2013 Year In Review

It’s been an amazing year for fishing in Southern California.   After several seasons of bust conditions, sportboats going back to the bank, tackle manufacturers fading away, and endless wind, this one seemed to make up for it in spades.   Some added boats to their fleet and Captains rose out of retirement to fill in and join the bounty.   Fundamentally things had changed and those who took full advantage expanded on new ideas.  Lobster charters and all night seabass trips kept boats busy and helped revive a seemingly dead industry.  Visiting the San Diego Landings it was a relief to see the crowded bustle and excitement that reminded me of years gone by.

January 4th Yellowtail Surprise.

January 4th Yellowtail Surprise.

 

It all started with the yellowtail, and I was pleasantly surprised to hook and land one at Catalina on January 4th on my first trip of this year.  Little did I know this was just the beginning, and in a few short months the forks would transform the Coronado’s into something out of a storybook chapter titled “The Good Old Days”.  San Clemente Island went off to epic proportions, but was inconsistent enough to keep things interesting.   In fact, all the local islands had their share of good yellowtail fishing, and it continues now in October with a powerful cutoff low spinning off the coast.

 

Typically smaller island seabass were not small this year.

Typically smaller island seabass were not small this year.

Of course you know I am going to mention the seabass, and what an incredible show they put on all up and down the bight in 2013.  Epic bites at Tijuana Flats, Huntington Beach, Oxnard and Ventura, Catalina, the Channel Islands and San Nicolas Island.  For me and my Captain On Board clients it was one for the history books.  In the last 6 years I have been able to string together limit style seabass trips and help scores of anglers catch their 1st (and 2nd AND 3rd) seabass ever, but this year it was all about the tankers.  The sheer size of the seabass this year boggled the mind.  There is nothing more satisfying for me than gaffing that first seabass for someone that has been trying for years to check seabass off their wish list, but to have it be a 50-60lb slob is just amazing.   Even my wife got into the action, hooking and landing a coastal tanker on the Huntington Beach bite on light tackle.  She is still smiling over that one.

Even my wife got into the action.

Even my wife got into the action.

In the midst of all this action the bluefin slid up the coast and even I had no idea they would stay and put on such a show.  While some did (and still are) complain about the lack of albacore the bft’s more than made up for it in my opinion.  For a non El Nino year we had an amazing amount of dorado show up locally, and absolute tonnage of yellowtail on the kelps.  Late in the season the yellowfin showed and are still biting today, but is was the shot at a bluefin over 100lbs that kept San Diego landing parking lots full.  I expected the axe to fall at anytime, thinking things were too good to be true, but it never really did.  It would be really good for a while then shut down, only to get good again unexpectedly.   While all of this fantastic offshore fishing was happening, something nobody predicted slid in and took us all by surprise.

Fat bluefin were eager to bite almost this entire summer.

Fat bluefin were eager to bite almost this entire summer.

“Boys, we have a normal billfish season upon us!”  Even as guys were pulling into the harbor with their 2nd and 3rd marlin flags flying most were skeptical, but it kept on going.   Swordfish never really bit but there were plenty around and several hooked.  “Good Karma” got one, and a couple stick boats put up scores.  Certainly not the best marlin season in history but way better than recent years.  Mike “Beak” Hurt released 7 striped marlin on one trip, and Andy on the “Mirage” topped that with 8 releases not long after.  For those still doubting this was a “real” marlin season, I disagree.  As an interesting side note we had short billed spearfish in the mix.  One was caught and I was intrigued, then 5, then 10 and it started to get interesting.  No way to know for sure how many were caught total, as small center consoles and private skiffs were getting them as well as the prominent marlin guys.  No doubt some spearfish were caught that were never reported.

GoodKarmaSwordfish

Good Karma Swordfish

This season saw its share of oddities to go along with the spearfish.  Early in the season an abnormal amount of opah were hooked and landed.  The albacore did show and a couple handfulls were caught.  A giant (and controversial) mako was taken that made headlines, followed by others (over 1,000lbs) that smartly got less publicity.  The big threshers never showed in volume but pups were being caught on piers up and down the coast.  Giant oarfish are washing up on beaches as I write this, more than enough to get the attention of scientists and biologists.  Possibly the most amazing thing has been the abundance of squid almost everywhere, all year long.  This is a trend than has repeated itself for the last several years but I am still in awe.  Launch ramps were full on weekend with private boaters eager to get out and sample the possibilities, and afternoons saw guys telling stories of strange sighting and stellar catches.  A great year indeed.

All the squid you want, all year long.

All the squid you want, all year long.

 

 

 

September Seabass

Amazing how a good group of guys can change my old habits and feelings about how I do things professionally.  I got an e-mail from a very nice girl that wanted me to take her boyfriend to Catalina and teach him what I could in a day.  With the clients I already have I never thought I would be able to make the time for a new one, and frankly I just don’t have the desire to jump on a boat full of strangers anymore.  Its hard to explain why, I just struggle with it.  Maybe I am just getting old and cranky.  Often there are high expectations I just can’t meet, or my expectations are too high and the clients are not willing to make the effort.  Well this last trip showed me that there are still guys out there that are capable of being nice, having a great time and fishing hard all at once.  It was a very tough trip as far as the fishing goes, but one I will not soon forget.

First guy on the dock at 5:15am turned out to be a guy I went to high school with.  We knew the same people and shared some history in the dark while waiting for the rest of the group.  When the deck lights finally came on, we both realized we knew each other and it was the perfect ice breaker.  Whew!  One by one I met all 6 guys and there was not a bad attitude amongst them, but that did not change the pressure I feel to find fish every trip.  Even my wife does not see the stress I hold inside until that first fish hits the deck.  I take what I do very seriously, but try not to show it because I know when it rears its ugly head   its not pretty.

We loaded up on bait and headed across in nice seas, discussing our game plan.  Being a Saturday I wanted to go around back and get away from the weekend crowds, hoping to find something that had others had missed.  We found perfect conditions at the East End of Salta Verde Kelp, a strong uphill current that held the kelp down so far that we could not see it at all and clean green water.  We had to reset to get on it right, and started picking away at the bigger bass.  While I expected to hook a yellow at any time, it never happened.  Soon we were surrounded by a couple other boats and had to move, looking up the back before heading back down East for the current change.

