Archived Stories -
Attack | Catalina
1910 | Wintertime
Flatties | The
Frenzy Bite | L.A.
Shipwrecks | Soupfin|
Early Zane Gray
Cal Yellowtails| Huntington
of Jed Welsh| Sushi,
Ceviche & Parasites| Old
Brown Trout of the Eastern Sierra|
Those Incredible Zons
Season: July 1st through December 31st
By: George Van Zant
Nothing can match the ugliness of cabezon,
not even ratfish, lizardfish, lingcod or sculpin. The name cabezon is
derived from the Spanish word "cabeza" which means big head. In fact,
theyhave massive heads with mouths full of minute teeth that look like a
wire brush. Located deep in their throat is an organ meant for crushing
crabs, clams, and anything else that ends up down there. Their fins are
thick and fleshy, especially the pectorals whose fleshy spines extend like
fingers past the soft rays. Lying in ambush they move around on the rocks
and debris dragging themselves with their pectorals. They are incredibly
strong jawed and can remove finger skin with ease.
are caught extensively in the cold shallow tide pool zones of the northern
California coast. Northern anglers fish for them in kelpy areas with lots
of eel grass and rough turbulent water. They are caught in these areas
along with greenlings and lingcod. In Southern California, anglers catch
them incidentally on deep-water reefs around the oil platforms and on the
artificial reefs. A popular spot is the Long Beach breakwater. Breakwater
anglers actually walk out on the rocks or step onto the rocks from a boat.
They drop their bait on heavy lines down into the deep holes formed by the
rocks and can consistently catch limits of cabezon and other fish from the
habitat. Sometimes a cabezon can reach 8-10 pounds but 90% of them weigh
less than five pounds.
If you want to catch extra large zons on virtually every drop try fishing
under the Huntington Beach platforms. Anchor your boat so the current
carries your bait under the platform. The basic problem with drifting the
bait is a nuisance, but the necessary nuisance of snags. Steel cables, old
pipe, rope, lost gill nets and all kinds of junk are piled high under the
rigs. This junk and how you handle it is the major issue in the successful
capture of the mighty cabezon. Basically, if there is no debris, there
will be no cabezon. There must be debris and your tackle must be in direct
contact with the junk.
I like to use 3 to 4 ounce sinkers to insure this direct contact. When the
sinker falls into the junk, hope that it doesnıt drift. The object is to
try sinkers that are light enough to drift under the platform but stick
immediately with no further movement. This is very difficult but necessary
and obviously you need an armada of sinkers. Rig a 3-foot leader about 6
inches above the sinker and use a 4/0 to 6/0 hook. The rule of thumb for
zons is that the bait has to intertwine with the debris, which means that
if you do not hook a fish say goodbye to your tackle. Zons love to gravel
around in the junk so high swimming live bait isnıt as good as dead or cut
bait unless you have Live squid and thatıs the best bait possible but
thatıs nothing new.
Heavy line is necessary and 20 pound test mono is probably as light a you
can risk. Line tests of 30 pound or heavier allows you to pull out of the
numerous tangles. When the sinker hits the bottom let out line to allow a
belly of slack to hang off the end of your rod. Wait about a minute and
lift the rod. If it pulls resistance or tugs back slowly set the hook with
gusto and get at least four winds of the reel against a hammered drag. If
you hook a 15 pounder the hook set will feel like a solid, stuck debris,
hookup. Hang on and lift. Slowly some line will be gained and the zon will
identify himself with a pumping resistance two or three times on the way
up. If you donıt feel a pumping resistance you are probably fighting a
piece of pipe.
Many times you have to wait for a bite especially after two or three have
been caught. While you are waiting every few minutes lift the slack up
slowly then allow it to drop. This pulls the bait off the bottom to
hopefully drop to a different spot. This is why long leaders are
important. You can also drop a chum bag to the bottom to attract them to
your area. This always seems to bring them back.
In Southern California down hill currents are always the best for catching
fish. This is especially true for the cabezon. When you are fishing any of
the platforms remember that the west side is almost always the side to
fish. Also you will undoubtedly catch a variety of bottom dwellers, calico
bass and sheephead along with the zons. Carry lots of different weight
sinkers and above all donıt be afraid to lose them because you will.
The best eating size is those 15 inchers. (which is the legal minimum)
Their meat is solid blue in color but turns snow white when cooking. After
you filet them you have to cut off the side bones which creates two skinny
pieces from one side. You can barbecue or fry them. Either way they are
always moist and very difficult to overcook. They are one of the finest
eating fish going. The super taste offsets the super ugliness. But donıt
forget, you can only bag three fish.
Fishing for cabezon is a very different technique to most anglers in the
Los Angeles waters. It takes courage to drop the bait into the junk and
face the reality that you either catch a fish or lose your tackle. Be
brave and catch em!