Friday, September 15, 2017

Mint Green Magic When the Navy Sings the Blues

As Commander Cody might have said in “Hot-Rod Lincoln - Went out of San Pedro late last night - with Secret Skipper and Big Dave, just after the clock turned Thursday.  Up until Go-time, we were uncertain as to whether we would be going to fish White Seabass at I Will kill You If You Tell Canyon at Catalina or make the longer run down to the Desperation area of Roberto Clemente Island for a shot at a mixed bag of bluefin and yellowtail, with a puncher’s chance at one of the bigs.
                We opted to swing for the fences and made the nocturnal voyage toward the island that we almost share with Mexico and sometimes share with the US Navy.
                We had a mixed bag of sardines and mackerel as we ran across really massive bait clouds outside the corner on the approach to Pyramid.  We got outside the lee of the island in the gray and found somewhat cranky water at Desperation.  Our plan was to look around and then head in toward China to anchor up in yellowtail country.  We had credible dope that the bluefin might join in the fun at that location.
                The Thunderbird set up east of us.  We started chumming in ones and twos.  Secret skipper got picked up on a fly-lined  ‘dine and it was game on.  He brought the fish into Big Dave’s head gaff   as the sun started to break the horizon.  It was a great start and a decent fish between 15 and 20 pounds.
                While Skipper was on, we saw bluefin start to blow up on bait about 600 yards to the east under a gathering of pinwheeling terns.  The spouts of mist created by their collisions with the surface started marching towards us in incremental eruptions.  I changed out my gear to the heavy stuff and got a big mackerel into the current that was headed in the right direction.  Larry’s fish hit the deck and we prepared for bigger game.
                When all was in place and the fish were about 250 yards away, a Sea Stallion helicopter  suddenly thumped  up and over the crest of the island behind us, like in the Gary Owen scene from “We Were Soldiers.”  We knew they were not coming to save us.
                Ours was the first boat over which they hovered.  I looked up and waved, hoping they would just cheerfully wave back and mosey on.  This was not the case.  Instead, the helmeted spokesperson forcefully and repeatedly pointed toward Mexico, clearly advising us to clear out.
                “But we are Dreamers and we don’t want to go to Mexico”,  We shouted back, knowing that our pleas to remain would be drowned out by the numbing throb of those huge rotors whipping up the sea around us.
                As he left to deliver the same news to everyone else in the general area (including those out on Desperation), the copter dipped and the  rotor blast put us in a whirl of mist that blew Secret Skipper’s lucky hat right off his head and into an oblivion from which we were unable to retrieve it.
                “Well, you are wet Dreamers now!” was what I thought I heard him say over the deafening pulse as he headed off to spread the bad news to other anglers.
                We dutifully stopped what we were doing and headed back up the front side as the rest of the fleet got the news in seriatum and sullenly fell in behind us.  We watched as two of the sport boats tried to tuck into the corner area where we had seen big bait marks and birds gathering, but the copter reappeared to harry them off that mark and drive them in our direction.
                We ultimately set up at Lizard rock in a promising zone and began to flyline baits towards the beach.  It was an instant bite on both big Calicos and 10 to 15 pound yellows that joined in the mix.  The seals cruised in on our party, but did little damage to our efforts.  They ultimately moved toward the sport boats that set up a short but critical distance to the west of us near Purse seine.
                After we put 10 yellowtails in the box, we started releasing fish that your reporter probably would have been happy to throw on the ice on a leaner day.  I felt liberated enough to start throwing  a mint green surface Iron (my favorite way to fish) and was rewarded with a mix of Old School San Clemente sized calicos and  several more yellows,  at one point going ten for ten on consecutive casts.   Since so many of the fish got a catch and release pass at that point, the fish  already on ice were pissed about that, as they no-doubt felt like the people who actually paid to go to Woodstock before it was declared a free concert.
                Secret Skipper got a big tug from something that behaved abnormally and then mutated into a giant wad of kelp.  As he dragged the weeds ever closer against fiercely active resistance, I saw a flash of cream and brown that put my heart into my mouth about the largest calico ever hooked in the history of humanity.  Right about then, it revealed itself to be a loggerhead turtle. It was snagged in the back flipper.  Big Dave figured he could just grab it and put it on the deck where it would serenely allow us to operate, but it proved to be a much heavier and feistier animal than what we had envisioned. 

  It stayed in the water while we freed it up and both crew and quarry were equally relieved when it swam back into its aquarium of origin.
                By 12:30, Big Dave and Skipper were  ready to leave, although your narrator could have stayed there and thrown that wintergreen candy bar until Hell froze over.  Reason prevailed and we headed back into a choppy swell toward San Pedro.
                We are having a hamachi and calico bass feast for our cronies tonight.  I had mostly refrained from keeping calicos over the past 15 years or so, out of respect for a fish I love and in deference to   one of the Credos of political correctness within the angling community.  My kids, who have grown up in this regime, recently asked me why we always threw them back if they tasted as good as I claimed, so we kept a few and had a fish fry.  It was a huge hit and my Jewish offspring suggested we could modify our longstanding practice, so I could go back to being more Catholic about Calico Fridays, like I will be doing tonight.
                So anyway, I kept this limit and probably will not apologize for it, as they are quite tasty and I have several good recipes that have mostly been mothballed for nearly a generation.
                The mint green jig is continuing to beckon and kid-catchable sized yellowfin have just moved up in force, so I think there is still some gas in this season’s tank.  Perhaps the best is yet to come, but gentle readers, you all know by now what’s coming next in this narrative.

