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Calico Bass Techniques - By: Steve Greanias

Calico Bass Paralabrax Clathratus is one of the most popular sport fish on our California coast. You may know them better as Kelp Bass, or even more so as the Calico Bass. The Calico Bass has gained the admiration of many sport fishermen because of their willingness to pounce on artificial lures. Calico Bass can routinely be taken on a myriad of baits in almost every presentation thinkable, and I hope to elaborate on most of these techniques in this article.

They may not be the hardest fishing fish pound for pound but on light saltwater tackle it is hard to beat a wide open Calico Bass bite, especially on artificial lures.

Calico Bass are residents of our waters in California. They can be found on all our local islands and almost on every beach. They are a surface fish, that can be pretty easy to locate. Find some kind of structure and you have most likely found some Calicos.

They are usually in waters of 25 fathoms (150 feet) or less, and that have substantial structures like kelp beds, rocky reefs, or shipwrecks. Calico Bass are a non-migratory species so after they hatch the closest structure is where they will likely make their home for the rest of their lives. Calicos will use this structure as protection from predators and for assistance in their ambush style of feeding. Calicos become very active in the spring and summer when they begin to spawn but can be caught year round.

Calicos are very slow growing fish and it has been documented that an average 12" Calico Bass is about 5-7 years old. Their slow growth rate and their homeguard behavior makes them extremely vulnerable to over-fishing.

Calico fishing is done with a wide variety of equipment. Artificials account for a good number of the annual catch. For this, a light saltwater baitcaster spooled with 12# or 15# line is recommended. Reels like Shimano's Calcutta 400, Corsair 400, Diawa Millionaire CV 300 A, Millionaire CV 253 A or a Penn International 965 are among the most popular calico reels. These reels are light in comparison with their spinning reel counterparts, yet are much more effective when battling bigger model Bass. All of the reels mentioned above offer a level wind feature which makes casting and retrieving baits a no-brainer. There are many other models and brands available that accomplish the same thing. The reels range in size from 250 yds. of 15# to about 150 yds of 15#. The decision of size is basically what are you going to fish on them more, 12#, 15# or 20#. In deciding this you would want to factor in bait, type of structure, and size of the Bass. All in all, 15# is the best all around. If you want a reel more for fishing live bait I would stay away from the level wind and go to reels like, Penn 525 Mag, Diawa Sl 20, or Calcutta 400s. The levelwind not being present really allows you to stay in much better contact with you bait.

Match any of these reels with the right 8' to 9' graphite rod and you've got an awesome Bass stick. G-Loomis definitely has some excellent rods for this application. I personally fish a 9' 6" G-Loomis 114-16C and it is an incredible rod. A rod of this type and length helps me out-throw most people while casting swimbaits, but is incredibly light weight so it does not wear me out, casting it all day. The graphite also makes it extremely responsive. Shimano Calcutta rods are another great choice with the 820 and 815 being my preferred models. Other fine rods are All Star, Executive Action and St. Croix. If you want a rod solely for live bait fishing, I highly recommend Calstar 800XL. Try to choose a rod about 8' to start. They're much more versatile than their longer or shorter counterpart. You'll want a rating of 10#-15# or 12#-20#, or something along those lines. Find one you are comfortable with, something you can flyline a pin-head Anchovy on, throw 3/4 oz. lead heads on, and hang a 3 oz. dropper loop on.

There are many different techniques used for fishing Calico Bass. When to use a certain technique over another is usually decided by the time of year, depth, and forage. Plastics account for more Calico Bass than any other technique. When the Calico's are chewing the "rubbers" you can easily outfish any live bait fisherman. It can literally be instant. Lately Wham Fisheeze type baits have become a staple in the Calico Bass fishermen's arsenal. I personally have had 50-70 fish days on more than one occasion with these baits. The greatest thing is, they don't take any skill to use. I fish them with a 5/8 oz. Fishco Superfish head in Yellow on about on about 12 #- 15# line. They are efffective year round, and in a number of presentations. With these baits all you do is cast them out and let them sink. That's it, if you don't get picked up on the fall you can jig them on the bottom a little bit and then reel them in and make another cast. In the warmer months it can be hard to have a bait even get to the bottom! They are absolutely lethal on Bass. In the winter they are a great finesse bait to bouncing off structure, for a slower presentation.

