A Day On The Water with Jack Sowell

swba-jack-sowell-interview-rockhopperYou could hear the shotgun start from the sign-up desk in the parking lot as 33 boats raced away to secure 5 Calico Bass in the hopes of adorning “The Cup” with their team’s name. The weather couldn’t have been better, flat calm seas with the air temperature in the upper 70s.The field was split; most headed north to fish tight to the beaches, while the rest ventured south to fish the kelp. After returning to the scales, one team, not surprisingly, did particularly well, taking the honors with not only “Big Fish”, a Calico Bass that weighed 8.55lbs., but also stole the show with the heaviest bag for the day. Team “Rockhopper” (Jack Sowell and fishing partner Roger Eckhardt) was one team that decided to try their luck by fishing up the line. Fishing tight to the beach, Jack’s first cast lands their kicker fish, which would dictate the pace for the day and ultimately help produce the 19.46lb.stringer that won the tournament.

I was honored to have recently been invited to fish Catalina Island with Jack and surprise guest Mike Gardner on Jack’s 20′ Hydra-sport, Rockhopper, and eager to get to fish the island with not one but two great talents. The challenge, for me, would be to absorb and retain as much of Jack’s knowledge of fishing Calico Bass at the islands as possible and, more importantly, to learn more about the man behind the personality in a single day of fishing.

Whether you enjoy the pleasure of knowing Jack personally, have had the opportunity to meet him, or have heard him speak at any one of the Calico Bass seminars that he has done in the past, you know what I mean when I say he is a unique individual and quite a character! The stories that both he and Mike shared on the way over to the island had me busting a gut. If you happen to cross paths with him in your local tackle store, I can only say that it would be in your best interest to introduce yourself and ask him to tell you a story.


5:10am: We launched the Rockhopper at Davies Launch Ramp facility in Alamitos. Not surprisingly, there were very few empty trailers in the parking lot, probably because of the storm that had just past, and also due to the unstable weather that Southern California had experienced the week before.

However, Jack assured us that the ride over would be flat calm and that the wind would hold off until the afternoon. Jack is known for taking advantage of windows of opportunity between storms to fish the islands, and his knowledge of our local weather and water conditions proved to be right-on, this day, as we enjoyed perfect weather all day!

5:35: As we cleared the Jetties out of Alamitos, we were greeted with flat calm seas and no wind. Jack throttles up the big 200hp Evinrude, and she comes out on plane in less than 4 seconds! I ask, “What’ll she do?” Jack answers, “Hell, I don’t know, I’ve never had a reason to go that fast”. But he quickly follows up with “She’ll probably go 55mph.” Which leads me to think that he did in fact have a reason at one time or another.

6:35: We arrive at Catalina, just outside Gibraltar Point, located on the lee side of the island, about 1.5Nm west of Long Point. Jack stops the boat in about 60′ of water so that he and Mike can rig up. Mike asks Jack, “So what type of lures we gonna’ throw?” Jack replies with, “Swim baits.” Mike follows with, “What color?” Jack answers, “Ah hell, it don’t matter much. They’re gonna’ eat whatever we throw at ‘em.” I can’t help but to laugh. Jack then hands me two baits- (Green Sardine on a 1 oz. Olive green Fish-co lead head and the infamous Sowell Brother on a 1oz. Brown Fish-co head, both baits in a 4”) and asks me to tie them on to two of his rods while he proceeds to relieve a necessary bodily function. Laughter ensues as Mike and I try not to acknowledge the process.

6:45: Jack fires up the FICHT controlled Evinrude once again, and we head directly towards the west side of Gibraltar Point. As “The Rock” disappears behind the point, which should give you a hint as to how close Jack likes to fish, my anticipation grows.

7:10: Jack “fan casts” in tight for nothing. He then turns around and does the same in the other direction. He gets short bit three times on the outside, and then says, “Probably just damn Barracuda.” (Below)



He then turns and casts back to the inside, and he’s on! He lands a 1.5lb. Calico, beautifully lit up in an array of golden colors. We fish for another 20 minutes for nothing but short bites when Jack says, “I usually do pretty good in here, but there’s no current, and the water is too clear.” He picks up the trolling motor, and we’re off. At this point Mike and I are fishless.

7:45: After a short hop, just about .5Nm to the west, we arrive at Paradise Cove. This site is known as one of the best coves at the island for boat-in camping.

8:05: Jack sets up just outside of a landslide and tells us that this is another one of his favorite spots, “The water here usually stays pretty ‘silty’ because of the dirt in the water from the landslide.” In retrospect, I think we spent most of our time fishing in front of or directly adjacent to landslide areas! Although the water on the front side was predominately clear, we found all of our “off-color” water in places like that. Even though conditions looked better in Paradise, the end result of our stay there was one small fish caught by you know whom.

8:15: Jack makes a short hop to the west, and we find ourselves at Rippers Cove, just out side of the campsite there.

8:25: I pitch a custom painted lead head that I call “Diablo” with a 5” Sowell Brother threaded on, in tight, right next to a group of fallen rocks, in about 1′ of water, and proceed to get “My arm broke!” using 65lb Power Pro! My heart races, and I think to myself, “could that have been-the elusive 10lber that I will probably never catch in my lifetime?” I then tell Jack and Mike, “That was an eight!” They both reply with Shut the “F” up! Laughter erupts.