We then set up at Orange Rocks on the inside.  If it had been June or July we would have caught a seabass, but on this day it was just a batray bite.  Nice conditions and a current switch, with no bites from the right kind.  Then to the East End for more mackerel than we could afford to lose bait on, then to K20 only to get run over by Joe’s Rental Boat tourists.  Frustrating.  A drive by at Hen Rock showed me what weekend fishing in the summer at Catalina is really like, with no less than 12 boats all fishing a 2 boat spot.  So up the front we went in windy slop to get up to the squid grounds.

Once in the Isthmus we anchored on Eagle Reef three times only to drag anchor each time.  Let me say here that I made the mistake of not bringing frozen squid for chum, so we had none.  Armed with some frozen to chop, I would have made more of an effort to fish the reef, it looked good.  Now getting late and the bottom of bait tank very visible I decided to swing for the fence and set up just inside the squid nest at Lions head.  I metered around patiently until I found a spot of seabass in 11 fathoms.  I spun around and they were gone.  Spun again and there they were again.  Dropped the pick and started catching mackerel, too many mackerel.  We were running out of bait and time now, and I was sick to my stomach with pressure.

We hooked a mystery fish that I still think was a yellow, lost it,  then caught a batray hooked mid water column.  Expectations were falling when we hooked another fish that looked like the right kind but the angler was convinced it was another ray.  He joked and played until it came to color, then he was all business.  First seabass of the day on the deck with the sun now behind the island.  Finally!  Then we hooked one and lost it, then got another.  The bait tank was looking empty.  The meter was lit up with worms and if I had some chum to throw I would have thrown it all.  We had a triple next of all bigger models, and got one out of it, a gaffer on the bow that wanted to wrap the anchor line.  All bites from bigger fish from then til the bait was all gone, which did not take long.

They started small and got bigger...

They started small and got bigger…

Finally!

Finally!

Smiles all around as we left the island, mission accomplished.  I gladly filleted the catch for this group that fished so hard all day, and never gave up hope.  Bryan Wheeler, the boat owner and birthday boy drove the boat home, exhausted.  It was darker than the inside of a cow, and he impressed me with the way he ran the boat.  Smart guy.   I plan to soon visit Bryan’s business, “Wheeler Speed Shop” in Huntington Beach, as I hear its worth the tour and he is very good at what he does (the boat shows it).

We all learned a lot from each other and new friendships forged.  New fishing spots, how to hook a bait and cast a mile, and how to stick with the game plan into the late innings.  As always I learned the most, and on this trip I learned that there are still nice guys out there that want to fish hard while not taking it so seriously as to make it not fun.  Thanks guys and I appreciate you all dealing with me and my stress until that first seabass was in the box.  Long ass day, but I am sure glad it ended with a huge bang.

Great group of guys.

Great group of guys. Home late but well worth it. If we’d only had a little more bait………..

Sickening Wide Open Seabass

Me and Scott hooked up!

Me and Scott hooked up!

While making the move from the middle of the back last weekend with our one fish to weigh for the Western Outdoor News Catalina Seabass Tourney, I noticed something interesting.  Very good conditions along a stretch of the island, and solid seabass marks for almost a mile.  We did not have the time to stop and fish it properly, but did make a few halibut drifts while I took some mental notes.  I knew I had to get back and on this stuff before the world found out, and I did.

Ryan Slob!

Ryan Slob!

Monday morning I called Mike Mundy with the 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” to see if he could go.  He is a member of the Avalon Tuna Club and the Southern California Tuna Club, and I knew both had the coveted 1st White Seabass flags available.  Mike could not go, so I called Bob Elliott, owner of the “Fresh One.”  Bob knew I would not call if I didn’t think it was good, so he made it happen.  We could not go that day, “can we go tomorrow?” he asked.  It was the best we could do, and I had to accept that.  Turned out to be a good move.

"Fresh One" owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

“Fresh One” owner Bob Elliott, happy he took the day off I think.

I got down to the “Fresh One” about 8am with an ice chest filled with frozen squid for chum.  Bob rounded up his fishing buddies that could take off work and they were due to arrive at 10am.  I checked the engine fluid levels and the generator.  I prepped the boat and was ready and waiting when the group started to arrive.  Everyone was excited, and I don’t think there was a doubt in anyones mind it was going to be good.  We just didn’t know HOW GOOD it was going to be.

Walt getting it started.

Walt getting it started.

We topped off the fuel tanks and headed over.  I ran the boat a little harder that I usually do, but was afraid the Darryl on the “Marie Claire” might sell the bait he was holding for us.  I was in no hurry to fish, as I felt it was a late afternoon/evening bite.  I was mentally prepared for a sundowner, but we did not have to wait that long.  When we came into the area, the “Mardiosa” was hooked up and picking away at the fish.  We looked around for not much, watching Tony closely to see when he would finish up (with limits).  It took a while and Tony called in the “Options” for a clean handoff.  As Wes slid back I saw he already had one hanging.  NICE!  These guys had paying customers on board and for sure had priority to get it done.  We waited patiently.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Walt Ryan and Scott proudly posing with our score.

Even if Wes had not called us in, I still would have moved and set up on that spot.  While Wes was on it we could all see the bite building.  It was getting closer to bite time and the fish really waned to chew.  Wes had to deal with a seal so it took him about 45 minutes to an hour to finish up and start heading for home.  When they hooked their last fish, Wes signaled us to head over, and we did.

Scott and Ryan.  I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Scott and Ryan. I love this photo and how it shows the true size of Ryans SLOB!

Our transfer was not as smooth as the one between the “Mardiosa” and the “Options”.  I did not mark a single fish for a long while after Wes left.  Anxiety began to set in, as we chummed hard for about an hour before getting our first bite.  Walt was on the bow and hooked the first fish, but before he had his fish to color we were all pulling on fish.  He called for the gaff and I yelled “you will have to gaff your own buddy, we are all a little busy.”  A couple fish fell off and I grabbed my camera.  When we finally got the last fish for limits, only about 20 minutes had passed.  Ryan got the big fish so a couple of us released the 30# models that were lip hooked and very releasable having been caught quickly on heavy tackle.  We were in skinny water so releasing these fish was a snap.  We could have caught and release for ever, but called it quits when the 5th fish (last for limits) hit the deck.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

You know its good if I can get a bite.

