According to Captain Mark Winch, you’ll want to try a few different approaches to catch white seabass.
The Short Answer
The first is slow trolling a large mackerel on a Carolina rig using a 4-ounce egg sinker, 40-pound fluorocarbon, to a #1 or #2 treble hook. If the squid is around, you can fly line squid using a 1/4 or 1/2 ounce egg sinker to a 4/0 – 8/0 hook with a few pinned. You can also jig for them using a Tady 9 or equivalent in white or scrambled egg (optional to tip the hook with squid). Use a 7-8 foot rod with a strong reel (Torium 16 or 20) with 50 – 65 pound braid.
One of my favorite books is by Carlos Eyles called The Last of the Blue Water Hunters, and he says if you want to be able to catch white seabass, you have to be the fish – you have to know what it likes to eat, when it likes to feed, where its food can be found. You must know the patterns of the fish’s movements and how they act in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Knowing what environment they like, the currents, the water temperature, the visibility, and once you figure out all these different factors, you have an increased chance of catching one of these fish.
The Long Answer
These fish get large. That means you can hook into a 40-pound range on up to 80+ pounds. Some guys catch 28 inches in schools near shore while surf fishing. While diving, I’ve seen them in the 40 lb range right next to the surf. The biggest one I’ve shot was 65 pounds sleeping in the kelp during mid-day – likely sleeping off a big meal. You never know what will bite, so you must have the right gear for any situation.
You’ve likely heard this before but having your gear in perfect working condition is critical when targeting big fish. A nick in the line, a bad knot, or the wrong reel could leave you with a missed personal best.
One thing to know about white sea bass is that they are crepuscular, which means they are more active and the dawn and dusk time of the day and into the night. I have noticed while diving for white seabass that you’ll usually find them sleeping near the surface in the warm parts of the day. Likely after they’ve eaten and they need to digest. However, you must be on their schedule to get a bite mid-day or even midnight. Conditions and timing usually increase the probability, but you never know when the right bait at the right time will cause a hookup.
The issue with trying to catch them in the morning is the logistics of getting your boat ready to go and getting the team to the spot on time. I hate waking up early, so I find it better to go after them in the evenings. Hanging tight after fishing during the day to see what starts biting at night.
When it comes to the white sea bass, think of edges. That means they’ll likely be on the edge of the kelp, where the structure meets the soft sand or the thermocline meets the cold water. They’ll likely be where the clear water meets the dirty water. Predators love the edges.
White Sea Bass Bait
When catching white sea bass, you should think about large mackerel being trolled behind the boat. Similar to what you would do when you go for Yellowtail. I do know there are fishermen down in Baja who put a mackerel on the end of a giant silver crocodile, and that seems to be effective for seabass. Captain Mark Winch mentioned that he has friends who troll for sea bass at night using monster smelt. . . we’re talking 17 inches. He said that you couldn’t use too big of bait because he’s had sea bass go after 3 lb calicos that he’s hooked and brought back to the boat.
White Seabass Rigs
Regarding sea bass rigs, Captain Winch recommends going with a Carolina rig using a 4 oz egg sinker going to a Carolina keeper tied off to a medium-weight swivel. He then ties 4 feet of 40 lb Seaguar fluorocarbon to a #1 or 2 Owner treble hook.
You’ll want to bait your hook with a beautiful mackerel which you can get by using a Sabiki rig by the bait barge, especially during the evenings and nighttime bite. If you’ve ever gone fishing at the pier, you’ve seen people use glow sticks to attract the mackerel. This technique works wonders. If you don’t have a Sabiki rig, you can use a small number 4 hook and bend down the barb so that it’s easy to take the max off without hurting them too much the put in your life well.
The goal is to have little to no touch on the mackerel from your hook to the live well. Some guys use a dull butter knife to unhook the macks. Hold the line above the hook, and use the edge of the butter knife to unhook the barbless hook, having the mackerel fall directly into the back wall and touch.
The bait quality dictates the quality of the sea bass you’ll catch, so do your best to find where the mack is located, put out your lights, chum the waters, and catch the nicest-looking ones you can use as bait.
Drop your bait 100-150 feet behind your boat. Use a 7 or 8-foot rod that acts like a shock absorber on the soft mouths of the bass.
Captain Winch likes a Calstar 700ML with a Trinidad 20 loaded with 65# Power Pro.
Seabass doesn’t make too many runs and stay near the surface. They are easy to gaff too. So when you see the bite, wait for a five-count, reel in, and set the hook.
Slow trolling is excellent for spring, summer, and fall fishing.
Captain Winch recommends beefing up your gear during squid time using a Torium 16/20 or Trinidad 16/20. He loads the 16 with a 50lb braid and the 20 with 65#. He uses 40-60# fluoro leader and sometimes drops to 30 if the bit is slow. He pairs these rods with an 8-foot light to a heavy rod, depending on your preference.
Fly-Lining and Jigging White Seabass
For squid, you can fly line them with a ¼ to ½ oz egg sinker to a 4/0 to 8/0 hook. Pin on a few squids and cast it out there. You can also use a dropper loop if you want.
Sometimes it’s worth dropping a jig down (even paired with squid). Try a Tady 9, A1, 4/0, or A2 in white or scrambled egg. Do this when you meter big red lines or balls on the fish finder.
Another tip Capt Winch recommends is casting jigs downwind and putting the reel in gear. Let the jig sink, slowly lift your rod tip, and lower it. Wait for the hit and reel like crazy.
A Brief History of White Seabass Populations
So back in the 1900s, San Francisco had a significant commercial fishery for white sea bass. Santa Cruz and Monterey also had good success in the commercial fishery, but with all suitable commercial outfits, they systematized a way to deplete the stock.
They did this by going after the large bait schools. Plus, gillnets were used for a long time, decreasing the white sea bass population. So by the time it was 1960, the population had collapsed, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that they started making a comeback.