What It’s Like to Surf Fish Santa Barbara

surf fishing santa barbara with swimbaits
Calico from the Surf

This past week, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime and I jumped on it. Some unanticipated free time led to a little bit of last minute planning for a quick trip up the coast. I had the opportunity to meet up with Vincent Alexander to surf fish Santa Barbara for Day 1 of my 2-day coastal journey and that’s going to be the focus of this week’s article.

I met Vince at a local Santa Barbara beach and the plan was to watch and learn and to do a little fishing for myself too. Upon arrival, we geared up and hit the sand. Since most of my curiosity has leaned toward figuring out surf fishing with swimbaits, that was the focus for the day.

Noemi Orellana, CSF Product Manager, was also in town for the day to do a quick shoot for some new CSF gear. Little did I know, she’d be demonstrating the success of the Battlestar lure too.

I fished a 0.5-ounce Warbaits weedless swimbait head with a 4.8-inch Keitech fat swing impact swimbait. This was the first real opportunity I’d had to try out my new lure-throwing set up.

My New Lure Throwing Set-Up
  • Rod: Okuma SST (9′, H, MF, 1/2 – 2oz, 10-30lbs)
  • Reel: Penn Spinfisher VI 4500
  • Line: Spiderwire EZ Braid 20 or 30-pounds
  • Lure: Keitech 4.8″ with Warbaits 0.5oz
    • A quick note: I would recommend 30-pound braid if you get the 4500 and 20-pound braid if you get the 3500. Since line typically comes in 300-yard spools, it works better that way as the 4500 took about 340-yards of the 20-pound for me. I will have to update my recommended rods and reels page to include this new rod.

On the Sand

Fishing with Vince was unlike any fishing I’ve ever done. We hit the sand and I immediately got to casting while Vince went over his notes from the last time he was here.

There was a big rock to my right and some floating kelp [attached to some underwater reef-rock] out a little further and even more of that to my left. I was in awe of how much structure there was and how fishy it looked.

Every few seconds, I’d see bait fluttering on the surface as if it were being chased by something. One cast, as my bait hit the water, a domino effect of baitfish jumped across the water’s surface for some 15-20-yards to the left and right of where my bait landed! Crazy!

It doesn’t take long before I get my first bite. As I was working my lure through a zone where I’d seen the bait jumping, I had one good bite that came undone just as quickly as it hit. Rather than pounding that spot for the next 20-minutes like I would have done, Vince really wanted to keep moving. I trusted Vince, so I followed. About 30-yards further down the beach we went and I got one more bite, but same result.

Vince Is An Animal!

After those first few spots, I see Vince start jogging down the beach, so, I follow. He stops and we fish the next spot. This jog-stop-fish-jog-stop-fish method continues for the rest of the evening. I’ll try to sum him up in just a couple paragraphs, but it’ll be tough.

Vince is an absolute animal. He’s fearless when it comes to catching fish. He’ll do whatever it takes. He doesn’t waste any time that could be spent catching fish.

I measure every step as I wade out onto reef and rocky areas to get into better casting position. Vince powers through all terrain to get to the spot he wants to get to. I don’t want to get soaked or fall off a rock. Vince doesn’t care. If there’s a rock out there that might provide a really good opportunity to catch a fish, Vince is probably already on it.

Here’s some dialogue from our session together:

Vince: Nick, do you want to come wade with me?

Me: Nah man, you’re in your spot, go for it.

Vince: Dude I want you to catch fish, there’s room for two.

Me: Uhhhh (as I measure my approach to wade out with him)… you’re crazy, I’ll go fish over here🤣.

Every now and then, I’d just watch him. I’d see him see something that excited him and with no hesitation, he’d plow through the water. It didn’t matter that he might fall and get wet. Multiple times, he’d get knocked over, only to bounce right back up and make the exact cast he wanted to make… whatever it took. He’d also take the occasional wave to the body, knocking him off balance to the point of sometimes falling off rocks and into the water. Like I said, the dude is an absolute animal. His tactics, fearless attitude, and willingness to do whatever it takes is key to the success that he has on such a regular basis.

My First Fish with Vince

We come to a section of the beach that strikes me. Being a native of San Diego, the only true kelp beds I ever see are the ones in La Jolla when I fish the kelp from a kayak with my brother. What I see in front of me here, is essentially the La Jolla kelp beds… within casting distance from the shoreline.

