Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fishing with Godot

     Tommy, David and I went out  of  'Pedro with Secret Skipper on August 2nd as early as time would allow.  We pulled our from the dock at the stroke of midnight .  We had a good plan.  We were to rendezvous with Skipper' s good buddy East Westman, who runs a  highly regarded charter business on his boat, Mandatory.  Our destination was St. Stanwyck Island, the least understood of the Channel Island chain, which runs from southern frontier of  central coast California all the way down to Oceanside.  East told Skipper that he would meet us there, as he knows that island like the palm of his hand.  I had not been to that place in 35 years and neither Skipper nor I knew any of the good spots from memory.
     We would get sardines and meet Mandatory to team up with our combined squid lights to tank up on the candy bait and get schooled on the nuances of this fantastic rock that beckoned from 46 miles beyond our point of departure.
     The marine forecast was a  bit dodgy, with 4 foot swells at 7 second intervals to give us a series of unrelenting hurdles to lunge through with both wind and seas directly against our course.  That would mean a downhill return, so there was a bright side.
     The crossing proved to be quite nautical.  East had let Skipper know that we were in for a bumpy ride, as he was five hours ahead of us in a larger and slower boat.  Tommy bounced around in the cushion- fortified berth he spun like a cocoon in a vain attempt to keep himself from impacting the interior of the cabin, while Skipper, David and I grabbed handholds in the helm station to wedge ourselves against the hard-to-anticipate impacts that slammed us from the darkness. The wind somewhat unexpectedly came up to blow 20 plus as we got  closer.   It was a new moon, which meant big tides and a beautiful night sky that dazzled us with so many points of light that it sparkled like snowfall in a part of the sea unsullied by any adjacent light pollution.  We arrived  in the jostling rebound of the lee of the island at about 3 and got to unclench a little from the hard ride.  We radioed and scouted the rally point for the Mandatory with no reply.  We then turned on the squid lights at a location that was more random than we would have liked.  We jigged in vain until gray light overtook us.
     The weather began to lay down as we gave up on finding the bait that only darkness can provide.  In the clarity of that transitional pause between chasing bait and the pursuit of the game fish we came to kill, we were treated to an interlude that allowed us to gradually unwrap the emergence of a dawn that slowly revealed the  breathtaking character of our  destination.
     We snuck up on the outside rock that stands sentry to the island from the cover of the approaching swell

     We fired up and began to explore the island for Mandatory and spots that looked fishy. We ended up circumnavigating the island (not very hard, since it is so small) and there was no trace of our intended companions, but plenty of chunky and willing calico bass.  We also hooked a couple of yellowtail that broke us off in the structure and kelp forests.

     Half way around the island, we encountered this foundered little fishing boat, whose crew was no longer in attendance.

      It was completely swamped, but they obviously had made it to the island.  Later, we observed a man in a zodiac drive over to assess the situation.

      As we periodically radioed for our friends on the Mandatory, we continued to pick at the bass, hunt for yellows and drive off the seals which overpopulate  this remarkable sea mount. The island has limitations on how anglers may fish, including an entire quadrant that is completely off limits and  further restrictions on fishing deep water.  Given the fact that this island rises in a near vertical ascent  where it crowns the surface of the water, this regulation has the effect of closing off a sizable number of adjacent pinnacles.

      We fished inside Stanwyck Bay for more bass and  another couple of larger fish that managed to escape us by getting into structure from which we could not extract them.  The day got progressively more beautiful as we fished a spot that is a piece of Nature's Cathedral to the Sea.

     We came around the the arch beneath  an outcropping that juts our into the sea like a pier.

     Below, David takes a break in the action just off shore from the statue of St. Stanwyck, who, legend has it, drove away the seals which infested this island in the early 1700s after being freed from a slave ship  by a galleon full of Spanish explorers, who brought him on to California after intercepting his temporary owners.  This resourceful and grateful native of the Belgian Congo converted to Catholicism and  began working miracles of nature in the early days of the missions along the El Camino Real, eventually settling at the mission in Santa Barbara. This prodigious piece of idolatry memorializes the patron saint at this hallowed spot at the back of Stanwyck Bay.

   In the tradition of sea-dogma, the  pedestal beneath the statue marks a spot from which the last of the sea lions were captured and transported away to a location from which they could never return.

     Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the Friends-of-the-Sea-lion movement joined forces with the Enemies-of-Seamen progressive caucus.    With their rally cry of  "Seamen stains our sensitivity!" this alliance steadily gained traction.  One of its achievements was the establishment of a seal hatchery across the entire side of the island that faces our shore. The sea lion eggs are nurtured in what is now a solar powered hatchery facility, which replaced the old diesel powered hatchery that started this program.  Friends-of-the-Sea-lion projects that this program, along with state and federal protections now in place to make it a crime to even  say a mean thing about a Californian sea lion, will mean that sea lions will soon be the most important and numerous ethnic demographic in the entire Golden State.
     Like Shelley's Ozymandias mutely mocking the subject's delusional tribute to his own immortal power,  the statue  of St. Stanwyck stands sentinel to a lost cause.  The  sea lions are more numerous than ever and sent patrols to follow our every move, along with dogging every other boat that presented them the opportunity for harassment and plunder.  Though the monument to St. Stanwyck remains, our only remaining guardians are the makos and whites, whose appetites cannot keep pace with the expansion of these pinnipeds.
      As we approached mid day, we went around the island again and continued to find spots that either would not fish because of conflicts in the current and wind direction, or  produced a pretty steady bass bite with  a couple of big yellowtail successfully launching screaming runs into kelp forests.  After noon, when  we were running low on bait and were resigned to the possibility of going home with no exotics, we found a spot below fluttering birds and breaking fish.  We were not the only ones there, but there were few boats in the entire area, as this offshore location gets limited angling pressure because it is so highly restricted and a bit of a pain to get to.
     Crashing yellowtail began breaking on bait fish to our east. The boils migrated toward our boat beneath the telltale wheels of seabirds that began moving in our direction.
     Skipper, who had joined us in tying on a circle hook and fresh fluro to replace the frayed leader he did not trust, was the first to get lit up with a yellow that tore off his line in a screeching run that allowed us to get hopeful again.

Skipper swore that he would jump into the sea and swim away from the boat forever if this one got away too.  It did not.

We were greatly relieved when we managed to  pump it to the top for a crisp gaff shot right in the mouth ...

and over the rail into the boat..

What huge relief to end our losing streak at the fins of these tasty adversaries..

     It would have been a sadder and more lonely trip home if we had been forced to leave Skipper at the base of the statue and drive his boat back to Pedro.  To make sure of driving his point home, Skipper hooked and landed another yellowtail right after this one.
      Your narrator hung one a short time later, as did David.  Tommy got busy with the camera as David was wired and we had a double going. I kept a tight drag, but felt my own anxiety about not wanting to lose another one of these fish that seem to sell their lives so dearly.  It kept making runs and nodding the rod tip up and down against our efforts to claw it from the depths.

It eventually succumbed to Skipper's gaff shot.

  David kept his rig from being yanked into the sea on a yellow that screamed line off his reel against a very tight drag.  It was a big strong fish that ultimately gained its freedom through sheer force.

     With our hold now occupied by three nice yellows, we decided to head back after cutting up our catch.
     Autopsy revealed that these jacks were chock full of tuna crab, which must have been pluming deeper in the water column, as we saw none at the surface.

     We pulled the hook and headed back.  This time, the much gentler wind  and seas were at our back as we surfed home in less than two hours.
     On the way back, when we were in cell-phone range, East Westman finally broke his radio silence to let us know that he was sorry that he was unable to join us.  It seemed that out of concern for his clients' safety, he had turned back mid-channel from Stanwyck and headed to the safer waters off Catalina.  The need for preserving the secrecy of his location and new plan prevented him from answering any of the radio calls we made, along with the fact that he had angrily shattered his radio with a baseball bat after he caught one of his clients frantically trying to Mayday the coast guard when Mandatory was still pointed into the treacherous waters on the way to Stanwyck.
     Thanks to Skipper's raw courage, tremendous angling skills and energetic willingness to risk all our lives in the pursuit of game fish, we had what we needed for another hamachi festival as we join with arriving family to celebrate our Dad's 90th birthday this weekend.
     May your  weekend be as fun and your food fight for its survival just as much as ours, so we can all get to say.....

These are the Days

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ask Me No Secrets

This is a short report, under this publication's rather elastic standards of brevity, because it ultimately involves the crafty application of guarded information.

Isaac and your narrator joined Secret Skipper on a nocturnal mission for white seabass.  It was to be an all-nighter at a secret venue where it was reliably rumored that white sea bass had recently stopped getting caught. We were working with a waning full moon. We left 'Pedro just before midnight on an impossibly romantic rendezvous with the unknown.  Conditions in the channel were clear on the deck with a canopy of clouds as we headed out to a spot we will never reveal, no matter what you do to us.

We were able to make some squid, but our mind-bending squid lights fizzled before we made less than a dozen pieces, which we used on both Carolina style rigs and the traditional bouncing squid tipped white jig.  We wore our black ninja terrycloth fishing jumpsuits and felt-bottomed fishing slippers to stay invisible, noiseless and cozy.  The water was surprisingly warm.  We have a sea temp gauge and the water in the bait tank felt close to 70.

Batman paid his inevitable visit to Commissioner Isaac at about 3 am, which proved to be the apex event of this entire ambush.  It grabbed a tipped white jig about four cranks off the bottom and set in the rod holder.  It took him around the boat before visually forcing us to admit that it was a ray (and a really nice one) when we got our jig back and set it free in what turned out to be a relatively cordial encounter. 

