The Southern California surf fishing season went wide open this summer with bite-a-cast fishing on many sessions chasing the recent influx of surf perch, corbina, spotfin and yellowfin croaker with our clients in Orange County. Here's how one epic guided session went down.
One of the stand-out days of this season so far was undoubtedly with a new guiding client, who has recently discovered the delights of surf fishing and booked me (Ben, American Sea Fishing's guide) for a second morning’s light line fishing from the beach to get his new rod and reel combo dialed in.
Having had that week’s tides marked in my diary for some time as ones to target for the corbina at first light. I knew we’d find some good sport, but the first two hours of that day were probably some of the best surf fishing I’ve experienced guiding on the West Coast.
In-fact, we achieved something that’s been on my to-do list for some time – a SoCal Croaker Grand Slam, which is to catch the three reasonably attainable West Coast croaker surf species in one day; California Corbina, Yellowfin Croaker and the elusive Spotfin Croaker.
After a pre-dawn start to hit a nice little tidal swing in SoCal as the sun came up, we find some good sand crab beds formed already and my client swiftly lands a nice yellowfin croaker on his first cast.
Right place, right tide, right rig, right bait.
A couple more yellowfin later, and the first corbina – a solid 15-incher with the beginnings of those big-’bina pink fins and brassy back – gives him a fun fight in the shallows and is probably his biggest fish from the surf so far.
A few fish later and something really takes off and nearly flat-rods him with a turn of speed that can only be a big corbina. We’re teased with a glimpse of a big white belly in the clear water as it disappears behind the surf again.
Just as we’re settling in for the tussle, a huge labrador-headed male sealion pops up a few yards away from the hooked fish.
I’ve lost fish to sealions in the surf before. Please not this one.
Thankfully it didn’t seem to twig that an easy meal was just a wave away and it carried on up the beach.
We nearly have it to hand several times before it takes off in the shallows and we lose another dozen yards of line. A small crowd gathers.
I can see that it’s a really good fish but I don’t want to distract my angler, who’s doing an outstanding job of patiently working the fish up the beach and waiting for the right moment to beach it, unaware that he’s attached to a creature that many West Coast surf anglers take years to find.
The 6-pound leader and size 6 hook holds and, eventually, the shore-break gives us an opportunity and he puts just enough pressure on the fish to strand it in the shallows so I can grab it with two hands and run up the beach to dry land.
Relief soon turns to joy.
A quick measure of an impressive silver torpedo of a fish shows 22 inches, and it swims off strongly after a few pictures and a hug with my ecstatic client.
Definitely one of the more impressive fish I’ve seen in the surf and quite the battler.
Arms aching, we were laughing about how a break would be nice a few minutes after returning the big corbina, when his rod hoops over and the drag of his brand-new reel started singing.
Here we go again.
This one comes in with a little different flavor, and I soon see a black spot beside the gill plate. Spotfin croaker.
A few fast runs follow, but he uses the experience from the epic corbina fight to his advantage and soon has it on the sand.
A good thing considering spotfin are one of the most notorious fish for coming unhooked mid-fight with the combination of vigorous head shakes and rock-hard mouths.
This one is nailed in the bottom lip by the Tanago J hook.
Surf perch, yellowfin, more corbina to 18 inches and even a rogue Spanish mackerel (on sand crabs!) keep us busy until the crowds thickened.
We have action consistently all morning but that magic hour when we hit the croaker hat-trick won’t be beaten for a long time in terms of quality of fish and variety.
In terms of factors that contributed to such a successful session, I’d list the following three elements of our approach that day as being important.
1) I’m sure some corbina get caught on heavy mono leaders and big hooks, but generally the optimal set-up for big corbina is a light fluorocarbon leader in 4 to 6-pound strains combined with high carbon steel Tanago J hooks in the 8, 6 or 4 size range.
Small and subtle just gets bit more, and quality hooks penetrate and stay in noticeably better than cheap models.
We use and rely on this brand and pattern below, Cox and Rawle Tanago hooks, a lot in our guiding service and recommend them highly.
By the way, all the fish on that day were caught on a 6-pound flurocarbon leader and size 6 Tanago hook.
I’ll happily use 4-pound leaders for corbina, too, but on that day we went for 6-pound because of the 6-12-pound rated rod in use and presence of lots of kelp in the water.
No problem with a size 8 hook if the bait is small, either, but going smaller will result in more lost fish.
Bait was always two or three small sand crabs - one of which was usually a soft shell sand crab.
Soft shell sand crabs are in the process of molting their shell (like a snake sheds its skin to grow bigger) and big corbina know to look for these paler, slightly translucent crabs that are vulnerable to predators, and extra soft and juicy.
Maybe one in about thirty to fifty crabs is of the soft shell variety, so sift through a load (taking care not to break the 50-crab possession rule) and pick out the small to medium size soft shell-ers for hook baits. You’ll notice the difference in your catch rates.
2) We fished the perfect tide and pre-grunion run moon state for big corbina.
Just enough swing, height and tidal movement coinciding with dawn to get the bait and fish moving (we saw numerous bait blow-ups in the shore-break too), but not enough water shifting to put the bigger fish off feeding close to shore. Tidal coefficients are worth studying.
Small swells in the 1 to 2-foot range are perfect, and the 70-degree water currently invading Southern California beaches is heaven for a big corbina.
Early starts to avoid the wind, crowds, surfers and swimmers, which the fish really back away from.
3) Make sure you’re fishing right on top of the biggest bed of sand crabs you can find.
If you don’t get a bite in five minutes or the crabs disperse, move to the next piece of structured water you can find adjacent to the biggest bed of crabs you can see.
We are currently taking bookings for Corbina fishing, and general fun surf fishing sessions, lessons and tuitions this summer and beyond in Orange and LA Counties.
Please inquire via: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 714-642-5770 for info and bookings, or if you have any questions about surf fishing in California.