Without a doubt the most challenging fish I have ever hunted are Calico Bass in our native Southern California waters. The cranky looking delicacies of the deep have adapted an uncanny awareness of predatory danger. This is no doubt the result of evolutionary adaptation due to hunting pressure. In contrast, I have dropped down on monster Calico’s in remote Baja where there has been little or no pressure and had them swim right up to me. In such an environment they’re curious and unabashedly pass near as they try to determine if I am friend or foe. Such is not the case with our local Calico’s.
So just how does one hunt quality Calico Bass? There are numerous theories and techniques floating out amongst Southern California spearos. For me it starts with habitat, Calicos are kelp dwellers, so obviously that’s where you are going to find them. They hang out along the entire kelp structure. You may find a large female weaving in and out of a leafy branch at the surface or guarding a cave near the bottom, it all depends on current, temperature and food. A sound rule of thumb is if you see one there are most likely 20 watching you hidden from your ability to recognize them. In other words, they usually see or feel you long before you spot one. And in most cases when you do spot one it is by chance as they are extremely if not impossible to stalk. As a large predator, in a foreign environment, we need any advantage we can get. For this reason I recommend a spearfishing specific wetsuit like VERTIGO to keep you hidden as well as warm.
The trick is to really learn to calm the predator instinct that millions of years of evolution have embedded in your DNA. I tell people to imagine they are picking daisies when hunting Calico’s. These fish, more than any other, know when death is in the water. That electro impulse charge your body throws off through heart rate and central nervous communication is like an air raid siren that sends them deep into shelters to avoid the fall out. Breath up, calmly descend and try to continuously clear your ears as they are extremely sensitive to pressure change, I’ve spooked them with a small ear clearing that had no effect on the other fish in the habitat. Once you see one you have a very small window to shoot before it bolts so don’t hesitate on squeezing a trigger.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try again, these are very wily fish and it takes a while to consistently shoot large (over 6 lbs.) Calico’s. There is one secret I will leave you with, never underestimate the security of a dark hole. Try hunting rock walls in shallow water, say 5ft. and under. For some reason the larger Calicos feel very safe in these stone fortress. I have shot some toads in 3 ft. of water with a smaller gun such as the Woody Custom or Reaper 70cm and a big light so don’t be afraid to go shallow. As the owner of JBL I get paid to shoot fish all over the globe and I still have to say that large So. Cal calico bass are in my top three of most challenging fish to hunt.
As always, remember to dive safe out there. Simple preventative measures like using the buddy system and high visibility dive floats can reduce risk of injury. No fish is worth the risk.