Winter Bass on the Fly

large calico bass fly fishing long beach

A great fish caught by Dave Mckenzie - Orange/Tan sculpin

If you give them an inch they're back in their hole and you lose.. Gotta pull hard!

Writing about Calico Bass for the first blog post seems fitting as these rugged, checkerboard angry fish were my first fly rod target in a skiff.  Searching break walls, rock shelves, shallow wrecks, and other harbor features for that expected "thump, thump" slam of a pissed off Calico.

These bass are very slow growing and a true "trophy" Calico (7lbs or more) may be 20 or 25 years old!!

The real fun and enjoyment of bass fishing is getting to explore all sorts of different nooks and crannies throughout our local harbors and islands. 

fly fishing calico bass los angeles wall

Vando stacking bass after bass on a big swell day at 'the wall'.

Local options are accessible by float tube and kayak as well, but be careful of strong tide and current movements which may make it hard to get back to the beach.

Any rocky shore or kelp line from the central coast down to San Diego can provide habitat for these bass.

Los Angeles harbor is lined with a massive industrial landscape of cranes, container ships, rock walls and giant concrete slabs. Big sand bass can be found in winter and spring, summer and fall they often move out to deeper water.

fat sandbass on the fly

Capt. Stoller with an inner harbor Sandbass in February

Our harbors are full of structure that are inhabited by saltwater bass.  Whether its sand bass, spotted bay bass, or calicos. The wintertime is a great season to stay close to home and take an hour to try new spots here and there.

Look for current lines and obvious landmarks that are showing you were structure might be under water.  Probe those zones and get ready, if you get that eat, strike hard and don't let them take an inch.  

A perfect place to creep big, weighted flies slowly along the bottom and drop-offs.  

What's in my Calico Box?

All WEEDLESS and still get stuck all the time..Often the best rhythm is "slow and low, strip, strip, pause...repeat"


Weighted.. weighted.. weighted..


90% of the time we are  fishing deep and/or in strong current, more weight helps get down and into the bite zone!


  • Dumbbell Clouser - any 2 to 2/0 variant in orange, red, and brown

  • Sculpin Head Flies - usually bunny leach style

  • Gamechangers - fun when they are chasing bait, can often watch them leave the kelp and slam it!

If you have the means, the Islands offer huge opportunities for bass fisherman.

We are blessed in Southern California to have gorgeous, rugged islands within reach of an hour or two boat trip.

Both San Clemente and Catalina island hold amazing Calico, Yellowtail, and White Seabass fisheries.  With Calico being found in abundance up to about 2lbs, much of these smaller fish will be found chasing bait in the open and can be wreckless at times.

Santa Barbara island, the Channel Islands, San Nicholas.. there are plenty of areas to explore if you have the means.

There is too much info to try and get into island fishing, so instead of talking about spots, think about conditions if you have your own boat.

There are plenty of times through the year where you can find bass more willing to leave their hideouts and chase flies up top and rarely on the surface.  Generally, their most active season is going to relate to warmer water temperatures in summer through fall.

These fish thrive in rough places and the rougher it gets, the better they bite!

My [basic needs] for finding saltwater bass:
  • Moving water

  • Good structure

  • Bait

Expect to get your fly a maximum 15-25' of water deep and that is with heavy weighted flies and 450 grain or larger fly lines.

[Water movement] - bass use current to corral bait and setup ambush spots

[Tide] - tide changes help stimulate feeding situations based on the structure and area a bass lives in.  This may increase current or expose new structure for feeding.  Keep notes on what areas work on what tides and start fishing those throughout your daily tide cycle for better opportunities at the right times.