We All Learned Something

Sunset on the season

Sunset on the season

Its been a while since I’ve had the time to sit down and write.  A full tilt El Nino had a lot to do with that, and plenty of time on the water.  I also split with my wife and am still dealing with the aftermath, and some late season health issue scares that ate up some opportunities to be on the water (or write).  Its all settling down now, time to reflect on an amazing year.  My writing is more than a little rusty, so bear with me.

Looking back its great to see so many get a shot at experiencing such phenomenal weather and fishing, and watch as a new batch of book writers and seminar speakers emerge from the pack.  Everyone caught fish, we all learned something, don’t call the publisher just yet.  I’m lucky enough to have seen a few of these El Nino events, and it happens everytime.  Just take in what you learned and try to apply it next year when its back to normal, back to more common to miss than to connect.  That new jig that worked so well this year, might not work at all again until next El Nino.  Shit, I caught tuna this year on an old Jap Head red and white feather that had a Scampi half melted to it when I found it at the bottom of an old baggie of treasures from the past.  A couple events ago you might remember the bait stickers sold for the bottoms of boats, yea, that was a real hit the following year and ever since.

Miles from the pack, deep into Mexican waters.

Miles from the pack, deep into Mexican waters.

Sarcasm?  Are you surprised?  Just remember that next year it goes back to normal, where the guys consistently catching fish are the ones that make the effort.  Leave early and stay late, go the extra mile and find the fish instead of following the pack.  All the bad habits worked this season, but those that stay on that path will go back to wondering how to catch more.   Each bite is started by one guy, typically from a small group of the same guys.  Those close to them reap the benefits, and the rest get the scraps.  That is the sad truth of this internet fishery we have nowadays.

Hooked.  Luke and Robert Elliott will have these memories for life.

Hooked. Luke and Robert Elliott will have these memories for life.

The positive side is immense.  Landing parking lots were full and charter boat docks were empty while unemployed Captains found a ride after some tight years.  Hopefully kids and adults alike were either introduced or reintroduced to our sport, helping secure its economy for the near future.  Boats were purchased, fuel burned, tackle abused and replaced.  Its been a great shot in the arm for the industry.

Just remember to remind your guests from this year that the fishing was exceptional.  Point out the fun time on the water, and explain to them the fun in just getting that chance to be out there.  I’ve seen people get their feet wet on a wide open bite, only to find out on the next few trips how humbling it all can be.

Next year we take the knots we learned and see how they work after the really long soak.  Spots we caught yellowtail on this year might not even have a bass on them next year, or for years to come, so focus on “why’s” and “how’s” and all that gaffing practice.  Its all in the details.  Be aware of how comfortable you are at the helm now compared to last year,  running at night through a polka dotted radar screen is something we all dealt with.  I’m sure we all put plenty of time in this year, and that time on the water and turns of the prop adds up to experience.

My ride this summer.

My ride this summer.

What did I learn?  Lots.  I learned after running “Bongo’s” a few times that I’m too old for that now.  My yacht deal is what works best for me, being with people I know and boats I have spent half a lifetime on.  I learned how much I really love a sundowner bite, and no schedule of when to be home.  I’m even grateful to stay up all night to make bait, and not be at the mercy of the

and the results......

and the results……

receiver on any given day.  I enjoyed my time on the “Bongo’s” for sure, and more than that I am flattered to have been asked to “come aboard and help.”  Huge honor, thats a first class operation.

I learned about tough decisions and disappointment are on the path to happiness, in all aspects of my life.  Life is too short to be unhappy.  I learned about real and false friendships and alliances, and to be a little less giving to those who seem to always take without giving back.  That can be said about fishing information and advice, and other parts of my life.  You noticed I stopped the daily fish reports, yea, that no longer yielded positive results for me or this site.  People griped, took advantage and talked shit.  Like I said, life’s too short.  The core group is now on speed dial, and we all talk after every trip.  What we saw, who we saw, what time the fish bit and all the details that help build that map in our heads on which way to go.  Gone are the guys that called to tell me how great the fishing was for two weeks but its now over, “oh, and by the way, where are the seabass at Catalina?”  I’m done with that, doesn’t work for me.

Relationships that matter.  My son Scott after some deckhand training.

Relationships that matter. My son Scott after some deckhand training.

At 45 I finally decided to stop being a people pleaser and focus more on the relationships that matter.

That old saying about “try not to use the words “always” or “never” in fishing?”  I learned that one again, big time.