These Are The Days

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dodo’s and Big Yellows at the 43                               

     Since my boat has been out of action this season, Secret Skipper invited me to skip work and take my two boys, Tommy and David, out to paddy hop for dorado and yellowtail on Wednesday, August 16.   We heard reports of tuna on the backside of Clemente and at the Tanner, but we decided to take a path from the slide at the east end of Catalina down along the ridge.
     We packed our gear, made our sandwiches the night before and drove up to Cabrillo Marina from San Juan at 3:20 am.  We were headed out to the 152/277 zone with two scoops of good sardines from the San Pedro Bait company by 5 am.
     The boys were wearing their lucky souvenir Jigstop T-shirts in honor of the closing of our favorite tackle store and iconic repository for my disposable income for the past 35 years
     We encountered choppy 68 degree water in the gray light on the way past Catalina.  We put out the trollers and stopped on a couple of dry paddies at the 277, where we marked pretty good volume on the bait and metered some uncertain marks.
     The sky remained mostly overcast as the water gradually warmed up as we worked our way toward the 181.  We saw very few boats, heard limited radio traffic about one blind-strike dorado and mostly negative reports from the 209 and the 267, which we bypassed.
     We found 70 degree water and less chop at the 181.   The air remained surprisingly and pleasantly cool. Tommy and Davey got up in the tower to scan for kelp paddies as we metered bait schools 100 feet down.  We saw no porpoise or whales here, or anywhere else the entire day.
     We dragged around the 181 and started to chase warmer water out toward the  43 instead of continuing down toward the 182.  We saw more terns and bits of kelp that kept us looking.
     In the late morning, your narrator spotted a paddy that had some heft to it.  As we approached, we saw dorado flash through our path.  Secret Skipper swung the boat into a controlled slide upwind of the paddy and we tossed a half dozen sardines over the side.  Dorado immediately swarmed the bait, crashing between us and the paddy.  We pinned bait on our 2/0 ringed hooks and fired some casts toward the  paddy.
Fairly instantly, we were all hooked up in succession.  The fish were all decent sized hens that screamed off our 20# flouro-top-shotted line and slashed a path through the water and into the air in a frenzy of acrobatic action.

Skipper pumped up a shocking blue dodo, while your narrator bagged one that was flashing gold when introduced to the gaff.

     Tommy hung one on an Okuma Cedros spinner that was more than a match for a fish that jumped and somersaulted many times in the corner between downward runs when it felt itself drawn too close to the boat.

     In my excitement to re-tie Tommy’s rig and get it back out, I expertly cast a lively sardine over the outrigger pole and into the water twenty yards from the side of the boat.  
     Before I could make a really solid effort to sweep my line off that limb, my bait got picked up and line began flying off the reel and over the rigger pole as the fish sounded.  David went up into the tower like a monkey and I passed him the rod with the line still peeling off.  David got the line off the pole and passed it down.  When he came off the ladder I handed him the loaded stick, since he had rescued the rig after I hooked a fish in an impossibly stupid way.  No matter how many mistakes we made, these fish just wanted to be with us.

David worked it up the rail, stayed determined and after a while the fish was in the box with the others before we motored back toward our paddy, which was now teaming with wheeling terns that screeched out encouragement for us to throw bait, which we did. 

     In less than forty minutes we managed to boat all six dorado we hooked and everyone was on the board.

     David found himself locked into a bigger model that screamed off line and headed deep like a yellowtail, because it was.

     David leaned into the arcing venerable Calstar as Secret Skipper stayed close, sensing that this was a big fish.

David’s fish took him all over the boat as he traded advantages with a fish that seemed to know where the props were.
     Eventually, David outlasted the beast, which laid out perfectly for a gaff shot.

It was a personal best for David and we were mighty stoked.

Skipper hooked up again and pumped another respectable yellow to the rail, where I got the chance to play Queequeg with the gaff.

     As we got about 100 yards downstream of the kelp, the water erupted in a huge splash as a giant fish breached and flopped onto the paddy. 
     What was that?!  We all agreed it had a giant head and looked to be at least four feet long.  I came out of the water a couple more time in the immediate orbit of the kelp and seemed to shut down the bite.  We speculated as to what it could be, deciding that it was an enormous cannibal dorado that was eating the other fish and didn’t want our bait.  We motored up to the magic kelp and discovered it was a 300 pound mola trying to shake off parasites by flopping onto the kelp.  So much for our sea monster.
     We put out the trollers and continued to head out toward the 43 as the water warmed and the wind began to freshen up.
      David sang out from his perch that he saw a good paddy with birds above.  As we motored closer, we saw not only birds in the air, but also observed several standing on the paddy, which is always an occasion for increased hope.
We pulled in the trollers and started to sneak up on this car-sized cabbage.  There was little need for that, as several dozen good-sized yellowtail came charging out to greet us.
     We began chumming and both Skipper and I hooked up yellows that we dispatched with surprising ease, owing perhaps to their disappointing size, which permitted us to bounce them onto the deck and get them in the bleed buckets.  Tommy went out with the spinner, which had a top shot that was now down to about 11 inches of fluoro.
Skipper noted that the line was peeling off Tommy’s reel like it was attached to a passing train, while Tommy’s gaze was focused elsewhere.

“Hey Tommy, you might want to take a look at your reel and turn the handle before all of your line disappears.”

     Tommy looked down and engaged the bail.  The rod went down to the rail with authority as the spectra whistled through the guides toward the center of the earth.
Skipper knew right away that this was one of the bigger ones we had seen and took himself out of the action to mentor Tommy through the experience. 
     After about fifteen minutes of mostly losing ground to the fish, Tommy was pleading for someone else to take over. 

 Skipper would have none of it, helping Tommy keep off the rail and coaching him around the deck.

Your narrator also hooked up to one of these more sizeable models, and we were both wired and screaming. It was time to grin and grind.

After we got close to the half hour mark, Tommy’s fish showed signs of heartbreak as Tommy gained line with decreasing loss when the fish tried to run.
When it finally spiraled up and laid out for the gaff, Tommy was as close to finished as was the fish.  Skipper sank the gaff and heaved the fish up and over the rail to deposit it on the deck with a heavy thump. It was a personal best for Tommy and a new family record.
     Your reporter's fish met the steel a few moments later.

 Tommy was too beat to actually lift the fish and retired from further action for a while.

     We made a couple more drifts and boated several more sizeable yellows after extremely satisfying battles.  The wind had come up, we were 74 miles from the dock and it was getting late.
We headed into westerly chop that just got worse as we made our way back.  We had to slow way down to deal with the close interval seas and water plumed over the bow and the house.  We decided that our best chance to cut fish would be to roll into the lee of Catalina and find calm water.  We took a ferocious 50 mile beating getting there and found a peaceful spot to recover and begin the wet work around 7 pm. 

     Before the knives came out, Tommy and David hoisted two of their yellows amidst the carnage.

