Fishing off the OC Coast with Ronnie Kovach

Excursion Date: June 9, 2011
Check current rates and availability: Ronnie Kovach’s Fishing Expeditions (562) 343-5414
  • 3/4 Day Rate: $75
  • Rates for Other Trips: Range from $50 twilight trips to $179 day and a half trips.
  • Other Costs: Need fishing license (one day available for $15, annual license $50), rod, reel, and tackle (available for rent for about $20 if you don’t have your own).
  • Locations: Newport Beach, Marina Del Rey, Oxnard, San Diego, San Pedro (others possible – check schedule)
  • Kid-Friendly: Maybe
  • Dog-Friendly: No

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to go on a 3/4 day fishing trip with tv/radio fishing host Ronnie Kovach.  He is seen on Fox Sports West’s “Fishing Ventures” and heard way too damn early in the morning for me (5-7am) on KLAA AM 830’s “Radio Fishing University.” Ronnie was an executive with Big 5 Sporting Goods for 20 years, and his bio says he “has personally taught over 50,000 anglers the finer points of fishing. He is a regular contributor to major popular fishing magazines (over 500 articles published), and he has authored five best-selling books on trout, bass and saltwater fishing.”

He also does motivational and business-related public speaking, and takes his fishing and radio shows on the road to various fishing hotspots around the country (and Canada and Mexico, I think…).  He’s been looking to get his show sponsored out in the Inland Empire again (he’s done shows in Riverside, Lake Elsinore, and Diamond Valley Lake in the past, among others), which is basically how my friend met him, and through the friend, I got invited to come along.

I’m not a big fisherman.  I like to fish trout streams (mostly just for the excuse to hike up and down the rushing creeks), and I like to spearfish, and will occasionally fish the kelp beds from an ocean kayak with a buddy (also mostly because I just enjoy the excuse to go out), but really haven’t had much luck on large lakes or in the ocean.  The last time I went on a charter boat offshore, it was so crowded, that I gave up fighting with people for a spot on the rail within an hour or so, and nobody in our group caught very much.  We still had fun out on the water, but it wasn’t much of a fishing experience.

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The 72 ft Patriot, out of Newport Landing.

This was very different.  In Ronnie Kovach’s “Owner Hooks Fishing Schools“, the number of fishermen is intentionally capped (this trip had about 25  fishermen on a boat that normally takes out as many as 75), and besides Ronnie, there were several other partners of his and boat crewmen to help those who looked lost (me) or were using inferior equipment (also me).  I could have rented one of their rigs and gotten all the tackle I needed for about $20, but for some reason thought I’d be cooler if I just brought my own–I was wrong. They really were great about explaining what it was we were doing and how to set up our rigs for each type of fish we were pursuing.

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A little bit of instruction on the way out of the harbor on how to string our rigs.

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Ronnie Kovach, giving us some more instruction (he's much nicer than he looks here).

Though the trip was billed as “Calico Calamity”, the only calamity really was the lack of Calico Bass to fish.  They told us when we got underway that the water was still too cold for the Calicos, and that we would go chase some barracuda first, and then see if we could catch some other fish in the kelp beds later. Even on the way out of the harbor, we saw a mess of sea lions and even dolphins swimming around the boat, so I was already counting the day as a win before I’d even baited my first hook.

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Dolphins just inside the harbor, swimming around us while we were loading up at the bait station.

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Sea lions swam around the bait station as well. I thought this was cool, before I realized what thieving little bastards they were later...

Fishing for barracuda was a blast!  They are big and ugly and great fighters with nasty, big, pointy teeth, that make you feel like you’ve slain some sort of violent beast, even if most people do feel like they’re some sort of garbage fish.  My day started off with a bang, when I hooked one on my first cast, but almost immediately got my line caught with someone else’s, and while freeing the line, lost the fish.    I hooked a second one that fought very hard, right up until it was grabbed by a sea lion, which fought even harder!  I watched the sea lion toy with my big barracuda, and tried to pull it free, but when it finally stopped wrestling with it and I reeled my line in, all that was left was the head!

