This article originally ran in the February 2007 edition of California Fly Fisher and is reproduced here with permission.
...and the distinctive architecture of the Hotel Del Coronado. While a lot has been written about angling in San Diego Bay around the bridge, many sport-fishers do not know that the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado can produce some quality fish for the fly angler.
Located in southern San Diego County, the city of Coronado is within 10 minutes of downtown San Diego via the Coronado Bridge. Home to Naval Station North Island, which houses two aircraft carriers, and the Naval Amphibious Base, where the Navy's SEALS are trained, Coronado has a rich history with the military and is still very much a Navy town.
For the fly flinger, Coronado's beaches are relatively flat, and the surf rarely prohibits a morning or evening of angling. Typically mild surf conditions and some easy-to-find structure make Coronado a perfect beach to fly-fish throughout the year. With Coronado's average daytime temperature of 70 degrees, a weekend stay in Coronado can recharge even the emptiest of batteries.
Coronado's beach can be broken up into two main sections for the fly angler: north of the jetty, and south of the jetty. Once you have arrived at the beach you will find a rock jetty just to the north of Avenida Del Sol. This jetty is what remains of a much longer jetty that was built in the early 1900's to shelter a small cove in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. This cove and a nearby pier to the south allowed hotel guests to go deep-sea fishing at the off-shore kelp beds or to catch a water taxi to one of the gambling ships that were anchored in international waters off Coronado. A storm on New Year's Eve 1936 destroyed the dock and pier and beached a gambling ship named the Monte Carlo, which remains on the beach today. What is left of the jetty provides an excellent fishing opportunity in and of itself.
To the north of the jetty, the beach runs a little more than one-half a mile and ends at the Sea and Air Golf Course at Naval Station North Island. Public access is allowed up to that point. (This stretch is also known as Dog Beach because dogs are allowed here.) The sandy beach is dimpled with holes and the occasional rock outcropping as you get closer to the jetty. Although I have had some good days casting from the shore in this area, I have hooked halibut fishing just outside the breakers on several occasions. Fishing for halibut around a grunion run can be very rewarding. Check the California Fish and Game's Web site, http://www.dfg.ca.gov, for predicted grunion runs.
Around the jetty and to the south is where I typically fish. Fishing the holes that form alongside the jetty can be productive on both the north and south sides, as can casting from the jetty during high tide. As you work your way south, you will find several holes, as well as the shipwreck mentioned above. While it is not visible most of the year, look back toward the boardwalk for signs warning beachgoers of a hazard in the water and you have found the shipwreck.
Spot Rhoades with a fly-caught Halibut fresh from the Coronado surf.
The remains of the Monte Carlo are only visible during the winter months at extremely low tides, when a large amount of sand has been washed from the shore. At other times, the remnants provide great structure for foraging fish.
Finding spots that hold fish can mean the difference between a great outing and casting practice. In general, you want to look for sections of water that somehow look different from the water surrounding them. In Coronado you are looking for troughs, holes and rip currents. Troughs are formed by the wave action pulling sand into deeper water and are trenches that line up parallel to the beach. Troughs can be identified by watching the surf for places where it breaks and then flattens out before breaking again; the flatter water is where the trough is situated, and it may harbor fish waiting for the wave action to bring them a meal. Holes can be identified by looking for areas where waves break on both sides, but do not break in the middle. Rip currents can typically be identified by stained water being sucked out perpendicular to the beach.
Another tactic that has worked particularly well for me at this beach is working the shadows. As the sun rises, the high-rise apartments to the south of the Hotel Del Coronado cast shadows onto the water. Casting your fly along the edges of the shadows can result in strikes and a few fish to hand.
Short casts of 30 to 40 feet are typically all that are needed in this surf zone. Staying in touch with your fly will ensure detection of strikes when the fish are biting. I find that casting over an incoming wave and then immediately taking a step or two backward until the line is tight helps me keep in contact with the fly. Once that contact has been established, start stripping in the line with a series of short, quick pulls. If that doesn't draw hits, keep changing the line-stripping pattern until you find one that the fish seem to like. I like to fan cast a likely looking piece of water with 5 to 10 casts and then move on if I don't experience action. You will improve you success rate by moving frequently until you locate fish.