8:47: Just as Mike finishes with what I can only describe as “The Sewer Rat” story… Don’t ask because I’ll never tell. Jack picks up the trolling motor, and we’re off. About a minute later, the temperature alarm goes off on the Evinrude, and Jack shuts her down so we can clear the kelp from the strainer. Jack starts the motor up and then idles along until the temperature goes down.

Mike has a snack as Jack prepares for our next move.



9:05: We arrive just outside of Empire Lodge, which is just a stones throw west of Rippers. Not much to report here but a beautiful view. Jack exclaims, “Where the hell are these F–ers?” “I guess we’ll just have to keep looking’”.

9:55: After working west with the trolling motor for nothing, Jack finally lands a better one (2lbs) on the Green Sardine. Two casts later Jack’s on again, and while he holds the fish at the boat, he announces, “Look at these followers! One of you guys get a worm in the water!” I’m stuck with a pen in hand making-notes, so Mike pitches in his “Worm”. His “Worm” gets inhaled right at the boat. A double! Both fish look to be in the 2lb class, and once again, these fish are beautifully lit up. I don’t know if it’s me, but the Calicos just seem to look better at the islands. Maybe it’s just that you tend to appreciate them more, having traveled a little further to get them. Whatever the case, I’m still fishless, and it really doesn’t matter because the conditions are great, and the company is even better.

10:15: Mike now joins Jack in the “Catching”. Both he and Jack now pick away at the bass, leaving me to appreciate the picturesque scenery and the good company.

10:17: Mike lands another 2.5lb. Calico, and I facetiously ask him, “Have you ever caught a bass that big Mike?” He replies with, “I’ve caught more….” Mid sentence, he catches wind of my sarcastic humor and then just answers my question by calling me a naughty expletive. Laughter once again ensues. Jack pulls the trolling motor, and were off to the West End .

11:00: On our way to the West End , I spot Larry San Gil of “Team Islanda” as he heads east. We both give the standard SWBA (What up?) hand jesters and continue on our paths. Shortly after, Jack cuts the motor and slides the Rockhopper in tight to Johnson’s Rocks, located near the West End of the island, only now, tight means tight. The wind is blowing toward the east, and Jack sets the boat up using the trolling motor more as a rudder than a means to move the boat.

The water surrounding the shallow-water reef is a nice “Coastal Green” and for the next hour or so, we all pick away at cookie-cutter sized Calico Bass. For every fish that Mike and I get, Jack lands two.

12:45pm: After drifting the area for almost two hours, I pitch in a ¾ oz. lead head tied to a 5” Green Sardine, and a better grade fish darts out from behind one of the many boilers in the area, inhales the bait, turns, and breaks me off on 65lb. I never even got to really feel the weight of the fish. I looked at Mike and asked him if he had seen that? He confirmed that it looked like a better fish. But still, it didn’t matter, as the view and the company…

I had to tell myself that, as I now had lost two potentially good fish, the door was wide open for any constructive criticism that Jack or Mike may have. Once again, if you know either one of them, it doesn’t take much to start the S-talking’. After the laughter fades, Jack tells Mike, “We’ll give this drift one more try so we can watch James break another good one off.”

1:00:Jack dials the Rockhopper back into the pattern, and we continue to catch fish.

swba-jack-sowell-interview-catalina-map1:10: I make a long over head cast to the shore and work a 5” “Hurley hand pour” in what Chris likes to call “Fishchick” quickly back to the boat. Just as the bait approaches the boat, a nice fish comes up from the shallows and almost-mimics what had happened just a few minutes before. Only this one came to the boat. Jack nets her and congratulates me on a nice fish. I respond with “thanks for giving me the second chance!”



James Shamblin holds a nice 5lb. Calico Bass caught at Catalina Island.

while fishing aboard Jack Sowell’s

20′ Hydra-sport Ocean skiff.

Jack broke out his Boga Grip, and she pulled 5 ¼ lbs. I remember thinking to myself, although this is a nice fish, I would have been just as pleased had I not caught a single fish all day. Jack snaps a couple of photos of my fish, and then I ask him to hold my fish so that I can have a picture of him with a big fish for this article. He replies with “F-off!” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to poke some of that good ol’ fashioned, cynical humor back at him.

And as Jack pulls the trolling motor for the last time, the day ends in laughter.

1:20: Jack turns the bow of the Rockhopper for Alamitos, and we’re soon headed for home.

In anticipation of piecing together some of the enigmatic puzzle of Catching Big Calico Bass, I was humbled by Jack’s basic “You just gotta’ put in your time” philosophy. And that reminded me once again, you can’t catch big fish if you don’t go fishing.

Jack, at 70 years of age, probably logs more time on the water than most fishermen, and I believe his philosophy holds true when targeting any species, and it’s especially true when targeting Calicos at the islands! So many times we make the trip to the islands only to catch a ton of small fish, however, the Big fish are there, and like Jack says, “You just gotta’ put in your time!”

I want to thank Jack for his hospitality and for just being Jack. And although he said that the day was slow, in terms of fishing. I feel that it would take more than just catching a fish of a lifetime to equal a “Day on the Water” like the one I experienced fishing with these two guys.

By James Shamblin



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