In my lifetime thus far, my favorite place to “shore” fish was the Seal Beach Jetty in the early 1970’s. Emptying into the Pacific, the San Gabriel River ran beneath and perpendicular to Marina Drive. The southern side of the jetty was composed of large rocks, which extended westward into foreboding deeper water. I fished from the rocks west of Marina Drive. Here is a YouTube video showing the jetty (seen at the top of the screen). The beginning of the video shows the tower at the end of the jetty. When I fished there I never saw surfers.
I believed that the water in the river was warmer than in the ocean due to discharge from the Haynes Generating Station located upstream. I suspected that this warmer current is what attracted baitfish, and that is why fishing there was so productive for catching bonito.
I knew for sure that this was the premier place near where I lived (Huntington Beach) to catch bonito from shore. I couldn’t afford live bait so I perfected three methods of catching bonito, depending on how close they were to where I was fishing. In the order that I used them when I arrived at the jetty, these methods were spinner, splasher, and jig.
The spinner was usually my most productive lure at the jetty, so it was always my first choice. I’d tried various brands, types, colors, and sizes of spinners, but the “no-question-about it, hands-down” most productive was a Mepps Black Fury spinner, with fluorescent red dots on the blade.
Sometimes bonito preferred smaller “bait,” other times larger, so I used three sizes: #3 (1/4 ounce), #4 (1/3 ounce), and #5 (1/2 ounce). I used a light-weight rig to fish these spinners: 10-pound-test monofilament on a small Penn spinning reel, and a six-foot, one-piece, no-name fiberglass rod rated for 10-pound line.
This rig was very effective when bonito were running close to the edge of the jetty. To find the fish I used the “countdown” method. I’d cast the lure forty to fifty feet seaward (to bring it back upstream, towards me, on the retrieve), and about thirty feet north of the rocks toward the center of the channel. On the first cast I’d count-out ten seconds after the spinner entered the water—which corresponded to ten feet deep. Then I’d put the rod tip close to the top of the water and retrieve the lure as quickly as I was able to wind the handle. If I didn’t get a strike, I’d repeat this but count-out eleven seconds. I’d repeat this up to a twenty second count-down, and then start over at ten seconds. Bonito are schooling fish and fast prowlers, so it paid to systematically investigate the different depths of the channel.
When a bonito struck the spinner, it was always unexpected, powerful, exciting, and fun. Using light line, I had to play the fish—let it run when the stress became too great and threatened to break my line and take my lure (both of which were expensive), so I’d have to submit to the will of the fish. I was usually the victor, and on a good day I’d fill a burlap bag in a few hours.
As an example of a good day, one morning my friend Mike drove me to the Jetty. I tossed a spinner and connected with a bonito on the first (10-second) drop. I unhooked the fish and gave it to Mike, who put it on a stringer. By the time he had finished and rejoined me, I’d landed another bonito. Ten bonito were landed in 30 minutes of fishing. Mike asked to try catching one: he followed my instructions and connected immediately, but he attempted to muscle-in the fish which broke the line. Mike had to go to work so we returned to my home. Mom snapped a photo us holding the stringer (I’m barefoot in the photo).
If the spinner was ineffective, the splasher was always my second choice. I didn’t know if splashers were commercially available, but I couldn’t afford to buy one anyway, so I made my own. A splasher consists of a piece of varnished (hence waterproof) wood measuring between one and two inches square, and five inches long. I found wood in trash bins at housing construction sites in Huntington Beach. The heavier the wood is per square inch, the better the splasher: good wood was hard to find. I’d screw a seamless eyebolt into both ends of the wood. I would tie my fishing line to one of the eyebolts, and a six-foot 30-pound monofilament leader to the other eyebolt. I’d tie a small blue and white albacore trolling feather, with a J-hook embedded within, to the end of the leader.
To fish the splasher I used a 7.5-foot-long fiberglass rod and a Penn Jigmaster casting reel. The idea was to cast the splasher as far as possible toward the center of the jetty channel: 200 feet from the rocks was a good cast. When the splasher hit the water, it would create a loud noise mimicking the sound of a jumping fish. Pointing the rod tip directly at the splasher, the line would rapidly be wound until taught, then the rod would quickly and forcefully be rotated ninety degrees laterally, making the largest splash possible: hence the name, splasher. This imitated a game fish attacking a bait fish, which triggers the competitive feeding instinct of bonito. The rod would immediately be rotated to point at the splasher as loose line was wound onto the reel, and the next splashing rotation would ensue. Bonito strikes on the splasher were particularly enjoyable—top water strikes are visible, aggressive, frenetic, and powerful.
If neither the spinner nor the splasher was effective, the last recourse was to cast a 2.5-ounce diamond jig into the center of the jetty channel. I rarely caught a bonito at the jetty this way, but I got to practice precision long-distance casting, which was not only fun, but was essential to clear the reef when I night fished from Huntington Beach pier.
One day I was fishing at the jetty and the spinner was ineffective. I switched to my favorite splasher: constructed from heavy, dense wood, it had a small profile creating minimal air resistance, so it gave me outstanding range. The further the splasher went into the channel, the greater the opportunity to attract a bonito on the retrieve.
On one cast I had a backlash (line tangled on the reel) and the knot attaching the splasher to my main line broke: I watched my favorite splasher sail 300 feet into the channel. The wood which I used to construct the splasher was rare, so I decided to tie on a Diamond Jig to try to snag the leader between the splasher and the feather. The current was pushing the splasher seaward, so I had to make accurate casts—something I truly enjoyed practicing then, and still today.
I failed to snag the leader of the splasher and so was winding the jig in quickly to recast, when it suddenly stopped dead in the water. It obviously was not a fish—or else line would be streaming off my reel. I deduced that the hook of my jig snagged a floating log: just my luck—lose my splasher and my jig. I began walking seaward along the rocks while trying to wind the jig in, thinking maybe I could coax the log toward the shore.
As I walked further seaward the “log” began moving faster than the current. Line was pulling off my reel so I deduced that I’d hooked an aquatic animal which I was unable to turn. The rocks were getting wetter and thus more slippery, the water was getting darker which meant deeper, and the waves were becoming larger and menacing.
I decided to take my “stand.” I sat with my back against a rock and my feet bracing me against the pulling line, tightened the drag, and held onto the rod. I watched in helpless horror as line peeled ever faster off my reel, and then with a loud snapping sound left me lineless. For the first (and only) time in my life, I had been spooled.
I turned to walk back to my fishing spot and saw a crowd standing on top of the jetty, looking at me. They’d watched my battle. When I got within voice range I asked: “what was it?” People shouted back: “a big ray.”
Yes, indeed, fishing the Seal Beach Jetty was the best! That is, until I began long-range fishing…
Fishing Seal Beach Jetty
June 30, 2021
Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.