Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 10:41 pm | Fair 58º


Captain’s Log: El Niño Loosens Warm Grip on Santa Barbara Channel


The month of November saw some impressive changes in terms of the impacts of El Niño.

Water temperature drops of more than 10 degrees and the comings and goings of pelagic critters were among the changes. Now we are left with cooling but still warmer than usual water with great underwater visibility.

At the outset of November, our water temps along the coast near Santa Barbara were over 70 degrees. Pelagic fishes cruised our waters and gave us some very unusual but very welcome fishing opportunities such as yellowtail and even a couple of striped marlin near the rows of oil rigs off of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

While exploring with my charter boat, WaveWalker, I saw floating kelp paddies with life stacked as deep as I could see. There were bait-size fish just under the canopy of floating kelp, 5 to 7-inch fish below those and much bigger predators flashed below. We caught yellowtail under those paddies and in some cases, plenty of them.

Yellowtail were also present in good numbers up the coast off of Hollister Ranch. Boaters made the run up there to fish for halibut, white seabass, yellowtail, rockfish and lingcod.

Warm water regimes do not seem to make squid happy, so this was not one of the better seasons for the squid fleet. At the Channel Islands conditions were even warmer, especially along the back (south) side of the islands.

Even Santa Rosa Island saw high water temps. I know a guy who fished the Santa Rosa flats for two days targeting marlin and on the slower of the two days he hooked six. That is a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity.

By late November, local water temperatures are hovering around the low 60s off of Santa Barbara, which is enough to make those pelagic fish turn southward in search of warmer water near 70 degrees.

Now the squid are coming inshore in greater numbers and people are hooking more white seabass and halibut and fewer yellowtail. Lingcod and rockfish populations have held steady and calico bass populations appear to be on the rise thanks to El Niño.

If more central Pacific storms and hurricanes are spawned and move northward, we may get another slug of warm water and the pelagic fish may swim right back again, but meanwhile, it looks like El Niño is loosening its warm grip on the Santa Barbara Channel.

— 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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