 We picked up a nice scoop of squid from two glowing supply spaceships that passed near us in an otherwise light-starved location in the  middle of nowhere.  They were escorted by a sub-pod of Risso's dolphin.  These large creatures were rhythmically rising to feed on the squid these craft were magnetically pulling to their lights. They snorted like war horses pulling impossibly stupendous chariots as they rose to loudly exhale bursts of mist into the blinding light that back lit them from the baitships.  With our profile broken up by blackened artillery mesh we strung up to aid in concealment, we  fished the dark and through the gray for nothing worth mentioning, but feel free to read on.

 Nobody near us seemed to have done any better on the targeted exotics, but we did not make direct eye-contact with anyone, so that we would help each other forget where we had been in the event we were interrogated individually. We hit Madness Reef for some nice Calico and pesky barracuda, but got no love from the yellows.

Secret Skipper then went below to unroll an ancient, smelly goatskin which swaddled an old map with fire-darkened edges.The  description of the operational depth we were seeking used the standard measure preferred by secretive meat-fishing socialites.  It of course involves a calculation of the buoyancy necessary to float a standard clipper ship's weather vane from that era over a course of 1.15 miles using only a raft of dead monkeys woven together with hemp.   He squinted up from the illumination cast by a whale oil lamp  hung in his cabin to give his strategizing more drama.

  "We're going to the Phlegmish Splat."

Isaac and I remembered the old stories of this legendary spot on the seafloor where red fish abound, along with other fierce denizens of this rocky mesa.  It got it's name from one of the old captains who ran  the Sea Sport for Eddie McEwan out of Pacific Landing in the 1960's.  He loved this spot, just like he loved chain-smoking Camels and expectorating enthusiastically from the bridge as gangion-loads of red fish came over the rail in the bad old days of rock-codding near the naval weapons dumping grounds.  Even though he could have used the scale and dead monkey conversion chart he keeps on board as an alternative calculation weight, Skipper used an abacus. It was an 81 monkey journey, so it would not be a short ride. 

"The only thing is that we can't talk about this spot, ever. So, for your own protection I am going to have to put you below and gag you on the way there.....You know, so you don't talk about it."

It seemed reasonable, so we went through a wardrobe door in the cuddy cabin below to play cribbage with gags on while Skipper cut his radar and ran in a zig zag pattern to keep us guessing.  When we got finally got there, we went down to the bottom with iron and pinned-on live squid connected to spectra by a fluoro top-shot. We watched a whale come up to check us out. 

We started catching a lot of nice reds, a ling that barely made legal, and assorted other rockfish. We bled them and got them on ice right away, since we love to eat reds more than some people love God.
Isaac got a chance to savor a moment with the always-yet-endangered salmon grouper as Skipper pulled on another red.
 These fish seemed to love the flatfall/squid combo and the Tady glow-white with squid, but geniuses think the real common denominator was the live squid.
We even got a young wolf-eel your reporter had to work out of its cave before inspecting and releasing it to ribbon its way back into the depths.

All in all,  it was a good call to turn and burn from an established top-secret spot to get to a nearly unreachable and completely unrememberable Piscatorium.

After a brief but productive session we returned to a spot closer to the mainland, looking for yellows, but enjoying a steady  calico bass bite periodically invaded by barracuda.

Skipper did his usual commercial-quality job of cutting up the catch, so we will feed our dinner guests this marine harvest in rare style.  By that I mean that at least during the main course of the meal, they will have to wear blindfolds....., so they won't be able to pinpoint the exact location of these fish.  It's a pretty understandable concern, so this is  completely normal. We will all take them off and light candles for dessert.

Not every plan hits its target, so it's wonderful to have this ancient knowledge available for salvaging a productive outing on these banzai excursions.
We learned a lot on this trip, especially how to make sure things learned in sacred confidence remain confidential.  We would ask that you don't run out like some copy-cat and get a dead monkey conversion app for your Iphone, because some things ought to be left to the old ways.
Those times may be largely forgotten, but

              These are the Days

Monday, July 1, 2019

For Immediate Consumption

     Sorry for the lack of reporting, but we have not done much fishing since the melancholia of selling our fabulous Fishfinder took root at the start of the year.  That mighty little boat provided family lessons and adventure for 15 years that I will always treasure, even with the maintenance headaches that are a basic element of such piscatorial pursuits.  We found a worthy buyer who has young kids and the right attitude, so that took some of the sting out of it.  

     The day before we surrendered the boat, Isaac and I went out for one last local trip across our closest old stomping grounds as we fished plastics on the edges of structure from Three-Arch to the Headlands for cooperative bass on a spectacular day to say goodbye to our fierce little machine.

     The loss of the Finder opened the kids’ drumbeat to recruit a replacement for beloved Victor, our pointing dog of 13 years who went to the happy hunting ground a few years ago.  After some intramural haggling and enthusiastic confusion, we emerged from this decision-making process with our two new pups, Dersu

and Tashtego.  Their names are derived from the literary obscuria by which Isaac and I are both possessed.

     These ice-cube brained puppies are now the focus of our current administration, with their inexhaustible cuteness and evaporative attention spans.