So plan those last trips and fish while there are still a few around, learn as much as you can.  Forget the calendar, or that the kids are in school and the World Series is coming up.  Fish have no idea, they just have to eat before leaving for wherever they go during the winter.  Resist the voice in your head that tells you “I’m an expert now”, because we all learned something.  Put down the pen, don’t call the publisher and defer those visions of being a seminar speaker.  It all changes back to where it was in just a few short weeks.

California Yellowtail

With all the discussion these days about small yellowtail being caught and kept I though I would do my best to research the subject and weigh in my feelings.  I really thought I would find facts proving that these “rat” yellows spawn at a young age and grow really fast, to support my belief that keeping these smaller fish was justifiable.  Turns out there is little known about California Yellowtail compared to other fish we love to target in our area, and what is available is not exactly what I expected.

These fish grow fast at a young age and are 3-4lbs at year one, but their growth slows considerably as they age and at 5 years old the average yellowtail is approximately 16lbs.  Most spawn in their 2nd year while all spawn in their third year.  This means that all of these small yellowtail caught on kelps have not yet spawned, something that surprises me and changes my opinion more than a little.  Yellowtail broadcast spawn meaning that they gather in groups and males release sperm in the water with the eggs from the females.  Spawning occurs from May through September, right when we are targeting them.  Armed with this information I am now puzzled with the apparent health of our yellowtail biomass.  On all fronts the scientific community rates the California Yellowtail population as “healthy”.

Another thing that got my attention is the amount of eggs deposited by smaller yellows in comparison to the larger ones.  3 to 5 year old yellowtail spawn just once per year, releasing about 458,000 eggs while their larger cousins spawn multiple times per year and its more like 4 million eggs!  Obviously the large yellows are carrying the weight of the responsibility for the species.  Good when you think of how smart the big boys are, and its healthy that the next generation gets the genes of wise yellowtail.

California yellowtail populations live primarily in Mexican waters most of their lives, and a low percentage migrates above the border during warm water seasons.  The record large yellowtail caught in California was 80lbs (caught in 2001) and the record in Mexico was a whopping 92.1lbs (caught in 1960).  While a ten year old fish will typically be around 35lbs, no California yellowtail has ever been aged at over 12 years.  So how old were the record fish, and how old do they get?  I found no answers.

Interestingly, these fish grow decidedly faster in warmer water, so a resident Catalina yellowtail at 25lbs may be 10 years old!  On years such as this one where a large volume of small yellowtail migrate into US waters there is some that stay at our local islands and coastline for the rest of their lives.  Tagging studies have shown that these fish migrate very little once they get here, staying local and living the rest of their lives within miles of one area.  At least 3 different species of the yellowtail family exist in the Pacific, and scientists agree that more may be discovered if more research is done.  No data was available on the Southern California resident population and its spawning habits.

In past years (1954) yellowtail had a high commercial market value for canning but that is ancient history.  Today recreational catches far exceed commercial catches, another fact that caught me by surprise.  Drift nets (gill nets) account for the bulk of the total commercial amount of yellowtail caught each year, and those nets are set to target white seabass and barracuda (thats what it says!).  Commercial rod and reel catches are surprisingly high actually, but don’t even touch the amount captured by nets.  No real shocker there.

I never have had a problem admitting I was wrong, and this is just another case of that.  What I wanted to find was facts leading to me preaching from my soap box about how catching and keeping small yellowtail is legal and the fishery sustainable.  While the latter seems to be true with the information I found, and obviously the legal aspect is accurate, I have no soap box to stand on anymore.  These small fish should be released whenever possible, and I will make an effort to do so.

Now if I was running a boat that had traveled long distance on substantial amounts of fuel I might change my way of thinking when that first “rat” comes to color.  But the mass destruction of “limits for all” is something I have changed my mind on.  I still believe in peoples right to do their own thinking and certain freedoms for all (within the limits of the law).  I will change my ways based on the data I found this evening, and let you decide for yourself.  These fish gather offshore in groups to spawn this time of year, and we are taking advantage of that and disrupting the cycle of life.  They are fun to catch, and while fishing for these small California yellowtail we have the opportunity to catch something worth really getting excited about.  They taste good too.

What will you do the next time you find a kelp loaded with “rat” yellows?

 

Barely Making it

A few times each year I get on a sportboat, there is just no way around it.  I do my best to learn something and make new friends, but I have this thing where I am always looking at ways to improve.  Its a curse really, to not be able to like things just the way they are I mean.  After a good nights sleep and some careful consideration I decided to write about it.  Maybe someone in the sportboat industry will read it and give a damn, maybe not.  At least I will feel better getting it off my chest.

