Boiler Rock Bassin'

by Capt. David Bacon

The biggest calico bass of your life is waiting for you in the scariest place you can fish. Right up tight to those big scary island boiler rocks where massive swells crash onto and over them. I grin ear-to-ear when a group of experienced-looking fisherfolk step aboard my charterboat, the WaveWalker, armed with boxes of plastic swimbaits and toting ultra-casting outfits such as Calcutta reels and sleek rods like the Seeker Inshore or Black Maxx Series. I know we’re in for a day of "boiler rock bassin’" for some big bodacious calico. This is a very special and somewhat perilous method for targeting hard to reach bass and I’d like to share my techniques and special spots with you.

Safety should always come first, and this type of fishing requires someone to constantly and skillfully man the helm. There are two reasons for this rule. The boat must be kept near, but a safe distance off of the rocks, and extra large sets of swells (the ones surfers call "killer sets") must be negotiated with care to avoid being swept onto the rocks.

The second reason to man the helm is to keep the boat positioned for maximum casting access to the most productive spots.

I slowly move the boat all the way around isolated rocks, or work along a rocky wall, allowing everyone aboard to pitch swimbaits into each fish-holding pocket and down along every sharp drop-off as they come to bear. I generally keep the boat within easy casting distance in order to enhance casting accuracy. This is close-in work - I’m talking about staying within ten yards of the rocks, unless the size of the swells don’t allow such intrepid intimacy.

I work in this close is because of the awesome results. These whitewater calicos don’t get fished near as hard as their calmer-natured brethren in the kelp beds. Boiler-rock bass are the bad boys of their breed, and they are tough muscular fish. They’ll blast out, inhale a bait, and bulldog back into the rocks faster than you can holler "Hook-up"! You’d better be fast.

Special techniques require special tackle. I think the two best offerings for boiler rock bassin’ are plastic swimbaits on leadheads and small jigs with plenty of action and flash. Best swimbait sizes are 5 to 6 inches. The best colors depend upon light penetration and water clarity. When visibility is low I like to use sparkly plastics with large tails to make them easier for the fish to find. Good colors include green, bright blue, and pearlescent, and I like just a hint of red. When visibility is good use the more subtle colors such as olive or brown, which better imitate the juvenile fish that big calicos like to feed on. Leadheads should be matched to the swimbaits and the casting requirements but the usual size range will be ¾ to 1 ounce.

Small jigs will also fool boiler rock bass. Good action and high visibility are two important characteristics to look for. My suggestions include the Led Fish-Spinner or Aluminum Fish by STI, or the small Iron Man jigs with scaled patterns.

If the bottom of your boat is adorned with the squid and baitfish patterns offered by Bait Ball Bottoms Int’l., then your boat will help draw fish out away from the rocks because they want to check out what appears to be a huge bait ball within easy reach. That makes the fishing even easier.

The islands of the SoCal Bight offer plenty of boiler rocks with good populations of tough bass. It is fun to work along the shores of these islands and cast to every likely looking spot that comes along. Just look for surging swells creating turbulent water, especially if the structure arrangement includes small pockets of calmer water where the bass can hold and watch for vulnerable forage fish.

Some spots just are just perfect for this unique style of fishing, and here are my favorites. Frazer Point on Santa Cruz Island faces powerful swells driven by strong winds from the northwest. The strong surging action generated along this point really keeps food stirred-up and the bass active. Another nearby spot is just around Frazer Point at the entrance to Forney’s Cove, which also provides a calm haven to rest up and enjoy a lunch. Gull Island off of the southwest corner of Santa Cruz Island gets shorter-cycle wind waves and strong currents. There is a lot of kelp and shallow structure very close to Gull Island which allows plenty of angling options.

Santa Rosa Island features some hot boiler action at Carrington Point, Rodes Reef, and Talcott Shoals on the front side of the island, and near Bee Rock on the back side. Santa Rosa calicos don’t get a lot of fishing pressure and their habitat is perfect, which means big tough bass and plenty of them. The wildly fluctuating conditions at Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands cause the fish to go on and off their feed in response, so if a really productive-looking spot isn’t producing, try it again a little later in the day.

San Miguel is considered the ultimate lingcod and rockfish hotspot, but this wild isle is home to a respectable population calicos. The foul area of boiler rocks and kelp beds at the west end of the island holds plenty of bass, but this is perhaps the most treacherous zone in the entire SoCal bight so please be careful.

San Nicholas and San Clemente Islands have some good boiler rock spots which require a long boat ride to fish, but then the rewards may be worth the trip. Santa Catalina Island is closer to the major population centers of SoCal, and produces some good catches of bass, but it is admittedly fished pretty hard. Santa Barbara Island to the north is a little more out of the way and the fish are less pressured.

It takes a lot of wild adjectives to accurately describe boiler rock bassin’. A few that certainly belong on the list are productive, perilous, exciting, and awesome. Give this unique technique a try and you’ll go home toting fish and spouting adjectives!