It’s all in the game plan
DANA POINT – It isn’t every day that a successful charter captain takes a deep dive on the how and why of game planning to catch primetime yellowtail at San Clemente and Catalina Islands. Such occasions demand attention. This is the mental game, the preparations that lead directly to consistent success.
Capt. Chris Bogseth of Left Coast Sportfishing grew up around Dana Point Harbor. It was “a waterman’s dream,” he says. After a stint working at the local sportboat landing during high school and an internship at the Ocean Institute, the love of the sea and its creatures led him to Humboldt State University where he earned a degree in marine fisheries biology.
Bogseth’s path included working in a steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout hatchery, a season on a Dungeness crab boat, and innumerable hours fishing from private boats owned by his friends and eventually himself. In all, he has 25 years of experience fishing Southern California.
He saved a bundle of cash, bought a beautiful Parker 2320 fishing boat with top-of-the-line SIMRAD electronics and rack space for 28 rods, and went into business taking anglers island fishing. Yellowtail are Bogseth’s specialty. The pressure to produce day after day has earned him hard-won knowledge which he generously shared to help you up your island yellowtail game.
Everything starts with a daily gameplan, and by starts, Bogseth means just that. He’s looking for a promising place to start his day. He’ll adjust from there.
A gameplan is built on experience and information. What are the reports saying? He doesn’t trust just any information. He gets input from his network of charter and private boat captains, all talented anglers.
Building such a network – many call it a code group – takes an investment in time and reliable shared info. But not all reports are equal. If he’s going to commit, he wants firsthand recent experience. “It’s really all I consider,” he says.
He explains, “If Bob was there 3 days ago and Arrow Pt. was biting good, that’s a solid report. I know and trust Bob. If he says his friend was over there, maybe at the East End, I wouldn’t necessarily include that information in my plan.”
It all comes down to the right conditions. And if the reports are “too good” like they were at Catalina last year, sometimes he’ll drive away from a report and the accompanying crowds.
“Last summer was so crowded, you couldn’t find a fishing zone without 3 or 4 boats already anchored,” he says. The bite at Empire Landing went on for months, attracting every sort of vessel and every level of experience. When everyone knows about a bite, you’re likely to experience some unnecessary adversity. He preferred to head to SCI than deal with close-quarters fishing.
A good report is just a starting place. Before Bogseth casts off his lines at Dana Pt. Harbor, he looks at Sea Surface Temperature (SST) charts. He wants to know where the water could be warmer or colder. “Sometimes where there is upwelling spots bite well,” Bogseth says. “But if you have a temperature drop of more than a degree, you’ll find the bite drops off pretty heavily.”
For yellowtail, he looks for warm, clearer water. A nice blue shade is good. Light green is okay but not muddy water. There must be current. “Satellite imagery can help us with where to start,” he says.
Once he arrives at his starting spot, Bogseth evaluates the conditions and determines where to set the hook for the first time that morning. He does nearly all his fishing on anchor. Again, it’s about the conditions, and he wants to stay put when he finds them.
He’ll look at the water temperature. Is it agreeable? Is it warmer than it’s been? “I like 68 plus in the middle of the summer, and hopefully 70 to 75,” he says.
If the water’s right, he evaluates the current. He wants to set up up-current of structure. Structures include kelp lines, hard bottoms or drop-offs, all excellent ambush points for patrolling yellowtail.
“I look for that nice water and see which way the current is flowing into the structure – all fish orient facing into the current,” he says. “Any chum that we throw will be pulled by current into structure if we anchor properly.”
Bogseth has built up an inventory of productive island spots. He chooses areas that concentrate current. If it’s a heavy current day, it’ll be everywhere. If it’s not moving at all, he’ll continue hunting until he finds a place where there’s some current.
“Current is the biggest thing,” he says. “I’ve rarely found yellows biting without current and I mean up and down the shore, parallel to the island. If there’s no current and the water looks great I might look for a second but I’m out of there in 15 minutes. I won’t put the anchor down.”
His fishfinder comes into play as well. He wants a full sonar and current next to structure. Then he’ll drop the hook.
Water depth also plays a role. Naturally! Bogseth is looking for 60, 100, 150 feet. Sometimes shallower. “Some of the kelp lines I like to fish get into 30 feet to 60 or 80,” he says. High spots tend to be deeper, about 150 to 200 feet. He’ll use yo-yo jigs or hope that his chum brings the yellowtail shallow.
Bogseth likes his anchored boat to sit 60 to 100 feet up-current of structure, but if he’s fishing a kelp line, he’ll likely leave a little more space to reduce the odds of the structure seeking missile known as a hooked yellowtail breaking off.
