California’s JP Gano is an avid angler who chases everything that swims near his home in the Bay Area. He’s an accomplished freshwater bass angler, but he is equally at home in the saltwater chasing rockfish, halibut, and stripers.
From July to December, you may find him in the salt aboard “party boats” like the California Dawn, Happy Hooker, or the Pacific Dream that operate in Northern California. Fishing aboard these boats, and more importantly, having success, takes keen observation and knowing how to be ready for anything. Boat control, currents, other anglers, and the seas, all play a role in how your day is going to go.
Gano shared some insight on how he can adjust based on the situation he is given and to come home from each trip with as much fresh fish as possible.
Carry An Assortment of Lead
There are many variables each day on fishing charters, and Gano has learned to be prepared for anything.
“We might be targeting shallow rockfish that are from 10-120-feet of water, but you might also go to some of the offshore reefs that are as deep as 240-feet of water,” he said and added that the boats might do both in the same day depending on where the fish are. “I carry a variety of lead heads with me from 1.5-ounce up to the 8-ounce sizes. It all varies based on the depth and currents.”
Besides just an assortment of sizes, he is ready with a variety of jighead styles. “The wedge style fits great with swimbaits like the AA’s Bad Bubba Shad and the bullet style is great for the Optimum Magnum Octopus,” said Gano. “The banana style is another good one for the Octopus.”
Out of all of the weight sizes he brings aboard, the 4-ounce seems to be the most consistently used weight. “That is the most popular size for me, and I find myself using it the majority of the time,” he added. “But, you have to be ready to adjust your lead size based on your position on the boat. I will use a lighter head if I am in a good position to cast out and use a heavier jighead if I am fishing directly under the boat.”
When fishing in saltwater, the weather can quickly change a day’s plans. While halibut can be caught further from shore, they are a great alternative inside of the bay. Thankfully, many of the same baits and rigs will catch halibut if the boat can’t safely go offshore.
Bait and Color Selection
When asked about his favorite soft baits, Gano said there are several that stand out. “All of the Optimum and AA’s stuff is great for saltwater. The AA’s Shad Tails and Bad Bubba Shads have been awesome, and so have the Optimum Magnum Octopus,” he began.
He said the must-have’s are 5”, 7” and 9” Bad Bubba Shads and both the Baby and Magnum Octopus. “There are some great colors, but if I had just to pick a few it would be Pearl White, JW Wine, Purple Demon, Hot Calico, and then either Anchovy or Sardine,” said Gano. “Those colors would get you through just about any situation.”
Depending on the conditions and your position on the boat, retrieve styles play a significant role in catching fish on party boats. Much of this is determined by the rig you tie on, but Gano offered some advice.
“A lot of times, it is just jigging up and down below the boat. If I can, I also do a good amount of casting and just crawling the bait along the bottom,” he said. “The other big thing is to wind through your bites and not to swing right away. I reel down to get the line tight before setting the hook, especially with larger baits.”
Alternative Rigging Methods
Many anglers stick with the jighead and soft-plastic for their fishing, but Gano says that adding a 3-Way swivel to your arsenal can help. Either as a tandem rig with two baits (one with a jighead and one weightless) or with a dropper featuring a large weight.
“The 3-Way setup is great for fishing vertically as the boat drifts. We will use lead anywhere from six ounces to a pound depending on the depths,” he said. “It helps to keep your bait out of the rocks and works well when you can’t cast out.”
For this method, he uses a Size 1 3-Way swivel and attaches his mainline. The dropper with the weight is a 10-18” long leader of 40-50-pound monofilament. The final segment of the 3-Way swivel is a 36-42” leader line that connects to a Size 2-4/O Octopus tied first, followed by a Size 2-2/O treble hook.
What this does is allows the bait to be threaded onto the Octopus hook and the treble a few inches back serves as a stinger hook.
Gano is a fan or 40 to 50-pound braided line with a 50-pound mono leader and brings plenty of leader line when he steps on board. But, he said there are a few other “must-haves” on party boats.
“I always bring super glue to attach my baits and keep them secure,” he shared. “I also bring some Line-Thru swimbaits like the Baby Line Thru or Boom Boom and use them as teasers. You can rig them 18-24” above your other baits to add another way to get the attention of fish.”
Taking a charter on a party boat is a great way to have fun, stock the freezer, and make memories with friends. There are many variables when you step aboard a charter, and for guys like JP who do it often, the best approach is to be prepared for anything the ocean may throw at you.