The far side (or south side) of Santa Cruz Island is worthy of an exploratory trip or pure pleasure cruise in late summer or early autumn.
One reason is that the south side is protected from the prevailing winds, which means generally placid seas and fair weather. Whether you are cruising and sightseeing or fishing, there is plenty to do and see, and the sightseeing boats don’t go to the far side much.
I am a fishing captain, so I’ll share some of my local fishing knowledge. There are good options. One is trolling for gamefish along the current breaks of the Santa Cruz Escarpment. Another is soaking baits and working jigs for white seabass and yellowtail just off of the island. A third option is casting plastic swimbaits and live baits near structure spots for calico bass and shallow water rockfish.
Several miles off the south side of Santa Cruz Island is a topographic feature so pronounced that it has a profound effect on the entire food chain. Within the span of a half-dozen miles, the topography rises from the depths of the 6,000-foot-deep Santa Cruz Basin to the peaks of the island mountains — an elevation gain of better than 8,000 feet. It causes major upwelling and channels great quantities of water along well-defined current breaks. The upwelling feeds the lower end of the food chain, and the current breaks attract the upper end of the food chain, which includes our favorite target species.
If you love spending hot days in pursuit of the glory fish of summer, such as yellowtail, dorado, marlin, shark and maybe even tuna, then the Santa Cruz Escarpment is a good place to go prospecting. Trolling along the long current breaks is an effective technique for marlin, shark and tuna. Those current breaks tend to gather kelp paddies, so have a rig ready to cast to paddies as they come to bear, in search of yellowtail or dorado.
Closer to the island, white seabass, yellowtail and surface gamefish such as bonito and barracuda are on tap. Chasing bird activity and skittering baitfish is a really fun way to target the surface feeders. It’s interesting to note that I get into some really good bonito bites at Santa Cruz Island by chasing surface activity. White seabass and yellowtail are best fished for in water ranging from 30 to 120 feet. Meter around until concentrations of baitfish, squid or big fish are metered, then anchor or drift the area and soak whole squid or sardines on sliding sinker rigs and dropper loops.
White jigs near the bottom are effective for white seabass, while blue/white and scrambled egg colors cranked up through the water column at high speed are intended to hook hungry yellowtail. Hotspots for seabass and yellowtail will be east of the Gull Island MPA, Pink Ribbon, Yellowbanks and Sandstone Point.
Still closer to the island — and I’m talking about fishing right next to dangerous-looking structure spots — action can be wild from now through mid-autumn for calico bass. I take my charter boat, the WaveWalker, in very tight to boiler rocks and stay at the helm, keeping the boat perfectly positioned for casting plastic swimbaits toward the rocks. This is precision casting. Cast right next to the rocks and then execute a very slow retrieve. The toughest calico bass alive just may blast out of the turbulent water below the boiler rock and inhale that swimbait with authority. These are really tough bass because of the surging conditions in which they live and feed. I call them junkyard bass.
Just a little ways off of the boiler rocks are plenty of shallow hard-bottom areas where calicos forage and shallow water rockfish prowl and compete fiercely for food. A reverse dropper loop or a sliding sinker rig on light tackle, with a live anchovy, is deadly for calicos, johnny bass, sugar bass, chucklehead, sheephead and ocean whitefish. Other good baits are shrimp, clams, mussel, crabs and squid strips.
Autumn is typically our best weather of the year, and plenty of calm days allow us all to blast around and go prospecting. It’s fun!
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.