     On Friday, Isaac and your narrator got our first Island trip in the books, courtesy of Secret Skipper.
     The plan was to head over to the west end in the pre-dawn hours, with squid and sardines.  We met Skipper at his slip in Cabrillo Marina at 3:30 am and shoved off for the San Pedro bait barge in the dark.  We got a nice scoop of cured sardines from Mike and then headed all the way down to cash in on a scoop of Squid from Nacho down near Seal Beach.

     We were the second boat there and the guy ahead of us in a Parker was engaged in a rather animated display of shouting and gesturing with Nacho as we pulled in.  After he got tanked up, the Parker gunned away from the dock to drift a short distance away.  Nacho told us to go to the other side from where we had lined up.  He then dashed into the barge office to drop a workload that apparently would not be denied.  We tied up and held the boat off of the sides of the barge while we waited.  He emerged after an interlude to yell at us to get off his dock, but otherwise thanked us for the opportunity for internal emancipation in what he explained to us was a more desperate situation than we had realized.
     We tanked up on squid, which layered out nicely with the cured sardines.  We pointed toward the west end, which was now 31 miles away, given the detour we made to get the squid.  This proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and money.
We came around Eagle rock in the last of the gray and anchored up in an eastern current with Eagle Rock several hundred yards astern of us and our bow toward Ben Weston.  Options was there, as was the Tornado, which was the most inside boat.  We were on the outside of Options and a squid boat, but still in a decent spot.  The group on the Options began lighting it up with yells of enthusiasm as they kept the fish on their stern with a steady doling of chum.  Birds were hitting the water and a big bald eagle even skimmed in to take part in the surface action. 
     I was going for white seabass with a heavy rig consisting of 80 pound braid, a 40# top shot of fluro, a large egg sinker above a 5/0 red octopus hook and an angry squid.  Isaac went lighter, while Skipper’s offing went back and forth between sardine and squid, with a rig similar to mine, except with 30# fluro and a 4/0 hook.
Options started scoring on several nice sized yellows and added a white seabass.
       We were only getting calicos until Isaac got a big take on his sinkered squid and set the hook into a screaming run.  

     We were stoked with anticipation that it was our turn now as his line played out to the stern.  He started pumping it back and began to get the upper hand as his white seabass ultimately started coming up to unmask itself as a big fat bat ray.  I got picked up soon thereafter, but when I went to set the j-hook with about a hundred yards of line off my reel, we all noticed that my sliding sinker was advancing on the rod tip.  This was an immediate tell that batman had also grabbed my bait, so I pumped in the wing-hooked beast  more sullenly and with less applause than Isaac initally generated.
  We re-rigged and began our cat and mouse with the calicos and perch.  After about a half hour, skipper’s braid began whistling through the guides on his 9 foot custom Phenix rod.  The fish took out a stupendous amount of line as it made a steady run back toward the rock. 
     When it seemed that it could not be stopped, Skipper tightened up the drag and finally began to turn it back towards us.  After steady pressure applied over several minutes, the fish started losing heart and giving up, just like a white seabass and unlike the yellows that nod and pull to the end. 

 Skipper got back almost all of the line and was a couple of turns short of bringing the beast to bay when the sickening DOINK of the line parting ended our anticipation of slaying the first game fish of the season.