We cut fish for more than an hour with the entire crew helping to process our most terrible kill.  The boat looked like a slaughterhouse when we were done with our butchery and began scrubbing down for the last leg of our journey.  It was dark when the boys went below to hibernate while we made our way across the channel back to Cabrillo Marina.
After cleaning the boat like Zombies trying to snap out of it, we loaded up our vehicles and nodded home.  We picked up more ice just before the market closed at midnight and offloaded in the driveway.
We all knew we were too bloody to just fall into bed.  When I finally hit the shower, the water ran down the drain like the bathroom of the Bates Motel.
We are having a gathering of feeders on Friday, from what was certainly one of the more intensive and rewarding efforts we have had in a season crippled by our boat’s mechanical difficulties, but saved by the expertly delivered generosity of Secret Skipper and his mighty boat.

     These fish are showing up with sincerity, so get out there and comb through the kelps to find the magic paddy that delivers.  It may take some effort and a mouthpiece-wearing ride home, but the water is warm, life is short, and

 These are the days.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


     I celebrated my birthday, the end of the club pheasant hunting season and my friend Tim’s retirement  with a  hunt at Raahagues Pheasant club a few weeks ago.  The rains had made access difficult during most of the season and this hunt, which we scheduled at the last moment, took place in fields that featured belt-high foliage.

     As always, the folks at Raahagues did a great job of setting us up with a really personable guide, Steve Kimpton, of Kimpton’s guide service, and his dazzlingly good-looking German shorthair, aptly named Hunter.  I would highly recommend this pair if you want to enhance the rare experience (for me anyway) of going for a pleasant walk with a gun.

     This year’s hunt was a bit mournful for me to the extent that California hunters are now required to use steel shot, which is simply not as effective as lead, but more importantly, rules out the use of older or antique style shotguns.  I have enjoyed hunting upland game with my gorgeous 1927 Hubertus 16 gauge side-by-side, but the dedicated chokes on a gun of that vintage preclude the use of steel shot, which can destroy an irreplaceable barrel, as steel refuses to compress like lead as it hits the choke at the end of the barrel.

     I like old things.
     I realize that many of those who might be reading this will have little sympathy, and perhaps urge me to get out a tiny violin to accompany this old school bitchery, but my violin is too large.  I do, however, have this tiny guitar to accompany my swan song to an artistic example of gunmaking, and so, to inversely quote Tony Montana from Scareface, I must “Say Goodbye to My Little Freng.”

     Fortunately, as I am a gun lunatic, I have a couple more modern shotguns with variable chokes and barrels that can either withstand the pressure of steel, or be replaced if damage is done.  I used my Benelli Supersport 12 gauge, while Tim used my trustworthy Remington 870 to process this steel.  We were able to get the job done.

     Hunter, our dog for the day, rekindled my desire to get another pointer, as I am still mostly in mourning for the loss of Victor, my hunting companion for so many years.  Hunter is a tall and well built creature.  Because of the high grass, he would essentially disappear as the birds tended to use the heavy cover to run rather than flush.  Hunter did a great job of locating and holding point on our quarry.

     Typical of late season hunting, the sun got on us relatively early and the dog heated up. The brush worked all of us pretty hard, and we took a couple of breaks to let the dog cool off.  Hunter found a rut filled with water from the recent rain and used it as a spa, making it clear that he would resume the hunt when he felt like it.  He knew, as we did, that there was no way we were going to be able to extract these birds from this sea of tall green grass without him.

We were done after a few hours. Steve grabbed a quick snap before we headed back to the club to engage in the luxury of having our birds cleaned for us while we drank beer in the clubhouse.  This is as close as I come to golfing.

     We mostly hit what we aimed at and ended up going ten for ten, thanks to a stray that flew into our field like a kamikaze right as we were breaking down our guns at the truck.

     We invited our good friends the Devaneys over to share our kill, as Wendy is always anxious to have our sophisticated friends over to hear about how I blew their dinner out of the sky and had a dog bring it back to me in its mouth. 

      I spent an inordinate amount of time concocting a blackberry shallot reduction sauce to accompany the birds I brined and then roasted, but it came out about as well as I could have reasonably expected. I made my wild rice and asparagus with hollandaise, in which David soaked everything he ate.  I think he poured the leftover sauce on his cereal the next morning, as he is a huge fan of hollandaise.  Despite the professional bird cleaning, there were, of course, a few BBs that stowed away in our fork loads, so caution had to be exercised.  Biting down on lead shot is no treat, but steel can be a tooth cracker.

     I made a pheasant stock and ate pheasant soup for the rest of the week to make sure I wrung as much of a pheasant fix out of this one trip of the season as I could.  The last bowl featured most of the shot that had settled to the bottom of my huge cauldron, so that dining experience was more of a mine-sweeping operation.

     Bird season is over for me.  The ocean is starting to reveal some stirring of the game fish with which I hope to collide once these infernal spring winds become a bit less treacherous.  The big rains should create a favorable environment for boar hunting once the back roads are dry and the wild oats get higher, if you like that kind of porkicide.

     I am stoked about the prospects for outdoor recreation coming our way. There is a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks noisily occupying the tree in our backyard, the daylight is starting to stretch out to allow watching sunsets after work, and….

These Are the Days.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


     Call me Gilligan.......
 and I will make this story shorter than I usually do.  No monkeys.  No gunfire.  No dead monkeys.

     Your reporter was lucky enough to get an invitation at the last minute from Secret Skipper, whose last mate had deserted him by faking injury.  I paid this gesture forward by leaving work right away, as I had tallied a grand total of one legal lobster for a season I had mostly skipped.  Tommy and David could not join me for this one, as they had made important commitments to education and the swim tournament pool that so relentlessly beckons.

       We decided to take a longer voyage and soon found ourselves off the coast of Ireland, where Secret Skipper has discovered a new spot. The island was cloaked in striking green velvet that we rarely get to see.
     We set up in daylight near Beagle Reef and had plenty of time to cast for bass before darkness would allow our quarry to begin their nocturnal crawl.  There were lots of birds crashing and generally milling about.     It turned out they were feeding on small fin fish and clouds of tuna crabs, so the bass demonstrated little detectable interest in our offerings.  The Fish and Game (sorry, Wildlife) catamaran “Thresher” was anchored up close to the shore and was deploying divers.

     We baited up with salmon carcasses and dropped in 58 degree water.  Confident of our robot puller, we made our set in water up to the 300 foot depth, where little interaction with divers would be expected.  It was a mostly moonless night and the skies had cleared between storms.  We set out our hoops while it was still daylight so that we could get good bearings on where we were and deal with any problems before darkness enveloped us.  We watched the Thresher leave the island and head back toward Dana, like a fox, as the sun set behind our enchanted island. 