I have seen it that good 3 times in my whole life.  Anything you dropped down was bit instantly.  You hear of guys getting bit on 80#?  These would have bit 100#, easy.  In the Video you see Bob getting his fish, then Ryan hooking one right under the boat.  It gives you an idea of just how good it really was.  Enjoy.

Click this link to watch the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk3YQ2Fx6iY

FreshOne

 

Gettin’ Hard in the Surf

 

Some fisherman adapt really well.  With high fuel costs and the MLPA closures, a few have changed their tactics with huge success.  Others (like myself) have continued to try to make chicken soup out of chicken poop (wintertime seabass fishing) and run our wallets dry only to have empty freezers.  FaceBook was plastered with huge coastal seabass from late spring through this summer, and photos of dorado and bluefin tuna were posted almost every few minutes until things started to wind down.

Now the FB reports are surprisingly interesting, with guys like lokey Kingfisher and his float tube “Jungle Fishing” photos of spotted bay bass, sculpin and rockfish.  “Econo-Fishing” is now all the rage, and last weeks FISH TALK RADIO show  (Thursdays @10pm Am830)  was an hour of float tube and kayak fishing and a total hit with listeners.  Even the ridiculous cost to park along the coast seems reasonable with fishing as good as Lokey and his buddies get it.

Last night I saw on FaceBook that my friend Captain Larry Moore decided to go surf fishing very near my house in Huntington Beach.  I figured I would grab my camera and head down to snap a few photos for an article.  Sounded great, especially since the last time I wrote anything was when the tuna were still biting in one day range.  Little did I know that I would witness something truly different, and my author juices would be flowing on the short drive home.

Captain Ed Leland had invited Larry this morning and Ed is quite the accomplished surf angler.  Dorie, Larry’s girlfriend was there too, and all three were busy catching barred surf perch when I arrived about an hour after they did.  “It was wide open a while ago, during the slack high tide,” Larry said to me.  It was still good and they were taking turns catching perch from small to keeper size on Berkley “GULP” Camo Sand Worms.  Larry grabbed my camera and handed me his rod and said “here, catch one.”  I did and he snapped a photo for good measure.  Then things started to get interesting.

Ed tied on a hard “Jerk bait” and began casting.  Third cast he was bit and after a short but tough battle, landed a fat surf perch.  “WOW!”  Not long after that Ed hooked another big boy and Larry was off to tie on a hard bait of his own.  Dorie and Larry fished side by side and both caught perch, only the ones Larry caught on the hard bait were easily twice the size, and “hit like a ton of bricks” larry said.  I couldn’t help but wonder what I had been missing all these years by fishing small grubs for surf perch and not hard baits.

 

I snapped photos of Larry catching 4 more nice big perch, and Ed a couple.  Even when I got cold and decided to head for the car, Larry hooked another and I wondered what I would miss by leaving.  The saltwater tournament bass guys have revealed the benefits of fishing hard baits and the crossover from freshwater to salt.  New baits are available today that are made to endure the saltwater environment, and the one Larry was fishing was around 2-3 ounces and casted into the morning southeast breeze easily.

I have no doubt that most local anglers have no idea the bounty that awaits them in the surf.  The tackle is inexpensive, and your existing trout gear works perfect.  Parking is likely to be the most expensive part of the surf fishing adventure, but doesn’t even compare to the cost of any So. Cal. boat launch facility.  Perch are plentiful year round, but more so some times than others.  They are very good eating and there is a very real possibility of catching a halibut, corbina or spotfin croaker.

While I’d love to go into the specifics about what hard baits to use in the surf, I actually have no idea what works best.  Today was the first I’d even HEARD of this, and am still blown away that these perch were trying to eat such a large artificial.  Ed and I discussed how these baits may mimic smelt or grunion, so blues and greens would be a good choice.  I imagine that after a full moon lunar period when the grunion are running, this would be deadly on halibut.  I really expected to see fouled hooks on the line from casting into the breeze, but I never saw it once.  Both Larry and Ed were lightly touching the line as it came off the reel during each cast, and that looked to be enough to hold the lure straight and keep it’s three sets of treble hooks from snagging the line.  

So if you are anything like me and sometimes just get the itch to pull on a fish without the hassles associated with fishing, consider the surf.  If you want to pull hard on something a little more substantial, grab a hard bait and wing it out there on light tackle.  Adapting to the conditions and making the most of what is available is the core of every good angler.

Crew Trip! Catalina Island

Every once in a while I get a call from someone that has put together a trip sounding so fun, I just can’t pass it up.  A lot of it has to do with who will be on the trip, and this trip included a cast of Captains, watermen and really fun guys.  Taylor is an old friend and his boat partner Richard used to be a Captain for Bongos back when I ran the RailTime.  Richard’s guest Bryan turned out to be one hell of a hot stick on this trip, and Taylor’s guest Tommy did a tour in the Coast Guard.  Finally we had Ryan Simmons, another old friend from Seal Beach that has this super high energy for fishing that is truly contagious.  All six of us “good on a boat”, you just can’t beat that.

Making a decision proved difficult, and comical.  We were all so willing to concede any responsibility that no one would actually take command of the trip.  “You want to stop and get some fin bait?”  “Whatever you guys want to do.”  It went like that the whole trip.  We actually woke up Nacho and then decided not to even buy bait.  I had brought along one of my COB underwater lights and there is squid right out from of the harbor, so we opted to catch a quick tank of squish.  As always, catching squid is a real crowd pleaser, and everyone on the boat got involved.  With tanks full of squid and buckets of fresh dead we headed for Catalina, still not able to come up with a game plan.  With everyone on board still so excited after making bait, we were going fishing, not sleeping.

First stop was the middle of the front.  The wind was blowing and it wasn’t until we were tight to the island did we feel a little of the effects of the lee.  I metered along the rocks to find a spot of bass, and be close enough so the guys could get in the water for a lobster dive.  Finally the anchor went over the side, and Tommy, Richard and Taylor suited up while Ryan and I got to work trying to get the bass to bite.  The bass did not bite wide open,  but we did pick away at straight legals.   For the boys diving lobsters they had the opposite luck, lots of shorts and just a handfull of legals.

From there we headed up to Eagle Reef to get some sleep.  There were 5 squid lights boats there and one of them was sitting right where I was thinking we would anchor for the morning bite.  I picked a second choice spot and we all got a little sleep.  By now it was after 3am, and sunrise was coming fast.