Fish Head

Fish head!?!? Give me back the rest of my barracuda, you damn sea lion!

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Buck poses with his first barracuda of the day.

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A close up of the head to show how large they are, compared to my boot.

Ronnie took pity on me and actually handed me his rig at one point to fight another barracuda and successfully reeled him in.  Eventually I was successful on my own, and managed to land a few myself.  We chased this large school of barracuda all morning long, and the action on the boat was quite exciting, with people regularly bringing 3-4 foot long toothy fish up onto the deck, interrupted only by occasional battles with the murderous seals and sea lions that seemed to enjoy attacking our fish as we tried to reel them in.

The Patriot” was a good sized, 72 foot boat, so I never felt like we were getting particularly rocked by the waves, and nobody in our party had any seasickness issues (I did take Bonine ahead of time).  It also had a full galley, with drinks, snacks, and cheeseburgers that were actually very good, and really hit the spot.

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Even if I never caught a thing, I knew I wouldn't starve with cheeseburgers like this!

We eventually moved from the barracuda school offshore from Huntington Beach, back down to the other side of the Newport Beach breakwater and Corona Del Mar, where we fished off the kelp beds for a while.  Here I traded in my “red stick of death” (the fishing rod, for which I was roundly ridiculed for the poor care I’d taken of it over the years) for a much lighter rig, as we went after the smaller and more particular calico bass.  Using the smaller bait fish this time, I once again hooked into one on my very first cast!  Unfortunately, it was undersized, so I immediately unhooked it and through it back.  Even more unfortunately, I was the only one on the boat that caught anything at this stop, so we pretty quickly moved on to several other spots.

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Fishing off the rails for Calico Bass.

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One guy hooked into something so big, he fought it for 20 minutes before it snapped his rod! A crewman then helped support the broken rod, and they eventually brought to the surface a giant black sea bass, which they immediately had to turn loose, as they are a protected species.

We didn’t do particularly well at any of them, and while some folks caught some keepers, I mostly enjoyed just being there with my friends and checking out the awesome houses on the bluffs above where we were fishing.  We had started very early in the morning (boat left at 7am from Newport Landing in Balboa), so I may even have taken a little nap somewhere along the way there…

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I'm not sleeping, I'm just tanning my eyelids...

We were due to offload at about 5, so around 3:30, we began to head back to the harbor.  We stopped just outside the breakwater so that the crewmen could filet our fish for us (if you wished–it was well worth the money to me) before we got home.  Some folks continued to fish here, and some were even successful, but I mostly just took in the scenery, and watched the deckhands clean the fish, checked out the birds fighting over the fish entrails, and talked to my buddies and Ronnie and the staff guys on the boat.

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Ronnie talks to us about his fishing show in the galley.

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The crew filets my fish.

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Pelicans lurk behind the boat, fighting over the fish entrails.

Whether you are an experienced fisherman (as most of the guys on the boat were) or an amateur (like me), I highly recommend checking out these charters run by Ronnie Kovach.  Big enough to enjoy the action on the boat and take advantage of experts who know where and how to fish, but small enough to get individual attention when you needed it, I thought it was a great mix for a very reasonable price.

And despite what I’d heard about how difficult barracuda was to cook, and how they were not a very good eating fish, Ronnie said he thought they were very tasty smoked, and gave me some suggestions on how to do it.  Since I love to smoke meats, I tried it out and was very pleased to find out how great it tasted that way.  Be sure to check out my write-up on smoking barracuda over at The Taste Place, our food blog.

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Posing with one of Ronnie's partners, who is holding my red stick of death (which he made me promise to throw away when I got home) and my six pound bag of barracuda filets.

Other Costs:  Need fishing license (one day available for $15, annual license $50), rod, reel, and tackle (available for rent for about $20 if you don’t have your own).

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