The 2024 fishing season is now underway, and it brings with it a new year of talking about what great things might be in store for Southern California saltwater anglers in the new year. Will bluefin tuna once again appear in big numbers and dominate the offshore fishing scene? Will albacore make a sudden significant appearance off the Southern California coast after many years of next to nothing? Will an El Nino bring bigger numbers of warm water exotic species to our coastal waters? What kind of a white seabass season will we have? Will the coastal sand bass and barracuda fishing continue the improvement that was seen in some areas during 2023? The list of issues and interesting topics for discussion and speculation can go on and on and that is what helps keeps anglers so interested and raring to go fishing the year-round.
Anglers have had to deal with unsettled weather conditions in recent days that have included wind, rain, high seas, large surf, and Small Craft Advisories. Some of the harbors that are susceptible to having waves break across their entrances have been under caution warnings or have been closed.
A reminder to anglers is that the annual rockfish closure on the United States side of the Mexico border went into effect on New Years Day and the closure will remain in effect until April 1, 2024. During this time period anglers wishing to fish for rockfish will need to do so in Mexican waters. An additional reminder is that the fishing for sheephead on the United States side of the Mexico border will be closed until March 1, 2024. Please refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife website for all the details about the various closures at www.wildlife.ca.gov.
The recent weather conditions have likely discouraged anyone that might have been thinking about heading offshore to look for bluefin from giving it a try. At last reports from over a week ago, there was still s bit of bluefin activity within 30 miles of Point Loma around the 178 Spot, 302 Spot and 3 to 10 miles off the stretch of coast between La Jolla and Encinitas. In waters down the Mexican coast there had also been some bluefin outside of Punta Colnett and to the southwest of San Martin Island. If we get a stretch of nice weather it would not surprise me if someone went out exploring in an effort to catch the first bluefin of 2024.
As talked about above, the rockfish fishing is currently closed in waters above the Mexico border but prior to the closure there was good fishing for rockfish at places such as the 9 Mile Bank, South Carlsbad, Del Mar, Box Canyon, and the 14 Mile Bank. Now that the closure is in effect boats will need to travel to Mexican waters to fish for rockfish. Productive rockfish areas around Los Coronado Islands have been at the hard bottom to the northwest, north and northeast of North Island in the 25 to 60 fathom depths and at the South Kelp Ridge below South Island in the 25 to 45 fathom depths. Boats fishing those areas around Los Coronado Islands will also be keeping a lookout for signs of yellowtail and bonito activity. Further down the Mexican coast there will likely be some sportboats targeting rockfish, lingcod and yellowtail on 1.5-day trips to the waters off Punta Colnett.
The rest of the fishing along the San Diego County coast has been good for a mix of bonito, sand bass, calico bass, sculpin, whitefish and sheephead but anglers need to keep in mind that the fishing for sheephead has now closed until March 1, 2024. There has also been yellowtail and white seabass activity found outside of La Jolla with the better days providing decent showings of yellowtail and a few being caught.
The wintertime yellowtail at La Jolla tend to be nice sized fish that are in the 15 to 35 pound range and most of the yellowtail hookups have been reported on surface iron or yo-yo iron. The yellowtail have been located by finding meter marks, sonar marks, areas of bait, working birds, breaking fish and porpoise schools. In my estimation, the best number of yellows have been hooked by fishing yo-yo iron around meter marks found around bait balls. The yo-yo iron fished around bait balls technique has also produced an occasional white seabass to 45 pounds incidental to fishing for yellowtail.
Good choices for yo-yo iron include Salas 6X and Salas 6X Jr. jigs in scrambled egg color. Good choices for surface iron include Tady 45 and Salas 7X light jigs in blue and white, mint and sardine colors.
The best zones to try for a yellowtail off La Jolla have been along the outskirts of the MLPA closure zone at the lower end of La Jolla as well as outside of the upper end of La Jolla in 14 to 30 fathoms.
Bonito have moved into areas between Imperial Beach and Dana Point with bonito being reported off Imperial Beach, the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, the 9 Mile Bank, La Jolla, South Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Onofre, Point San Mateo, San Clemente and Dana Point. Most of the bonito have been in the 5-to-10-pound range and they have been found by locating trolling strikes, meter marks, sonar marks, shearwater birds and schools of bait. Some of the bonito have been found in areas pretty close to the coast in the 12 to 20 fathom depths and others have been more offshore oriented fish that are found at areas such as the 9 Mile Bank as well as 3 to 7 miles off the coast between La Jolla and Dana Point.
With the fishing for rockfish above the Mexico border being closed until April 1, 2024 a lot of Skippers fishing United States waters will be focused on fishing for sand bass, calico bass, sculpin, whitefish, yellowtail, bonito and halibut. There has been good fishing for a mix of calico bass, sand bass, sculpin and whitefish at various hard bottom and structure spots. Productive areas for these species have been the Imperial Beach Pipeline, the hard bottom to the northwest of Buoy #3 at Point Loma, the Green Tank, the Variety Kelp at the lower end of La Jolla, the upper end La Jolla, Solana Beach, Leucadia, South Carlsbad, the Barn and San Onofre.
Captain Joe Cacciola of Sea Star with Sea Star Sportfishing and the Oceanside Sea Center reports that hard bottom and structure areas between South Carlsbad and Solana Beach have been producing a mix of calico bass, sand bass, whitefish and sculpin. Cacciola passed along a tip that their best calico bass and sand bass fishing has been found while chumming with sardine chunks and fishing with a 5-inch live sardine on the hook.
Halibut fishing along the San Diego County coast remains scratchy. A few of the areas that produce an occasional halibut have been Imperial Beach, San Diego Bay, at the sandy bottom next to the structure of the sunken NEL tower or the structure of the Yukon shipwreck off Mission Beach, the Buccaneer Pipeline and the artificial reefs outside of Oceanside. There was a recent report of increased halibut activity around a pipeline in the San Onofre area. It was mostly short sized halibut that were biting but there was also an occasional legal sized fish caught while drifting in 30 to 50 feet.
I want to wish you a happy new year and hope that 2024 brings you many pleasant days out on the water enjoying some fun fishing. Keep on fishing and I hope to see you out on the water sometime soon!
Bob Vanian is the voice, writer and researcher of the San Diego-based internet fish report service called 976-Bite which can be found at www.976bite.com. Vanian also provides anglers with a personal fish report service over the telephone at (619) 226-8218. He always welcomes your fish reports at that same phone number or at email@example.com.