Middle of the back, as calm as you will ever see.

     In the morning we headed west for something big to pull on.  What we found were some promising conditions, with not a single exotic hooked.  Around the West End we went and headed down the back.  It wasn’t until we reached Pedestal Rock that we found some really fantastic calico bass action.  The bass quickly responded to our chum and stacked up behind the boat, every bait was a bite but still no exotics.  Taylor suited up and jumped in with a spear gun to confirm my suspicions, the exotics just weren’t there.  So we pulled the hook and continued east.

Catalina bison on a ridge line, middle of the back.

    It was a long move down to Freddy’s Kelp, and the conditions were ideal.  Ripping uphill current and the kelp was laid down completely.  The 10kts of wind out of the west could not overpower the current, and we sat perfectly in position.  Again, the bass responded but the exotics just were not there.  This time both Richard and Taylor jumped in, but saw nothing but a large school of barracuda in the kelp.  The bass fishing was off the hook, and nobody complained.

Super clear day. This was our view towards LB from the East End. Smooth seas ahead.

     Still wanting a shot at a yellow or seabass we continued east, looking hard the whole way.  A quick stop at Orange Rocks produced nothing in good conditions.  We poured the chum here and caught nothing.  The last stop was the East Quarry where the guys got the bass biting, Taylor jumped in and finally saw a single yellowtail and I took a short nap.  When I woke up Richard was almost done filleting calicos and sheepshead, and the boys were cleaning the boat like a well trained crew.  I felt bad that I had slept through the cleanup process and offered to relieve someone, anyone.  “We got it” was the response I got so I took the helm for the ride home.  Everyone caught up on a little sleep, then came up to the bridge for more great conversation and laughs.

Ride home sunset.

“Remember that time……..?”

     We’d found some perfect conditions but never hooked an exotic all day.  What we did catch was a lot of fun and it seemed everyone on board was looking for just that.  Back at the dock Taylor commented to me how great it was to have so many guys that know what they are doing on a boat, and I agreed wholeheartedly.   Six guys all together for a good time and not once did I hear a single complaint or disagreement.  Next time I get the call to go with Taylor and Richard on their 37′ sportfisher “Four Day” (they are firemen, and “Four Day” is a reference to a fireman’s days off) I will not hesitate to grab my gear and go.

 

2012 Southern Cal Tuna Club “Stag” Tourney

Mike called me months ago and told me to block out some dates so I could run his 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” in the fall “Stag” tournament this year.  Its an annual tourney in the Southern California Tuna Club (SCTC) and we have fished it together for the last 4 or 5 years.  Mike is the perfect guy to run a boat for.  He is fun and easy going, yet likes to catch fish and is will to go the extra mile.  For the week leading up to the trip I worked on the boat, doing routine engine and generator service, and getting the tackle and gear ready.  At the same time I was watching the tuna deal very closely, and the weather.  Last minute the weather forecast turned for the worse, but Mike said “go for it” anyways, and boy am I glad we did.

An old friend of Mikes passed away very recently, Gordy Bateman.  Gordy was (I think) 99 years old, and one of the saltiest guys ever the walk the earth.  A member of SCTC, Gordy had a reputation for taking his boat, the “Fighting Lady” to the ends of the earth in these tournaments.  He’d show up for the weigh-ins at the last possible minute, and pull some big, tournament winning tuna out of the hold.  I mentioned to Mike that the tuna were on the edge of our range for the time alloted, he was hesitant.  Then I said we could do it in memory of Gordy, and the idea became set in stone.

Rigged and ready to go.

On thursday, October 4th I loaded up my gear and got things ready.  Mike came down along with his guest Ron and we went to the fuel dock to top off the tanks, then out to see Nacho at the bait barge for our ammo.  Nacho asked me “whacha want?”  I said “Some live squid would be great about now buddy.”  (Not knowing he HAD live squid).  “Okay, its in that well on the other end.”  I was stoked beyond words.  The sardines have been hard to keep alive on long trips this whole year, but I knew the squid would make the trip no problem.  There is a lot of squid offshore right now, and I knew the tunas were keyed in on the squirts anyways.  The tanks full of live squid lifted my spirits, considering the deteriorating weather reports on the outside.

We ran back in to the slip to pick up Tom, Mikes son and one of my good friends from all the way back to grade school.  Tommy jumped on with his gear and we were off in minutes flat.  I checked my voicemail and e-mail for last minute intel, and even got an on the water call from Josh who was just in from the tuna grounds.  With that intel I plugged in the #’s and set our course, only 117 miles to go.  “Its gonna be a LONG night boys”, I said as we rolled our guts out going across the flats in a beam sea.

I took my turn at the wheel, but refrained from overdoing my time like I typically do.  I knew I had to have my game face on when we reached the grounds, so I took my place on one of the bridge bunks and rested as hard as I could.  No way to sleep when you can hardly keep from falling out of your bunk.  It wasn’t rough, but the angle could not have been worse.  I was actually waiting for the axe to fall, but it never did.  Sometimes the weather forecast is wrong, but instead of being worse than they said, it was better.  At 4am I took the helm and looked at the plotter.  We were outside the 1010 Trench, just 5 miles from a 213 spot.  The water was 69.8, and had been for the last 30 miles.  I knew we needed to find the break before we would be in the tuna.  I turned up the gain on the machine and set the depth to 10 fathoms, then set the fish alarm so the first meter marks could be heard as well as seen.

At grey light we were almost right on top of the high spot, and the jigs were out.  From the 213 to the 1010 Trench would be straight downhill, just like I had planned.  Mikes guest Ron is 80 years young, and I wanted him be be safe and comfortable.  I heard the Furuno fish finder alarm go off and looked down to see a nice jag of tuna, then looked over at the Furuno RD30 Sea Temp meter and it read 70.5.  The next thing I heard was the sound of reels screaming.  “Perfect!  I love it when a plan comes together.”  I ran down the ladder and helped clear the jig rods, and at the same time brailed a 1/2 scoop of live squid into our wake as the boat slid to a stop.  Tommy was winding in a hoochie daisey chain right through the chum and got bit on the grind.  The tuna ate the thing not 15′ off the transom, and he came tight on a nicer grade fish.