I will preface by saying this is my opinions, and many guys do like things just the way they are.  I would also like to state that there are operations that do a very good job with what I am going to talk about, and it shows through their popularity and success.  Price is usually a good indicator, as quality service commands top dollar.

First and foremost I see a lack of personal attention or any effort to build lasting relationships with possible future customers.  Over the last few years the sportfishing industry has seen boats flat go out of business and back to the bank.  You’d think that the guys making a living by serving others would get it after a while?  Start by not giving “the speech” at the beginning of the trip by saying “Tom, Dick and Harry” will be helping you with whatever you need on deck.”  Bring the crew in and introduce them, one at a time.  When I was an operator, I made it a personal goal to learn the names (and remember them) of each and every passenger that paid to come on my boat.  The Captain needs to be friendly, helpful and accessible as well.  Something rarely seen these days.

Crew members need to lend a helping hand to those that are struggling and not just send them to the bow.  Yesterday there was a husband, wife and 13 year old (ish) kid with no sportboat experience.  They huddled together fishing with inappropriate rigs and tackle, and were totally ignored by the crew.  Mid day I finally pulled the kid aside and rigged him with something that at least gave him a CHANCE at hooking something.  Watching the crew ignore these passengers makes me worry about sportfishing as a whole.  Showing new anglers a good time is critical to our small, fragile economy.  Everyone complains about the admission price of Disneyland, but this family just paid the same amount to come out and be ignored.  They mentioned on the way home not enjoying the trip, so thats three lost instead of three gained.

Captains and crew have no control over the weather or fishing, but they do have control over the food.  Unanimously among all the guys I talk to, the food is the most important part of most sportboat operations.  Have the galley open and running in the grey!  I really wish I could have had a hot breakfast burrito in my hand before 8:30am, but it just was not an option.  So the bacon takes an hour to cook?  Start earlier.  If you are going to charge $9 for a breakfast (and not allow passengers to bring their own food), it better be over a pound and not 3 bites for a guy like me.  Better yet, make them $4.50 and I will order two.  Keep the crew out of galley, especially when I have been waiting over an hour for what I ordered only to watch a member of the crew walk by with a hot meal.  If I noticed it, so did a potential long term, repeat customer.  A loyal customer base would make any business a success, and we can all use more customers.  Lastly, when the ride home is going to be 2 hours (or more), keep the galley open.  Why do I mention this?  Yesterday when our fishing day ended the galley cook stopped taking orders for hot food.  This was discussed the entire ride home after a good day of fishing.  Way to end the trip on a bad note guys.

I do respect the lifestyle of being on the water 4-6 days a week this time of year, and the toll it takes on the entire crew.  Please remember that passengers look up to the Captain and crew, so you must act in a responsible manner.  Watching deckhands throw trash overboard all day was a hot topic amongst the passengers.  It was not uncommon to see soda boxes thrown out of the galley window, to the horror of those who saw it.  I watched a member of the crew knock over a trash can on the bow and keep going as the styrofoam cups and plastic food wrappers blew through the scuppers and overboard.  Completely unacceptable to those who saw it.  When I followed by lifting the trash can and putting what I could back in I got no kudos from the crew.  Sad.  It would seem logical to me that a professional waterman that makes a living utilizing a resource based on a clean healthy ocean would set a better example for others.

In this day and age most consumers can spot dishonesty a mile away, but a good fish count is hard to deny.  Please keep the fish counts honest, as well as the size of the catch. To be on a boat one day and know exactly what was caught and how big they were, only to see an overly inflated fish count the next day with a blatant  exaggeration of fish size shows a lack of integrity.  I can see where new customers will be lured onto the next trip, but the ones that just got off the boat will most likely never come back.  Getting the customers coming back again and again is what makes a successful business, not false advertising.  Also, do not advertise “tanks full of live squid” only to have empty tanks when customers arrive.  This was another complaint I heard discussed again and again, especially when we were jigging bait and not allowed to fish seabass as the sun came up.

In closing I will reiterate that these are my opinions and some observations of sportboat passengers over the years.  A lot of guys like things just the way they are, while sportboat operations are happy seeing those few faces on a regular basis.  Loyalty does exist, even on the boats with the worst reputations.  I know it sounds cliche, but in my business customer satisfaction is priority #1.  One unsatisfied client could seriously affect my business just through word of mouth, and frankly I can’t afford that.  Not monetarily or emotionally.  If I thought that things were fine the way they are I would not have have felt compelled to write this, but it saddens me to see this industry suffer when it could thrive by just doing a few things differently.   Maybe with a boat full of happy loyal customers sportboats would spend more money on tackle and in the galley making it affordable to take those new AQMD supplied free engines and kick it up a few knots.   That 6 hour ride home with a closed galley really does nothing to help passengers want to come racing back and spend more money, especially when we suspect the fish counts are inaccurate.    Just sayin’.