Vince told me how just the other day, he was casting onto and over these attached floating kelp patties and was catching rockfish with that method. At first, I didn’t have much confidence. I thought for sure my lure would get stuck in the kelp patties. After a few testers, I basically said “screw it”, and casted right into the thick of it.

Fish On!

I pause and let my bait sink. Just as I begin reeling, wham! I’m on! Didn’t even have time to think about setting the hook. As soon as he’s on, my drag ticker sings for a few seconds. He darts straight out and down to the bottom. I’m stuck. I turn to Vince and he even seems kind of impressed with how strong the fish appears so far. He tells me, “that’s what rockfish and calico will do, they’ll dart into the rocks and bury themselves for cover”.

I wait patiently, and give a little bit of slack as it pops loose. It reburies itself two more times within the fight and after the third time I popped him loose, I begin reeling quickly. I can feel he has no place to hide. It’s just a battle between him and me and it looks like I’m gunna take this one. As I get him on the shore, I’m stoked and filled with content. What an awesome start to my trip.

Calico (between 16 and 18-inches)

Battlestar Success

Just as we get some pics of my nice calico and safely release him back to sea, Vince gets a text from Noemi (who was a good chunk of sand behind us at this point). She got a 21-inch halibut on the Battlestar! Heck yah! The bite’s picking up.

Although I didn’t get a measurement on my fish, it made for a heck of a fight. I tried a few more casts along those kelp patties, but no more luck. Vince trekked onward and found a nice rock that he perched up on for a good 20-minutes or so while I ventured past him.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention. Between my early bites and my first fish of the day, Vince hooked up on what must have been a really solid halibut but it popped off as he attempted to back it up towards the sand.

Oh So Close

So, as I ventured past Vince, I found a nice rock that allowed for easy access and still some really good added distance with a nice drop-off immediately in front of me. I gave it a cast left, a cast right, and then straight down the center. Just as I’m passing the half-way point on my retrieve, I feel some weight. It sort of feels like kelp, but I feel a slight shake of the head. I continue to reel without a hookset (still trying to figure out how and when to set the hook with a swimbait) and it starts to shake a little more. Fish on!

I’m now mid-fight and I’ve got it in close. It feels like a short halibut, but I realize I have no game plan for landing this thing. There’s a built-up wall of reef in front of me and I can’t think of how I’ll get it over that wall, to me. Well, turns out I wouldn’t need to figure that out as it decides to unbutton itself before I have the chance to act. Oh well, I’ve already had more action than any other day of fishing with swimbaits in the surf and there’s plenty of daylight for more.

A Grassy What?

I come back to where Vince had been fishing to ask which direction we’re headed from here. He tells me we’ll head up the beach just a little further before we turn back. As he makes his way back to shallower water, he turns and casts one more time, letting his lure drag behind him while he walks up to the sand. Wham! He’s on!

I recall reading one of his write-ups a few weeks back about how he had been fishing long and hard all day and just before he called it a day, he made one last cast, turned around to start walking back and got a keeper hali. Well, it happened again. Except this time, it’d be a different type of fish. After a good fight, he reels in a chunky looking grass rockfish (or a grassy rockfish).

A Grass Rockfish (AKA: Grassy Rockfish)

A Couple Fish to Wrap Up the Evening

Daylight is dwindling now and we turn back to hit some spots on the way. I immediately know which two spots I want to hit. The first looks very similar to the way it was when I caught my first calico. I give it a cast, let my lure sink immediately behind a kelp patty and… we’re on once more! Very similar fight as before but slightly smaller. The result was another calico (the picture at the top of this page).

It’s getting late and Vince catches up to me before I take off once more to the spot that I had my first bites in. Except now, it looks totally different. The tide has fallen from close to 4-feet all the way to 0-feet since we started and it looks completely different from before. I decide that it looks a little better just a few yards further down the beach so that’s where I give my final few casts.

It was getting dark at this point and I figured I should probably call it soon and meet back up with Vince. Just before I could call it a day, I feel a tug mid-retrieve. It’s tiny, but it’s certainly a fish. As I bring it up onto the sand, it’s official. A new species for me with yet another grass rockfish.

Tiny Grass Rockfish with Eyes Bigger than it’s Stomach

A big thanks to Vince for being my guide for the day. I learned a ton and I’m ready to take some tactics back home to San Diego… but not before a quick stop in Malibu.

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