At deep color I called it out “big albacore guys!”  Mike was stoked.  I gaffed Tommy’s fish and placed it in the kill bag, then went to work on Mikes fish, which was a little bigger model.  The head gaff ended up in the mouth, and the lift into the boat was a little sketchy.   Glad the fish made it in the bag, because it ended up being the tournament winning fish.  As is typical with early morning first bites, we were slow getting baits in the water, and never did get a bait bite on that stop.  No doubt we would have if we had been better prepared.  We transferred the ice from the freezer on the bridge and put in on the fish, then set the jigs and I went back to work.

The jig stops were steady and we began to pick off bait fish here and there.  The albacore turned into yellowfin, and our numbers were getting up there.  The kill bag was getting hard to close.  We found a kelp on the 1010 proper and hooked a dorado, then another.  It sure is fun when the kill bag has several different species in it, especially in a tournament that has different categories for different fish.  With the job basically done and now being 130 miles from Catalina, I made the turn to start heading uphill.  It was still early, and we were still in the fish.  I set a course for the Hidden Bank and expected a break in the jig stops, but it never materialized.  No late morning lull or crew falling asleep.  You gotta love fall fishing.

Ron on a tuna with Tommy handling the deckhand duties.

We came up on another kelp and I got out the first bait.  A very slight backlash when I cast a flylined live squid up wind turned into an instant tuna bite.  The result was a knot on my spool and the tuna getting the best of me with a loud “SNAP!”  The whole thing took all of 3 seconds.  Thats how good it was.  We added some yellowtail to our score on the way up the line, then crossed the break and back into dead waters we went.  It was time to head for the barn.

We ran through the night at 8.5 kts, straight uphill.  Not one drop of water came over the gunnels the whole trip, but it was still bumpy.  You could tell it was blowing hard on the outside, and the weather updates on the VHF spoke of 40kts of wind at San Nicolas Island.  At midnight the weather really laid down, and we bumped it up to 10kts.  After more than 30 hours at 8kts, 10 felt like we were hauling ass.  At 4am I pulled back the throttles as we came up under the East End light at Catalina.  I metered around for some conditions and marks, but found nothing I liked.  So I continued up the front, looking for signs of life.  By now my legs were weak with exhaustion, and I could feel my eyes burning.

Mike with his tournament winning 29lb albacore.

I set us up at Yellowtail Point, and we cast out a few baits.  Then we weighed our catch and began the process of filleting and packaging our beautiful fish.  It was flat grease, and in this club you can weigh your fish at anchor with a certified scale if the seas are calm.   We fished through half the day, knowing it was not going to be anywhere as good as the day before.  I did catch a big calico that I thought might win that division.  It was bested by just ounces, but didn’t take away from our tournament victory in any way.  In every other tournament that Mike and I have ever fished, we stayed out and fished hard til the very last possible second.  Not this trip, we were in 4th Of July Cove and on the mooring at 3pm, with the dinghy in the water and ready to go.  Lines out was scheduled for 4pm, but we wanted to head into the Isthmus for Buccaneer Days, and witness the mayhem first hand.  We ate ice cream and tried hard not to fall asleep standing, then headed for the awards banquet.

At the clubhouse in 4th of July Cove we met up with all 60+ of the other tournament participants.  We all shared stories of our travels, and nobody could believe we had done what we did.  Basically was stayed up for 3 straight days to get down to the tuna grounds and back, but it was worth it.  The traditional swordfish and steak dinner only made me more tired, and as they announce that Mike and I had each won a category (tuna for Mike, and yellowtail for me) we felt the real pay off of doing the trip in memory of Gordy Bateman and the “Fighting Lady”.  I was now so tired I could hardly put together a sentence.  Tommy headed back into the Isthmus for more of Buccaneer Days, and Mike, Ron and I sat in the cockpit of the “Mundy Mooring” sharing some fish stories.

I called my wife and my son Scott to tell them I was safe and missed them tremendously, then laid down.  I fell asleep faster than I could ever remember, and woke up with both a victory and the memory of Gordy fresh in my mind.

Marlin fishing on the way home from Catalina.

 

 

 

CIYC Billfish Invitational Marlin Tournament, 2012

The name “Sassy Cissy” goes on the perpetual trophy yet again. Jerry Lewis would be so proud.

I never knew Jerry Lewis very well, and only met him a few times over the years.  I certainly knew his boat, the 50′ Hatteras “Sassy Cissy.”  Many years back I installed a 90 gallon bait tank in her cockpit, and was impressed with both the boat, and its owner.  The boat had a reputation in my eyes as always being on the marlin, and having a bunch of smiling, laughing guys on board wherever she went.  I never dreamt I’d one day have the honor of leading the “Sassy Cissy’ to a tournament victory.  Turns out, the tournament was originally started started by Jerry Lewis, who passed away just this last February.

It seems there was always the same group on the “Sassy Cissy”, and when Jerry passed and the boat went up for sale, two of that group joined in a partnership to buy the boat.  Spike has years of experience owning several boats, and had traveled the West Coast with Jerry on the ‘Sassy Cissy”.   Denny was the unofficial engineer on the boat over the years, and knew every system on her intimately.  Together they formed a good team, with Denny keeping a close eye on the systems and Spike more comfortable running the boat.  The third member of our team Dennis, fished the “Sassy Cissy” many times over the years, and has his own boat in Hawaii.  Dennis is a marlin aficionado and marlin jigs are the name of the game for him.  Almost as OCD as I am about leaders, hook sharpness and jig effectiveness, he took over the duties in “the pit” to the point where I had no say whatsoever.  I was not even allowed to wind his leaders at the end of the day, because he winds them a certain way and I was doing it wrong.

So you ask “why the hell were you even there at all Captain Jeff?”  Well, I began to wonder the same thing myself before the tournament even started.  I had no business setting the jigs, or even in the engine room.  When it was time to get on the mooring, I was the guy pulling the dirty, mussel covered rope down the rail, not running the boat.  I was truly out of my element.  I tied the leaders and bimini twists on the bait rods, and even that led to a bout with frustration as I was told what swivels to use, and not to use.  Honestly, I considered jumping ship.  Some of the best marlin fishermen in the whole world have been humbled in So. Cal waters, where I have scores of marlin under my belt as a Captain, crew member, and angler.  I figured I’d either have to concede to be the “boat ho”, or earn the respect I felt I deserved.  I’m glad I chose the latter, and we came away with a victory in the end.

