Fishing Bonanza in the Channel Islands (2023)

Fishing Bonanza in the Channel Islands (1)

California's Channel Islands in the golden afternoon sun

I settled into a steady rhythm of lift, wind on the drops and lift again, slowly bringing the solid fish at the end of my line to the surface. Tilting my head to one side, I had a clear view of six other anglers on the Ventura Sportfishing rail.Sunrise on the Pacific, their poles bent in heavy arcs. Sailors stood by to direct traffic, passing their rods over and under each other as the fish lured the anglers up and down the rail.

Somewhere behind me, I heard excited screams as a newly hooked fish broke line from another angler's reel. Eventually I worked my catch close enough for the deckhand to tie it up and lift it over the rail in one smooth motion, where he joined a quartet of 30+ pound fish beating a steady drum on the deck.

It wasn't the yellowfin tuna that made our fishing crew sweat; It was a complete blitz of big and bad California halibuts.


This type of exciting action is typical of offshore tuna trips where multiple connections can keep anglers and crew busy for hours. However, we found ourselves in the shadow of San Miguel Island, a windswept outpost in Southern California's Channel Island chain. Over the course of a muggy July afternoon, we set up our rigs of live squid. Every time we veered over a sweet spot, multiple anglers bite at once. By the time evening drew near we had counted almost 60 halibut ranging from 20 to 35 pounds. It was literally a bigger halibut than I had ever seen in my life.

Fishing Bonanza in the Channel Islands (2)

shame of wealth

We were made aware of this hot bite byMorgana girl, a popular charter boat from Channel Islands Sportfishing in Oxnard. We had solid action off neighboring Santa Rosa Island and landed a handful of white bass in the morning before heading into deeper water to target the area's excellent bottom fishing. However, one could not resist the enticing report of the fish. So we set up the stakes and headed another hour to the San Miguel Shallows.

Such is the disgrace of the abundance of fish that the Channel Islands offer to visiting fishermen. We broke a cardinal rule of fishing: never leave fish to find fish, and not only did we cost us nothing, we got a real gold mine.

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The Channel Islands are rich in history and natural beauty. The five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park look much as they did when they were inhabited by the region's Chumash Indians more than 10,000 years ago. The National Park Service and Nature Conservancy have worked for decades to repair the damage caused by 150 years of European settlement and ranching, restore native plants, and protect unique native animals like the housecat-sized island fox. The islands have several important and active archaeological sites that study the life and activities of California Native people for thousands of years.

I recall with amazement standing on a high, windswept cliff, looking across a blue ocean to a neighboring island and the coast beyond, during an island tour led by a naturalist from an old Chumash camp. I felt privileged to be there and enjoy a view that, while impressive, would have been a daily backdrop in the lives of the Chumash families.

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location of the country

The tiny island of Santa Barbara is something of an exception, while the islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel extend linearly west of the California coast. The next in Anacapa (the only island with a derivative of its original Chumash name,Anywayand Santa Cruz are served almost daily by private boats and quarter-day party boats from the coastal ports of Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Barbara.


Over the course of a fishing season, these islands can offer great bites from largemouth bass, yellowtail, white bass, halibut and the ubiquitous rockfish. Santa Cruz, California's largest island at over 96 square miles, is known for fishing for white bass when squid spawn.

In general, however, anglers looking for larger bottom fish and an opportunity for trophy halibut and white bass will focus their efforts in the outer Channel Islands, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. Lying behind the overhanging shelter of Point Conception on the California coast, these two islands are exposed to the full viciousness of the prevailing northwest wind and swell. Local fishermen affectionately refer to the island of Santa Rosa as Santa "Blowsa". And when the weather turns bad in Santa Rosa, you don't even think about walking further towards San Miguel. Bad weather can keep boats moored at the dock for days, and a seaworthy vessel is definitely required to complete a 50+ mile race.

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However, the linear alignment of the chain of islands provides some protection for ships sailing to the outer islands. Depending on the weather, it's possible to hide behind the islands for much of the trip. Still, it's unmistakable when you leave the shelter of an island to "shoot the gap" and rock and roll until you take the leeward side of the next island. Once you arrive at your destination, the experienced captains who frequent these waters know many places to shelter from the weather and make the most of whatever fishing conditions come their way.


"It can be difficult to get out, but that's also one of the main reasons why the fishing is so good," he says.Sunrise on the PacificCaptain Pat Cavanaugh. “The outer islands are not as affected by fishing, so the number and size of the fish can be overwhelming. Bass fishing can last for weeks.

“More large California halibut have been caught in recent seasons than I can remember in a long time. And the size and quality of scorpionfish, particularly Great Reds and Long Cods, are as good as any outside of Alaska,” adds Cavanaugh.

The difficulty factor in reaching the outer islands is a big part of the adventure. You wake up in the morning, climb onto the deck with your coffee mug and wonder what island you are looking at in the distance. Every day here is different and to some extent Mother Nature dictates where you fish and what you catch. If you are lucky enough to have a nice quiet day (they happen) then you have many more options to explore.

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Deepest point

While the islands are home to a variety of fish, there is no question that scorpionfish make up the bulk of the year-round catch (with the exception of California's annual rock fishery shutdown in January/February). These waters are home to dozens of species of scorpion fish with colorful names and even more colorful nicknames like vermilion scorpionfish, known as redfish, and copperhead, better known as giggles. Long cod, which is not a scorpionfish but a member of the greenfinch family, is usually included in the mix and is considered a valuable catch.

These fish and many others can be found on rocky structures at depths of 70 to 300 feet, conditions that abound around the Channel Islands. Again, the outer islands shine and offer opportunities to target the larger scorpionfish and long cod in shallower waters. This allows for the use of lighter tackle and a variety of lures.

