Friday, August 21, 2020

It's a Wild Northland, Part Two

  When I left off, I believe that we were going to go fishing out of Homer on the Artemis again.

     On Day two of our campaign in Homer, I joined Nike, Demeter, Dionysus, Diomedes and Sophacles on the Artemis, while Ajax and Hermes went on another boat (we had to split up our group each day because of Covid distancing, which most Alaskans seemed to take seriously).

     Our destination was the Barren Islands, which consitute the northernmost chain of the Kodiak Archipelago.  It was close to a 70 mile run in seas that were alternately calm and then roiled into a froth at specific locations where currents rubbed each other the wrong way.  These more remote islands feature a shot at big ling cod, which is the fish I primarily came to Alaska to kill.  They are not cod at all, but rather are the biggest and nastiest of the Greenlings.  They will eat anything they can bite.

The Halibut fishing started off slowly, but eventually we found the larger grade.  Naturally, Nike caught another biggest one of the day, even as I tried to convince her that my second place flatfish was a contender for that honor.  Everyone got their big one out here and we hit the small halibut spot on the way back.

  We also targeted the rockfish, with several of our anglers indicating their desire to get the rare yelloweye, which is a lot like the cow cod that we are no longer allowed to keep in SoCal.  Your narrator, having been made aware that we were fishing an area where we might encounter the big ling I was obsessed with engaging, blew off any pretext of fishing for  rockfish, pelagic or otherwise, and concentrated on relentlessly yo-yoing the biggest jig the crew could provide in my Ahab-like quest for a big ling, which I consider the fiercest of the deepwater fish.  My previous personal best was a 24 pounder caught during the Nixon administration at the Farnsworth Bank, which is now another MLPA-prohibited spot in California waters.                    

Diomedes cranked up a pretty yelloweye, which gave others hope.  As it turned out, the only other yelloweye anyone would catch was his second one.  It was twice as big and had to be released because he kept the one in the photo.  Fish are counted individually, so there is no sharing or trading for purposes of managing limits to maximize take.

Nike got a beautiful little tiger rockfish.  My companions also caught Quillbacks, which are another of the "pretty"  non-pelagic rockfish that come over the rail as a complete limit in that category.
Demeter and Diomedes each caught big lings, which have to be 35 inches to qualify up here, as opposed to the 22 inch qualifying length in California.  I was jealous, but refused to trade out my giant exculsionary leadhead jig that I was employing like a harpoon intended only for Moby Dick.  I got several nice lings that did not qualify until I finally hooked the one I knew was what I came for.  I did not allow him to get his dick in the dirt and cranked him up steadily like I would die if it got off.  I was mighty stoked when David sank the gaff and took him over the rail.  It was over four feet long and was the absolute highlight of my trip.

  Nike, who was really rooting for me to fulfill this obsession, was nearly as happy as I was overtaxed to hoist this gator up without popping a hernia.Once again, our crew lined up the catch for us as this day was even better than the day before.

     On Sunday, the others went on a fly-in trip to get close to grizzly bears while I opted to fish the Kasilof River with guide named Grant, who owns the Fly Box in Anchor Point.  I was targeting trout and Dolly Varden for catch and release fishing.

We had the river virtually to ourselves.  We started off flossing for sockeye.  Naturally, since that was not the focus of my trip, I had no trouble catching a limit, which Grant immmediately cleaned in accordance with the rules of the river.

I caught and released numerous trout and was able to cross Dolly Varden off my list of fish to catch.  We stayed on the river until 8 pm.

On Monday, we were set to go out with O'Fishial charters out of Homer one more time.  On this occasion, the weather which had been so kind to us reared up and blew a gale outside, causing all of the boats to cancel.  We had plenty of fish already, so we spent the day blasting around the Spit, shopping for souvenirs and grabbing cocktails at the famous Salty Dawg Saloon, which is a must for kooks like us.  Below, Dionysus and Diomedes prepare to pick a fight with strangers.

