Checkerboards, Kelp Bass, etc. are my most favorite of all inshore species to pursue because of the challenge they offer most times. They can be taken with all live baits that are prevalent in our local waters. Squid, Anchovies, Sardines, and Mackeral can all be use to take the calico bass, but I find the method which offers the most fun is using the artificial lures, both plastic & iron.
Calico’s can be found anywhere from open water in about 100ft or so, to shallow kelp and rocks in about 3ft. They are almost always in the kelp or other structure (rocks, reef, etc.) just like their freshwater brothers, compared to the open water scenario, especially when fishing the shallow water I always prefer using the plastics. Plastics come in several different kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. The shad type baits seem to account for the majority of the Bass taken these days. They come in sizes from 3 inch all the way to a foot long, usually thrown with a jighead style weight ranging from 1/4oz. – 1 1/2oz..
Another plastic that is widely use is the grub style bait. They also come in a variety of sizes and colors and are used with on a ball jighead style weight. When fishing these plastics in the kelp area, you need always cast parallel to the stringer to keep from getting tangled up as you retrieve the bait. 2 pieces of advice I was given on fishing for bass with plastics is #1 : be a line feeler after you cast the bait out and as it is sinking, be prepared for the strike on the sink. #2 other piece of advice ties into the first is ; 70% plus of your hits come on the sink when the water is 64-65 degree’s and under. Since I have become a line feeler. I cant imagine how many hits I missed in the past.
The other method to fishing the kelp is the drop method. It is where you look for holes in the stringers and literally drop the plastic down through the kelp along side the stringer. Once again it is important to be a line feeler because your hits here will come almost always on the sink. Sometimes they will take it as you are winding back up from the bottom, but mostly on the sink. I like fishing the kelp anywhere from 80ft to the shallowest it will go. The bait preference here can be either a shad style or what I like to use about 50% of the time is a big 6 inch grub made by Kalins called a “Mogambo”. It has excellent action on the sink.
When fishing the stones or rocks they will be predominately in the shallow water although when fishing in open water you may locate a bolder or good rock structure on your sonar there might not be fish directly on it but chances are they will be near by, definitely drop down and give it a try! Now when fishing the stones in shallow water you must always keep an eye behind you for a big swell, or larger sets coming in.
This is a most rewarding way to catch the big ones, but also the most dangerous. Stones will warm fast in the sun, so during the winter they are good places to give a few cast to. When fishing the stones use the biggest bait you can (6-9inch) past cast the stone and slowly retrieve past the stone. Some of the biggest Bass you will catch are on the stones and they don’t want to move very much, so a big plastic is a great way to entice them to hit. A quick note is one of the best ways to get a big trophy calico is to use a “Mackeral”. Ones about 5 or 6inch size, you have to give them time to eat the bait though so be patient.
There is not a lot of stone fishing here in San Diego area, compared to the L.A areas, but we have more of the kelp beds that they do . So its a preference thing, since we are so close together, you can tow your boat to where ever you wish to fish.
I like using line anywhere from 12-20 for the plastics and little heavier for the live bait applications, pending on where you chose to fish for them. Obviously open water you can use just about any test you prefer, but when fishing the rocks and kelp stringers I like to stay with 15-20lb. Good stiff backbone in your rod selection with a mild soft tip for casting the baits. I personally don’t recommend using spinning reels for this particular fishing because of the drag system trade off. You need a good drag when those big females get caught up in the kelp to pull them out of it. Like any fishing good sharp hooks are always a must.
Where ever you chose to fish, it is just like fly fishing in regards “matching the hatch” in trying to match the bait that is in your specific area. Such as sardines, anchovies, smelt, grunion, etc.. so try to match your colors as best as possible. When fishing the “iron” for bass basically fish it above the kelp stringers, you should use a light weight iron for this application. Good colors include scrambled egg (brown & yellow & white) blue & white, wounded soldier (ugly gray) and another popular one that I see that does well is called “baby poo”. Big Bass are taken all the time on iron. I am a firm believer in “big bait, big fish” most of the iron’s made are of good size, definitely give the iron a try!
Last but not the very least , please keep in mind that Calico Bass grow very , very slow. A keeper size Calico (12 inches) is anywhere from 4-6yrs old. So even though the limit is 10, please only keep a couple if you have to and release the others to grow and fight again another day. This fishery is not in the shape it use to be, so let’s do our part and release as many as possible. Best of luck to all that tackle this beautiful, hard fighting inshore game fish.