I got up at dawn on day one and cleaned up my sleeping area on the bridge.  (I always sleep on the bridge)  I went down to use the head and found the entire crew asleep, still.  Not good.  I watched as every boat in our tournament left long before we were even close to ready.  Even the harbor master came by in the red harbor patrol boat, tapping his watch as if to say “c’mon guys, you’re late.”

Empty moorings from where our competition had been moored. I never was good at being late to anything.

I was dying inside, but had to keep my mouth shut.  Hair was brushed, and faces shaved, all long before we started the engines and dropped the mooring lines.  I cannot express the doom I felt at this point.  Once out of the harbor, Spike presented me with a schedule where we would rotate position every 30 minutes.  I was flabbergasted, but agreed because “that’s how we’ve always done it when Jerry was alive.”

We ran down the ridge and right into the rising sun.  Not exactly the best way to spot a sleeper.  Everytime I got the wheel in the rotation I would point the bow away from any other boats and away from the sunlit waters that were so blinding, and every time I rotated off the wheel the bow went right back at the sun and other boats.  While at the wheel I would think out loud.  “We gotta get the sun at our back so we can see the marlin, and keep an eye on the temp gauge so I can save the breaks on the GPS.”  Well, at some point the rotation dissolved and we took the positions we were all comfortable with.  Dennis was running the jigs like a madman, checking them for kelp and eel grass every 5 minutes or so, with Spike helping him and watching the jigs for signs of a marlin.  Denny sat by the bait rod, ready for a dropback if any rod got even a tap.  I was at the helm, glassing and watching the meter for signs of life.

At one point Spike came up and helped me look for birds and life, and I spotted a batch of feeders, not far from the East End of Catalina.  A smaller, faster boat was closer to the fish, and saw the same thing.  We had no chance on getting on the feeders before it was too late, but it was a sign that we were in the right area.  Not long after that we came upon a sharp edge that showed like a glassy highway running through the sea.  I pointed it out to Spike, and watched to see if the temp changed.  It did not.  We had come into cooler, more offcolor water that was full of bait and had birds flying in every direction.  As soon as we crossed the break, we got bit on the port corner short on an old 7 Strand Petrolero.  Dennis was swimming the jig on the front of the first wave, closer to the boat than I have ever run a marlin jig.  Denny looked at the bent rod, stunned.  Dennis reminded him to drop back the bait, and when he did it was an instant bite.

Denny hooked up as I backed down.

I watched in horror as Denny set the hook like something out of an old marlin video from the 70’s.  Four hard pumps with the rod, I cringed.  We were informed just the night before, at the captains meeting, that we had to fish with circle hooks.  I had retied all our marlin bait casters with circle hooks the club provided in our “team bag”.  That is not exactly how to set the hook with a circle hook, but the marlin took off and jumped several times, obviously not getting off any time soon.

I had left the boat in gear the entire time to keep the jig lines straight, and make sure that whatever marlin we had looking at our spread did not lose interest.  As soon as the fish started jumping up the starboard side, Denny yelled “chase this damn fish Jeff!”  So I spun the boat and began to get on it with the bow pointed straight at the fish.  Dennis and Spike cleared the rest of the jig lines, then Dennis came up to give me a “pep talk”.  He said “why aren’t you backing down?  Chase the line, not the fish man.”  I replied simply “I got this.”  If I had backed down on the fish, I would have wrapped the jig lines in the props, and boats are meant to go pointy end first.  Denny stood at the starboard side gunnel and I stared at his rod tip to see where exactly I needed to be.  3 minutes into the fight, the fish settled down and started to tack up what little swell there was.  I spun the boat and kept Denny on the starboard corner where I could see him, and the rod.  We backed slowly, gaining line the entire time.  As the fish would rise to jump, I would hit the throttles to compensate for the extra pull on the line, Denny our angler is 82 after all.

The fish began to fight deep, something not typical of a fish hooked in the corner of the mouth with a circle hook.  I expected to have a shot at 5 minutes, but we were now at twenty minutes.  I began to worry about knots and tackle failure, as time is your worst enemy on a marlin with just 90# flourocarbon in its mouth, rubbing on the course bill.  Dennis invited me several times to join him in the cockpit at the lower controls, so I could help him leader the fish.  Thing was, the fish was deep under the swim step, and only I could see the fish from the bridge helm.  As soon as the fish showed signs of tiring and coming up, I made the move to the pit, and put on a pair of gloves.  At the end, the fish just plain gave up and began to get sucked into the props as its tail was on the centerline aft, and I had the engines in gear at idle.  I pulled the boat out of gear, and the fish laid there, exhausted.  I took the leader from Dennis and grabbed the bill of the fish, looking for the circle hook in the corners of its mouth.  Not there?  It was gut hooked, and Dennis gave the leader a light tug and broke the line at the mouth of the marlin.  Close!

Dennis put the starboard engine in gear and I began to try and revive the tired marlin.  Over the port gunnel I could not reach down far enough to get the entire mouth of the fish in the water where it needed to be, so we switch to me laying on the swim step, face to face with a fish that has a spear on its nose.  That was a first for me, but all went well.  After what seemed like an eternity, the color came back to the fish, and so did its kick.  I let go, pushing down so as not to get a face full of marlin bill.  The fish turned and swam down to freedom, and to fight another day.

Clean release.

For the rest of that day, and most of the next, we looked hard to find another marlin.  I listened carefully to the VHF for any other marlin hookups in our tournament, but none ever came.  At 3:30 on Saturday we pulled in our lines, victorious.   I showered and put on some clean clothes, almost as tired as the marlin we’d released the day before.

Me and the boys.

At the Catalina Yacht Club we met the rest of the tournament participants on the porch, and waited eagerly for our traditional swordfish dinner and awards ceremony.

Team ‘Sassy Cissy” on the porch.

I was congratulated by some of the best So Cal marlin fishermen around, and tried my best to be humble and hold back the incredible urge to grin.  My teammates decided to stroll into town and I chose to call it a day, heading back to the “Sassy Cissy”.  I called my wife Shari, and I knew I could tell her exactly how excited I really was without her thinking I was being pompus.

The next morning I went into the salon and I was told that the team had made a decision and I had no choice but to agree.  They want me back to run the boat again next year.  Had they asked me before we caught the marlin, I would have declined.  Now it seemed we all knew our place on the team, and at least a little of the respect I feel I deserve had been earned.  “To next year!”  We all shook hands and the deal was made.  I think I might ask for a raise.

