The text came in to Hook, Line & Sinker fishing center in Santa Barbara: Nick Tharp hooked into a big bruiser bonito up off the Gaviota Coast over the final weekend of the year.
Capt. Tiffany Vague, manager of the fishing shop, was only mildly surprised. She knows what a unique fishing year this has been.
Tharp, of Santa Barbara, knows how to read water and read critters. But still, bonito runs have been brief summer and early autumn flings over the past several years, so this late-season bite — which has now lasted a few weeks — is not what Capt. Vague would expect from the recent oceanic cycle of cooler than usual water.
Perhaps things are changing, as our cycles come and go according to dynamics of which we have only a tiny understanding.
Surface water temperatures are higher than normal, going into the winter months, and so these schools of bonito have found no reason to leave the food-rich waters of the western Santa Barbara Channel to make a beeline (which bonito can do at a very fast clip) toward more southerly warm waters.
Tharp’s fish were interested in the live squid he began fishing with, but only mildly so. When he tied on an old-school Krocodile spoon and began casting and retrieving, those bonito slammed it with a vengeance. Five “boneheads” were hooked by Tharp and his fishing buddy, Scott Summersgill, and two were boated. These were very good size bonito, weighing 12 and 14 pounds.
Nick, my assignment to you is to go back out and catch the first local bonito of 2014. You can do it!
Comparing notes with Capt. Vague, we noted that bonito are not the only fish to keep biting until later in the year than usual. We had a full-on white seabass bite right into December, and the story on halibut wasn’t much different. Those two species tend to congregate around squid, and we currently have a dramatic spike in squid spawning biomass all along the coast.
On our charter boat, WaveWalker, we have been able to get calico bass (typically a warmer season gamefish) to bite aggressively over the past couple of weekends.
The ocean seems packed with food, and fish are sticking around to scarf it up and hopefully store enough energy to help them make lots of babies to fish for in future years.
— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.