Like most of Southern California's surf side anglers, I like to wear waders and booties most of the year, not so much because of the temperature of the water, but because of water-quality concerns. Much of San Diego County drains directly into the ocean, making waterborne bacteria a reality during winter, especially after any rainfall. That, in conjunction with the confluence of the Tijuana River a couple of miles to the south and its noted sewage spills, makes the decision a no-brainer. Being rewarded with a rash or infection after a morning in the surf is not my idea of fun. Having said that, much of the summer I prefer to wet wade with some board shorts and a pair of booties. I have never gotten a rash or infection doing this.
In addition to waders, a pair of polarized sunglasses and a hat will help you to spot fish and provide some protection errant casts. Smashing the barb on your fly is also a good idea. After planting a fly in my finger and having to cut my surf session short to visit the local urgent care facility, I crimp down the barbs on all of my flies.
While seasonal catches of halibut, corbinas, yellowfin croakers and shovel-nose guitarfish are common, the main quarry sought by the fly angler along Coronado's beaches is the barred surf-perch. A stout 6-weight rod paired with a reel with a sealed drag system will handle all but the largest of fish typically caught along this stretch of coastline. While a 6-weight rod may be the typical set-up, a number of anglers are using rods as light as 4-weights in the surf to chase the same species. Of course, you'll need to pair the lighter rod to an appropriately weighted line.
With the 6-weight set-up, I usually fish a fast-sinking 250 grain integrated shooting-head with an intermediate running line. If I am targeting fish in the shallows (that is, corbinas), I may switch to a weight-forward floating line to keep the fly in the strike zone and to avoid pulling the sinking line over the backs of fish. Leaders are best kept simple for the surf zone, typically a straight 8-pound-test fluorocarbon line in lengths of 6 to 9 feet will suffice. This leader is then looped to the end of the fly line with a Perfection Loop and attached to the fly with a Non-Slip Mono Loop.
Excellent patterns for Coronado's surf zone include The Razzler,
The Darter Clouser and the Red Worm Fly.
For barred surfperch at this beach, I usually fish Wooly Bugger variants with lead eyes in fiery red, orange, or some combination of muted browns and olives paired with fire orange. I always carry Glen Tagami's Orange Ruffy in fire orange, John Nakano's Red Worm Fly in bright red, and Darter Clousers, all in sizes from 4 to 6. Flies with fiery orange as a color perhaps mimic the roe sac of the most commonly available food along Coronado's beaches, the mole crab. The bright orange color seems to trigger the feeding instincts of these fish.
When targeting corbinas in the summer, I like to lengthen the same 8-pound-test leader to 9-plus feet and start with Dean Endress's Razzler. Not only have I found the Razzler to be a great corbina fly, but it will also take surfperch and many other surf species, as well.
While the barred surfperch is available every day of the year along Coronado's beaches, the fishing, as well as the average size of the fish, picks up noticeably when the perch begin mating in September and again in November. During mating season, the fish, mostly males, will stack up in the shallow holes and will readily attack a passing fly. I have caught my biggest perch to date along this stretch of beach in November. If you take a close look at the fish you land then, you may notice that many of these male perch are full of milt.
The gestation period for barred surf perch is approximately five months. They spawn in the shallows of the surf zone from February to as late as July, bearing their young alive. These free-swimming juvenile barred surfperch can act as a chum line, bringing in other surf-zone species for the smorgasbord. Catches of halibut, corbinas, and yellowfin croakers therefore tend to become more common along Coronado's beaches during the late spring and summer.
The winter months themselves can also be quite productive along this shoreline, under the right circumstances. The arrival of winter along San Diego's coast typically means larger surf, and even Coronado, though not typically known for big surf, can produce some spectacular waves when the conditions are right. A quick visit to one of the local surf shops will find historical photographs of waves rivaling any of California's finest breaks. Fishing under these conditions can be quite frustrating for the fly angler. Keeping contact with your fly and keeping the fly near the bottom can both be hard to accomplish. But remember, the same waves that attract surfers in the winter will also move sand, thereby creating places from which fish can feed.
