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Captain’s Log: Black Seabass Are Big and Back in Good Numbers

Jimmy cast out his swimbait toward the towering cliffs and surging breakers crashing against them, sending geysers of white water skyward.

We were fishing the boiler rocks at Santa Cruz Island, perhaps my very favorite fishing activity. My passengers, including Jimmy, love making hundreds of casts and being up close and personal with such stunning raw power of nature.

Jimmy let his swimbait flutter down the face of the steep cliff to entice any calico bass that might be lurking below to see what the swells brought them to eat. This time he let it flutter down a bit too far and got hung up in the rocks. Or so he thought.

He yanked, tugged and pulled to free his lure from the rocks. Then suddenly his lure, while still hung up below, moved over about 15 yards and stopped again. Jimmy looked up at me on the bridge to see if I had moved the boat without him knowing it. He looked very puzzled indeed when he saw me keeping a steady hand on the helm and keeping us positioned in the same spot just off the rocks. I just smiled and said, “Jimmy, rocks don’t swim that well. I think that one grew a tail.”

After yanking and tugging some more, that rock swam another 20 yards and stopped again. Finally, Jimmy’s 20-pound line broke. We all knew just what it was. Black seabass are back in force and retaking their shallow rocky island domain.

I told the group about the experience of an urchin diver friend of mine who was collecting urchin in about 60 feet of water one day just off of Santa Cruz Island when he got that creepy sense of being watched. He slowly turned around to face off with a giant black seabass about 20 feet away.

My friend said, “I’d gauge it to be nearly 500 pounds — huge! And I know exactly what that fish was thinking while he eyeballed me. It was thinking, ‘Well, I’m certain I can catch that slow critter, but can I swallow him’?” After some thought, the big fish casually turned and swam away like it owned the place. That ownership is a point that could be argued successfully.

My point is, black seabass are back and our long-term management plan is working. We are bringing them back to abundance. It is the angling community that is doing this and has been working on it for decades, in conjunction with the California Department of Fish & Game.

Make no mistake, this success has nothing to do with the new Marine Protected Areas, which cause socioeconomic hardship to most of us but bring piles of money to a relative few grant-seekers. Black seabass recovery success is brought about by fisherfolk doing the right thing. The next logical step in creating a healthier ocean is building artificial reefs to help us bring back other critters, such as abalone, to abundance.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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