We spent the last day picking and packing up our fish to head out.  That was harder work than it sounds.  Nike and Demeter struck a pose with our haul before the trek back to Anchorage.

If I make the chance, I am coming back here, because it is big country, with big fish, cool people, and...

These are the Days


It's a Wild Northland, Part One

     Sorry for the lack of posting, but I have not been out that much during these strange times.

     I was recently afforded the opportunity to horn in on the second half of longstanding vacation plans of a group of veteran Alaska anglers, who coached me through the process  of getting Covid tested and receiving results in 72 hours in order to gain access to this state of grace. Then they schooled me on their finely honed program for fishing and fun.

     We all had to take and obtain negative Covid tests within 72 hours of landing so as to present our test results at the airport.  We used Vault Health's Zoom  monitored saliva test and it worked great.  This demonstrates that rapid testing and results are quite achievable and will become more affordable.

We had one supreme commander on this outing of  Sacramento-based Greek expats.  Nike Wuhu is a legendary anglerwoman from Sacramento who was kind enough to find a place for me midway on the latest installment of an adventure she has been leading and repeating for more than a decade.  

     I arrived in the evening at a cabin on Loon Lake near Soldatna to meet the other seven people for their last day (and my only day) with the sockeye salmon on the Kenai River the following morning at 3 am. 

     Our crew included Nike and her husband Ajax;  Dionysus Cottonwood; Diomedes Johnson; Hermes the Traveler; Sophocles the Defender and Demeter Basset.  They all knew way more about Alaska than I did and had been fishing for sockeyes most of a week when I showed up.

        After a night of intoxication on the shores of the lake, we left at 4 am the next morning for the Kenai. We split up into drift boat teams to floss for sockeye salmon, which are the lifeblood of the Alaskan ecosystem.  This method of angling is one I had never tried.  It involves using heavy fly gear and essentially drawing a sinkered leader with a bare hook on it across the current and randomly encountering the open mouth of a salmon, like a horsebit, since they are not feeding and are only in the river to spawn. If you and the fish react appropriately, the hook will lodge into the outside of the salmon's mouth and then it is game on. I could not see the fish and was instructed to strike fiercely at any abnormality as I pulled these relatively short casts back to shore repeatedly.  The other members of my group had the technique down, but I had to go through a bit of a learning curve and hooksets on rocks and lumber before recognizing the proper sensation of a fish.    

  We all caught dozens of big pink salmon, which were released.  I did manage to catch a silver salmon which was a personal best for me.  Since this is my report, that is the fish I am electing to display.  Note the safety glasses anglers are required to wear because of the flying hooks and nonstop casting.

Despite catching numerous pinks, I caught none of the targeted sockeye, so this was the only salmon I killed that day, which was the last day of group river fishing before heading down the Kenai penninsula for the salt water action of Homer.

Our destination was the Raven House, located a few miles from Homer.  With our leader Nike taking a much needed nap, we drove to the Raven house displayed on our GPS.  Who knew that in this remote part of the world, there are two Raven House vacation rentals within a couple of miles of each other?  After checking out the wrong one (which includes Yurts), we all took a series of dirt roads to arrive at a house which had a spectacular view of the Cook Inlet.

Due in part to the fact that night time does not come around until morning, we awoke with moderately fuzzy mouths for our first day on the ocean with O'Fishial Charters.  I was with the  early morning crew that included Nike, Ajax, Hermes, Sophacles and Demeter.  Our boat was named Artemis and was ably crewed by skipper David, who happens to be a master free diver, as well as the dreamy object of our lady anglers' attention.

He was ably assisted by his deckhand Tyler, captured below in the act of cutting herring  for the chum bag with an ice chopper.  Both members of the crew had pretty subtle senses of humor.   Good jokes are more important when the fishing is not so good, but I believe I got the jokes anyway.

The boat is a roomy aluminum commercial cruiser with a huge cockpit, large fishwells, and twin 350 duo prop outboards that push it in excess of 30 knots.