      Every time we thought about it again, it was bigger than we initially thought it would be.  We had a scale on board, so our speculation about what it was and how big it must have been was really more like science than guesswork.
       The Tornado’s anchor chain began clanking through the roller, signaling his departure from this spot. After the Options had loaded up with 10 yellows and two nice white seabass from its perfect set, he pulled his hook and let us know he was headed down the backside.  The tide had turned and it looked like slack conditions.
We hung out for a while, but ultimately decided to take a short peek at some of the backside spots on the west end.  We fished Ironbound cove for bass on everything we threw and hit a few more spots that produced many pedestrian calicos and a couple of perch and small sheephead.  Plastics were getting hit as well, but when a barracuda sawed Isaac's brand new 7.5 inch swimbait in half within 2 seconds of his first cast hitting the water, harder or cheaper baits were employed.
     We thought about chasing down the fleet gathering at Ben Weston, but decided that the backside chop and placing ourselves on the farthest point of the island from home would make for a bumpy day, cost a lot of fuel and give us less fishing time.
We opted to cut back around to the front side before we were very committed down the back.  We hit Johnson’s beach and Starlight, hoping for halibut but settling for more bass, with the slack current standing the kelp straight up.  We headed east and looked for birds in the high sun beauty of a calm and clear day.
     A couple of miles down we came around the corner to a ferris wheel of birds.  Once we got a better peek as we worked around an outcropping, we saw a couple of sportboats tucked in on a spot with breaking fish.  We gave them a wide berth as they had a couple of bent rods.  Ultimately we settled in closer to shore and several hundred yards east of the Victory, which had the command position in a substantial area of roaming yellowtail.  The current was going east to west, so our bow was toward the isthmus when we dropped anchor.  The crashing yellows were mostly off in the distance near the sporties, but their movements were betrayed by the birds circling above the general area.  Conditions were good for them to come our way as their pattern near the sportboats took a more elliptical bend.
     Your reporter went to straight fly-lined squid on 30# fluro and switched out to my  ancient Truline rod and a much longer 100 yard topshot of 20 pound mono instead of almost pure braid.  We began hooking bass on every cast as we tried to get our baits out beyond them into the drift toward the commotion of birds and the rotation of boils to the west.  Skipper  tried to get underneath and went down with weighted squid  to add a couple of  male sheephead to the mix.
      I switched to a circle hook so we could release more bass instead of risking the gullet hooking that setting a J hook often provides.  After a dozen or so bass, the line began peeling off the reel with much more authority.  I aimed the rod tip at the fish and let it load up on the hook, which I had lazily tied with an improved clinch knot.  The rod loaded up and arced into a sold run.  The fish burned me down to spectra and kept going.   I thought I was going to get this one, but after I had not quite reached the point of stalemate, I was greeted by the DOINK of freedom as the line went slack.  I pulled it in.  No hook.  I  then tied on a meticulous San Diego Jam knot and went back out with a bit less drag.  After a couple more bass and some takes and drops, I finally got it out far enough to get another long burn.  Again I loaded up.  Once more, thinking I was going to put us on the board with a fat yellow and after much more time than I want to devote to this sentence, I was doinked again.  I backed off my drag a bit more and proceeded to tie on a double Palomar that did not make me proud, but also stood up to the pull-like-an-ape test that is part of my scientific method, even though we have a scale on the boat.
     The folks on Victory kept hooking up, but it ultimately began clanking up its chain as it was ready to head back to the mainland.  Skipper then announced that we also needed to head back for a secret party he had not told us about, right when things seemed fishy.
      We still had a shitload of bait and those fish were already splashing our way, so we whined at Skipper to let us stay a bit longer as we began to broadcast out some of our bait with a more urgent cadence. 
     Isaac had steadily trimmed his fluro topshot on calicos until he finally eroded it to just 20# mono.  Of course, it was at this point that he got lit up on a fish that initially ran a short distance with the bait and stopped, before getting serious and thumping away against Isaacs circle hook soft-set. 

      He had set his drag to stun and began a steady journey of back and forth.  I documented the concentration expressed by Skipper and student as Isaac painstakingly worked the fish toward the boat, trying to avoid the heavy horse play that had left Skipper and me in the 0 for 3 column.
     The fish came up on the lee side and laid out in total resignation for Skippers gaff shot. 

 Skipper brought it over the rail to howls of celebratory relief.  

     After we congratulated ourselves on getting on the board, going home in time for Skipper’s party just seemed like a stupid idea, instead of what we had to do.

Then Skipper’s spectra began whistling through the guides as he hooked up a yellow that seemed to have more heft. 

      He also was using a light drag and babied that yellow to the point where it was to color and on its side.  At that moment, I was still out and internally crying “what about me?” when I decided to reel in and help get Skipper's fish aboard.  I was turning toward Isaac and Skipper, and most of the way done with a rapid reel-on when  yellow exploded on my bait about ten feet from the stern.  The reel was in gear and the yellowtail almost yanked the rig out of my hands, despite a fairly gentle drag setting to which I had retreated after my earlier failures.  I let it go where it wanted.

     My fish began a screaming run and I left Isaac to gaff Skipper’s larger yellow while I decided to bear down on my own fish.  I kept thinking about my shitty knot with every gentle pump of the rod, as Skipper and Isaac celebrated the big thump of a fat yellowtail that was immediately put into the bleed bucket with Isaac’s fish.

     Mine eventually got closer and went deep, wrapping me on a kelp stringer that I managed to saw off and add to the drag that my light setting was creating.  The fish came to the boat and Skipper sank the gaff.  We put that one in a bleed bucket and began grinning, knowing that we all had quality fish.

Fishing clothes always seem to make me look fat, so it was good to have a home-guard sized yellow to hide behind.

We know that the big one was at least 25 pounds and the other was over 20 because we have a scale on the boat.  It is a certified Western Outdoor News
"30 # class" scale.

Skipper felt that we had what we needed to feed our hungry friends and renewed his call to head home.  I greedily cast out and hooked up again.  Once again, the crappiest knot I had tied all day long held up and we boated a fourth fish.

Note that the trusty meat axe of my harvest-hungry surgeon has driven me to wear long sleeves and a pescadero's Hijab while on the water. It may be too little/too late, but I'm standing here on this boat, with better prospects than this fish.

     Skipper began cutting fish as Isaac and I helped bag the cuts and scrubbed down the boat. I left a squid out on the clicker, which is a really lame way to try and get hung with a circle hook, because it requires an active feed-and-load technique.  I had a couple more takes, but could not make them stick with that hook and this hands-off approach.  In a span of about five minutes, the wind huffed up from the west and set our boat back in the opposite direction, pop- corning the channel we were about to cross.
After a few snaps to document our luck, we got down to the wet work.