Getting Away From The Crowd: Surfing Our Islands

       Just like with fishing, our local hotspots are overcrowded, making time on the water less enjoyable.  Thankfully, not everyone has the capabilities to to go where absolutely no other surfers are, making these long treks offshore worth while.

Risky is putting it mildly, but for those who are sick of crowds, this is paradise.

I have a couple of clients that use my Captain services to run their boats to our outer islands when a large swell is approaching.  Knowing that a 10 hour plus, nighttime run in a big swell is ahead of me can be unnerving, to say the least.  I’m responsible for these guys, and keep close tabs on each and every one of them in the water.  Fearless by nature, they jump off the boat and into dark waters, paddling without a worry in the world for the uncrowded waves ahead.  I try to snap a few photos, and switch back and forth between camera and binos.   Not a single boatload of surfers have ever crossed our path out here.

All alone on a killer wave.

With todays technology, swell forecasting is amazingly accurate.  These kids (they’re kids to me!) call me and let me know when the waves will hit a certain spot, and when the waves will back off.  It still surprises me how spot on these reports are.  It’s almost down to the minute!   WIthout  a second to spare, we load up their gear (sometimes PWC are towed behind the boat) and are on our way within hours of the initial phone call.

I took this photo while driving the boat. Not familiar with this spot (at all) I saw a set coming and had to run to keep from getting creamed.

CLOSE CALL!!! As I crested the wave, the props came out the water and the boats owner was close enough to see I had just barely made it. He later thanked me for being alert.

Experts only.  These guys have surfed their entire lives, and some of their names you would surely recognize even if you didn’t follow professional surfing.  This is not a place for your average weekend surfer to “check out.”  I surfed everyday for nearly 25 years and would not jump off the boat at most of these breaks, even when I was in my prime.  I quit surfing because of the crowds and drama, and admire these guys for what they do to get away from all of that.

“It’s worth it, every time” says this boat owner and avid surfer. “It’s cheaper than a week in Indo, and even less crowded.”

So if you or someone you know is an expert surfer with a boat large enough to venture far offshore in bad weather, give me a call.  I’ll take care of the boat, and keep an eye on you and your guests.  That way, you can focus on the task at hand, having fun in uncrowded, big, perfect waves far from your home port.

 

 

 

 

 

Anglers and Free Divers: Harmony or Conflict?

No fishing rods plus a bait tank full of spear guns means these are divers, and this is close enough.

Two years ago I ran my first trip with a group of free divers, and learned more than you can imagine about some spots I’d fished for years.  The commentary from the divers after they returned from their dive was fascinating, and I listened carefully as they described the dynamic of a spot in a detail I had never even considered.

Today I did another trip with three free divers, and brought along my rods and reels to get in some fishing time while they hunted their target species, white seabass.  We even picked up a scoop of live squid on the way out.  I thought about the writing of this article as the day went on, and came to realize that I had been wrong in the past about how divers effect a bite for rod and reel anglers.  Last year I enjoyed good fishing while the divers were in the water and I was fishing from the very boat they jumped off of.  I even caught seabass last year, and a free diver from the boat I was on was not more than 30 yards from me.  I did not hook a seabass today, but had very good calico bass fishing.

It’s actually a team effort, as after the divers clear the area behind the boat,  I chum a bit with cut squid.  On their way back to the boat I always get wide eyed looks from behind masks regarding how much life there is in my chum line.  Sometimes they are dragging back a huge white seabass or calico, and sometimes not.  One thing remains constant.  Neither me fishing or them diving affects the other.  Even as a diver approaches the boat and hands me his gear, I’m still getting bites the whole time.  Often to the point of being too much to handle both things at once.

Free divers in the water have no affect on how the fish bite for rod and reel anglers. Here’s proof. 3 divers in the water and nearby, the bass bit good anyway.

Free divers are super stealthy by nature.  Not only in the water, but on shore as well.  I will not post any photos of these guys, or give out their names.  They love to hunt, not be famous.  Their preparations for each dive would be too exhausting for me.  They have camouflage wetsuits that match kelp stringers and different spear guns for different types of fish hunted.  Knives, stringers, float lines and gadgets I do not yet understand cover the boat deck between each dive, and their bodies when they enter the water.  These guys have a small fortune invested in their sport, and take it very seriously.

Most impressive is how they operate when hunting.  So quiet and methodical.  Imagine being able to sneak up to a dear in the forest and touch it before It knows you’re even there, that’s how good these guys are.  With no sense of smell (obviously) and limited vision, they often hear some amazing things.  Spawning seabass croak, and that croaking can be followed to a school of seabass in an underwater void in the kelp divers call a “room”.  Often though, it’s too far away and long, sneaky treks through the kelp bring the hunter no closer to his quarry.  Sounds travels very far underwater, deceptively far.

Safety is a free divers primary concern.  They must spend equal time above and below the water to avoid “shallow water blackout”.   Multiple divers plan carefully (sometimes without saying anything) to be apart from each other.  They hunt in poor visibility often, and don’t want to shoot another diver by mistake.  Obviously they fly a diving flag, but also avoid busy areas with too much boat traffic.  When I asked one diver about sharks he replied “if you are afraid of being attacked by a shark, pick a different sport”.  Well, you won’t catch me in a wetsuit.

I thought hard all day about this last paragraph and how exactly to word it.  Basically it comes down to this.  If you are fishing an area or spot and  a boat pulls up, anchors and puts up a dive flag, don’t get all frustrated.  I can speak from personal experience that these talented watermen will have no effect on whether or not you get a bite.  If a free diver gets in the water and your bite shuts off, it was probably going to end anyways.  Conversely, when a boat with a dive flag is anchored on a spot you want to fish, give them a wide berth for safety’s sake.  These guys are good, and if they are getting fish you’ll know because they’ll be done fast.  Either find another spot close by and wait until they are leaving, or anchor far enough away (after you have taken the time to locate each diver in the water) as to not be a danger to the guys in the water.  Live boating near a diver in the water is against the law for good reason.  Free divers and rod-n-reel anglers should exist in harmony, as neither bothers the other.  Take a free diver with you and find out what is REALLY happening under your boat, you’ll be just as blown away as I am, each and every time.

