Before we really start diving into everything, I found a map that may be very helpful as you read through this article. If it isn’t clear enough, here’s a link to download the full-size file.
Find Moving Water and Fish Incoming Tides… Really?
The majority of people fishing our waters can’t stress enough how you need moving water to find feeding fish. They also stress that fishing the incoming high tides where there is a four to five-foot tidal swing is key to having better success. From the first article I ever read about bay fishing, to the videos I’ve watched, those are the two main keys to having successful outings (according to the pros).
Of course, I planned every outing that I could during these windows. I had good success… I also had my fair share of skunks. I’ll touch more on this in a minute…
Later, I came across the solunar theory. I’m not going to explain this theory, you can google it. After having just as many bad sessions during the “proper” fishing times as I did good ones, I figured I would put this theory to the test. At first I fished during the theory’s minor and major periods. I did ok, nothing spectacular. I followed it for a while but then gave up on it once I saw no relation to the theory and fishing our bays.
Fish When You Can… You Might Learn Something
When I was no longer able to fish the “proper” tides or during the solunar periods, I was forced to fish when I could. It seemed that for a while the only times I was able to fish were outside of the “best times to fish”. I wasn’t confident, but it was either fish or don’t fish. Being a fisherman with morals and priorities, I did the right thing. I walked out the door with no expectations, I was just happy to get out there. To my surprise, the action during my first few sessions was good. It would slow down and then get hot again, but it was good. This was when I started logging my outings.
Bay Fishing at Night
For about a year, most sessions were during the daytime. After meeting a girl who would eventually become my wife, that changed. Now all the fishing I did was almost entirely at night with her. The action at night was good, much better than the daytime.
I couldn’t believe it. It got even better when I started using dark baits during night time. I found myself at Dana Landing quite often as I’d need to buy more 3″ black widow Big Hammers. Eventually, I earned the nickname “Mr. Black Widow” thanks to one of the workers in the shop. They were my go to bait at night back then and they still are to this day.
The night fishing became a ritual for me and some friends. We’d meet up and pound some shoreline. I was still fishing during the daytime, but shorter sessions after work or on weekends. Daytime fishing was always best at dawn and the bite would usually die off after 9am. My favorite patterns of Big Hammers during that time were spotty special, city shrimp, and brown grunion.
DJ’s Favorite Rigging for Big Hammers
- 3″ swimbait
- 1/4 or 3/16 oz jighead
When it was slow I would use any pattern, but when it picked up it was usually something with green, brown, or orange in it. I don’t remember what year it was, but I remember going to a seminar at the Bahia right before the big bay tournament hosted by the SD Anglers Club. Dennis Burlason, Ed Howerton, and Corey Sanden all took turns speaking and giving tips on catching more fish.
Although they spoke of long lining and using huge baits (which gave me no help as a shore angler), I was really shocked when they mentioned their favorite colors to use. Any ideas? Greens, browns, and oranges. To this day, this has been the only thing I’ve found in common between me and any reputable anglers at all.
Curltails vs Paddle Tail Swimbaits
Here’s something I’d like to touch on though… The curltail. When I started using 3″ AA single tail shrimp plastics during the daytime, I was getting blasted by fish, especially in Mission Bay.If I had the money, I would have kept using the curltails over the swimbaits, but AA plastics were so soft that sometimes they would break in half just by casting them, right out of the package. It became expensive always buying plastics. When I started making my own plastics, I tried to get the best of both worlds by trying to create a bait with a swimbait body and a curltail.
My partner did one better and cut me a mold with all that plus a ribbed body. Most of you on here know I ran T&C Lures, and several of you were customers. I can honestly say I’ve had more success with those baits than any other, even the AA’s. Lots of you felt the same way.
Fishing Mission Bay vs Fishing San Diego Bay
My point is that I believe in the curltail more than the swimbaits. I had much better results in Mission Bay with the curltail than swimbaits whether it was night or day. As for San Diego Bay, Harbor Island and the south bay were the only real consistent areas when I used the curltail, but all areas would nail a swimbait all the time.
I’m probably boring the hell out of you guys…
I will just move onto the good stuff now. Due to all the logging, I have preferred certain areas at certain tides, times of day, and times of year. When I find a window to fish, I look at the tide chart because that determines where my try will more than likely be. In the afternoons there’s a 99% chance it will be somewhere in Mission Bay since I pick up my wife down off Friars Rd when she gets off.
Fishing Mission Bay: Quality Not Quantity
First and foremost, if you are used to fishing in San Diego Bay, and enjoy catching good numbers of smaller fish, then Mission Bay is going to give you mixed feelings. I’m throwing this unofficial ratio of 8:1 SD/MB spotty catching. I think that’s a fair ratio. However, on average, the quality of the fish you catch in Mission Bay are much better than in San Diego Bay. Mission Bay is tougher to fish than San Diego Bay. If you find double digits fishing in Mission Bay, you had a stellar session. Sometimes I’m happy with just a handful or even just one.