Skipper’s superb knife work was finished up in short order in the relative calm of our fishing spot before we turned toward home.  You can see my rod in the holder, set to clicker, as I squirt some of the blood and squid ink off the rail.  It is the virtual fisherman's method for multi-tasking.

     The ride home turned out to be pretty easy, with the wind chop on our port quarter.  We were also much cooler guys on that ride home than we would have been if we had left an hour earlier with nothing but calico bass and Skipper's party on our horizon.

     We got the boat cleaned up in short order back at the dock and Skipper’s guests arrived an hour later, as they had been instructed from his wheelhouse.
     Isaac and I came home in surprisingly light Friday evening traffic and left our catch thoroughly iced down in the chest before hitting the showers and the hay. We called in our catch to the host of the party we were invited to, knowing that it was the pescadero/surf crowd who would be stoked on sharing our good fortune. 
     We kept a couple of whole sheephead for ceviche, cursing the recent stupid regulation that required sheephead to be left whole unless it is ready for immediate consumption.   That night, I slept on the downstairs couch while on dog duty, getting up like a zombie a couple of time as escort for their business before dawn came and Wendy hardnosed the highway for Long Beach early Saturday morning.
     Isaac and I trimmed out the yellowtail into perfect hamachi billets and cleaned the sheephead, after which I conducted a little research into the stupid for immediate consumption regulation that I discovered was repealed a few months earlier this year.
     We were able to show up to our friend Byron’s start-of- summer party with the uncooked bounty of the sea to add to the tuna and corn on the grill.

    Isaac made a killer ponzu sauce to go with the chilled hamachi, which the girls fell upon like she-wolves, foregoing utensils in a frenzy that sent Isaac back to the cutting board to load up two more platters after plate loads evaporated in few seconds of savage om-nom-nommery.

    There was more hamachi  and Peruvian lettuce sauce for another Sunday feast at our house, but the plates were savaged before I could draw my camera for a foody shot.

     As summer advances, we  hope to duplicate this style of feeding with greater regularity. 

     We might have to share some with the dogs, as we integrate them into a first season of aquatic savagery of which we hope they take notice and approve for many years to come.  Some day soon, it will be their job to put pheasants on the table.

     Though we are boatless, we are far from friendless…and no longer dogless anymore. 
Summer is upon us, life is good, and

         These Are The Days

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Time We Share

     This year we found that our family’s strong instinct for hanging out together was tested by the fact that we just don’t get to do that as much as we would like, but few get to have all their druthers. 
         Lizzy was not able to join us on our fabulous family road trip to Montana this summer, but we did manage some overlap where we could all be together before grown up things pulled us in separate directions all too soon. 

     The opportunities we have to all join in family adventure are more fleeting than they once were.  There is a certain melancholia, at least to your narrator, about the ticking brevity that seems to hover over our reunions, or cause us to notice the absence of those who are not with us, even as we celebrate the chance to be with those who are.

Before and during Thanksgiving the girls got to go to Ecuador with their mom 

while Isaac headed off with his girl Haley, leaving Tommy and David to help me host Thanksgiving 

with four generations of extended family members at our house.

     Once again, we will be able to intersect over the Holidays, but will not all be together for Christmas.  Sometimes, even though it seems important to have special plans, it is also critical to remember the value of just being together in ordinary circumstances to remind us of who we are and what we mean to each other.  

     One should never underestimate the value of simply farting around with the people you love.  That is a currency that one is unlikely to have deathbed regrets about spending.
     In the coming year, we hope to see as much of each other as we can stand and to greet as many of our friends as night and day will allow.

     The Earth has spun again as we approach the darkest day of the year in the form of the Winter Solstice.  We will plan to emerge in the expanding light of a New Year and listen to Optimistic Voices singing:
You’re out of the Woods, You’re out of the Dark, You’re out of the Night.
Step into the Sun, Step into the Light.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to ALL OF YOU.

We join with everyone in casting our lines into the stream of time that provides us all with occasions for hope, happiness and reflection on the absolute certainty that

These Are the Days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


            I have managed to get behind on my reporting, but these hunting reports are often offensive to some people, so get out your forks, or your pitchforks.

This year, after doing essentially no hunting or fishing, I was shamed into going boar hunting by my longtime hunting/fishing companion and Navy Seal Veteran Mark, who set the whole thing up a week prior to the planned trip over the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.  He then owned me by telling me that I did not have to go if I had a good excuse.  We would be leaving on Sunday morning to sight in our rifles on the way to a hunt in Monterey County on Memorial Day Monday.

I had eye surgery scheduled the day after Memorial Day and also offered up that WendyJo and I were seeing the final performance of Hamilton on Sunday, so I would have to decline, as my thirst for high culture had occupied that date.  “No problem, we will wait for you and go up whenever you want.  I promise I will get you back in time for your eye surgery” -was the gentle reply, delivered with Putin-like calculation.

I changed my mind.

