Calico bass live in all the right places. We catch them throughout wild boiler rock environments, inshore kelp forests and shallow reefs. This species can’t be sold commercially, so they are the right — and the responsibility — of sport fisherfolk. Let’s take a look at their favorite environments and the most successful techniques, tackle and presentation for taking these prize sportfish.
Boiler rocks: The most exciting way to fish for calico bass is to take a boat close to boiler rocks — where swells surge over exposed rocks — and cast lures, such as plastic swimbaits on leadheads or small jigs, within a couple of feet of the rocks. Retrieve them slowly. When a bass blasts out of a protective pocket between rocks, inhales your lure and pulls hard to get back to the safety of the structure, you’re in for a fight. Lightning-fast reflexes help here, because the hook must be set at the first hint of a strike, and the fish must be pulled away from the rocks. If you’re not fast enough, it may be a short fight, because that calico is heading for trouble.
Kelp forests: While calico bass is the common name for these fish among the folks who fish for them, the state Department of Fish & Game calls them kelp bass. Boat positioning is the key to catching calico in the kelp. The most common successful technique is to anchor the boat so it sits at anchor about a boat length upcurrent from the edge of the kelp. Begin a steady chumline of live baits, chunked dead baits and special mixes. This will draw nearby natural baitfish to the chumline and enhance the attraction to the predator fish. Those bass often will swim out of the kelp and begin biting baits in the open area between the kelp and the boat. That’s when things get exciting!
A simple and effective rig is to run the fishing line through a ¼-ounce sliding sinker and tie it to a size No. 2 live bait hook. Pin a baitfish through the nose, or collar hook it, and cast to the edge of the kelp. When a bass picks up the bait, give it a long moment to take the bait fully into its mouth before you set the hook fast and hard.
Shallow reefs: Calico bass spend a great deal of their time schooling shallow reef zones, usually in less than 100 feet of water. The fish can be targeted any time; however, possibly the best time is near high tide when a medium current is flowing and water clarity is decent but not great. That combination of conditions triggers their feeding activity.
A proven method to fish the reef zones for calico bass is to anchor just upcurrent from the reef and chum the waters to draw the bass up the water column. Cast live baits with light sliding sinkers, or plastic swimbaits on leadheads, and let the offering slowly sink through the water until it is met by a hungry bass.
Remember, the daily bag limit of calico bass is 10. The minimum size is 12 inches. If you fillet the fish at sea, the fillet must be a minimum of 6½ inches. Many caring anglers release fish shorter than 14 inches and those weighing more than 5 pounds. The bigger ones are a precious spawning resource. Those in-between fish will provide good-size fillets, which are more tender than a tough old spawner.