MARINA DEL REY — The Channel Islands are a special place. The archipelago located in the Southern California Bight consists of eight individual islands, each with their own geographical identifiers. Anglers wait in anticipation for that early season squid bed fishing to start. Halibut, white seabass and yellowtail use these spawning congregations as their own personal buffet table. Arriving in large schools, seabass can steal the show and they’re making their presense felt right now.
Getting a call from the captain of your upcoming charter is something one looks forward to most of the time. This time it was not the best of news, a last minute schedule change was what Captain Brian Norris of Fin Fetish Charters in Marina Del Ray was calling about. Wind seems to be the trend this spring, and a 24-hour earlier departure was requested. A second call from the captain usually holds some better news, but this call was a request to get to the dock an hour earlier to make up for the nearly 90-mile run ahead.
All passengers arrived on time as Captain Brian Norris and Second Operator Johnny Boktor readied to pull away. The plan was to make the run up to the transverse islands, make bait in one area and wrap around to the opposing side to fish. Time was of the essence, as there was a fleet on its way.
Loaded up, the iconic 31-foot Bertram showed her full potential by charging up the line in sporty conditions. Making ahead at 16 knots through the rough stuff and cruising at 20-plus when conditions settled. This platform proved to be the backbone of a successful trip when paired with the experience of Captain Brian Norris and Second Johnny Boktor. Without the knowledge and passion of this crew, the trip very well could have been a wash.
The bait grounds proved to be difficult. Scratching just 30 to 40 pieces, the crowder never came into play. Dawn was fast approaching, along with a fleet of private and sport boats. At 0145, the hour-long run around to the opposite side of the island was made.
Commercial market squid fishermen on the grounds gave insight to the possibility of making more bait. With anchor set and lights in the water, an hour wait would turn from just a few squid in the brail to finally pulling out the crowder and loading the tanks. The outcome is all the sweeter when tenacious efforts end in success.
With bait made and grey light approaching, rigs were deployed and the wait began. This style of seabass fishing on the squid grounds is sacred to the fishermen of Southern California. It’s a simple bait-and-wait style of fishing. A twist of know how’s and don’t do’s separate the successful from the unlucky, because luck has nothing to do with it. Presentations of baits live or dead make the difference, and this information is what’s kept quiet among some of the most successful seabass anglers. There’s a lot more that goes into it than most will ever begin to understand.
The first fish of the day wasn’t a white seabass, but it definitely got the trip out of the gates hot and set the tone for the day on the water that followed.
“Nobody knew exactly what it was from the get-go, but we knew it was a gamefish based on the immediate headshakes and drag pulls,” said WON staffer Dylan Depres. “Then, it was a dead-weight stalemate as I pulled as hard as 25-pound monofilament would let me. Gaining six inches, losing six inches for about 5 minutes. There was even some ‘Wicked Tuna’ style line-pulling from Johnny, and it had everybody wondering about what was on the other end of the line. As the fish came to color, Captain Norris exclaimed, ‘It’s a giant halibut!’ and instructed me to keep doing what I was doing.”
The fish came to gaff and everyone on board was impressed by the 50-pound class barn door that slid over the rail. With that trophy catch on board, things kicked into gear. Bait checks become more frequent and lines were attended to closely. Keeping an eye out on the fleet and talking to his network out on the grounds, Norris reflected that no other fish had been caught, besides one other large halibut. Looking at the time he explained “Staying here will be our best shot. Let’s wait it out.” Time went by and the fleet began to thin.
Up on the bow, angler Anthony Cannuli dropped a live squid and is instantly rewarded with a bite. After a few trips around the boat, the battle ended where it began, on the bow with a quick gaff shot. The tanker-grade white seabass was brought to the stern where the group celebrated another great catch.
Time passes, and anchor is pulled. Norris gets a call, the fleet has found the fish and it’s time to go. Sliding in behind the friend that called, baits are sent down and it goes full speed. Every rod bent. Fish at gaff and fish pulling off while other anglers are dropping down a fresh bait. It all happened within 25 minutes, boat limits. It was humbling to see the way this fleet respected each other. Everyone worked together, especially once the bite happened.
With limits of white seabass on-board the day would be rounded out with Channel Island style rockfishing, filling the box with quality. On the run in stories of the day were revisited.
Without the dedication and know-how of the Fin Fetish crew, the day could have went very differently. Captain Brian Norris’ passion and drive to make his customers happy is what sets him apart on and off the grounds. Communicating with passengers to make the experience the best it can be. Those 25 hours made the difference.