Mission Bay holds more female spotties, San Diego Bay holds more males. Why? I have no idea. You be the judge, keep track next time and tell me if your findings are consistent with my opinions (or personal fact).
Some Tips for Fishing Mission Bay
These pertain mainly to shore fishing… Fish the weed beds at a 45-degree angle during minus tides and see if you don’t start getting rocked. Every year between November and early-to-mid February the minus tides are around 1pm-4:30pm. From May to August they are really early in the morning.
When the tide is over 5 feet I prefer fishing off the rocks or docks. When its 2-4 feet, I’ll do whatever I’m feeling at the moment, unless I’m on my tube. Then I fish just outside the weed line parallel to the shoreline.
A lot depends on the time of year too… So far, everything I have mentioned is about fishing for spotties (spotted bay bass fishing). Certain times of the year I don’t target spotties, and new sets of personal facts determine when/where I’ll be fishing. I wont touch on that though, most of you who message me are asking for help targeting bass so this is what I’ll stick to.
Sharing Exact Fishing Spots
I’m not going to get specific with good spots to fish either, that’s one of the main reasons why I wasn’t going to write this. Mission Bay is my preference between the two bays. It’s not a secret that I like keeping my favorite fishing spots on the hush to the internet world. Not because I think anyone is going to fish out the spotted bay bass, but because:
A. Some of my favorite bass grounds are also my favorite vina grounds (I share very little info about vinas to anyone).
B. I really like the fact that I can go hit productive spots without anyone else being there. Mission Bay is very small, when a spot turns on it usually doesn’t go without someone noticing. Some of you may remember back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s what happened to the spotfin fishing in east Mission Bay….It’s dead now. Been dead for a while.
Some Spots Aren’t What They Used to Be
When 3 out of 5 of your rods go off at the same time, and then the guy down the sands does too it doesn’t take long before the entire shoreline is full of people. Those guys made it impossible to fish for bass, they literally took up 200 yards of what used to be my go to area for bass way back when. I didn’t care that they were going for spotfin, I was just bummed I couldn’t fish my favorite spot for a while.
OK enough of that, here’s the info I am willing to give up… I’ll start with the jetty on the riverbed side.
The Jetty on the Riverbed Side
In My opinion, the best of the two because the riverbed holds a ton of fish. Ghost shrimp and mussel get a lot of attention on the riverbed side, and skirted jigs with plastic trailers on the channel side will get the attention of bass, especially calicos.
South Mission Beach Jetty
I don’t really care for the South Mission Beach jetty but you got the channel on one side and the surf on the other. In the summer, if you walk up on the rocks you will be able to see a bunch of corbina in the water on the surf side, and there are a ton of bigger opaleye as well.
West Mission Bay: Fishing the Front Bay
Down towards Hospitality Point, there are a ton of fish to be caught, but mostly smallish fish. Definitely the variety though. If you use ghost shrimp there you have an opportunity to catch pretty much every type of fish that’s down there. With all of my shore stompin’, the only good place to fish for spotties south of the West Mission Bay Dr. bridge, is in Quivira Basin around all the docks. That doesn’t mean they aren’t in Mariners Basin or Bonita Cove, but you won’t catch me wasting my time in there unless I had ghost shrimp for bait.
If you’re facing north and you travel through the bridge I just mentioned, you have Ventura Point to your left and Sunset Point to your right. At the tip of Ventura Point, the current moves well right there and heads south. You wanna fish here when its early and more calm. On the other side at Sunset Point, the bass get playful here during the summer but are usually 10-11″ models with the occasional hog in the mix. Either way, they’ll nail spinnerbaits all day long.
West Side of Mission Bay: Continued
On the west side of Mission Bay, there are 6 points and 5 coves, 6 if you call Sail Bay a cove. These coves and points hold tons of bass. Again, I wont get too specific but just know these spots are definitely worth a try, especially during winter.
Throughout the main channels you can find fish, but you’ll be in the zone where the water moves the fastest. I don’t like fishing these areas for a couple reasons. First, plenty of junk is down there moving with the water. Trash, kelp, loose eel grass, you name it, it’s going to effect you some way or another. Doesn’t mean anything bad, but I prefer fishing more calm conditions. To each his own.. I used this map in another post.
This is where the most water movement is in Mission Bay. Here, 8 out of 10 times it’s almost always flowing outward. Even on strong incoming tides the current can still rush outward. Don’t ask, I don’t know. When I first started trying to learn all the “why’s” this was one of the questions I had asked more knowledgeable people. I always thought the current moved whatever way the tide was going. Nope not the case. A few things effect the current, but I’ll leave that for you to search up on google if it interests you.