Avalon Tuna Club Trip: Part 1

Had the honor of fishing the annual Avalon Tuna Club White Seabass and yellowtail tournament.  I ran the 38′ Uniflite “Mundy Mooring” with owner Mike Mundy.  Joe Davis and Frank Pratto rounded out our team for this light line tournament and view into a rich fishing history at the worlds oldest and most distinguished fishing club.

I had a game plan that kept us out of the crowd and away from the 20 other boats and over 80 anglers fishing this well organized event.  We left the dock late wednesday night and met the “Marie Claire” to fill the tanks with live squid.  Unfortunately he was done making bait early and I had to detour all the way down to Avalon, after almost making it to our target area up west.  We slept a few hours near Hen Rock, then made the move up to the bait grounds in the Isthmus, where some seabass over 50lbs had been caught just the day before.  There we had some nice calico bass, sheepshead and sugar bass, but no seabass or yellowtail showed.

 

We looked hard and moved around quite a bit, since we were pre-fishing and the actual tournament did not start until 8pm, thursday night.  We looked up the backside, west end and as far as Whale Rock, for nothing.  Even the famed West Cove was void of any life.

Later that day Mike and I spotted a school of “free swimming” seabass inside the kelp and for the rest of that day and the next morning we hammered that kelp hoping they’d bite.  Thursday night we made bait in the Isthmus, just inside Eagle Reef and then made a move to the outside of the reef to fish seabass all night but never got a bite from the right kind.  The next morning we went back to where we saw the seabass and after working tirelessly (actually we were exhausted) we finally got the current and wind to hold the boat in the perfect position to be able to chum the fish out with cut squid.

Joe got a bite first while I was on the bridge watching the meter and conditions.  Both he and I knew immediately it was a seabass, with the tell tale headshakes.  Joe followed the fish up the starboard side on his way up to the bow and I followed, making sure the fish was not going to get him into the kelp that surrounded the spot.  Under the anchor line and pulpit he went and then back down the port side.  “Bigger model” Joe said and I agreed.  Mike and Frank cleared the rods and Joe settled down to fight the fish from the cockpit.  Tough task in 12′ of water in an area full of kelp stringers and boiler rocks.  The fish earned it’s freedom by wrapping something stronger than the 12# dacron that met the rules of this tourney.  “We expected some of that” I told him.  Joe had done everything perfect, but some just get away.

I pinned on a live squid with my new Phoenix rod and Daiwa SL20 filled with 6 thread linen and cast it as far as possible into the bite zone.  Unfortunately “as far as possible” is about 20 feet with linen line, as it is very hard to cast.  I got a bite and hooked another seabass for the team!  Same tough fight and mine got wrapped in the exact same place as Joe’s fish, with a team effort we managed to get it off the obstruction before the fragile line parted.  I pulled carefully for too long on 15# flouro leader, and was a combination of surprised and elated when the fish hit the deck.

There wasn’t much in the way of high fives and cheers because we went right back to work, hoping for a wide open bite, which never materialized at this spot.  Basically it was too much time and effort for two bites and just one fish.  To win this tournament against some of the top anglers around, we’d have to alter the game plan and hope the fish and conditions cooperate.

We moved into the area where the bait was yet again, inside Eagle Reef.  I set us up on a spot where some yellowtail had been caught recently.  The wind and current fought each other and kept us from sitting right, but we did manage a few barracuda and calico bass.  Right around that time I got a phone call from my old deckhand Taylor, and he told be there had been a bite that morning he’d heard about that was good enough to have a team meeting and discuss a big move.

Check back to captainonboard soon for part two of this trip.

 

 

Southern California Tuna Club Tournament 5/4-5/5

I had the opportunity to run my favorite yacht for the SCTC White Seabass tourney last month and we had phenomenal fishing!  Just not during the tournament itself.  Running the “Mundy Mooring” for owner Mike is always a blast.  He is willing to go the extra mile, and gives me some leeway to make critical decisions without second guessing me.  This puts all the stress on my shoulders, and that can be a lot to bear.  This is one of those trips where I made the right call the day before the tournament, and the wrong call on the day of the tournament.  One day a hero, next day a zero.

While scouting around the back of Catalina I hooked a larger model seabass on light line and luckily we got it.  The spot did not look great, but I put it in the memory banks for the next day and went back into hunting mode.  I had been watching the other boats all day, and noticed that all the boats up west were moving east, but none of the boats I saw east had ventured up our way.  Interesting.  I also heard a few “congratulations” over the VHF to boats I saw down east in the morning, and that cemented my decision to venture east for the afternoon bite.

As we slid past Salta Verde I was glassing hard at the boats near the east end, and all of them were in the Binnacle Rock area.  I had made a mental note of where my friend Jock Albright was sitting in the morning and heard him get a few “atta-boys” on the radio so I looked at where he had been.  It looked GOOD.  Nice sharp color edge and clean green water in the pocket.  We set up and began to chum.  It took a while, but Mike got a bite from the right kind and the bite was ON.  Mikes guest Dennis hooked his first ever seabass and it got hung up the kelp.  It was a bigger fish and I tried my best to coach him on how to get it out.  Meanwhile, while he was playing “tug-of-war” with the kelp I pinned on a squid and cast towards the pocket, getting an instant bite.  Without setting the hook I handed Dennis the bit rod and said “here, hold this for a minute.”  “I’M  BIT!!” he exclaimed.  He got that first fish, and on that light rod I had the 36lb seabass on earlier in the day up west.

We had our limits, and by now the fleet had converged around us. Everyone was enjoying a wide open bite, and had stayed far enough from the others as to not cause any drama.  I noticed how careful the other boats were in releasing their fish after getting limits, and I was impressed.  We chose to stop fishing as to not harm any seabass that weren’t going into the cooler.  The plan now was to stay here for the night, and be on the spot during tournament time.

Well, the grey bite time came and went, without the bite.  A crowd had gathered, and it wasn’t pretty.  I felt the pressure (and claustrophobia) kick in, and made a bad decision…….to pull the hook.  We never did catch a seabass that day, but they did bite where we were.  Lesson learned.  Luckily, no other boats in the tourney caught a seabass either, and we ended up in 2nd place with a fat sheepshead that Dennis caught.  Mike got the flag for 1st seabass for his club, and all was again right in the world.  The words of one of mentors kept rigging in my ears “never leave fish to find fish.”  I’ll try, I swear I’ll try.  It’s hard fishing in a crowd.