We headed out with an offshore wind at our backs and the promise of tasty rockfish out ahead.
We’ve had our share of weather this winter and cabin fever rages, but we’ve also enjoyed crisp, clear and calm mornings. Now that March is here and rockfish season is under way, such mornings beckon powerfully.
Santa Rosa Island was our destination because of the high quality of the rockfish that call the surrounding waters home, but we found ourselves slowing long before we reached the fabled island waters. Baitfish (anchovies and sardines) are swarming our near-shore waters, and common dolphins are hunting and feeding throughout the Santa Barbara Channel. How could we resist slowing down to watch them?
The channel crossing was quick and easy, thanks to offshore breezes and calm seas. With Santa Rosa Island looming before us, I set us up on a drift over a rocky reef zone off the north shore of the island. We baited up, dropped down and it was game on — immediately. Each rod bobbed and bent within moments of the baits reaching the rocky reef zone below.
We cranked up three- to six-pound reds, chucklehead and bocaccio. We also caught plenty of one- to three-pound blue rockfish. Occasionally, a rod would bend double and a real battle ensued as a passenger brought up a fighting ling cod (nicknamed “lingasaur” aboard the WaveWalker). Their season doesn’t open until April 1, so we gently released the lings. They have no air bladder,so they swam away healthy and strong without suffering barotrauma.
Our busy fishing was happily interrupted by a pod of five California gray whales swimming near us as they shot the gap between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands and made a beeline toward Point Conception to continue their northward migration back to the food-rich waters of the northern seas.
The break was enjoyable, but we still managed to catch plenty of fish for dinner within a couple of hours.
While my crew member, Capt. Tiffany Vague, filleted fish, we went exploring to see pinnipeds, more whales and lots more dolphins. The cruise back across the channel to Santa Barbara was bumpier than the morning run had been, but still comfortable. Everyone on board swapped stories and memories all the way back.
I’m happy we’re entering the spring season, and fishing (as well as critter watching) is good. Good? No, make that great!
— 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.