 

 

Light Line Old School?

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Abu Garcia Revo Toro with matching Volatile Rod.

Some serious advances have occurred with the tackle today, leaps and bounds really.  Reels have butter smooth drags that last and last, fluorocarbon leaders and Spectra have changed the way we fish completely, yet some things remain the same.  All this wonderful technology means nothing if you never hook a fish.  To get that fish you are targeting to bite you need to pick that perfect bait, make a long cast and use all your senses to make that opportunity into a reality.  The question is, when you do everything right and don’t get the bite, then what?

You drop down in line class, that’s what.

Yellowtail on light line.  Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

Yellowtail on light line. Braid cut the kelp to get this fish.

There is a whole new generation of anglers now that read that last sentence and cringed.  What with all the fancy reels with smooth drags and teflon/boron composite super rods that make fishing almost unfair, why not?  Did the reel manufacturers make these state of the art drag systems for fishing 80#?  Yes, the new gear is capable of fishing heavy line but it really shines when you fish the lighter stuff.  With heavy line you don’t even need drag, so why the dirty looks when someone breaks out the 20#?

Whether you are on your own boat or a charter, everyone wants to catch lots of big fish.  When the moon and the stars align perfectly and that once in a lifetime wide open ripper happens you can break out the broomstick with 100# and put the wood to them.

 Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

Break out the 80# when they are chewing!!!

How often does that happen, really?  Most of the time we are just trying to get picked up, and land that one big fish for a snapshot and bragging rights.  Finding that perfect leader that is neither too heavy to get a bite, or too light to land the fish is what you are looking for, and it may change from spot to spot, minute to minute.  That is why we have so many different outfits and not just the one with 80#.

Spectra brings light line fishing to a whole new level.  65# braid is like fishing 20# mono in both feel and line capacity.  Its not uncommon to see calico bass guys with high tech gear that looks much like the freshwater largemouth arsenal on steroids with 65# or even 80# braid.  Then add in the abrasion resistance and low visibility of fluorocarbon leader and “presto”, its a whole new ballgame.  That does not automatically mean you will get the same amount of bites on 40# as you would on 20#.  The whole package with 20# fluoro is still miles ahead of an old school outfit with the same line in mono.  You have less stretch, more pulling power, kelp cutting capabilities and abrasion resistance far beyond what was available only a few years ago.

What is missing today is anglers that actually know how to fight a fish from bite to gaff, therefore we get guys that insist on fishing the heavy lines.  More than ever I see guys take that $400 rod with all the technology and point the tip at the fish and grind away, wondering why the fish spit the hook halfway to the boat.  Lift your tip!  The fish did not get away, you lost it.  I can see why charter boat Captains are screaming at passengers to “fish nothing less than 50!!!”  They are sick and tired of putting the boat on the fish only to see most of what is hooked, lost.  It all comes down to a lack of talent, period.

When you hook that big seabass or yellow on a kelpline and it gets its head down and swims right into the kelp, loosen the drag.  Let the tackle do its job.  The braid will only cut the kelp if its moving, you’ll need to let the fish run and tire before you begin the tug of war.  Even then its more of a seesaw battle, with you pulling for a while, then the fish pulling for a while.  Its the back and forth of the braid on the kelp that does the cutting, while straight pulling hard causes heartaches.

Light line seabass.  This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle.  Heavier line never got bit at all.

Light line seabass. This one went right into the kelp, and came out after a long seesaw battle. Heavier line never got bit at all.

 My grandfather used to call this, “playing the fish.”  He’d say it while fighting a 120# bigeye on 25#, then my Uncle would gaff it.  We’re talking Penn Jigmasters with plastic spools.  I can still hear the “THUD” of the fish hitting the deck, time and time again.

Its become a common conversation for me, some guy saying “why would you even use 15# when fishing for seabass?”  I find myself in defense mode when its the guy pointing the finger that needs angling lessons.  I’ve driven the boat for a lady angler that got a striped marlin to the boat on 6# for a tag and release.  (We got that fish in 27 minutes)  Most angling clubs don’t even recognize anything caught with line over 30#, and the Tuna Club of Avalon encourages its members to fish with linen line in 3 and 6 thread sizes (like 6# and 15# respectively).  At last years Avalon Tuna Club Seabass tourney I caught a 22 pound seabass on 6 thread linen, and didn’t even place in the top 10!