     Another boatload of lobstermen showed up and greeted us by sewing their own hoops and floats directly into the pattern we had already staked out and after we had suggested the importance of staying out of each other’s gear.  There were few other boats out and things remained cordial despite this breach of etiquette.

     The clear skies and the moon’s absence gave us a spectacular opportunity for stargazing while grazing on Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Our bliss was soon interrupted by the realization that the robot had gone on strike as it began making ugly gear grinding noises and ceased its slavish obedience to our instructions.

     Big Dave and I took turns hauling on the lines as Skipper brought us relentlessly from one beaconed marker buoy to the next.  The time for each set lengthened due to our reduction to manual labor, so Skipper refused our requests for even one chicken break during this cadence.  The crawl was slow and sometimes we encountered a blizzard of tuna crabs on the way up, so that our nets had  heavy clouds of these annoying crawdads obscuring the emptiness which characterized most of our results.

     Soon blinding searchlights bathed us in stark white as a Fish and Game (sorry, Wildlife) inflatable materialized just yards from our stern.  It was manned by the same young warden divers we had seen earlier, before the Thresher doubled back to the lobster grounds under cover of darkness and launched this boarding party.  The wardens were, as usual, on our boat almost as soon as we could say “hello.”  We had all of our papers in order and little to show for our efforts, so we were completely checked out and in compliance.  We chatted them up for a while and referenced their earlier presence during daylight.

     They advised that they had been on a routine dive to make sure that divers did not poach in the restricted area and also to make sure that these divers they were actually shadowing in an underwater game of cat and mouse were not taking abalone.  We were surprised by the reference to abalone and we  were advised that these massive shellfish have been making a significant enough come back that they now had to focus efforts on preventing the take of this incredibly tasty mollusk, which had become virtually extinct and completely off limits for most of my life.  We regarded this as good news and said our goodbyes as they headed back toward their stealthy mother ship.

     Our toil resumed.  We slowly added some big lobsters to our live tank as the night wore on and conditions got a bit colder.  We kept warm working the ropes, as what luck we had was mostly in the zone between 165 and 200 feet. Virtually all of the keepers we extracted were well beyond measuring size. After 77 pulls, we were physically spent and the calendar had moved to Saturday morning.  We managed six quality specimens per man, which was one short of our limits, but my vote for staying for Limits-or-Death was in the minority.  We rode home on a very smooth sea, cleaned up the boat and tried to beat the sunrise home.

      Tommy and David assisted me in the photo documentation, execution and preparation of these tasty creatures. 
     After the wetwork was completed, our longtime pals and next door neighbors, Jeff and Lysa, came over to share an abundant evening of cocktails, surf and turf.
      The season is winding to a close after the weather kept us off the water for most of the winter.  We ate lobster omelets for breakfast and plan on gorging on the rest during the Oscars tonight, so none of those Hollywood stars will have anything on us in terms of what we get to eat this weekend.

     It’s good to snatch a few  insects from the sea as spring approaches.  I was greateful to learn that the amount of baloney on the shell in our local offshore world is increasing to the point that maybe our children will be able to harvest a few, if these critters keep up the comeback.

     It should be a fantastic spring runoff and a banner year for whitewater rafting and fishing the Sierras, unless the Deity hoses off the snowpack too quickly.  It looks like this weather is going to give us more indoor opportunities. In the meantime there is  reason for optimism about times to come, while never forgetting that

Monday, January 23, 2017


This year our extended family was lucky enough to spend the start of the new year on the beach in Mexico.  Our daughter Elizabeth had the winning ticket in a lottery organized by the Commission for self government in Isla Vista.  The grand prize was a one-week stay in a drug lord quality beach house at a place called Punta Del Bozo on the northern bight of Banderas Bay in the Nayarit province west of Puerto Vallarta.  One of the coolest parts of this trip was the incredible bus we embarked on in Mexicali. It  slept all 14 of us, provided a deluxe kitchen and gave us a large midsection game room where we could watch movies and play charades as we roared toward our destination.

Our hidden host was La Hermindad del Bozo (the Brotherhood of Bozos)– a somewhat dark organization which allegedly controls the economy in Nayarit and western Jalisco.  They derive their name from a now obscure comedy troupe of cunning linguists known as the Firesign Theater.  Their popularity lingered for a time in the Proctor and Ward radio hour on the airwaves of the Santa Barbara/Isla Vista region of California.  The founders of “Los Bozos” traveled by bus in the 1970s to this coastal region of Mexico, where they set up rustic surf camps in an area that has now been transformed by the drug trade and tourism.
We stayed at the famous Villa Ananda, a seaside mansion and yoga center protected from the prying eyes of the world by the Los Bozos organization, as they seek to go “legitimate” with a business model based on Yoga, the mass consumption of food and liquor, and a dedication to  family –friendly sport fishing. 

 There were days of surfing, massage, and spiritual awakening at the feet of the resident Yogi, but this report concentrates on the day of fishing we experienced with Elme and his crew at "Y-Knot" charters, which operates out of Bucerias and the Cooperativo at Anclote. There was a full time staff of four at Villa Ananda who saw to our every need, as well as making us aware of needs we did not realize we had until new cocktails and snacks were forced on us.

Our group of intrepid anglers included your narrator, daughters Sarah and Lizzy, Connor Devaney, Isaac Schmitt, Tommy Schmitt, David Schmitt and Cousin Ryan Babbush.  A group of this size required that we be split into two parties, so Isaac, Sarah, Connor and Ryan teamed up in a 30 foot catamaran ably commanded by local pescadero Lora and his brother Juan, while Lizzy, and our two 11 year olds accompanied and translated for me on a 31 foot whaler crewed by Elme, skipper Arturo and deckhand Victor.  These boats are fast, seaworthy and festooned with modern Shimano fishing gear and fresh spectra line.  They have modern electronics and safety gear -  a far cry from the 40 horse pangas we used to charter off the beach in the bad old days.  They are priced accordingly.
We arrived at the Cooperativo and embarked into the gray light and slightly stormy seas.  Our whaler headed more to the west to look for tuna and dorado, while the cat headed for La Corbetena, a rocky outcropping which rises from the sea about 18 miles west of Punta De Mita.
Elme, who is an extremely charming and knowledgeable host, told us a fantastically romantic story on the way out.  When he was fourteen, a family of surfing hippies from Isla Vista was camping along the shores of the bay for four months, having traveled there by bus.  He fell in love with the family’s 14 year old daughter named Heidi, who he announced he intended to marry.  Her dad chuckled sympathetically at this notion and the family returned to the United States and out of his life.  Five years later, they returned with a picture they had taken of Elme.  They searched until they found him and he was reunited with his first crush.  The two then embarked on a 22 year long distance relationship which ultimately culminated in marriage and two young children, after Heidi obtained her PHD and became an expert in poison research in the USA.  The parents of Elme’s wife were connected with the original 1970’s Bozos of Isla Vista, whose influence  inexplicably expanded in the region to the point that the local citizenry expressed allegiance to Los Bozos.  Their reach  grew to include the protection of virtually all local businesses, as well as the acquisition of the famous beachside ashram where we were privileged to stay.
The ride out was in rough seas and we were not able to take full advantage of the swiftness of our boat. 