I decided to try out my really nifty old fast firing Browning automatic .270, instead of my tried and trusted Winchester model 70 bolt gun.  The Browning has an old scope that is fixed at 4X.  It lacks the variation or range of the Nikon I have on the bolt gun, but there are advantages to simplicity and the 270 just doesn’t kick nearly as hard as it hits.  Although I had dialed in the .270 fairly recently, we took it to the range with my boys on Saturday and it produced a sub one inch three shot group at 100 yards right on the nickel. That is better than I generally shoot. Despite the fact that I was using lead bullets at the range, I superstitiously just put it away and did not even try it out with the actual copper hunting ammunition I would be using, as copper is now universally required in California.  This assumption that the copper would be consistent was a fundamental mistake that I ended up getting away with, even though I know better.

We were joined by Mark’s old USC water polo buddy Mike, who is an experienced hunter and fly-fisherman whose humorous companionship was perfect for this kind wise-cracking drive up 101.  Mike was shooting a 7mm magnum bolt gun, which is almost as mighty as the 300 Winchester magnum Mark packed, along with his more manageable .308 as back up.

Hamilton was fantastic – the best thing I have ever seen on stage. I was thoroughly prepped by reading the book, listening to the sound track and then watching a documentary on the making of the production on the morning of the performance – all of this under the supervision of WendyJo, who managed to see this production 3 times prior to our big date. I am pretty sure that I was the only one who left the show in a car full of hunting gear to chase boar while my wife went home with her girlfriend, who also attended this most fantastic and patriotic final production.

I met up with Mike and Mark in Palos Verdes and we all piled into Mike’s SUV to head up to King City in Monterey County, with plans to meet our long trusted guide, Tom Willoughby, at 4:30 am at a dirt lot near the 198 close to San Lucas. The ride up was really fun Dudes-on-a-road-trip conversation with bad jokes, recurring themes and non-stop Grateful Dead tunes. We crashed in an economy motel in King City and woke up at 3 am to coffee up and head off to our rendezvous with Tom and his son at this obscure country road intersection. We were wearing our headlamps, hunting pajamas and were giddy with anticipation. Getting on these pigs at first light is one of the imperatives of making your own luck, so we were on time.

Mark and Mike teamed up to ride in the all terrain machine captained by Tom’s son, who is a fantastic guide in his own right.  I rode with Tom in his pickup, which my many excursions with him have revealed can often turn into a ride straight out of “Rat Patrol.”

Tom is the most efficient guide I have ever hunted with and is a man of relatively few words.  As we were headed onto a cattle ranch in the darkness, he asked me what I was using.  I advised I was using my .270 instead of my trusty 30/06.  He clearly was not a disciple of that round.  He asked if I had it sighted in and I responded affirmatively.  He then asked me if I had used copper ammunition to make sure my aim would be true.  I was going to lie and say I did, but I was sufficiently intimidated to honestly offer up that I had used 130 grain lead hunting ammo instead of the 130 grain copper I would be using for the hunt.  He let me know right away that he was disappointed in this obvious party foul by suggesting that I could be as much as 4 inches off in any direction due to the ballistic variance sometimes produced by copper.  He told me that I would be allowed one shot.  If I missed, he would hand me his rifle and I was to use it without question as punishment for my negligence in preparation.  I was kind of bummed out to already assume the role of weak sister as we bumped along in the darkness, saying nothing more to embarrass myself further.

As gray light emerged, we started glassing an area across a small canyon.  Pretty soon it was light enough to see color.  Tom spotted movement on the other side of the canyon.  It was two boars running from our right to left on a trail at the base of a rise about 300 yards out.  We moved parallel to their course to achieve a point of interception where the canyon narrowed a bit.  We set up as I chambered a round.  I had lost some of the confidence I had previously built up with my zeroing of the scope on that Browning the day before, but felt pretty good about the situation.

When they were about 160 yards away, the pigs slowed down to a walk and Tom gave me the green light to fire.  I placed the fore-end of the BAR on the shooting sticks, put the cross-hairs just behind the left shoulder of the lead animal, took a breath and pulled the trigger without hesitation.  The shot took that pig right off his feet.  His companion checked him out and then hauled ass.

Tom turned to me and said “That is a big pig and you hit him real hard.”  That was as supreme a compliment as I am likely to ever get from this man, so I was stoked.  Tom told me to keep the scope on him and hit him again if he got up while he sped off in his truck to track the other animal.  I kept the scope on the proned-out form for a bit, but it was clear that he was not getting up.  I stood in that spot and waited for the sun to crest the horizon behind me as I became aware of cows in the distance and listened to the birds waking up.  While I was waiting there, I heard multiple rifle shots in the distance.  I was hoping my buddies were engaging targets.  A few minutes later, I heard another flurry of rifle fire.

After a while, Tom’s truck reappeared and he picked me up to go across the canyon at a favorable location to recover our quarry.  Upon inspection of the deceased, my shot was right where I aimed and the pig was a real good specimen – very Eurasian in its bristles and long head, with a nice set of teeth. It was prime.

