As summer comes to an end, Southern California anglers look forward to fall and winter fishing for yellowtail. October through February, cold water upwellings bring nutrient-rich water and schools of baitfish close to shore. The best action is during the late season, full moon squid spawn. Cooler water and abundant bait are a perfect recipe to go jigging for yellowtail.

Jigging Tactics Guaranteed to Catch Winter Yellowtail

I fish the coast off La Jolla, California where I look for yellowtail along kelp beds or major depth transitions. To find yellowtail, I focus on the tides. Yellowtail feed when the current is moving. Although yellowtail are found primarily in the lower half of the water column this time of year, the best time to find them swimming on the surface is an hour before or after slack tide.

When I target yellowtail in fall and winter, I focus on deeper presentations with a heavy yo-yo iron, and I’m always ready with a surface iron or a stickbait if I encounter a yellowtail swimming or feeding on the surface.

man pulls up a West Coast yellowtail beside his kayak using jigging tactics
Speed and finesse for heavyweight hitters. | Feature photo: Howie Strech

Surface Fishing for Yellowtail

When I locate a school of yellowtail on the surface, I first try to determine the direction the fish are swimming. Then, I approach the school from upswell at a 45-degree angle.

Once I’m in range, I make a long cast landing a large surface iron, such as the mint and white JRI 4, just ahead of the fish. I retrieve the lure fast enough to feel it moving from side to side. When I see a fish following the lure, I hitch the cadence to trigger a strike.

To avoid pulling the hook, I let the fish pull line from the reel before lifting the rod tip and applying pressure to the line. Then, I hold on for the battle.

To cast a surface iron or billed stickbait, I use an eight-foot, 10-inch heavy-action Daiwa Proteus rod paired with a Daiwa Lexa 400 HD reel spooled with 65-pound J-Braid and a five-foot piece of 50-pound AFTCO Saiko Pro fluorocarbon leader.

Bottom Fishing for Yellowtail

Catching yellowtail near the bottom with a yo-yo iron requires a good fish finder. I dial in the settings on my fish finder for the most accurate return in deep water. First, I set the power to 83kHz to transmit a strong signal. Then, I display both traditional sonar and amplitude scope. Amplitude scope uses a vertical flasher to show fish directly under the boat. The traditional sonar shows fish I have already passed over. When I see dark squiggles on the flasher, I know to immediately drop my yo-yo jig.

I let the jig fall until it hits the bottom, then bring it up with moderately fast turns of the reel handle. Once you’ve covered your targeted depth range, put the reel back into free spool and let the jig fall again through the depth where you marked the fish. Yellowtail often strike when the lure drops. Another tactic is to bring the lure up 10 cranks, pause and then follow with 10 more cranks. Yellowtail will often hit the pause.

Winter Yellowtail Tackle

Jig weight and shape is an important factor. For deep water from 120 to 200 feet, I use a full-size jig like the Salas 6x, JRI-66 or DW-1. If I’m fishing less than 120 feet, I use a smaller jig like the Salas 6x Jr.

The best rod for yo-yo fishing is a Daiwa Proteus seven-foot, six-inch medium-heavy or heavy with a Daiwa Saltist 35H reel. When I’m fishing around thick kelp or a reef, I use 65-pound test braided line to a five-foot piece of 40-pound AFTCO Saiko Pro fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistant for fishing near structure.

When I’m working over sand bottom or flat reef, I use a long topshot of 40-pound monofilament or copolymer line. Monofilament stretches to keep the hook pinned and absorb the head-shakes of a fighting yellowtail. I also believe monofilament’s elasticity improves the lure’s action. I use a San Diego jam knot or Palomar knot tied directly to the ring on the jig.

To launch through the surf and fish the open ocean, I use the versatile Hobie Outback kayak. The boat is nimble and sporty to quickly zigzag through the breakers and chase down a fleeing yellowtail. At the same time, the Outback is stable with a 425-pound weight capacity to carry heavy tackle and gear.

Cover of Kayak Angler Magazine Issue 49, Fall 2022This article was first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Speed and finesse for heavyweight hitters. | Feature photo: Howie Strech



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