We trolled an area west of Corbetena for tuna and dorado, which is the Mexican name for what the Hawaiians call mahi-mahi, which is what everyone in Punta Del Bozo calls dorado, for reasons which remain unclear to me.  
 We did not encounter any of the giant yellowfin tuna for which this region is famous, but we did briefly hook  and lose a big marlin after it screamed off  a few hundred yards of line and signaled the end of the contest with a couple of big headshakes that separated him from our fleeting grip.
We stayed in touch with our sister ship by radio and heard that they were successfully drifting for Jack Crevalle and Snapper. 

 We eventually motored over to the rock pile that makes up Corbetena, which is topped by a cool little lighthouse. Tommy expressed grim determination while Lizzy went dormiendo.

We fished with live cabalito as both boats drifted the pinnacles around the visible part of the rock.  Sea Lions came out to grab Pargo (red snapper), while dolphins breezed through and drove up bait balls for diving terns and frigate birds.
We observed our companions on the other boat with bent rods and soon we were hooked up.  The action was not red hot, but was a steady pick during which everyone caught a variety of fish , including sierra; dogtooth snapper, African pompano ( I do not know why they are African) and jack crevalle, which pull very hard and which  we generally released. Sarah hoisted one of her Jacks as Isaac secured the implement of its temporary removal from the sea

Connor caught a beautiful green barred dogtooth snapper, which we voted the tastiest fish of the trip

Ryan yanked in a toothy sierra, which made for delicious ceviche back at the ashram.

Tommy was the first on our boat to hook up a jack, which soon railed him to the point where Lizzy took over

 and jacked it over the rail with help from Victor. 

 David, with encouragement from Elme, displayed excellent form while pulling on fish as we moved to various spots. 

Our sister ship can be seen in the background of this shot of David with soon-to-be-released jack

 Some of the victims of our piscatorial efforts were set free, while others were more cruelly thrown on the ice, as we took breaks to consume the wonderful tortas and peculiarly addictive cheese infused Mexican Ruffles to which we were introduced by our incredibly helpful and entertaining crew.

Arturo and Tommy with African pompano.

      We started working our way down swell, stopping at a few spots to ply our trade.  We saw many breaching humpback whales, which Elme instructed us to refrain from watching, so that he would not have to charge us an additional whale watching fee.
     Elme then spotted a series of painted liter bottles bobbing in a line downwind from a buoyed flag.  It was an illegal long–line placed by an interloping outlaw group known as Los Changos del Mar – the Sea Monkeys.  They are regarded as an inferior rival by the Los Bozos organization and Elme openly expressed his contempt for them as we slowly motored up to one of the bottles that bobbed furiously. 
    Elme explained that these long lines indiscriminately hook and kill a variety of fish, as well as turtles, one of which was causing the gyration of the bottle that signaled its plight.  Elme and his crew carefully brought in the lines and released the turtle.  

We then liberated the game fish pulling on other bottles down the main line. 

 We watched the turtle furiously swim away and I took a really crappy picture of this event. We were engaged in a bout of self congratulation as we watched it escape.  Because of this lengthy distraction, we failed to observe a sinister looking vessel bearing down on us from the east.  Before we had a chance to hit the throttles, I heard gunfire from an AK 47 and turned to see a crew of four  ape-like guys dressed like pirates swooping in on us on a twin engine black hulled panga.  
     They were screaming “Alto!” and a bunch of other Mexican words I did not understand. Elme told us to be cool and not make any sudden moves.  All of my kids speak fluent Spanish and kept me informed with whispered translation.  The crew of this boat were the owners of the illicit long line and they were not too happy about the liberation they had caught us performing.  They seemed to want to kidnap the kids and Elme was warning them that we were fishing under the protective flag of  Los Bozos, who would not look kindly on such a breach of local order.  The kids explained to me that these guys were unchivalrous rivals of Los Bozos and appeared to be intent on making an example of us.
     The guy who seemed to be in charge of the black boat spit into the water over the barrel of his gun, which he pointed in a very menacing way at each of us in turn.  We were still at least 15 miles out and totally at their mercy.  Suddenly a thunderous roar of heavy weaponry erupted as Elme and Arturo dove toward us and pulled us down to the deck.  The noise was deafening and I was consumed with the flash of certainty that we would be sunk and never heard from again.  A red hot shell landed on the back of my hoody and several more clinked into our boat.  I grabbed at the back of my burning neck and came away with a smoking 50 caliber casing.  
     Those Changos did not have a deuce, I thought.  I poked my head up and saw the black panga shattering into splinters of high velocity impact.   What looked like hunks of crudely butchered meat and bone began splashing into the water around us.  The panga folded up and was rapidly dragged down, stern first, by the two 250 horse outboards on its transom.
     We all stood up.  Twenty yards to our west was the wave washed gun deck of a miniature submarine that had surface behind us so as to be screened from the black panga.  A red haired gunner with big shoes stood behind a smoking fifty caliber machine gun.  He said nothing, but rapidly unlimbered the gun from its mount and fed it back through a hatch next to the gun mount.  He descended into the hatchway, pausing only to give us a winking glance.  The skipper of this sub, which was less than sixty feet long, grinned down at us from the conning tower and yelled down to us -
 “You Okay Gringos?”