A nice-sized barred surfperch hooked at the Coronado Municipal Beach.
Keeping your eye on the forecasts of swells can alert you to a lull in the surf and provide an opportunity to sneak in a few days of fishing when the swell has calmed. This time of year will typically produce both nice-sized barred surfperch and a large number of shovelnose guitarfish that will put your equipment to the test.
Coronado's beaches can fish well during any tidal phase, but I prefer hitting the last half of a rising tide. The rising tide seems to bring more fish into the recently flooded areas searching for food. A quick look at the fish counts in my fishing log supports this theory. The first couple of hours after the peak high tide can also be quite productive along this beach. But I have found that if you are going to fish the receding tide, a stripping basket is mandatory to avoid the bunches of seaweed that will wrap around your fly line, making casting difficult at best.
As with any beach, taking some time to visit the area during the lowest portion of the tide will help to identify large holes and troughs. You can note their location and come back to fish those areas as the water floods them. Many productive trips have started out scouting the area at low tide and then fishing right through the rising tide to the peak.
Nothing is worse than getting a first look at a beach and finding huge surf crashing along the shoreline. At most beaches along California's coast, the fly angler has no other choice but to pack it in for the morning. What makes Coronado unique is that a short walk to the east (across Highway 75) is San Diego Bay and another completely different fishing opportunity. Once there, you have several options. You can fish from the shore along much of the area, and usually, you can also rent a small skiff at Seaforth Boat Rentals and explore. (For more information on fishing San Diego Bay from a rental boat, see "The Coronado Bridge" in the August 2004 issue of California Fly Fisher and the "If You Go..." section at the end of this article.) However, the Seaforth Coronado location temporarily closed for renovation this past October. The rebuilt facility will open again in the spring of 2007.
Nevertheless, the shorebound bayside angler has a couple of options. A couple of hundred yards south of the municipal boat launch (which is just south of Seaforth Boat Rentals and the new Coronado City Hall) is a nice sandy beach from which to cast flies. Spotted bay bass, barred sand bass, yellowfin croakers, and the occasional halibut can be had with simple Clouser Minnows and a decent cast. To the north of Seaforth Boat Rentals, on the south side of the Coronado Municipal Golf Course, is another sandy beach called Stingray Point. This area drops off quickly and can produce a variety of fish for the shore caster. The fishing on the bay side tends to be best when there is a dramatic tidal change of four feet or more, but fish can be caught from this shoreline at any time.
Corbinas can also be found along the Coronado shore.
Coronado provides the traveling fly angler a unique opportunity to get away for a weekend of fishing, but still include the family. The weather typically is great, and the fishing can be excellent in the morning and around sunset, leaving plenty of afternoon for exploring the area. The possibility of catching fish in the dead of winter and then taking in the sights along Orange Avenue in a short-sleeve shirt makes the workweek not seem so long. Try Coronado. You'll like it.
Coronado Municipal Beach can be accessed from downtown San Diego and Imperial Beach to the south via Highway 75. From Interstate 5, take Highway 75 into the city of Coronado, turn left on Orange Avenue, and continue on past the Hotel Del Coronado, then turn right (west) on Avenida Del Sol. Parking is free. Park anywhere along the cul-de-sac and walk down the stairs to the beach. This beach can get very crowded with families, so fishing early or late in the day will make your outing easier for everyone.
For current fishing information, call or stop by Andy Montana's Surfside Fly Fishers at 957 Orange Avenue in Coronado; phone (619) 435-9992, www.andymontanas.com. If the morning fishing session has left you hungry for breakfast, try Clayton's Coffee Shop, just two or three doors down from the fly shop at 979 Orange Avenue, (619) 435-5425. For San Diego Bay boat rentals in the Coronado area, contact Seaforth Boat Rental at 1715 Strand Way in Coronado, (619) 437-1514 or on-line at www.seaforthboatrental.com. The San Diego area has two other fly shops that might also be able to provide information and advice: Stroud Tackle at 1457 Morena Blvd., (619) 276-4822, or the San Diego Fly Shop at 124 Lomas Santa Fe Drive #208, Solana Beach, (858) 350-3111.