Central Mission Bay
In the middle of the bay is Vacation Island. If you fish the west side of Vacation Island, there’s a dock that holds all sorts of critters. All small, but fun. A while back, that area would be visited by some pretty huge white seabass. Between that dock and Ventura Point, they would be caught quite a bit. I haven’t seen or heard of any around there in a while but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
On the south side of Vacation Island is South Cove, good for bass. On the north is North Cove, so-so for bass. And on the east side is Ski Beach. I hear the spotted bay bass bite well over there… I’ve also heard it’s a no fishing zone since its a launch/landing area, but you know… Just an FYI.
South Mission Bay and Some More on Central Mission Bay
Let’s go back a tad south for a minute. Right next to Sunset Point is Dana Landing. The docks there hold quite a few fish, but to this day I have yet to pull a bass over 14 inches there. Just before spring, you’ll see quite a bit of surface activity there as well as in other parts of Mission Bay.
Just to the east of Dana is Perez Cove. Normally good for small bass, but you will need a float tube/yak/boat to reach the good spots. Straight north of that cove is part of the main channel, Fiesta Bay. This is where all the action of all sorts takes place. This area probably holds the best fishing for spotties in Mission Bay from a boat/yak.
From the Hubbs facility all the way past the bowling pin, there are tons of bass, halibut, corvina, barracudas, sharks, and rays that are normally willing to tug on your line. When I rent skiffs, this is where I head to first.
Just to the east of Perez Cove is the south Pacific Passage that goes through South Shores and all the way to the entrance/exit of Fiesta Island. This entire channel is most productive in the winter and spring. Not even kidding, bass galore.
North Mission Bay
Now I’ll skip to the channel just north of Vacation Island, it runs east and west and is called Fisherman’s Channel. I used to fish this channel all the time for halis. Additionally, bass, halibut, croaker, sharks, and rays can all be found here pretty much year round, but spring seems to produce better numbers. Just northeast of Fisherman’s Channel is Crown Point. This area was quite the hotspot in the early 2000’s for spotfin and giant bay rays. When I say giant, I’m talking about 100# and bigger. I don’t see too many people fishing from that stretch of shoreline anymore. I was actually over there recently to check things out, and wasted 45 minutes of my life lol. Not even a nibble. That area seems so much flatter than it used to be, could just be me though.
East Mission Bay (aka: The Back Bay)
The northeast section of Mission Bay is another cove, De Anza Cove. It used to be really productive for bass and halis, but the sharks and rays rule the area now. This area is better fished from an incoming high, so are any other areas that hold plenty of sharks and rays.
The area from De Anza Cove all the way down to Tecolote Shores was dubbed “Croaker Channel” in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. There were spotfin all over the place, and like I mentioned earlier in the article, it was hard trying to fish for bass (or anything else) when everyone and their brothers (literally) were fishing 4-8 rods each, spread 20 feet apart all the way down the shoreline.
Irritating… and, it wasn’t only on the east shoreline of Mission Bay, they were all over the east shoreline of Fiesta Island also. BUT, the epic spotfin fishery we once had in Mission Bay is long gone now, so there’s plenty of room to fish lol. If you guys have trouble finding fish in the coves or the channels, don’t bother fishing the east side, the east side is really tough to fish. I mean go ahead, but don’t say I didn’t warn you
Fishing Fiesta Island
Last but not least is Fiesta Island, everyone knows where this is, and if you dedicate a few hours of time during minus tides there are tons of chunky bass willing to bite. I never use anything other than 3″ plastics around the island while fishing for bass. If I was on the water, I might use a medium diving crank, 6′-10′.
Capt. Bill Schaefer shared with me how he likes to cast towards the shoreline with a floating crank, give it a few turns and let it wobble back to the surface, and keep repeating back to the boat. I will say, I’ve tried this and I’ve caught a few this way, but I’m not on the water much so I don’t really get to use this method much. Now, the wind usually blows to the east so fishing from the west shore on Fiesta Island is a bit tough. But I do like the west shore early in the morning during higher tides.
Do You Really Need Moving Water When Bay Fishing?
Lets go back to the moving water thing. Every time I hear someone say that you must have moving water to find feeding fish I just wanna laugh at them… laugh at them very hard. Rude? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not a professional fisherman. I only know what I’ve experienced. One thing I’ve learned is that the fish do not simply stop feeding just because this tidal exchange is different than that one.
Most of my epic sessions are during first and last quarter moon phases. Take a peek at a tide chart and you won’t see much happening during first and last quarters compared to those heavy moving water periods that the new and full moons bring. Just because the fish may not be feeding in the normal areas during neap tides or slack water or whenever the water does nothing doesn’t mean they aren’t feeding. It means they’re feeding elsewhere. If they weren’t, then I guess all of my sessions during those times are all just lies. Oh, and same with all the success my friends have had… bunch of lies.