 He looked at our skipper and said “Ola Elme, Como Estas?”  Elme yelled back, “Gracias, Hermano!” The skipper of the sub then expressed his contempt for Los Changos and exchanged a few pleasantries with Elme, who he obviously knew quite well.  I learned during my stay that everybody knows and loves Elme. I noticed that the conning tower was painted with a likeness of Bozo the Clown.  

The skipper yelled down the conning tower hatch to his unseen crew, “Bozamanos Muchachos!” and waved to us as he slipped down into the tower and pulled the hatch closed behind him.  The boat rapidly slipped beneath the chop toward Puerto Vallarta.   We saw its periscope pop up and cut a wake for a short time before that trail disappeared as well. 

Elme cracked a couple of beers for us and broke out the chips.  “Wasn’t that just the darndest thing?” he said to us in perfect English.  “The Bozos know that you are with us and staying at the Ashram at Punta Bozo, so you are under their protection – Our protection.  In a word, your status is that of an original Bozo, as in “Bozo tambien” or, more formally, “Bozotros”.  My bilingual kids explained to me this term of inclusion was a conjugation taken from the root verb “Bozar”, which means “to be a Bozo”. 
      Well, “Yo quiero Bozar” is how I would describe my attitude about this exciting day on the water.
     We motored back toward shore and stopped to catch a couple more pompano and dogtooth snapper.  We saw many whales, some of which repeatedly engaged in full body breaches and crashed back into the sea below chattering swarms of seabirds.  
     Our companions were already back in the harbor when we returned to the port.  Elme’s crew expertly cleaned our catch and placed it on ice.  It was enough to feed us and the staff at the Ashram for the rest of the week.
     Our staff prepared a ceviche and sashimi feast for us on each of the remaining days during cocktail hour, which comprises the majority of each day. 

      This was the first family vacation we have taken that involved a high degree of scheduled alcohol consumption with our grown children, their cousins and their friends.  This new phase in family festivities seems to be something to which we are all comfortably adapting without much difficulty.
     The kids caught waves that evening and the sunset was especially beautiful after our maritime adventure.

 We had our own family point break and the kids  honed their skills as they took turns snaking each other.

There is not enough space in this already too long report to describe the other activities and spiritual experiences with the Yogi, so I am not going to even try. I would have to say that this trip, including the two day charades-infused bus ride back to Mexicali, was the most relaxing and pampered vacation I have ever had.  

     We took our own Isla Vista Express bus from Mexicali to Orange county, but by then we were on our home turf.

     If you get down to this part of Mexico and want a quality  angling experience for everyone from  professional tournament fishermen to a family of kooks like ours, I can give my whole hearted recommendation to contacting Elme and Y-Knot Charters.  They have a fleet of boats and great crews.  Elme can put together any kind of fishing package you can think of, as well as whale watching, diving, and wave runner rentals.

I know that such opportunities for this kind of wholesome family fun and dealing death to monkey criminals are rare enough to savor.  I, for one, cannot wait to try and repeat much of what we have encountered on this journey of spiritual discovery.  It seems that as we grow, it becomes ever more obvious  that we are all Bozos on this bus..... and 

These are the Days.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Do you work it out one by one, or played in combination?  You throw out your gold teeth. Do you see how they roll?
The month of March brought me to my 60th birthday, which, by the way, is a birthday which mostly sucks, but the majority of us are still counting on getting there. It is “middle age” but we all kind of know it’s not the middle.  It’s well into the back nine. I decided to celebrate by combining two of my favorite activities, upland game hunting and bass fishing, in northern California.

I figured a combo trip like this deserved some research, so I contacted Northern California Cross-Outfitters, which advertised that they brokered outdoor adventures and specialized in the Delta.  My appointed representative was Jason MacSanchez, who advised me that he was of combined Mexican/Scot heritage and really knew his way around the Delta. 
I told him what I was interested in and suggested that I would like to do the hunting part of the trip with the crew at Bird Landing, because I really liked their facility and the staff there.  He said he had not heard of them, which should have caused me more alarm than it did at the time.  I just told him to concentrate on getting me a fishing guide who knew what was going on in the Delta, which is a vast resource that hosts a multitude of remarkable natural resources.  He indicated that he would incorporate my hunting trip into whatever fishing, lodging and dining experience he could arrange with the locals with whom he was in contact.
Jason said he would hook me up and requested I send him a deposit.  He asked for a combination of Travelers checks and a money order, which seemed like an odd paring.  I had not seen a Travelers check in decades.  I ended up going to a UPS/post office/saving and loan facility where I procured the species of payment requested.  While I waited in the lobby for my number to be called, I watched a talk show featuring the former Bruce Jenner, who was probably one of the most famous athletes I can remember seeing.  He won the gold medal at the Olympics in the decathlon, which features a combination of different track and field events.  The woman sitting next to me was watching in tears, whispering between sobs, “She is so courageous.”  I couldn’t hear what was being said, and pretty soon my number was called. I completed my multiple transactions at a single station at the counter.
Jason, upon receipt of my payment, sent me a link to a virtual tour of his business, known as Cross Outfitters - and included a Skype connection.  I had never actually Skyped before, and had a hard time at first, as it is a combination of video and audio broadcast through my cell phone.  I kept getting it backwards.
“Hey Ed.  Mind if I call you Ed?”  The phone was making a noise, but I could not get any picture.
“Nice to meet you Jason.  It is perfectly okay to call me Ed, as that is what everybody calls me, mostly because it is my name.”
“Well, Brah, here’s the deal.  I am a cross-fit trainer and a Vegan, so I know that I am going to able to push you toward having a great time.”
I fumbled with the phone and then caught a glimpse of my guide for this journey.  He looked to be about thirty five, with one of those I-was-going-bald-anyway shaved head looks and a very tight shirt that read:
“Cross-Outfitters – Our Warm Up Is Like Your Workout.”  He did look pretty fit.
“Gosh Jason, It’s probably better that you aren’t going hunting, in light of the whole Vegan thing.”
“No worries Brah.  I think outside the box. We will catch up with you in Lodi where I have set you up with a great guide and a cool bed and breakfast place in the heart of the Lodi wine country.  See you on Saturday night.  I gotta catch a big Bike-for-the-Lord rally in Tracy anyway on Saturday.  It is a big networking opportunity and I can combine my love of fitness, faith and finance.”
I rented a cool gunmetal gray Ford Squirrel, which is a hybrid Sport Utility vehicle designed for those who enjoy good mileage, off road driving and the sporty feel of a car that looks like the cap of a Confederate enlisted man.
I drove out to the Bird Landing facility, where I met up with my old friend Jim Lawman, who gave up a promising career as a sheriff of a corrupt border town to become the primary facility acquisition and design planner for Google.  We met up with our guide Alexis, who is a biochemistry student at Davis, an expert dog handler and the number one woman sporting clay champion in America. Alex was accompanied by her dad, who was a former IRS agent turned shooting instructor/hunting guide.  