Big Hammer Lures Pictured Left: Big Hammer Lures & Fishco Leadheads

The classic swimbaits like Big Hammer, Fish Trap, and Worm King still work but they are not for the lazy angler. With these you must continually cast and retrieve them, trying different retrieves and depths until you find the one that works. These types of swimbaits produce very well when fished right, and they come in more sizes and colors than the Wham lures. I like to fish 5" Big Hammer's on 3/4 oz. Fishco Super Shad heads, preferably in red. I like the Big Hammers because for me they seem to last longer than their competitors and more importantly, they seem to out perform their competitors. When selecting these baits, I feel there are two color schemes that are absolutely necessary, a Brown bait such as Olive, Halloween, or Calico Hunter and a light bait or chovy pattern such as Channel Island Chovy, clear red flake, rainbow trout or bleeding mackerel. Those are the two basic color catagories you want to have in your box. In my experience, when fishing clean water, lighter baits work well, whereas in dirty water brown baits work better. My number one "don't leave home without it" bait is the Big Hammer #5 in the olive with orange belly pattern. With this bait I can catch a bass almost anywhere any time, it is a solid all around choice.

Bait fishing accounts for a large number of Calico and sometimes you cannot get them to eat anything but. There is a myriad of bait techniques which are universal for all local coastal fishing, so I am not going to get into as much detail here. Flyline and sliding sinker rigs work on active and suspended fish, where the dropper loop seems to take most of the deeper bass. One thing I want to do is dispel the belief that you cannot catch a big fish on a strip of squid. I won a tournament on strip squid. I posted a 25.4# ten fish stringer and I caught the most bass in the tournament, I even landed the biggest Bass at 5.9#. Strip squid can sometimes out produce live bait, it's a strange thing to understand but at times it happens. When fishing strip, half dead or whole dead I like to use about 15# or 20# line with a half ounce sliding sinker, or a leadhead varying the weight depending on the current. This is a hard technique to grasp. When you cast the bait out, start freespooling your line out, you might start feeling little pecks as the bait gets in the 10 foot range, these little bites are Blue Perch so don't swing, let them peck and you will know when a Bass picks your bait up. Peck, peck,peck....BOOM!, line will start going off your reel fast and steady and that's a Bass. It's takes a while to get the hang of letting those Perch peck at your bait for around 30 seconds without swinging. Once you get this technique down it is a very effective fall and winter technique for catching Calico Bass. Also make sure that you thread your squid on the hook a few times so that the Perch cannot rip your bait off easily.

Calico Bass Another great Calico fishing technique is throwing iron jigs, and can be very productive, mainly in the summer time when the fish are up and active. My preffered jigs are the Tady 45's or Tady C single hook in scrambles egg, blue & white and mint color patterns. Toss them out and let them sink for a few seconds and start your retrieve. As with the plastic swimbaits, you will want to vary your depth and retrieve to find the most effective one for the conditions present. You can really catch some nice Bass using the iron. This works good in the kelp too, but is a lot tougher, you have to be on your game. When fishing the kelp using jigs use at least 30# line so you can pull the fish out of the weeds. Toss the jig right over the kelp and start winding before it is even in the water so it doesn't sink. I find a slow retrieve is more effective with this presentation. It's really something to see a nice Bass come up on a jig. This is the hardest technique to master and it takes a lot of experience to get the retrieve down but you can be greatly rewarded for your efforts.

I know that these are not all of the techniquess that can be used to catch Calico's but I feel these are the most common and effective for the beginning angler. Calico fishing can be a lot of fun. They provide a lot of action year round for Southern California anglers.

We need to be very careful with the Calico fishery, please practice catch and release as much as possible. Don't keep a whole 10 fish limit or any fish over 18". By keeping the full limit or larger size fish you are doing yourself and everyone else a great disservice. Since Calico's are very slow to grow they are susceptible to over-fishing. The big fish produce exponentially more eggs than smaller fish and therefore are the most important in producing a larger group of offspring each year. Please be responsible and spread the word about catch and release. If you are serious about catching a big Bass 10 years from now, you've got to be a conservationist. The average size of Bass has declined and will continue to decline if we do not take care of our fishery. I know I would like to catch a few over 10# and I would sacrifice keeping them now to catch more in the future.

Thank you, and have a great day on the water

Steve Greanias works at Fish N' Fools Fishing Tackle located at:
17822 Chatsworth Street
Granada Hills, CA 91344
818.360.3371
steve@fish-n-fools.com

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