22lbs on the Avalon Pier.  Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

22lbs on the Avalon Pier. Fish was caught on 6 thread linen.

 

 

Not much ever changes back to where it was, but light line fishing is being seriously overlooked these days.  With the hotbed of young kids today out making a name for themselves through websites, videos and social networking it sure would be nice to see one take on the challenges of light line angling skills.  I can hook and hand seabass and yellows on 30# all day and most get gaffed, but when I hook one on 12 or 15#, its mine.  I tie good knots, test them all and lift my tip.  In the end, its me getting the typical “grip-n-grin” photo taken with a fish heavier that the line it was hooked on.  The guy taking the picture probably never got a bite, and was fishing 40#.  Fishing seabass on 50# is like fishing trout with 20#.  Tie good knots and learn how to actually fight a fish and use the tackle to its full potential.  You’ll not only hook (and land) more fish, but have way more fun doing it.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water.  No problem.

36# seabass on 15# fluoro in shallow water. No problem.

 

2013 Catalina Seabass Forecast

102_0289

 

Everything changes, and last year our seabass fishery changed dramatically.  While I poured over logs and notes from years past, I was left scratching my head trip after trip at Catalina last season.  On the coast we saw seabass bites that re-wrote history books, and the fish that should have been at Catalina seemed to gang up in mass at the Channel Islands.  There were seabass at Catalina, but not any bites that resembled what we’d seen in the last 10 years.  Has something fundamentally changed?  If so, this forecast will mean next to nothing.  Only time will tell, and I for one, am hoping things get back on track.

Free diver seabassFree diving spearfishermen have given me a wealth of knowledge, information and insight to what is really happening before most bites start.  While most rod and reel fishermen have forged a philosophy that these watermen are mere pests, I embrace them.  Not wanting to don a wetsuit and get in the water myself, I get the details of our underwater environment from these guys and learn things impossible to know with just a fishfinder and sonar.  Since 2009 I have been getting early reports of seabass from the divers, and most of the time it turns into a bite after I get the intel.  Interestingly, the seabass move into an area where the free divers can target them, but when they bite they are not doing what helps the spearos get their shots.  This means the intel I get from spearos comes BEFORE the bite, and this helps immensely.

For as long as I have kept logs and notes the first seabass catches each year have occurred along the Palos Verdes peninsula.  This can happen as early as December but typically from January to March.  Astonishingly, this area gets looked at much less often than further away Catalina Island.  When I get the call that a spot of seabass have moved into Palos Verdes, I know the ball is rolling and soon they will be at the island.

Breakwall sized seabass

Breakwall sized seabass

While a few of the smaller fish show up along the Federal Breakwater just weeks after the first reports come in from the Peninsula, the bulk of the fish apparently swim to Catalina’s  West End.  Unless weather and wind are a major factor like in 2011, you can expect to find the first really good scores to come from spots like Johnsons Rock or West Cove.  In what I would call a normal year this happens in March or April.  Historically the first really good go-around happens in March during the Fred Hall show.

 

April 2012 seabass at Catalina

April 2012 seabass at Catalina

Last year there were signs that things were off kilter early on, but I would not have guessed that we would have such a tough season at Catalina.  This year I see nothing out of the ordinary and am really hoping for your standard seabass season.  Not to take away from last years epic bites at Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and even Santa Barbara Islands, but Catalina is my backyard and I want my seabass back thank you.

While the air and water are still cold right now, its not abnormally cold or late like this time last year.  Free divers have seen a few seabass along the Palos Verdes area already, and all the signs are looking like a normal year.  It’s my hope (more than prediction) that the seabass will make the migration to Catalina on schedule in the next few weeks, so sometime in early March.  Fred Hall is from March 6th through the 10th and the show falls during a prime new moon phase.  The fact that I will be working the show further solidifies the chances of a huge bite at this time.

One thing that will be different this year is the yellowtail fishing.  I hooked and landed a smaller grade yellowtail this year in the beginning of January, and I have little doubt that this is a holdover from our great kelp paddy fishing this past summer season.

January 4th, 2013 yellowtail

January 4th, 2013 yellowtail

I suspect that we will see that there is some real volume of these smaller yellows, and over the next few years these will grow into the home guards we all want to have around.  Past El Ninos have deposited large numbers of small yellows at our local islands, and in the following years we enjoy great fishing for the forkies.

So with what looks very much like a normal pattern in 2013, I predict a seabass season more like what we are used to seeing.  What happens along the coast in another matter, but I hope our coastal tanker fishery continues to grow.  If nothing else, having bites in more than one area will thin the crowds a little, as that is the one huge downside to a typical seabass year at Catalina.  If the one abnormal aspect of this years season is less drama and good fishing, I will be pleasantly surprised.

