Deep Sea Fishing on Your Southern California Vacation
As a webmaster of a high-traffic website about California ocean fishing, I get a lot of e-mails from people wondering how to go about taking a deep-sea fishing trip when they come to California on vacation. I thought I’d put together this article to describe how to go about taking a trip, what to expect, and what you need to bring.
The fleet of sport fishing boats in California is usually excellent, with generally good crews, nice amenities, and convenient schedules. In general, most open party boats and crews cater to both the tourists and the old salts who frequent the boats on a regular basis.
Sport fishing is great for the whole family, but is probably not appropriate for toddlers. Pre-teen kids and teenagers though, will have a great time if they’re disciplined and are willing to follow directions. Slippery rolling decks, sharp hooks, and flopping fish with sharp teeth and occasionally mildly poisonous spines make boats a place to exercise caution and not a place for horseplay.
This picture from a successful trip aboard the Agressor from Newport Landing shows that party boat fishing is truly a fun time for people of all ages.
There are a number of different trips offered. First are half-day boats. These are usually 4-5 hour trips, either leaving early AM and coming back midday, or leaving just after noon and coming back in early evening. In the summer, there are also twilight trips in the evening. Next, there are ¾ day trips leaving in the early morning and coming back late afternoon. Full-day trips are generally overnights, leaving the evening before and returning late afternoon. Finally, there are offshore trips, either overnight or for multi-days.
Generally speaking, the longer your trip, the better the fishing, because the boats can spend more time traveling to the better fishing spots. Often in midsummer, though, the ½ day and ¾ day boats fish side by side. The boats all have galleys that sell and prepare food, usually breakfasts, burgers, or sandwiches and candy. They also sell soft drinks and usually beer.
The landings rent fishing rods and reels and can usually sell you the terminal tackle you’ll need either in the landings or on the boats. The landings can also sell you the required California fishing license. Single-day licenses are available in addition to annual ones.
California has 300 days of sunshine per year, so hats, sunglasses, and sunblock lotion are near musts. You’ll probably also need a light jacket or sweatshirt, because most of the time it is cool in the mornings and evenings. Wear comfortable clothes, ones that you don’t mind getting stained, because fish blood squashed bait entrails and other grimy substances are just a part of fishing.
If you’re not sure if you get seasick or not, assume you will and ask your doctor for a prescription for Scopamine patches to put behind your ear. It is much better to be safe than sorry, and many a carefree tourist has spent an absolutely miserable day hour after hour on a pitching boat with no place to go. The captain will not run in to drop you off and sacrifice the fishing time for the other passengers. You just have to suffer. There are some good over-the-counter medications, like Dramamine, Bonine, and Marazene, but these tend to make many people very drowsy. There are electric and acupressure devices to cure motion sickness as well.
When you board the boat, you’ll be asked to sign in so that they know who’s aboard, then they have a jackpot drawing. This is a game of chance where everyone puts some money in a pot and the person who catches the biggest fish takes home the prize. I’ve seen buy-ins as little as $2 each and as high as $10. You’re not required to play, but it is a fun game if you like that sort of thing.
Next, you’ll be assigned a number. This is the number for your sack. You’ll have to buy a gunny sack that gets hung where the deckhands can find them to put your fish in. Most boats have a sort of rotation scheme where those with certain numbers are assigned to the right side, other numbers assigned to the stern, and others to the left. Follow the deck hands instructions so that everyone gets to fish the better parts of the boat where the drift and the chum make for more productive fishing.
Follow the deckhand’s directions. They know what they’re doing and if you listen, you’ll catch more fish. If you don’t understand their terminology, just ask, and they’ll happily explain. If you do catch a big fish, call out for help if you are having a hard time landing it. If it is big, don’t try to lift it aboard when you bring it close to the boat. The deckhand will use a gaff (a long-handled sharp hook) to pull it aboard. Once he gaffs the fish, declutch your reel so that he can maneuver the fish more easily and keep things safe for you and other passengers.
After the fishing is over and the captain heads for home, the deckhand will call for the jackpot. Pick out your biggest fish and bring it to the deckhand. They’ll compare fish weights using a simple balance beam, and the one with the heaviest fish wins.
If you don’t wish to keep your fish you can give them to other fishermen, or to the boat. If you do wish to take some fish home the deckhands will fillet them for you. They charge for this service. You can then take the fillets to a restaurant and have them prepare them for you. I used to often bring my catch whole to a local Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood and they’d steam the fish and serve it with terrific side dishes for a nominal fee.
Finally, if you had a good time, or at least thought the crew did a good job, please tip the crew. They are modestly paid and mostly do this job for the fun of it. Many deckhands are students trying to work their way through college or to build up sea time to get their captain’s license.
Remember, no one can guarantee you good fishing, so while it may be great one day, it may be poor the next. I recall one giant squid run a few years back that was wide open – every night people brought in hundreds of pounds of squid. I got on the boat one evening after one of the top catches the night before. They were even catching squid on the morning half-day boats. That evening, eight or nine boats were out there, each with 75 or more people aboard, and not a single squid was caught. It’s called “fishing” not “catching” so anything can happen.
Next time you make it to California, give the local saltwater fishing a try. It’s great fun for the whole family.