The ride out through the port of Homer is quite picturesque. I took a bunch of shots, but made room for this one.

The big halibut we were targeting were not right out front.  We took a long run  out of the Cook Inlet and along the Alaskan Marine Highway to start fishing Elizabeth and Perl islands in the Chugach Passage. I got a shot of Nike and Demeter in the corner near the island.

We started fishing for Pacific Halibut (not to be confused with the smaller California halibut we have down here).  Each angler is allowed two fish - one over 32 inches and one under 32 inches, so there is a bit of strategy as to when to keep your big fish, as opposed to releasing it in the hope of  lifting something larger.  Once you commit to a big one, you are done fishing for them.  The smaller ones (males) are seemingly automatic and could be found in tremendous abundance at a separate location where females seemed absent, like my keg parties in college.  They use circle hooks and generally let the fish "load up" the rod in a rod holder before cranking down on and steadily winching them to the surface with Shimano Tiagra reels spooled up with Spectra line.  The halibut nominated for keeping are bled while still on the gaff and then deposited into a saltwater halibut hold without letting them rest flat on the deck, as that can result in berserko flopping and injury to bystanders.

We also fished for rockfish.  Each angler is allowed 5 rockfish, one of which can be "non-pelagic", which essentially translates into a colorful resident fish.  Once you catch one of these, you are done, even if the next one is twice the size of the only other fish you have.  The fish on the left is a "non-pelagic" China rockfish, while the others are the more common Black Rockfish.  All are delicious and similar to the "rock cod" we catch in southern waters.

Nike got to work on the halibut, landing what turned out to be the largest one of the day.

I bounced a leadhead jig as a more active method of fishing.  After sorting through 9 of the biggest halibut I have ever caught, including nervously throwing back an early 40 pounder because I wanted to keep fishing, I eventually landed a personal best that was a fraction of an inch shorter than Nike's.  Just to be contrary to the standard whiteside-out photographic tradition, I displayed the eye-side out in front of Hermes and Sophacles, who had much earlier settled their deal with the big fish and were engaged in celebratory consumption.

The crew did a great job of cutting our catch after a painstakiing effort to take a good picture of the lucky anglers and their carnage. Left to right - Ajax, Nike, Demeter, your narrator, Hermes and Sophacles.

We rolled back into Homer and spent more time on the Spit, which has an eclectic and colorful collection of shops and restaurants.  I must say that I really love this town and intend to get back here with my predator children before long, as opposed to just saying maybe someday.  We will see.

Although the tides were not extreme during our stay, Homer has some of the most dramatic tide swings of any location in the world, which makes for some beautiful beach combing.

Due to the amount of photos and my aversion to brevity, the spacial limitation of my blog condemns me to terminate this narrative and call it Part One, so you know what is happening here.
 See you in the next chapter, because...

 These are the Days.




Monday, June 1, 2020

The Ghost of St. Stanwyck

      As we begin to creep about from our Covid sheltering, we have to be careful about our choices regarding with whom we share our space.  Fortunately for your narrator, Secret Skipper has designated me as his only permitted first mate for weathering this crisis in an offshore environment.

     On May 30th, I left my home a little before 2 am to head up to 'Pedro for another nocturnal mission to the Channel Island chain of fools.  We hit the San Pedro bait barge and obtained some early-morning entertainment and a nice scoop of sardines from Mike the Master-Baiter. We then traversed the channel to Avalon in order to provision ourselves with the Magic Candy bait (live squid) from the Long Beach Carnage, which  had just radioed its success in  rounding up a passel of those scrumptious cephalopods.

     Our destination was St. Stanwyck Island, a topic of prior reporting.  Because we had an opportunity to get live squid at Avalon, that meant an initial world-class detour all the way to the east end of Catalina at a steady 90 degree angle from our intended target.  By 4:30 am we were the owners of a great scoop from our Squidmaster as we traveled up the entire length of that romantic isle to pop out into open 66 degree water. Conditions made for an easy passage in the gray-light crossing to this steep, uninhabited rock.  It sits away from any commerce and  off the beaten track of the vast majority of the weekend fishing public.  Those who know the value of live squid and got there early enough to score it were almost universally fishing Catalina, rather than  bypassing the entire length of the island to look for the same type of fish at a more distant and rugged destination.  

