Skiff rentals at Santa Cruz and Capitola is as fun and exciting as you can possibly dream up. No trip is ever the same; everyone being memorable in it’s own right. You might see schools of dolphin, breaching whales, sharks, sunfish, many varieties of jelly fish, you name it! How much more “one on one” with nature can you get than taking a small boat out on the ocean and fishing with your family or friends? You can’t, as there is nothing that compares to it.
My First Experience....
I had never considered a skiff as it intimidated me and seemed a bit sketchy until I got invited with my son by some strangers who I jokingly asked “Do you have room for us?” while we were buying bait for fishing off the pier one day. They invited us and from that day we were hooked. No more doubt or fear. I have collected the info above through experience to help others get to a prepared and comfortable with the idea and process. If you don’t want to commit to a whole day, you can rent it by the hour and it’s really fun to just "puts" around. Get your feet wet and do something that will make you appreciate the opportunities and activities available to us.
First Time Preparation.....
Visit this link to get a run through on how to operate the gas motor on the skiff before going. It’s so easy a monkey from outer space can do it.
The main website for both Capitola and SC is http://capitolaboatandbait.com/.
The Santa Cruz location is run by the husband of the wife who runs Santa Cruz rental. I have never rented at Capitola because of the parking deal, but I hear the fishing is phenomenal there too. They tend to catch white sea bass and large halibut over there. In one year they will be closing down to refurbish the Capitola pier, so experience it before it’s gone for a while. I might join you.
The Santa Cruz location doesn’t have a website of their own, but they do have a Facebook page. I suggest visiting both as you can see pictures and get info on the businesses.
Mon-Fri - 1st come-first serve for rentals starting at 6AM.
WEEKENDS/HOLIDAYS - Because of high demand, reservations are required in advance with a credit hold that can be cancelled up to one day before.
Time Slots are issued for reservations, so the earlier you book the better. It's best to get there early. You need to fill out a form for the rental. 4 people max per boat with a $125/day or hourly rate available ($30/person ain’t bad…). For me 3 is comfortable for all the gear included.
SANTA CRUZ – You can park right on the pier directly in front of the boat rental where you load up, just feet away from your car. Awesome! Gate is up when you arrive. Before you leave you get a major discounted ticket from the boat rental which ends up around $8-14 for the whole day depending if you stay longer (fish cleaning, restaurants, etc.) We do both and have paid $8. If you don’t get the ticket from the boat guy, it will be around $25-30 for the day.
CAPITOLA – It is a bit more difficult and challenging. You have to drop your stuff off at the entrance of the pier and have someone stay with it while you go park. There is little free parking and you have to drive to the top of the hill to find it. Best to call the shop to get more info.
Before You Go Out....
Similar to a charter boat, you are going out on the unpredictable ocean. The skiff is a small boat compared to a 53 ft charter boat, so the motion will impact you if you don’t take motion sickness prevention. You NEED to take BONINE or DRAMAMINE the night before (1 at 9pm is my routine) and one when you wake up right away. If you fail to follow this suggestion, you will experience the ultimate in sickness. If you take it only in the AM, it has the opposite effect and you get even sicker as your body doesn’t have time to acclimate to the medication. Understand that these pills will make you drowsy; no question. It’s a tradeoff of having a great day of fishing and not getting horribly sick or getting horribly sick! Some people use patches, chew on fresh ginger, etc. Do what works for you. Some people just won’t be able to handle it, but the only way to know is to try. You can always try a couple hours of rental and see how it goes or fish closer to shore where the water is calmer than farther out from the pier.
Where to Fish....
Download Google Maps. Bring your cell phone and have a charging bank available on the boat. Use Google Sattelite View and you will see a live visual representation of where you are in the ocean. The map reveals exactly where the rock structure is and it’s dead accurate. Structure = fish! I have recently found the edge of structure and flat bottom seems to be most productive because, I believe, the fish can hide in the rocks and surprise the bait when it passes in the wide open. You can also mark and label spots on the map and save them for future reference. This is incredible stuff! No fish finder needed! Many times I end up fishing right next to a charter boat with 35 people on it who paid $120 to fish the same spot where I am with a couple friends for less then ½ the cost and I control where I go and no worries about all those tangled lines.
What You Need to Know....
