Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 9:54 am | Overcast 71º


Captain’s Log: Acres of Active Fish Put on a Show

It is fascinating to watch the bounty of the sea gather and put on a show, and so it was over the weekend when I was hired for a day to go out on a private boat to help the owners jump-start their learning curve. The subject was Santa Barbara Channel fishing, which can be quite varied and exciting.

Early in the day we had something strange happen when we stopped right offshore from Santa Barbara in 70 feet of water.

Mackerel and sardines were breaking the surface for acres and acres so we were jigging some up to use for bait, using bait-catching rigs called sabikis.

It is a stunning experience to stand on deck and watch the food chain go wild all around the boat for hundreds of yards. It is one of those moments when Ma Nature displays life and death on a grand scale.

The mixed schools of mackerel and sardines were skittering across topwater and then sinking out to just 6-8 feet below the surface.

One of my students of the day dropped the sabiki down just a little deeper and it loaded up heavy. After some struggle he reeled up three sand bass that had swarmed his rig.

I removed and carefully released them, and he dropped back down and instantly repeated the catch of three sand bass. I don’t recall seeing that happen before!

Capt. David Bacon hoists a sand bass. Sand bass are voracious predators that are one of only three true bass species in our SoCal waters, the other two being calico bass and spotted bay bass. Click to view larger
Capt. David Bacon hoists a sand bass. Sand bass are voracious predators that are one of only three true bass species in our SoCal waters, the other two being calico bass and spotted bay bass. (Capt. David Bacon photo)

The sand bass (one of only three true bass in our waters, even though many fish are referred to as bass) were schooling up and rising off of the seafloor to chase the schools of baitfish, picking them off from the bottom of the school and causing thousands of fish to break the surface and skitter away to perceived safety.

The bass were so focused on biting anything shiny within their reach that the shiny sabikis — even though they are tiny — got bit with wild abandon.

This was nothing short of an all-out feeding frenzy, and it is awe-inspiring to watch. Critters don’t kindly go to the grocery store… they wolf each other down to stay alive. 

I have immense respect and admiration for the ferocity of the natural order. Having risen to the top of the food chain ourselves, it reminds me of how capable we are.

— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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