Prepare yourself for San Diego Bay


On a recent outing in San Diego Bay, my guests, a father and son team from Wisconsin, were having fun catching Sand Bass, Bay Bass, Sculpin, and the occasional Lizard Fish. All was good. The bay was very busy, as should be expected with our recent beautiful ‘Department of Tourism’ weather. That’s when I found out just how prepared I was. Not to say that I expected the following turn of events…

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  • Being prepared. It is the mantra of those who are, and the downfall of those who aren’t. But what does it mean? Can we really be prepared for everything? As anybody who watches, or participates in, any sport knows, being prepared can be more a state of mind than a state of fact. And while I don’t believe we can be prepared for everything, being prepared for the unexpected is a sense of preparedness in-and-of itself.

    When we got to our first spot this fine Saturday morning, Bob and Peter immediately started catching fish on the Drop Shot rigs that I had tied the night before. I had been getting fish on the same six clam beds, and on the same types of rigs, with the same types of lures, for quite some time. I was prepared for these two fine gents to catch fish. A few stops into the day, and we adjusted a few rigs accordingly, and even mixed up the lure, and color choices a bit. All stuff I have on board – again prepared. We lost a lot of lead-heads, a few Dolphin weights, and some hooks. We went through about 30 different Western Plastics tails, a few other baits, and about half a bottle of Uni-Butter. Again, not to worry, I have plenty – I came prepared.

    Because I take passengers for hire, I have to have a USCG Captain’s License, know CPR, have Insurance, and I won’t even own a boat without Vessel Assist. My boat is a Commercial Vessel, and therefore I have more strict procedures to follow regarding life-jackets, fire extinguishers, life preservers, first-aid, etc. You get where I’m going – I have to be prepared. All is good in that arena as verified by my most recent USCG inspection. Oh, and since I like taking pictures of fish, I have my camera, and landing net at the ready.

    So, in having such a good time whacking the bass in our big bay, Bob and Peter decided to extend their trip to a full-day excursion. Cool by me.

    About an hour into our second half, and Peter gets a little tap. Just as I had instructed him, and just as he had been doing a fine job of all morning long, he set the hook. The rod loaded up, and I had a feeling he was not going to be able to swing this fish. I grabbed the net. The fish came to color, and it was beautiful. It was a halibut, bigger than the thirty-incher I had caught the day before. This was a beast. My net is moderate in size, and I have put guitar fish, and bat rays into it that were bigger than this halibut. So even though it was big, I knew it would fit so long as we got it to go head first. I was all prepared, at the rail, ready for Peter to sweep the fish towards the scoop. What we were not prepared for was the boat wake behind us to make me lose my footing, slip on sculpin droppings, and hit the rail of my boat with my left rack of ribs. All two hundred (okay, 210) pounds of me slamming against the rail. All while Peter lost his footing, and instead of the halibut being swept into the net, it kinda just hung there defenseless while my slip caused me to slam the net into the fish’s oversized head. This action caused the line to pop.

    Now don’t get ahead of me. What happened next went in slow motion – something like this: I’m in pain (major pain). The fish is laying on top of the frame of the net. I am shaking the net like a batch of Jiffy-Pop. The fish is looking at me, both eyes up, and trying to figure out why this grown male human is crying, face purple, shaking this aluminum apparatus at him, while tersely whispering, “please go in, please go in, please go in, please.” I am convinced that halibut, especially big ones, don’t have ears. Because, did the halibut listen to me? No he did not. Instead, he wanted to show us just how good he was at doing a back flip. Now Bob and Peter were staying at a hotel, flying out the next morning, and not concerned about fish meat. I had just caught a thirty inch halibut the day before, and since I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the fish fresh, I would not have kept it either. All we wanted was some pictures. Was that too much to ask?

    I have a buddy out there running bay trips. Nice guy. He knows a lot about boating and fishing. Maybe more than me. I know he has a lot more boating experience. However, he does not have his Captain’s License, and does not have insurance of any sort. I am constantly reminding him of this, and pray I never have to say ‘I told you so’ to him. As I sit here, my wife is begging me to go get X-Rays of my ribs. It still hurts. It hurts a lot. Call it male ego, or whatever, but I want to see what happens over the next few days. It does hurt pretty badly. Don’t make me laugh, cough, or hiccup. Bottom line, because I have insurance, I feel like I am prepared. I can go see a doctor when, and if, I want to. If it were one of my guests that got hurt, they would be covered too.

    Remember, being prepared is the mantra of those who are, and the downfall of those who aren’t.

    About Author

    James Nelson

    Captain James Nelson has been fishing the bays and lakes of Southern California for more than 30 years. He is one of the most diverse guides in the area, providing rewarding guide trips on both San Diego and Mission Bay, inshore saltwater trips, as well as trips to the local lakes, including Diamond Valley.


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    I am attending a conference at the Del and may have a free day on May 9th. Looking to do some casual fishing nothing too serious either from the shore or in around the bay ( 1/2 day?). Possibly two of us. Any information is useful.