     We made our initial anchor set in the lee of Stanwyck at about 6:15 am on a spot where we have caught yellowtail on prior occasions.  The yellows did not show themselves on any dawn patrol, while the seabirds remained on land like lazy chickens instead of scouting for us.   Our baits, both finned and tentacled,  were attacked by barracuda and marginal calico bass.  After sizing up our prospects, we decided to head out to the rockfish grounds while the wind was down.  In these conditions, we would be able to get to them with relatively light weights and lures.

     Skipper found the spot in short order, although as it turned out he would find several more in the general area.  We started catching some beautiful reds on flatfall jigs tipped with some of the fresh -frozen squid Skipper had saved from the last trip.  Later, we used the skin of rockfish as our sweetener to great effect.  We fished between 150 and 175 feet down on an extended plateau studded with rock piles.

     The reds we were catching were of good quality.  We tried some other spots and added a mix of coppers (also excellent eating), some sheephead, Johnny Bass and an annoying number of pretty decent-sized whitefish.  These other miscellaneous reef fish are good enough to eat, but were not for keeping on this occasion because of the superior abundance of the prized reds and coppers.

      We had heard rumors of an afternoon yellowtail bite, so after we put a pretty good load of  top-quality groundfish on ice in the fishbox, we headed back toward the general area of our first set to begin looking.  We slow trolled some sardines, which is often a good way to locate yellowtail.  We got some calico bass this way.  We  then began getting incessantly stopped by barracuda strikes and cut lines, which put an end to  the slow trolling method.  There were some sea lions which came out to check us out, but nothing like the barbarian hordes at Catalina, which sweep away your bait, along with your opportunities and any trace of sympathy  one might otherwise harbor for these coastal gangsters. 

     We set anchor in a couple of spots where the kelp came up from about 70 feet to nearly the surface.  Once again we caught barracuda, bass and a few pretty nice sheephead on the squid and sardines.  The  attention of the 'cudas discouraged heavy use of the fin baits, but we kept chopping and chumming the 'dines and used squid in hopes of generating a spot for yellows to investigate.  The location was pretty thick with aquatic vegetation, so we often had to free-spool some of the calicos in order to work them out of their environment and into ours.  At that point I was using my lightest rig, which is my calico bass slayer, consisting of a Phenix 9 foot bass rod I built for this express purpose and an Okuma Komodo reel filled with spectra and a four-foot topshot of 20# flurocarbon leader.

     As we got close to 4 pm, the sun was still high, but Skipper reminded me of the fact that we still had to cut all the fish and start a 45 mile trip back to Cabrillo.  I had just changed out my spectra to fluro connection to cope with barracuda vandalism and was hoping to connect on a bigger model calico to coax from the kelp.  The gulls were starting to mill about, but not marking anything all that promising.

     I felt a fish take line and started to ease back the tip of the rod to see if there was good enough tension for an aggressive hookset.  I leaned toward the grab and pointed the rod tip before savagely arcing into a strike that I hoped would carry the fish up the water column toward me so that I could crank like a winch-monkey and get it past the kelp.  I got a couple of big head-shakes and then it took about 20 yards of line before seemingly wrapping me up.  I just knew it was the big old calico I was trying to catch to end the day and he had me stalemated.  I began to banjo-strum the tensioned line as a prelude to getting him to swim out of the tangle, but then he just took off on a much bigger run.  The line started whistling through my guides in rod pulsing surges that yellowtail provide.

