Feel that chill in the evening air? Even here in the gorgeous Golden State fall is here and what passes for Old Man Winter is on the way. Rather than pine for the days of summer gone by, savvy paddle-powered fishers are anxiously awaiting a splendid time of year.
“The winter months are some of my favorite times to be out there,” explained guide Jim Sammons of La Jolla Kayak Fishing. For one, coastal southern California enjoys more calm, beautiful sunny days during the so-called cold season than the area experiences during its often gloomy summer. Just don’t let the ConVis people know I’ve let the secret out.
Sammons is well known for big-fish exploits. He’s matched kayak and muscles with billfish and tuna, but one of his favorites is that wily local staple the California yellowtail. These sleek freight trains with fins are a beautiful green and grey with – you guessed it – trademark forked tails of yellow. The largest of the year – approaching and sometimes topping 50 pounds – are caught when the water is at its coldest, in from December through February.
Up in the San Francisco Bay area, the weather won’t be so kind but the fish will be even larger the king daddy forkies. Some even call to these northern California giants dinosaurs.
The fish in question are white sturgeon, ancient armored bottom feeders with an appropriately primitive appearance. They reach sizes of hundreds of pounds, a true handful on a paddle craft and a challenge that some kayak anglers can’t pass up.
The first big rains usher in the season, a cold and bitter journey for the hardy souls who wait days for one soft tap on the line. Then it’s off to the races. Sturgeon can tow a kayak hundreds of yards before submitting to capture and most likely a gentle release. In California, highly prized white sturgeon are protected by a slot limit; only fish between 46 and 66 inches may legally be kept.
An off-season paddle fishing trip needn’t be adrenaline charged. For a walk on the milder side, try an easy-going outing on a neighborhood lake. Many of the lowland reservoirs that are too warm in the summer to support trout are stocked heavily beginning in November. This is fishing at its simplest: a nightcrawler, a bobber, and a relaxing drift do wonders for the soul.
In coastal California, the largest fish of the year are caught during the coldest months of the year.
Kayakers who prefer a saltier experience head for southern California’s bays. Beautifully, blissfully calm now that noisy and erratic personal watercraft are gone until summer, they host a little-appreciated population of saltwater bass.
It doesn’t take much to fool a sand bass or diminutive but pugnacious spotted bay bass. The freckled spotted bay bass might look cute, but the little fish sports a mean disposition. Action for spotties and their cousins the sand bass will be solid right through the winter in Southern California’s bays. They readily chomp most anything a bass pro would toss at their freshwater cousins: plastic worms, artificial minnows, spoons and spinnerbaits.
With willing fish and quiet water on offer, bays such as San Diego, Mission, and Newport are excellent places to discover kayak fishing. The air and water temperatures rarely dip below the comfortable mid 60s even as Jack Frost has those who call the higher latitudes home stuck indoors. That’s the essence of the California lifestyle – year-round recreation under the sun.