Unite As One, Or Lose It All

Recently we were informed that a new regulation has been implemented by the DFG.  The rockfish maximum depth that is 60 fathoms (360′) will be reduced to 50 fathoms (300′).  No, we were not informed that we had a say in the matter prior to the decision.  Odd, considering that we live in a democracy, where we should get a vote in the process of decisions such as these.  Instead of consulting the anglers that actually fish for rockfish, the DFG consulted an environmentally proponent panel of biologists and scientists.  Even if these lawmakers are going to continue to vote on policies behind closed doors, we should get to vote as to who is on such panels.  As of now, they are appointed and we have no say as to who is elected to such powerful decision making positions.

The truth is, we are a divided group that cannot come together as one and stand our ground effectively.  The anglers fight the free divers, the sportboat operators fight the private boaters, and different areas such as Newport fight against the Long Beach guys.  Together we make up a powerful force that can stand against the environmentalists.

The recent decision was made to protect the cow cod, a fish known for living on the deepest of rocks and structure.  Most recreational rock coders rarely (if ever) catch one, but those with the skill and equipment catch them at will and there seems to be no shortage of cow cod.  It’s obvious that there are ulterior motives to the poorly explained closures and regulations.  While the vast majority of recreational users of our local waters are the most environmentally friendly of all, we see no need for ridiculous salmon grouper limits or rock cod fishing depth restrictions.  What the end game plan is for these behind the scenes policy makers remains a mystery.  The evidence points to a complete closure of all local waters at some point in the not too distant future.  Even those who are not conspiracy theorists can see it coming.

Different groups have formed to try to unite all to battle the forces of evil, but a lack of trust keeps them from flourishing.  With no transparency, rumors of back door deals and embezzlement have flooded our fickle industry, and attempts to repair the reputation of such groups have failed.  The commercial industry stands alone with some success, but they are fighting to keep their boats and tradition alive.  The simple fact that commercial interests with their nets and state of the art equipment can sway the environmental policy makers with solidarity and money, is proof alone that we should come together as recreational users of our local waters.

If we could unite fuel dock and tackle store owners, landing operators, private and sportboat enthusiasts and operators, and tackle manufacturing giants, then we could stand on our own two feet and fight this insanity.  Shipyards and boat builders stand to lose on this deal also, and should stand with us.  Coastal cities stand to lose millions of dollars spent by surf fishermen and private boat anglers that stop to get groceries, ice, bait and pay for parking.  So local city governments should be easy to recruit.  A high percentage of hunters also fish, and the whole group could come on board with us as well as the NRA.  The number of trout and fresh water bass fishermen alone is enough to build a team powerful enough to combat those trying hard to take away what we love so much.  Lastly, surfers fall into the same category as us, “Watermen.”  If intelligently informed of our plight,  surfers might just be the straw that breaks the back of the politicians that are well paid by those trying to close our whole industry down.

So before you decide you hate someone you have not even met, just because they put on a wetsuit and jumped in on your kelp, think about it.  They could be on your team, our team.  Sportboat operators should see private boaters as one of the good guys, not the enemy (and visa versa).  The amount of on the water drama is on the rise these days and its only dividing us to the point where we are a useless bunch of unorganized crybabies.  The environmental factor is watching, and taking advantage of our childishness.

As a group the end game seems clear for us watermen.  We all want to protect the resource and take the necessary steps so it remains for our children, and our children’s children.  At the same time we want to be able to enjoy the resource responsibly today, without crippling the local economy and having our freedoms trampled by those with selfish motives.  It all comes down to how bad we want this thing, and anyone can decide to make a difference today.

Don’t just throw money into a jar and walk away, do something, anything.  Volunteer for a group that has our agenda in mind and get involved.  Recruit others, especially your kids to have a voice and an opinion.  It’s their waters that are being taken away.  Write letters, actual letters to congressmen and policy makers.  We don’t need to stomp our feet or occupy the DFG, we actually have a valid argument.  Our freedoms are being trashed with our own money, and its wrong.  If we don’t unite soon the end may be nearer than we think, and the local golf course is going to get really crowded.        

How To Catch More Fish With YOUR Boat

I used to work at a tackle store that was near the launch ramp in Huntington Harbor, and the shop I worked at catered to private boaters.  So much so, that Rich Holland from the Western Outdoor News (WON) called every monday morning to get what intel we had compiled for the week for the WON “Private Boaters Report” from guys coming back from the ramp.  We were very well connected, and even had a VHF radio on in the store at all times.  Basically, we were information central and knew even the most guarded secret bites at any given time.