For Bogseth, chum is a critical ingredient. He’ll toss 20 to 30 sardines before he gets his clients’ lines in the water. He keeps it going, throwing 1 or 2 every 30 seconds as the hook baits soak.
“Early in my private boat career, I was more hesitant to throw bait,” Bogseth says. “I didn’t want to run out, but I had a hard time finding yellowtail. When I got more free with my bait, I really started getting yellowtail to hold to the boat.
“I fish with 3 or 4 people on the boat. That’s 3 or 4 baits in the water. When you start throwing baits and getting a little school, the likelihood of the yellow noticing and finding a hook bait goes up a lot,” he says.
At first, it hurt to buy a lot of bait just to throw it in the water. Fishing is expensive. “Why go if you’re not going to give yourself the best chance possible,” Bogseth says. “Spend the extra to get 2 scoops instead of 1. I can hold 3 or 4. I have a 75-gallon bait tank,” he says.
Don’t have the capacity? You can chunk bait too. It works. At least it’s something. If you have 3 or 4 baits in the water you have a chance. “You have a much better chance with a school of 20 to 30 baits roaming around,” he says. “It’s so exciting to see yellows come into your chum line.”
Once the chum line is established just up-current of the structure, things will start to happen. “We’re probably catching bass by now, and if we’re in the right area and everything is looking good we’ve hopefully picked up a fish,” he says. “I’ll stay at least an hour if everything looks right. I constantly watch the chumline to see what’s boiling on it. Oh, that’s a bass, that’s a bonito. Yellows are pretty noticeable. A smaller yellowtail looks like a big bass. A big yellowtail is very noticeable. You might think it’s a sea lion but it won’t come up breathing.”
Keep the chum line going and the hook baits fresh. “Having a fresh bait on is huge,” Bogseth says. “You want a bait swimming actively that looks really clean. Bigger baits are better. Chum the smaller ones and keep the big ones for hook bait.”
If he gets a yellowtail, so long as the conditions remain favorable Bogseth will stick it out another 60 or 90 minutes before picking up anchor and resetting in another location. “A lot of the time they’ll come back through,” he says.
If the first spot doesn’t bite, depending on the island he’ll work north to south or east to west. That means nothing’s coming up on the chum and people aren’t having fun. “There’s no point in staying where there’s no life. Very rarely will it change,” he points out.
While Bogseth is moving spots, he might come across bird action or breaking yellows. He won’t pass them up, but they are not his number 1 go-to. “On a standard day, 9 times out of 10, as exciting as it is to see that, I won’t find birds with yellows underneath,” he says.
He’s more interested in consistency than luck. You get consistency when you know how to read the water and how much current to look for. Four mph of current is too much. When conditions are weird, he’ll try new spots. If the structure and water color are good and there’s stuff on his fishfinder, he’ll start a chumline and give it a try. “When you hook up,” he says, “then you feel great. Everything’s clicked together.”
Bogseth has high standards. “If you can get a yellow at the islands 9 times out of 10 you’re a pretty good captain,” he says. “It’s almost like a science, you’re reading the water like you’re reading a book. Once you develop that you’ll be consistent.”
A catchman’s yellowtail tackle
Capt. Chris Bogseth’s gear is selected for performance and durability. It’s quality stuff, Seeker rods and Shimano and Daiwa reels. Where it might differ is the rods have a bit of a slower action. He also prefers a medium rather than heavy action in his 7- to 8-foot yellowtail sticks rated 30 to 40 pounds. “I like to get that bend down deep into the rod,” he says. Longer rods are good for farther casts.
Like just about everyone, Bogseth uses braid for backing, but he goes a little lighter – 50 pounds rather than 65 on his conventional Saltiga and Trinidad 16 reels. “My rule of thumb is to have 300 yards of backing,” he says. “You’ll never get smoked and spooled.”
He ties the braid straight to a 6-yard fluorocarbon topshot. The fluoro is abrasion resistant, has lower visibility, and Bogseth feels it ties better knots. His go-to is 30-pound, but he’s not averse to downsizing to 20 if the bite is tough.
When Bogseth has experienced anglers on his boat, he’ll carry some long rods for throwing iron. Then, he never goes below 40-pound.
Capt. Chris Bogseth of Left Coast Sportfishing is based in Dana Pt. Harbor. Island yellowtail trips are his specialty, but he also runs everything from half-day to offshore jaunts. His trips are all-inclusive including rods and reels, bait and ice, minus food and beverages, fishing license and sun protection. Find him at LeftCoastSportfishing.com.