There is a bag limit for each variety. A few rock fish have limits or cannot be kept. Like any charter or party boat KNOW your fish specs. There is size as well as seasonal restrictions too. Do your homework.
Almost every morning the water is calm. Around 11am, wind picks up and typically so do the waves. It’s best to be headed south at the end of the day so the waves are pushing you in reverse opposite, which could be a very wet and slow ride back. The ideal conditions are an overcast day with waves in the 3-5 max or less foot range and 8-12 seconds between waves. The more time between waves, the better.
Start early in the day because the weather is best during the first half of the day. Come close to shore during the second half of the day where the water is protected and calmer. There is a point about a mile out where the wind and waves become more prevalent in the late afternoon. You can fish for Halibut and Stripers closer in. The bite is best during the earlier hours, although I have experienced many days where the bite was good all day. Boats must be back by 3PM. At the furthest distance, it can take 45 minutes to return so don’t start heading back later than 2PM if you are way out there. There is a lot of structure and rock to fish close by, so we start far out and work our way in so we can maximize our fishing time (lines in water).
Great link for pictures, regulations, locations, etc. https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/regulations/sport-fishing
General Gear And Supplies For Fishing....
· Clothing: pullover sweater with hood, waterproof shell, waterproof boots.
· Standard sun block, sun glasses, water bottle, snacks, etc.
· Bag to hold/carry fish. Stringer can work over the side; just pull up over before taking off!
· Tackle bag: Flies, swim baits, weights, all that you’d take on a party boat.
· Fishing License. (In case the DFG checks you!) - BUY BEFORE YOU GO!!!
· SIBIKI rigs – specific for catching live bait. Sold in shop but a little more $.
· Bait Tank – About a gallon size, cheap at any fish supply store (Fishery Supply, Fisherman’s
WhareHouse, Bass Pro, etc.), Absolute benefit for keeping bait alive. Use a rope to attach it to the boat.
· Salt water worthy pliers/cutters for removing hooks.
· Bait – Frozen squid, anchovy, etc. Also Procure Scent (Sardine, Herring, Shrimp); my favorite!
· Magnetic Compass in case you venture the outer limits, and the cell phone dies, and it is foggy, and you cannot see shore. Always
be prepared. Sometimes that nice cool marine layer sticks around all day.
· Knife – I bring a bait cut knife and also a fillet knife as there are cleaning tables at the pier! No need
to take your fish home and deal with that mess if you prefer not to use the whole fish. You also might catch a shark and want to
clean that right away. Sharks don’t have bladders so critical to clean immediately.
· Plastic zip-lock bags to place and transport fish if you choose to fillet your fish on the dock.
The boat rental company provides a gaff, nice net, oars, life vests, and cutting board.
Ocean Fishing Tackle....
· Light to medium weight rod and reel for salt water with max 15 lb test mono or 30 lb braid. I
carry a trout rod for my sibiki/live bait set up and my beefy rod for catching big fish.
· Weights from 2 oz (casting into kelp) to 16 or even 20 oz for deep water up to 200 feet at
boundaries. Sibiki set up 4-10 oz. Main rod 8-20 oz.
· Common preferred tackle, leader, swivel clips, hooks, whatever you like.
· Hooks for sibiki from 12 (smallest) to 4. Main rod 3/0 to 9/0 as your preference.
· Extra mono or fluoro leader (used for leader and also a break away for losing only weight).
· Large Zip Lock Bag for broken and or used tackle. Best to keep tackle that has seen saltwater sperate from your unused clean
tackle. The salt will transfer to other items and cause them to rust.
· Blood worms are an option or free sand crabs can be used right on the beach.
· Waterproof Bag for Goods to keep DRY. Food, clothes removed, Electronics, etc. It can get
wet with waves, fish flying all around, pulling in strung up fish or bait bucket. Electronics
gets destroyed from salt water. You will thank me for this. I even put electronics in
a couple zip locks inside a water proof bag.
Suggested Process Summarized....
1. Arrive at 5:30am, or earlier, to get in line for opening at 6am.
2. Fill the rental form out. All adults need to sign the form. Buy your supplies at the same time if needed including frozen bait they
3. Unload your car and load your boat assigned to you and get ready.
4. Watch the quick in person demo on how to operate the motor.
5. Load the right side of the boat, lay rods across benches as you enter from the left.
6. Put the life jackets on and go down the stairs to where you climb onto the boat. (Locked your car?)
7. Have people sitting at the stern and bow get onboard first and the person in the center last. Unhook the chains and push off.
