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Calico Bass

Calico Bass

Calico bass (also known as kelp bass) live in kelp forests primarily in Southern California and Baja.  They are a scrappy fish that averages about 1-3lbs and maxes out in the low double digits.  They hit hard for their size and if you aren’t careful they will go back in the kelp and wrap up your line. Calico bass taste good but they are slow-growing so most generally release them.  You can handle them easily by grasping their lower jaw similar to what you would do with a largemouth bass.  They have larger teeth than largemouths so if you plan to handle a lot of them you might consider wrapping your thumb with a bandaid or some special tape created for this purpose so your thumb doesn’t get shredded.  They have sharp spines on their back so be careful with those.Calico bass can be readily caught on both bait and lures.  You can catch them from shore, but like most fishing your chances are better from a boat.  Chumming with small anchovies is an effective method of getting them in the feeding mood if you have a large bait tank.  Once they are actively feeding near the boat you can cast either lures or bait to them.  In some instances the big ones will be right up against the boiler rocks that are being hit by the swell.  It's always worth getting as close as is safe and lobbying some casts into that swell zone. Calicos readily bite a number of artificial lures that imitate small fish but I have caught most of my Calicos using 5” plastic swimbaits. The favorite ones are made by a company called Big Hammer.  I like them in Halloween, Mackerel, and Sardine colors.  You just attach them to a lead jig head of 1/2oz-1oz or so and cast them into the kelp.  Let them sink a bit and then retrieve them steadily.  When something bites, set the hook immediately and crank like crazy to get them out of the kelp before they wrap you up.  Don't fall asleep on the sink as they often get bit while sinking.  A weedless leadhead can help reduce snags in the kelp.  You should vary the time you let them sink until you find the water depth at which the fish are hanging out.

Many have had some luck catching Calicos on Krocodile spoons when they are feeding on anchovies.  However, usually most prefer to fish plastics because the single hook makes for an easier release. In the last few years many expert Calico anglers have used large plastic slugs retrieved rapidly to target the trophy fish. Calico bass are a great fish to pursue and are hard fighters, making them worth pursuing. Not only do they resemble a feistier largemouth bass, they are great practice for other species.

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