  I found it slightly irritating to be in the company of people who seem to be so good at so many things in comparison to me, but I tried to make the best of it.
As always, we were well taken care of by the pretty and talented girls at Bird Landing – Kimberly and Taylor, shown here with Alex.

We got out to the field at about 1 pm for what they call an “Afternoon Stroll,” which involves 8 birds and a very large field that had been hunted earlier in the day.  Alex sent out her English pointer “Cali” who is the same type of dog that starred  in the TV program “Hunting with Hank,” a show with which I am sure all of my readers are familiar.  Cali would get out and hold point a good distance away.  If she smelled the bird her tail would wag.  Once she actually saw the bird, her tail would stiffen up completely.  If the bird started running, she would follow on a sort of half-point.  It was a great form of communication with the hunters.

We enjoyed an excellent and relaxing walk in good weather, with great conversation.  I managed to get a great impact shot of Jim knocking down a pheasant.  I took it with my I-phone, which is a wonderful combination of phone, camera, compass and computer.

Later, we managed to sneak up on a group of birds that were all sitting together on this log.  Jim instinctively yelled “Freeze! Police!”, but we shot them anyway, even though they totally followed Jim’s instructions.                                                                                                                                                  

I must interrupt this narrative to bitch about a fundamental party foul that was committed by a man who came into our field with his very young son as we were actively shooting birds.  I pulled away from a shot at the last second when he and the boy appeared directly in the path of a fleeing pheasant that I was deep into the process of shooting.
“Excuse me, but I think I lost my cell phone somewhere in this field, so my son and I are just going to stomp around randomly during your hunt until I find it.”
I am not making this up.  It really happened.  They continued to walk around in our field for nearly an hour until they found it by calling it on a phone they borrowed from someone else.  I wanted to abuse this guy, who was giving his kid the worst lesson a father could possibly contrive in a hunting atmosphere, but I was a guest of the club and did not want to scare his kid, who had no idea what kind of danger his bullshit-for-brains dad was placing him in.  Anyone who has ever hunted pheasant knows that you do not wander into a private field that is being actively hunted.  This guy does not deserve to own a gun, or even a phone.  Although it pains me to say it, he did eventually find his phone and finally left us without getting his kid shot, or learning anything worth knowing.
After the hunt, we traded our pheasants for pheasant sausage and whole smoked birds and then went to the lodge cafĂ© to scarf down big burgers.  After picking up our meat, we went over to Shirley’s Tavern (featured in a previous article), where we spent some time with Shirley, who was out of every kind of beer except Budweiser, so that is what we drank. 

After I left Bird Landing, I dropped off the sausage and smoked pheasant with starving students at the Berkeley Acropolis, which is one of my favorite places for celebrating a good clean kill.
As I left the Berkeley campus, Jason’s face came on like clockwork on the screen of my I phone. 
“Hey Brah.  I got you hooked up at the Flaming W Ranch in the heart of Lodi wine country.”  I will meet you there tonight.  It’s kind of a combination dairy-pig farm and winery and the people there are Hela-cool.”
“Did you really just say Hela-cool?”  I asked.
“Yeah Brah, Oh, I forgot you are from southern Cali.  Everyone says that up here.”
This guy was starting to bum me out. He gave me the directions to the place in Lodi and I drove out there to meet him.
When I got to the ranch, it was dark and I really did not know where I was.  I was driving down this country road, following the GPS instructions dictated by my female voiced robo instructor, when I saw what looked like a torch being slowly waved a few farmhouses ahead.  I slowed down and a woman, holding a real live torch, hailed me.
“You must be Ed”, she said.  “Jason told us to be on the lookout for you.  He just called and told us that he isn’t going to make it here tonight, but that he will visit after you are done fishing tomorrow.”  He is doing some kind of night time, bike racing/ walk-on-your-hands race to benefit the Lodi transgender community.”
“I guess that kind of event is something that probably sneaks up on you.” I offered up, as she opened up a gate that led to a gravel road onto a very impressive piece of property.
“My name is Electra” she said.  “Welcome to the Flaming W Ranch.”  Her enthusiasm was contagious and I could not help but take an immediate liking to her.  I was secretly glad that Jason had found a way to not be around.
“Are you Greek, or named after Sophocles' tragic Greek character who was the eldest  and vengeance obsessed daughter of Agamemnon?”  I asked, hoping to score points with this literary reference.
“ No, not at all, but a lot of folks ask that very question.  My dad was a Buick dealer and knocked up my mom in his favorite company car.”
She brought me inside to meet the rest of the crew, who were pouring Basil Hayden bourbon while waiting on a whole pig BBQ that slowly revolved over an open fire pit.  The wonderful aroma wafted into the spacious house as the other three occupants greeted me.  I knew right away it was right place for me.  It turned out that Electra was a wine broker and chef academy instructor who had been a local calf roping champion and prom queen at Tokay high school back in the day.  She also had a wicked sense of humor.  I would later find out just how wicked it was.   For now, it was just incredibly amusing.
I met my guide, John Henry, who works both as an architect and fishing guide.  His wife, Samantha, is a zoologist/museum curator who also creates the daily menu for the wide variety of animals maintained at the Living Desert exposition near Palm Springs.  Samantha introduced me to her brother Ulysses, who is married to Electra.  Everyone gathered around the spitted pig, drinking bourbon, while Ulysses, who is a firearms instructor and heavy equipment broker, explained to me the fine points of managing a dairy-pig operation.  It was quite fascinating and something I never realized was a viable enterprise.  He explained that the large pig we struggled to get off the spit and cut up with meat axes was what they call a “dry sow,” which no longer served the farm in its primary capacity as a milk producer, but was delicious because of what it had been fed all its life.  Additionally, any leftovers could just go back to the pigs, because they are omnivorous.
Ulysses and Electra set me up in a beautiful guest room after a feast in a dining room that was right out of Camelot.