8. Stay clear of banned beach area marked by buoys, stay clear of the pier where peoples fishing lines may be cast out, keep an eye
out for swimmers, kayaks, boaters etc.
9. Look for any available live bait. After clearing the pier, you can immediately catch live bait before heading to deep water. It’s good
to get set up while in the calm water.
10. Get your sunscreen on, get your bags situated, bait up your rods ready to drop. Clear areas to move around, especially where
motor area/gas tank and hose are located.
11. Identify where everything is, so you can work as a team. Identify and discuss what happens if and who will handle what, etc.
12. I like to travel close to shore as it seems to be calmer water and makes travel faster in both directions. Then I travel directly out
from shallow to deep using Google Maps.
13. Figure out the direction of drift. Set the boat up for drifting that will carry boat over the target area. Keep an eye on Google Maps
for this and mark any good spots.
14. When heading back, I will drift along the structure which is long and parallel to the shore, so if you do it right, you can fish on a drift
almost all the way back. Of course if you have a hot spot, reset until it doesn’t produce any more. During my last trip, I spent the
entire day on one spot that produced all day.
15. Count your catch and make sure applicable regulations are satisfied before you head in. Wrap up your gear, clean up and be ready
to unload before you get off boat. You can do this right out in front of the return dock so your boat isn’t rocking in deep water unless
your trying to get limits. Get your keys, tie your lines up, remove weights, pack bags, look for tackle and stuff that may have fallen to
floor, make a garbage bag, etc.
16. Head the boat in nose first an get it starting to turn/shift sideways and cut engine so it coasts in to where center person can grab
17. Attach 3 chains, 2 long go to back and shorter to front.
18. Exit the boat and head up the stairs. Get your parking discount ticket; one for each car. Empty the boat.
19. Be ready for onlookers. It’s kind of fun as groups of visitors will stand around you and your fish oohing and awwwing snapping
pictures and asking a million questions. It’s actually fun as my son will start talking about our day and sharing his knowledge.
Makes me proud. The Fish and Game Department may be around too to check out your catch.
20. The cleaning station is behind shop where you can fillet and clean fish. Take zip lock bags or something to put your filleted fish in.
The shops won’t help you out! They do have ice for sale.
21. Enjoy one of the nearby restaurants. We often eat at Woddies after each skiff day.
Q & A...
1. Does my cell phone work out there? Mine did even 3 miles out in the ocean (3 mi = the limit as to how far you are allowed to go in
the boat) – at least mine did with Verizon.
2. What happens if the engine fails? I have never had this happen, but I carry a coiled up rope in case I need to ask another boat to
tow us in. If you call the shop I believe they will send a boat to rescue you. The boat also comes with oars for emergency.
3. Is it dangerous? I wouldn’t take anyone under eight years old personally; at least out deep. It’s not dangerous if you use common
sense and communicate with everyone. Common boat rules such as balanced boat, limit standing, not everyone on one side that
will roll the boat to that side.
4. Is there rental equipment? Yes, call the shop for pricing.
5. Can I buy supplies there? Yes, the shop has everything you can want or need except the fishing license you need to get in
advance. Always recommended to buy supplies at your local shop where pricing will typically be cheaper, or on line.
6. Will Google Maps work in "airplane mode"? It did for me. I believe it won’t let you label a mark though if it’s on.
7. What is my biggest concern? Rough weather and seaweed or kelp. Keep the boat away from kelp which is easy to identify. If the
waves start picking up, just start heading back before it gets tough to deal with the rollers. Plan your trips based on weather
forecasts anyways and you’ll be ok.
8. Will DFG (Department of Fish and Game) be there? Maybe but usually not. They may inspect your catch, so make sure you follow
rules as you should.
I hope this step by step suggested procedure helps you take your 1st step out onto a skiff.
Out on the water in the deep blue sea we have seen amazing things we would have never seen if we weren’t out there. Pods of hundreds of dolphins, a horizon with millions of birds diving to catch bait fish, countless whales, sunfish, thousands of jelly fish of many kinds, sharks, seals playing like kids, the ocean boiling with bait, cool stunt planes putting on a show for us, amazing fish we have caught as well as other creatures from the bottom, sunrises, amazing views of shore line such as natural bridges, and more.