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Fishermen's Journal


Fishing Catalina's West End

by Capt. Jerry Barber

I have a job most people would kill for. During the past five summers, I've worked as a Harbor Patrolman at the Isthmus on Catalina Island. This allows me to live, work and fish some of the most beautiful and productive waters in Southern California. Over the years, I've talked with many boaters at trade shows, boat and tackle shows, and club meetings about boating and fishing at Catalina. Quite a few express surprise when I tell them I regularly cross the channel in an 18 foot Parker center console. I emphasize that I have a good boat, proper equipment and watch the weather. For those of you who have never visited the island in a small boat, I would like to offer a few tips and say Come on over!

The first thing I would recommend is good equipment. I have seen boats come to the Isthmus that I wouldn't take out in the bay in calm weather. If you have a good seaworthy boat, a properly maintained motor, a working VHF radio, a calibrated compass, a GPS and all the required safety equipment, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to make the trip safely. One piece of safety equipment I want to especially mention is your anchor. Be sure you have an anchor of the appropriate size, with sufficient chain and rode. Catalina Island is not the place to come if you have a small folding anchor, 5 feet of 1/4" chain (or no chain at all!) and 100 feet of 1/4" or 3/8" line. Believe me, I have seen this all too often. You will need an anchor that will hold your boat in deep water and in open ocean conditions. I also mentioned a VHF radio... not a Citizens Band radio, not a cellular telephone or anything else. A working VHF radio is an absolute essential piece of equipment. It can save your life.

Once at Catalina, there are many places to safely anchor or, if you prefer, pick up a mooring. A phone call to the Visitor Services Office at (310) 510-0303 will get you a pamphlet containing loads of useful information about the island. It will describe the locations of the mooring coves and give you places to pick up fuel and supplies. All moorings at the island are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. Avalon monitors VHF 12 and the rest of the island monitors VHF 09. If you wish to pick up a mooring and have never done so before, PLEASE tell this to the Harbor Patrolman. It is a very simple procedure, but it can be screwed up very badly and can get very expensive if you chew up the mooring tackle with your prop. We will be glad to accompany you to the mooring and help you get properly secured.

Since you found this article at a site primarily dealing with fishing, I probably should comment on that. Fishing is a major part of my life. As I mentioned before, I work as a Harbor Patrolman at the Isthmus during the summer months. In addition to my Harbor Patrol duties, I also occasionally run fishing and diving charters out of the Two Harbors area. During the winter months, I run harbor cruises, whale watch tours and fishing trips out of Helgren's Sportfishing at Oceanside Harbor.

Most of the good fishing spots around Catalina Island are well known and well documented. There are several fine books with all the spots identified by landmarks and/or latitude/longitude numbers. I am most familiar with the area around the West End and will be more than happy to share the local up-to-date information with you when you come into the Isthmus. Contact any Harbor Patrolman and they will tell you how to contact me. I am almost always on VHF 09 and will answer to Sea H.P., the name of my boat.

The primary fish of interest at the Isthmus is the white seabass, although yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, striped marlin, mako's, thresher's and occasionally dorado and bluefin tuna also generate a lot of interest. At this time, no live bait is commercially available at the island. You must bring it across from the mainland or catch it locally. I usually recommend trying Ship Rock for bait (beware of the reef that runs south from the rock), although Bird Rock and Eagle Reef are also good. The locals usually use canned cat food to entice mackerel to the boat but a mesh bag of dry dog food also works well. Squid can be found at certain times of the year but most of us rely on mackerel or blacksmith for bait. Once bait is obtained, I usually recommend trying the High Spot, a pile of rocks that lies between Bird Rock and Ship Rock, or Eagle Reef. These spots are just minutes from the Isthmus itself and are both convenient and productive. Other well-known seabass spots include Long Point, Johnson Rock (be careful at night...it's not lighted and extremely dangerous), Eagle Rock and West Cove. These are all on the charts, along with other equally good locations. I should point out that the typical white seabass at the West End exceeds 30 pounds so appropriate tackle is necessary. These fish are not only hard fighters, they are delicious table fare.

Seabass tackle is identical to a good yellowtail or light tuna rig. I personally use a 270H rod with an Accurate Penn 500 reel and 25# line. Good, well-maintained equipment is an absolute necessity. You will need good quality line and a reel with good smooth drags. You might sit out on anchor for three, four or five nights in a row without getting bit, so when you do, your gear had better be ready. You typically only get one or two shots a night at them during normal conditions. A three-fish limit is rare. I recommend using 25 or 30 pound test line with a good 3/0 hook and an egg sinker of appropriate weight secured with a Carolina keeper about four feet above the hook. If Carolina keepers are not available, tie a snell knot around the main line to secure the sinker. I much prefer these devices to split shot which can nick the main line. Once I hook a seabass, I get very upset when I lose it. Fishing for seabass is identical to fishing for deep yellowtail. Drop to the bottom, wind up six to ten cranks, take the reel out of gear and wait. Seabass will sometimes take a bait in short jerks, similar to a calico strike, but can hit like a freight train. I once had one hit so hard that I lost over 40 yards of line before I could get the rod out of the holder and in gear! They will typically fight very hard for five to ten minutes and then they'll give up and come to the boat fairly easily. Let them fight the drags and wear themselves out. Don't try to horse them in. Once they quit, they come right in.

Barber's Big OneThe island is waiting. Get your boats and gear ready and come on over! The fishing is great! Once you've done it, you'll wonder why you didn't try it earlier.

The picture shows me on the left, a friend, Bill Huss, on the right and a slightly larger than "typical" wsb (43#) in the middle. This was Bill's first "real" fishing trip.  He wound up with a 150# mako and this seabass, all on the same day.

You too can get published right here at CharkBait. Have an idea other boaters or fishermen could use, some experience to share, a great trip to report? Well, get typing, include some pics, and if your article is selected for publication you'll receive a free CharkChirt and the appreciation of other fishermen.

Thank you for visiting!

If you have any questions please contact me through e-mail.

CharkBait 1998/9



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