end up fishing a Ahi Assault jig / shrimp fly combo and I was able to bring up two at a time. Mixed in with the reds were huge biting bocaccio over 10 pounds which were a hoot to bounce over the rail. It didn’t take long to produce a limit of Reds in the deeper water, and with that accomplished I removed the shrimp fly from above my jig.
When Capt. Walker announced the move to the lingcod zones in the shallow-water I knew I better have my game face on. There’s a certain action I like to impart on the diamond jigs when fishing lings. I like to think that when you purposefully clang the iron on the hard bottom, they can hear and feel it and it calls them in. On our first drift in the shallows, I found not just a ling, but “the ling.” Violent head shakes, heavy weight and drag pulls let me know that she was the one. Up to color and with a view of the fish it was even more clear. Before allowing a gaff shot, the monster lingcod took a 15-yard run from the surface to nearly halfway back down. But, deckhand Cody soon sealed the deal with a headshot gaff and my new 21-pound personal best was boated.
Continuing with the Assault Jig, I picked through an awesome assortment china rockfish and quality brown rockfish which I missed on my last trip to Morro Bay. Stoked on my jackpot ling and ready to send another 4-hour drive up if it means fishing that’s half as good as this trip’s was.