The tackle store owner had a 26′ Blackman, I had an 18′ center console, and my parents had a 42′ Uniflite Sportfisher.  To say I fished every time I had a day off is an understatement.  Each week when Rich Holland would call, I’d give him the reports from guys that came by the shop to show off their catch, and the report from what I did on one of the 3 boats mentioned above.  As soon as WON came out on wednesday, my phone would ring from friends and family that saw my name in print, yet again.  They’d ask me the same question every week, and I’d give the same answer.  The question “how do you manage to catch SOMETHING every singe week of the year Jeff?”  And my answer “because I fish for what is biting.”  Seems simple enough, right?

Years later I was hired to run the “RailTime” 6-pak boat out of Huntington Harbor.  Nine times out of 10 the clients would get on the boat and ask me where we were going, and what we were going to fish for.  Those were successful trips.  The other times guys would get on the “RailTime” and TELL me what THEY wanted to fish for.  “We want to catch albacore” they’d say.  “That’s great!  But the albies are not biting, the seabass are.”  I seriously had trips where the guys were so set in their ways, that they’d demand that we go albacore fishing, even if they were not biting.  “We booked and paid for this trip last year, and paid for an albacore trip!”  “Fine.”  Then we’d go catch nothing, and I’d be a “lousy captain” at the end of the trip because we caught nothing.  Starting to see my point here?

These days being able to have all the latest fishing information is as easy as ever, and I still hear from guys that go looking for fish that are not biting.  I’ll get a call from a guy that wants to know what is biting and I’ll tell him that the seabass are biting good up at the Channel Islands, and ask for him to give me a call after his trip so I can hear how it went.  The next day I get the call “well, we went thresher fishing off Dana and never got a bite!”  Seriously?  “How did the seabass dope I gave you turn into a thresher trip?” I’d ask.  Then I get the “my buddy is a great thresher fisherman and he said he gets them all the time where we went.”  Epic fail.  If a guy just fished for what is biting every time he went out, he’d have photo albums filled with smiling faces and big fish, from cover to cover.

Even the simplest of details seem impossible for some to adhere to.  Again I get a call from a guy that wants to know what is biting.  I tell him “the seabass are biting inside Eagle Reef, Catalina Island.  Set up in front of Howlands Landing and fish all night, in 90′ of water and put out your squid lights, even if you have a tank of squid already.  Then, fish jigs tipped with squid off the bottom and dropper loops with 2 or 3 squid pinned on.  Then, call me when you get back with a report.”  Next day the phone rings “when we left the mooring in Avalon at 7am and headed for the spot…………”  I am always amazed at how these guys are surprised that they caught nothing at all.

If you really want to catch more fish on your boat, just fish for what is biting, where it is biting, and when it is biting.  I KNOW, it sounds SO simple, yet it remains impossible for most guys to do.  There is always an excuse:  “my buddy was seasick” or, “it was rough and windy.”  These are the 3 things you need to know before you plan a trip, and leave the dock.  Not what the water temp was, or what pound line the fish are biting.  Just what, where and when.

This summer we had stellar sand bass fishing on the Flats, but mostly in the afternoon and evenings.  During the day it was hard to even get a bite most days, yet I heard over and over how bad the fishing was for sand bass.  Really!?  “Did you fish at night?” I’d ask.  “No, we fished from 8am til noon, when the wind came up.”  No wonder you never got a bite!   Same goes for the guys fishing the kelps offshore for the phenomenal dorado fishing we’ve had this year.  I’d tell guys to “get out early and find the right kelp by yourself” only to get the call after their trip saying it was too crowded at the bait receiver when they were in line for bait at 7am.  Amazing.  You might as well fish without hooks.

As I write this there is some really good fishing for tuna, yellowtail and dorado on the 1010 Trench.  A simple evening departure and a slow (fuel conserving) trip out to the grounds puts you there at dawn, and you can be done with a full fish hold and some great photos before 8am and on your way home, with still more chances of catching a fish on the way back.  Yet I keep hearing of guys that traveled the same mileage upon inner waters for nothing, and too many boats.  How hard can it be to fish where the fish actually are, and where they are biting?