I’ve heard people say, “just stay home, don’t even bother, have a BBQ”. All the while, I’m out there pulling on the fish they left alone. To each his own. If you want to stay home because the tide looks like crap, stay home. More for me.
When Are Incoming High Tides Good?
There are only two times where I would prefer incoming highs over my other preferences, and bass have nothing to do with them. Shark/ray fishing, and corvina/cuda fishing. Bass will eat anything anytime. Vinas and cudas stalk bait, and they attack it viciously on the surface mostly during high tides. Sharks and rays don’t really follow bait around, but when using chum to attract them closer, the more the water moves the better. Having a nice long chum slick increases your odds of getting some action big time. Whoops, this is supposed to be about bass. How many of you are asleep?
Keys to Success: Fishing Mission Bay
OK, no more blabbin. You wanna know the ultimate key to success when fishing in Mission Bay? I’ve said it over and over in numerous topic replies. STAY MOBILE. The fish will not come to you, well maybe in San Diego Bay, but not in Mission Bay. You have to work at finding them. That’s why catching 5 fish in Mission Bay would sometimes be just like catching 40-50 in San Diego Bay.
Night time fishing in Mission Bay in December and January is going to be your best bet at huge numbers. I use an all black bait, and an open jighead unless the fish are close to the shore, then I’ll go weedless. In the daytime, during the winter, minus tides are my favorite times to get on the bass. I use a bullet style weedless jighead made by Owner, and either a 3″ curltail or swimbait.
Most the time the fish are just at the end of the weed line right before the drop off, so the more angle you get on your cast, the better your chances at a strike since your bait is in the strike zone longer. As you know greens, browns, and oranges are normal producers for me, but I’ll throw any color when I feel like it, and it will still get some attention.
In the spring and summer, my attention is not on bass it’s on corvina, and corbina. But for those of you who still want to target bass during those times, this is when you want to use other baits along with your plastics. The cranks and spinner blades, bolt throwers, skirted jigheads, and anything like that. From my experience, bass fishing is slower during the warmer months most the time. There are those times where it’s still pretty active, and its normally close to structure. Docks and similar structure are your friends during this time. They are underneath them, and some will even be hugging the dock supports.
Don’t be afraid to throw craw type baits down there too, they’ll hit them. You wanna know where the super thick spotties are during the summer? Only clue, they aren’t inside the bays. There may be a few, but not one after another, like in some of the lagoons to the north of the bays… If you know… you know. But… different subject for a different day lol.
Hook Setting: To Swing or Keep Winding?
Another question was asked on Bill’s thread about hook setting, to swing or keep winding through. Personally, I do both. When I’m fishing minus tides, there’s only a fraction of a second to act, even with bait scent. I swing immediately. You either get him or you dont. Anytime my hook is not exposed, I’m swinging. When I’m not fishing in the junk I wind tight and lift the rod while winding. During topwater strikes I wind fast and tug sideways.
Bait Scent: Another Personal Preference
I don’t care to use it, I can catch plenty of fish without it, and I’ve never had epic sessions while using it. I’ve used them all, and if I had to pick one that made the slightest bit of difference it would be hot sauce.
If the fishing is slow, I will try anything to get something going, even bait scent… I don’t believe that it attracts fish, nor do I believe they hold onto it a little longer to give you the edge. If I did, I’d have more fish to add to my logs from all the times I used it.
Rod, Reel, and Line for Bay Fishing
I mainly use Izorline XXX 8# green mono for bay fishing. When the chunky bass show up I will bump it up to 10#. I dont like braid or floro. I like simple things that work, like my old *** Citica’s and cheap Shimano rod. For those of you who havent made the transition to baitcasting reels, it’s time to grow a pair and do it, they are not hard to use at all. I just showed a fellow member here how to use one last week, he had it down in 10 minutes… You will catch more fish with baitcasters, you will be able to feel everything your bait is doing, and every strike. After some time of using it, you will be able to detect pressure bites also, good for halibut fishing.
Technique for Bay Fishing
I cast, let it sink, then reel it back slowly. This is what I do almost all the time. Only time I give the bait life is to see if I get a different reaction, or if its slow. When I do give it life, the strike usually happens during the fall after hopping the bait. But for the most part I use a straight retrieve, nothing fancy about it.
Those who know me personally, know I let go of more detailed information, especially when it comes to bass fishing. I’ve done this for people I don’t even know too… when they catch me in the right mood lol.
I’ve made maps, I’ve shared intel, and the feedback I’ve gotten from everyone has been positive. I get private messages all the time asking if I could point them in the right direction or if I can wet a line with them. If I can help someone who is struggling to catch bass, then I’ll do it. Chances are I can, and will. Meeting for fishing is the hard part since my schedule is always unpredictable, but I do try.
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