We loaded it into the truck bed.  Tom advised that the others had contacted him with their walkie-talkie and had pigs up another canyon on a different part of the ranch.

When we got to the spot, we met up with the other three.  Mike  explained that they had been pursuing hogs they had sighted when the machine hit a bump, causing the top of his head to impact the roof rather severely and driving the headlamp he was wearing into his scalp.  Mark had opened fire on a couple of pigs that evaded his warning shots while Mike was busy being dizzy in their vehicle.  Both Mark and Mike are medically trained (Mike was a 25 year lifeguard and Mark has all of that military training).  They decided that he would live and resumed their pursuit.  They found another set of pigs coming down the side of a canyon.  They stopped their vehicle and Mark climbed out to start shooting again.  Mike did not want to be left out, so he cleared the cobwebs and staggered out of the machine to provide supporting fire.  They hit two boar several times.  The boar went up a canyon into some steep brush.  We all went up the canyon to locate the pigs, which we were not sure were dead.  In fact they were and we dragged them back down to where the vehicles were parked.  It was then that I noticed that Mike’s hair was matted with blood and it was trickling down his face.  I initially thought it was from the pig, but then I got the full story I have reiterated above.

After a brief photo op,  we rode to a large oak tree, where our guides threw a rope over a limb and used the truck to hoist the pigs, in succession, up to where Tom and his son could skin-out and field dress them. 

They performed this task with such efficiency that the pigs were dressed out in the amount of time it would take us to make a bed, though I am confident that most of my readers make their beds or field dress pigs with roughly the same frequency.

By 8 am we were back at the hotel, where Mike could shower up and become more presentable.  Tom gave us the phone number of a wild game butcher he knew in Creston, which was a slight detour on our general path toward San Luis Obispo. He said it was close enough that we would not even have to ice down our victims, which would make the meat that much better, as they would hang it up in a refrigerated environment before processing. It seemed from Tom's description to be a rather obscure place, but he assured us that they would let us in and be ready to process our animals based on his relationship with them.

We arrived at Creston meats after taking a series of diminishing roads and ending up on a mysterious dirt path which miraculously took us to our destination.  

We made contact with the proprietors and brought our pigs into their remarkable agrarian facility. Inside the large building, which smelled like concentrated meat, was a fabulously industrial stainless steel interior with all kinds of overhead tracking, dangling meat hooks and high powered hoses.

 We were assisted by butchers in lab coats and rubber gloves. They told us they would bring the processed meat to a convenient location off the freeway in Los Angeles, which was a weekly part of their meat delivery route, you know, just like the Meat Man used to do when we were little kids.  We chose a variety of sausage mixes and left them with our haul at about 10 am.

We rode along a very picturesque 229 highway west toward San Luis Obispo, with the intention of having a late breakfast at the Custom House restaurant in Avila Beach (one of my favorite places), which I discovered was a spot neither of them had ever experienced.  We continued our road trip conversation, full of hysterical stories, accompanied by the Dead and now buoyed by the success of our hunt.

 All of us had been to Avila Beach in the old days, which for me was little earlier than for Mark or Mike. I started giving them the history of how the entire town of Avila was completely excavated and rebuilt to look like it had always been there after an historic petroleum cleanup project many years ago.  It was then that Mike revealed that he was one of the project managers for this incredible clean-up site, but had left before they were done and had never been back.  This made our destination all the more important.  I learned a great deal more from Mike about the details of that project, how this beautiful place was rescued from toxicity and was recreated as a vibrant destination.

When we got to the beach, it was brisk and very crowded with Memorial Day tourists.  We had a great meal.

 View from our table on the patio.

We took in the seaside scenery and continued on our way back south.  Once we got to Santa Barbara the weekend traffic really set in.  We crawled along the coast all the way to Palos Verdes, since every freeway was clogged and the slow ride on PCH rekindled memories and stories of Mike’s days as a Baywatch lifeguard.

I got home in time to watch the NBA playoffs with my family and headed off to the eye surgeon the next day, just like Mark promised.  The carving was successful and my vision for distance is remarkably good, especially for someone who has had six eye surgeries and could never see all that well to begin with.

The sausage was delivered later in the week.  It was an expensive process, but it was beautifully packed and prepared.  There was plenty to give away and we are still consuming it, as sausage is a favored entrĂ©e for breakfast, lunch or dinner- at least for those in my family and among our friends who are willing to be accessories to the murder of God's creatures to achieve the peculiar celebration of flavor that wild boar can bring to the table.  It was Ham at both ends of my journey.

The wild boar hunting experience is one of the best deals there is in the world of high powered rifle hunting.  Hanging out with these guys for little more than 24 hours while having this kind of fellowship and hunting success in such a small span of time is something that is a truly remarkable adventure that we can still enjoy in California after attending a first rate theatrical production.  I am grateful that I was goaded into it. 

These events are a fierce reminder that Time and Fellowship are our most precious forms of currency,..... and of course, that

These are the Days.