Today I still get the same phone calls from the same people asking the same question.  “Man, you are on fire!  How do you do it!”  I give the same answer “simple, I just fish for what is biting.”  Now you try it, and see what happens.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

     Back in the late 90’s I was running a 6-pack charter boat and happened upon a new spot of seabass nobody knew about.  Around lunch time we pulled into a spot we call “Eagle Pocket” so the passengers could catch a few bass while the deckhand and I cooked up some lunch.  This particular charter boat had a less than ideal galley, and that days burgers were going to be made on a George Forman Grill.  The appliance had to be held over the sinks edge so the grease would not end up on the counter, or the floor.  I really hated when the owner booked a charter that included us cooking for the passengers.  I thought I had put the passengers where we would not catch any more seabass, because we already had limits.  Boy was I wrong.

Next thing I know, I see a set of legs through the starboard side window, running up to the bow.  I’m thinking bat ray and send the deckhand out to make sure the client is taken care of.  Then, I see two guys hooked up on the stern.  Definitely not bat rays.  I unplugged the George Foreman Grill and tossed it into the sink.  Lunch was over before it even started.  It was “FULL RACK” seabass fishing.  Every bait was an instant bite, and a quick trip up to the bridge revealed seabass under and all around the boat on the up and down, and sonar.

We played careful catch and release for about 45 minutes, wishing we had found this before we kept limits of smaller seabass.  These were all 25-40lb fish.  “Damn!”  When we left there was not a single boat in sight.  I was thinking about the next days charter already, and had dreams of quick limits and the possibility of getting home early for some much needed sleep.

The next trip I was filled with anticipation.  We had plenty of squid leftover in the tanks so I skipped the bait grounds and headed straight for Eagle Pocket.  We had left the dock at 10pm as always, and I expected to be set up and fishing by midnight.  Heading across the channel I noticed a lot of boats pointed for the West End of Catalina, straight for where my “secret” bite was.  I was getting nervous.  I rounded the West End and my first reaction was shock and horror.  There were no less than 30 boats on the spot!

It seems another charter boat sat in there after I had left, and wailed on’em good.  Instead of keeping it quiet they decided to tell the whole world about it.  I wanted to vomit.  Not wanting anything to do with it, I headed for where we had limits of smaller fish the day before, and I knew we could fish alone and drama free.  The small armada of boats put a huge damper on the fishing, and only a handfull of fish were caught in Eagle Pocket while we were up the back catching 18-20 pounders.  Later in the morning I ran past the fleet, and had my passengers hold up our limits of seabass and a couple big halibut we had fishing away from the crowd.  As if to say “look at what finding your own fish gets you!”

Recently a good fisherman found a spot of seabass on the coast, all by himself.  He took out friends and passengers to enjoy a wide open bite on bigger fish.  The talented fisherman has a license and and runs legitimate trips on his boat, and obviously explained to them the importance of keeping things quiet.  It did not last forever, and through circumstances beyond his control the bite ended due to too much boat traffic and keyboard anglers.  It still stands, in my mind, as the new record for a bite being kept quiet and producing big fish for so long.

Too bad there isn’t a better way to handle these things.  Imagine a world where every angler found their own fish, and didn’t rely on fish counts or internet reports.  Not only would fishermen learn to be more productive with that experience of learning how to “hunt” for fish, but the ones that found their own fish could enjoy good bites without a crowd.  If a guy told me he found a spot of fish that are biting and that I could fish it myself without telling anyone, I’d protect that information from getting out.   I make it a point to do so, whenever I can.  If I find a spot of fish that want to bite, it’s up to me on how to handle it.  I can give the info to a guy that wants to catch his first ever seabass, or a charter boat that is struggling.  Each time I tell someone about a bite that I find, it comes with the “and don’t tell a soul” policy.

What if I found a spot of biting fish that someone else found before me?  Happens all the time.  It’s the keeping it quiet that leads to the lack of communication and me thinking I found it first.  Obviously, it goes both ways, as stated in the beginning of this article.  There must be a way to share bite information between guys, an keep it quiet at the same time.  I don’t have any ideas right now.   Hopefully someday, somebody will.

So, do Loose Lips Sink Ships?  Or, does a lack of respect and communication cause this whole thing to be a complete nightmare?  There are some that I trust, and some that trust me.  Between us we communicate what we know honestly, confidentially, and without worry that they will alert the media about a killer bite.  We can control what we know.  When one of the guys in my code group does not tell the others what they know, that’s when things so sideways.  In the beginning of this article I referred to finding a spot of fish in Eagle Pocket by myself without a boat in sight.  Had I shared that with the other boat that fished after I did, and asked them to keep it quiet, they would have.  So which is the right way to handle this?  I have no idea, so we’ll stick with “Loose lips sink ships”, and hope it goes as well as it did with one lucky Captain on the recent coastal tanker seabass bite.