You could call me a rockfish snob as I avoid traditional bait and double dropper rigs used by most anglers. Instead, I fish almost exclusively with heavy metal single hooks (so-called iron hooks) or large plastic swimbaits. The first, which I like to tap with a 6-inch Berkley Gulp Curlytail Worm for added action and scent, is fished by hopping up and down with rod motions, occasionally maintaining ground contact.

Santa Barbara's Captain David Bacon is based on a four-pack charter boatwavewalkerHe uses a two-in-one lure of his own creation which he called the Lingslayer, a heavy hammered metal Hopkins spoon with a large plastic maggot/lead head attached to the bottom hook. Lingcods have big mouths and big appetites to match, and both presentations are designed to give these aggressive predators a high-profile entry.

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last season,Sunrise on the PacificAuxiliary Captain Mike "Dog" Nickerson taught me how to fish oversized plastic baits designed to catch rockfish and big cod and if you'll excuse the pun, I'm hooked. They cast these giant lures as deep as possible, letting them sink to the bottom and then reeling in about 10 medium speed winches. If they don't bite you, you drop it and do it again. Once you are over the bait you can bring it to the surface and start over. I quickly learned that these active predators often follow your swimbait almost to the surface before hitting it, so fish all the way to the boat.

"I'm bitten!"

"Damn, he's out."

"He is back again!"

Fishing Bonanza in the Channel Islands (7)

This is what it sounds like when a group of fishermen casts swimming bait from the bow. Lingcods have a way of holding on to the bait's tail before engulfing it in their cavernous, toothed jaws. It took me some practice to resist the natural instinct to stop reeling and set the hook rather than just constantly reeling through the bite until the rod is loaded. Once a solid connection is made, steadily drag the fish back into the boat without pumping and get ready for some powerful runs and heavy head tosses. As well as long cod up to 25lbs I've also caught my fair share of jackpot sized reds and scorpionfish with these lures.

Southern California manufacturers Candy Bar and Kustom Kraft make 7- to 9-inch swimbaits large enough to fish with 6- or 8-ounce jig heads.Lesung bei Wild teamThe line features cutbait herring swimbaits mounted on contoured jig heads weighing either 8 or 16 ounces. I prefer to fish both jigs and swimbaits on a sturdy 8ft graphite rod paired with a conventional reel that can hold at least 250 yards of a 65lb test braid. Ten or 20 feet of 30 pound monofilament hooklink will provide some shock absorption and make it easier to break through the inevitable obstacles.

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Sea Bass Strategies

While the southernmost islands of Santa Catalina or San Clemente are better known as top white bass destinations, the islands of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa have provided sustained early summer morsels in recent seasons. And while the fish aren't that big on average, the potential for an open bite on 15- to 25-pound fish is more than enough to attract boats full of bass lovers. And there's always the option to connect with a 40 or 50 lb tanker.

My first trip here opened my eyes to the subtle differences in bass fishing in the Channel Islands. Rather than fly fishing for live squid from beaches or lines of kelp, or hovering over squid nests, anchor fishing is often done in deep squid spawning grounds. The current often slices through these waters, and it's not uncommon to need a 10- or 12-ounce plumb bob to keep your offerings close to the bottom. Crews fishing here definitely prefer spider hook dropper ties rather than the traditional loop used on rockfish rigs with an 18 inch dropper and a long shank 7/0 Aki Twist hook. If the current isn't too strong, anglers can fish the stern in the middle of the water column, dragging along a squid that weighs only ½ to 1 ounce of egg lead.

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It's not uncommon for a tide of large Pacific barracuda or California yellowtail to hop around and flex multiple rods at once when anglers are fishing for bass this way. I've also seen many large halibut fall in the middle of a perch bite. With this versatile tool, when the captain says it's time to drift for the halibut, all I have to do is adjust the lead size to suit the water depth and the speed of the drift.

In a way, this illustrates what I love about fishing in the Channel Islands, California. Here, every sunrise is an adventure story whose middle and end have yet to be written: where to fish, how to fish and what to fish can change from day to day. , or even by the hour. And if you're right, you might come home with memories of your own gold mine in the Channel Islands.

Fishing Bonanza in the Channel Islands (9)

Monitored Waters

The Channel Islands are perhaps one of the best monitored and regulated marine environments in California. All five islands are designated U.S. National Parks and have the added federal protection of being one of 14 national marine protected areas managed by NOAA. Additionally, about 25 percent of the island's waters fall within a variety of different state marine protected areas, where commercial and recreational fishing may be prohibited or restricted to varying degrees. I don't know if it's because of the MPA closures or despite them but the fishery has been very strong in recent years. To encourage sport fishing in sheltered waters across the country (and to dispel the notion that marine sanctuaries are always no-go fishing), the Bureau of National Marine Sanctuaries has sponsored a fishing photography competition throughout the summer for the last three years called Sanctuary Classic. Visitsantuarioclásico.orgfor more informations.

“The outer islands are not as affected by fishing, so the number and size of the fish can be overwhelming. Bass fishing can last for weeks. "

– Pat Cavanaugh,Sunrise on the Pacificis the captain

Channel Island Charter Fishing Services

Here are three charter services that specialize in sport fishing in the Channel Islands.

Sport fishing in the Channel Islands, 805-382-1612

Ventura sport fishing, 805-676-3474

WaveWalker letters, 805-895-3273

About the author: California native Ron Ballanti enjoys fishing for anything that floats. When he's not fishing, taking photos, or writing articles, he runs a Los Angeles-based marketing agency specializing in fisheries and marine science. He has fished far and wide but has a particular passion for fishing in his home waters off the coast of Southern California.

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