 “We are fishing at 6 am, so you’d better be ready.”  That is exactly what I wanted to hear as my head hit the pillow.
We were up at 4:30 am and hooking up the boats Ulysses stored in a 3,000 square foot garage.  I joined John Henry as we dragged across the levy roads toward Vieria Landing, which is one of hundreds of beautiful spots to launch in the network of tide influenced fresh water locations in the western Delta.
We were targeting striped and largemouth bass, both of which were just starting to go on the bite in this early part of the season.  I had read that the bass would most likely bite on the outgoing tide, which produces the greatest movement of water as the retreating tide gives way to the river systems that spread their energy throughout the Delta on the way to San Francisco Bay.
We kept in contact via cell phone, which we also used as our GPS navigation devices.  John Henry expertly used the electric trolling motor to get us into promising areas when he was not using his refrigerator-sized outboard to push us up and down the Delta at 50 plus miles per hour.

We came upon several Derelicts of the Delta, as this body of water is notorious for abandoned vessels, due to the lack of regulation regarding anchoring up huge boats for which the owner has run out of options. 

 There were several vessels like this one – a sort of combination sport fisher/sailboat, which is neither a good sailboat nor a great sport fisher – more of a giant wallower with cavernous holds.  They are apparently a species of boat built in the greater Stockton area.  The examples we saw were well past their prime and were tagged by some agency. This one was over 60 feet long and at least 15 feet deep from keel to weather deck
I managed to get on the board with a couple of largemouth I got on a double bladed spinner bait.

John Henry cashed in on a striper on a crank bait and  then this large mouth bass on a Senko, which he threw relentlessly.

Ulysses got striper of the day on a shallow-diving crank bait and many more in front of the fabulous waterfront homes at Isleton. 

 Everyone caught fish and nobody got lost, which is something that can easily happen on the Delta without electronics, or a keen sense of one’s surroundings.

                              Samantha's smallest fish of the day, but it was the first of many
After we got the boats hauled out and were headed back to Lodi, Ulysses called Electra to see about dinner plans, as Electra had planned an Italian feast with home-made pasta from the eggs from their chicken coop, some actual stone ground flour and the milk from their pigs.  She is a master chef and had planned flight of wines to go with the various courses.  Jason would be joining us to bask in the after-glow of the outing he took credit for arranging.
As our wheels crunched up the long gravel driveway leading to the back of the spread, I caught a glimpse of Jason.  He was dressed in a kimono like robe that covered a fishnet tank top.  He was doing Tai-chi style movements on an elevated platform near the heavy equipment with the sunset strategically framing him for our view as we approached.  Just before we pulled up, he leapt off the platform and onto the bucket of a backhoe, where he did few bar dips before propelling himself at us.
“Hey Brah, how many fish did you kill?”
“Just this one” responded Ulysses, cutting in front of me to intercept Jason with a display of the striper.  He said “Hey Jason, do you want to clean it?”  I could sense a bit of tension between Ulysses and our cross-trained agent of fortune.
“No way Brah. That is for flesh eaters.  I am sticking with the Italian stuff.  Hey, I taught Electra that recipe for homemade pasta and want to make sure she doesn’t screw it up.”  Jason seemed like he was intoxicated.  Electra winked at me and said “Jason you are the man.”
Jason had his hair balled up into a tiny man-bun on the top of his head.  It looked like a hairball from a cat.  “You can just call me Sensei, Electra.  Let’s break out your wine.”
We went inside.  Electra had laid out an incredible spread of olives, pepperachinis, cheeses, veggies and smoked meats.

  Jason began picking at it right away, as Ulysses and Samantha poured the wine.  Electra was over at the big stove and had just transferred her home-made linguine pasta from the pasta machine to the kettle. 

 A saucepan of mushroom sauce simmered next to it.  Jason began hovering nearby as she stirred it, clearly irritating her.
“Jason, go feed off the anti-pasta platter and stay out of the kitchen until I am done.  Maybe you could set the table.”
“Hey Babe,” he said, “Maybe there is something you don’t know about the Zen of Cross-Fit.  We do everything at once, because we can.”
“Well, I am the chef in this kitchen and let me assure you that there is a natural order, an appropriate progression to a good meal and the flow of the evening.  You are  upsetting that balance!”
“Cross fit knows no boundaries” he declared.  “We set our own pace.   You may seek order, but we re-order!”
Jason stuck his hand directly into the hot pasta just as she was straining it over the sink.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” Samantha asked.  Jason turned to her and stared intently.  “The secret is not minding.” was his response as he pulled out a fistful.
Where was G. Gordon Liddy when you needed him? I thought to myself.  This guy was pretty goddamned strange.
He walked over to the platter and began heaping olives, mushrooms and pepperachinis onto the steaming pasta he dropped on a plate.  “This is how it is meant to be eaten, if you've done the work-out to deserve it.”
Electra yelled at him “Don’t do that.  It will ruin everything, you fawning pig-man!”  Jason just looked at her and shoved a forkful into his maw.  Suddenly, his mouth began foaming and his nostrils flared red.
“You cannot allow the anti-pasta to come into direct contact with pasta in the same bite!” she cried, but it was too late.  Jason’s head seemed to detonate as his eyes bulged and he vainly tried to eject the supercharged cargo that was reacting in his mouth.  His head began smoking, but it was more like the smoke you get with dry-ice.  It stayed close to the ground where he now lay, twitching slightly.
She stood over him and slowly said “you know nothing of the forces that govern the culinary universe.”
She looked back at us and tossed back the rest of her wine. “I told him.  You all heard me.”  Ulysses put his arm around her and said “I never liked that little prick.  Let the pigs have him.  Nobody is going to miss Jason.”
And so it was, as the flow of the evening was only briefly interrupted by this cosmic collision of electrons.  We all swore each other to secrecy and finished the rest of the meal in relative peace, as did the porcine denizens of this unique dairy ranch.
I will not tell a soul, except of course within the privileged bounds of this publication, but who would believe me anyway, even if I decided to narc out such gracious hosts?
I got up the next morning and had some really great French toast before getting on the road back down to southern California, or, as Jason would have said  “Southern Cali”.
I hope to get a chance to stay at the flaming W again and make a further exploration of the wonders of the Delta, but I may just take things one step at a time. This whole combination thing makes my head spin sometimes. Now that I am old, it is good to savor individual experiences and avoid combining the forces of pasta with those of anti-pasta, because

These are the Days.