BY ALLEN BUSHNELL
SANTA CRUZ – Nuisance wind and a small south swell shouldn’t have too much of a negative effect for boat-based anglers this week. Surfcasters might have to hunt the beaches for some clean water though as the kelp and seaweed in the surf line was vexing for many over the weekend. Underlying those weather and water conditions however are two very positive factors for fishing on Monterey Bay as these days there are tons of bait and plenty of hungry fish. It’s a banner year for anchovies with huge schools and bait balls both offshore and close to the surf line. When there’s a lot of bait, we find a lot of fish!
Salmon anglers all around the bay had a fantastic week of fishing. While scores varied from day to day, the highliners amongst the fleet managed limits of fish every day. It’s a mixed grade of king salmon, ranging from “pinner” shaker fish to hogs in the 20- and 30-pound range. There are quite a few silver salmon in the mix as well so be sure of your fish ID before you bonk that salmon on the head. Best practice is to take a good look before even netting the fish and release any silvers without removing them from the water at all. A slack line is often enough for a silver salmon to pop the hook and swim away. You might have to reach down with long-nosed pliers and flip the hook yourself. This can be easily done without touching the fish. Another technique is to slide your gaff down the line, giving a little tweak or twist once the gaff touches the hook.
The water temperatures remain relatively cool. This, in conjunction with a hefty biomass of king salmon making their way to spawning waters, has resulted in a very good salmon season so far. Some of the scores this week include the Check Mate out of Chris’s Fishing and Whale Watching out of Monterey posting 21 kings for 20 anglers aboard the on Friday. Chris’s boats mooch for salmon, drifting baits under a banana weight around the edges of dense bait balls, of which there are plenty in the bay at this time. Mooching is a very exciting and rewarding technique. The angler fishes with rod in hand, feels the bite and sets the hook. It’s a bit more sophisticated in terms of angler IQ than trolling, and lighter equipment makes a successful fight that much more satisfying. Six-pack charter GO Fish Santa Cruz is taking maximum advantage of the salmon bite in the bay. On Thursday, Skipper JT Thomas reported, “We had crew limits of salmon, short by one, with fifteen big king salmon.” For Wednesday, Thomas said, “The bite was slower, but the clients caught four big king salmon up to 23 pounds.” Private boaters are reporting frequent early limits, often running for home before 8:00 a.m. Big fish in the 20’s and even 30-pound class are not uncommon catches this week.
Capitola Boat and Bait reported on Friday, saying, “The water conditions have been beautiful in the mornings with slight wind picking up in the afternoons.” We’ve seen a steady stream of halibut picked up around Capitola both New Brighton side of the big kelp beds as well as to the west towards Pleasure Point. Halibut are on the inside all the way to shallow water near the beach. Calm protected areas with clean water are perfect for surfcasting flatties at low tide using a Kastmaster, stickbait, or smaller white swimbaits. You might have to weed through multiple short halibut before hooking a keeper, but it’s all fun action. Treat the shorts gently and release quickly to keep the mortality rate down. Halibut that have been hooked can develop infections when their body is scraped against sand or rocks. Using a fine mesh rubber net will avoid splitting the halibut tails, another common source of infections for released halibut.”
Don’t overlook the very valid halibut fishery from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Santa Cruz Boat Rental reported some good flatty fishing on Thursday saying, “Bait is back at the wharf! The halibut are as well, we witnessed seven keepers landed on the wharf. The largest one was 36 inches!” Anglers there are using swimbaits or jigging up live anchovies used to hook the wharf halibut.