Thanksgiving goats that taste like crab

Boats posted limits of vermilions and whitefish.

Male sheephead. California sheephead are born female and morph into their male form.
  • Male sheephead. California sheephead are born female and morph into their male form.

Dock Totals Nov 19 – Nov 25: 2,251 anglers aboard 84 boats out of San Diego landings this past week caught 445 bluefin tuna, 47 yellowfin tuna, 4 skipjack tuna, 105 yellowtail, 75 calico bass, 25 sand bass, 5,657 rockfish, 26 lingcod, 736 bonito, 718 whitefish, 64 sheephead, 94 sanddab, 47 bocaccio, 1 halibut, 2 gray smoothhound shark, 4 red rock crab, and 34 spiny lobster.

Saltwater: Out on the water, there has been a lot to be thankful for this past year; a hectic pelagic season that, like the holiday, seemed to stretch way longer than the norm. Large bluefin tuna are still close enough to get the attention of ¾ day boat operators, though the best shot is in the 1.5 day and longer trips. Yellowfin tuna are spotty, but still showing up within 50 miles of Point Loma and Yellowtail are staging into their deeper wintertime haunts though there is still plenty of bait and activity on the surface just off shore along the coast.

The beautiful conditions on the water pried a few folks from their feasts and football, but only two boats made it out on Thanksgiving Day. Still, the weekly angler count nearly doubled over the week previous and lots of folks got some fresh fish to squeeze into whatever space might be left in their refrigerators. A good part of the catch was rockfish; boats posted limits of vermilions and whitefish. A lot of sculpin are being caught, and though they are very tasty, they must be released until the season opens back up for them on the first of the year.

California sheephead are biting well off the reefs in 50 to 100 feet of water. These fish are flavorful, almost tasting like crab and the fillets are very good steamed in a garlic butter sauce. Diurnal foragers that seek shelter at night, California sheephead are born female and morph into their male form at stages in their lifecycle depending on environmental conditions. Females are a solid reddish-orange while the males are black and red. The large males have menacing looking teeth that seem to cry for modern dentistry but are perfect for their diet that consists mostly of crustaceans, which is what gives their flesh the ‘crabby’ flavor. The big males are often called goats.

The best bait for catching sheephead is shrimp, but that can be expensive, so sometimes I use fiddler crabs or even large sand crabs that I gather while surf-fishing. Just pin the bait on a single dropper loop with the weight on the bottom and drop it down. Anchoring up, or if in a kayak, clipping to the kelp to hold position helps as sheephead have a great sense of smell and will show up, whereas drifting can create snags in the craggy reefs near the kelp forests they prefer.

Sheephead will bite stripped mackerel or squid and I have caught them on plastic lures, but a fat juicy shrimp that looks good to you will look good to them, too. Like squid, keep the bait fresh and don’t let it get pink. Squid or shrimp that spoils won’t get bit much.

Top boats of the week:

Nov 19 – The Aztec called in with 41 bluefin tuna and 3 yellowtail for the 28 anglers aboard their 1.5 day trip.

Nov 20 – 33 anglers aboard the Tribute 1.5 day trip boated 3 yellowfin tuna and 39 bluefin tuna.

Nov 21 – 40 bluefin tuna were caught by 33 anglers aboard the New Lo-An 1.5 day trip.

Nov 22 – The San Diego called in with 4 yellowtail, 5 calico bass, 125 bonito, and 2 bluefin tuna for the 25 anglers aboard their ¾ day run.

Nov 23 – 12 anglers aboard the Pride 1.5 day run put 13 large bluefin tuna in the hold.

Nov 24 – Great half-day fishing on the Mission Belle, as 40 anglers caught 49 yellowtail and 10 rockfish.

Nov 25 – The six-pack Reel Champion took 5 anglers out on an overnight run and reported 27 yellowfin tuna caught.

Fish Plants: 12/1 - Santee Lakes, Trout (TBD), 12/4 - Jennings, Trout (1,500)

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