      "That is the yellowtail we've been waiting for.  I knew they would show if we kept this up!" shouted Skipper as I started to reel down and try to get back some of what was being taken.  My rod flexed into unyielding resistance and I knew that he had me wrapped deep on this light gear.  I could not make any ground, but the head shakes told us the fish was still hooked up.  I stood there in the back and forth of this cabbage-patch stand off.  I knew that my only hope was to get him to saw his way out by running the abrasive braid mainline against the kelp stalks.  I hit a couple of more banjo strokes and he took off against a free-spool to which I applied my thumb with the rod tip as high as I could in order to keep the line slicing up and into the kelp that constrained it.  My rod lost its arc in a doink that made me think I had dumped the fish, but just as fast it loaded up again and I could feel more pressure as it began cutting through one kelp stock after another.  Each time it felt like the fish had broken away as the rod tip would arc fiercely and then pop into slack before loading up again as it buzzed and thunked through a succession of obstacles.

     I finally got it free and hope was raised.  Skipper kept reminding me to be patient and I would get it, even though it seemed like we were just postponing a jolt of disappointment.  The fish ran up the port side toward the anchor line and I had to scramble up the handholds on the side of the house, holding the rod out over the water in my left hand as the line continued to play its spectra symphony through my guides.  It wrapped around the anchor line before I could get ahead of it and I was stopped again. 

     I could not tell which way it had turned or how many wraps it had taken.  Skipper came up the starboard side of the rail and met me at the bow pulpit.  He pulled up few feet of line on the anchor so we could make an educated guess on which way the fish had gone.  It looked like we needed to go under the anchor rope.  I once again put the reel in free-spool and passed it underneath to Skipper on the starboard bow.  He handed it back and I put it back in gear and reeled down.  We had guessed right and the fish took off once again, burying me in the jungle off the starboard bow.  I could feel the kelp bungy-cording me back down. I was sorely tempted to just give a big heave back and dare it to break, but I decided I had too much invested.  Again I played back and forth with the free-spool and reel-down technique.  I kept the line wired and felt the pops of successive kelp failure as the line angle came toward the surface father away from the boat.  I started short-pumping it and saw that I was  finally making ground without losing it back.  I felt the fish plane up bit by bit and looked down to see  a big flash of color with open water between the fish and the bottom of our boat.  I  short-stroked him closer and put my thumb on the spool to walk him back past the starboard side toward the cockpit where Skipper was waiting like a samurai with his gaff.  He put the hook right in the eye a split second after we both realized our yellowtail was actually a white seabass, which is a much more prized gamefish in our world of experience.  

      It was a long and agonizing struggle to land this fish. I have tried to recreate this sensation for my readers by abandoning all pretense of brevity in my narrative of the event.

     It hit the deck with a very soothing thump.  For a second, neither of us believed we had actually managed to land it after all of that.  To have it mutate from the yellowtail we had hoped to get into the elusive Ghost on our deck was an accelerator for our celebration.  Skipper put out his heaviest WSB rig in case there were others around as we gaped in appreciation at our good fortune.  The limit is one per angler this time of year. We both knew that we  had lots of fish cutting to complete before starting the long trip home in increasing wind and seas, so we did not stick around long to try for another.  The fact that the voyage back would be downhill and under a big load of tasty fish made the ride home much more palatable.

Below, Skipper poses with his captives before slicing them into domesticity.

     We were back and cleaned up by 9 pm.  We avoided the riots and got home in relative ease with a good story to tell, even though you've been saddled with reading this one.

     We were able to give a lot of quality fish to our chosen fish-worthy friends and family. White seabass is one of our favorite and rarest treats. Even though Secret Skipper's larger model provided us with recent bounty only two weeks ago, we usually go years between catching these ghosts.
     Above, Skipper took a picture of a dish of rockfish ceviche, which he was kind enough to send to me, along with all of the other photos in this report, as I had no cell phone camera with which to record our good fortune on the water and no patience to take pictures of my food once I got home.

     As good as this fish is sauteed, baked or fried, it is also an extremely wonderful fish for sashimi.  In that respect, it is hard to set enough aside to cook as the main course while wolfing raw plateloads with wasabi, ginger and soy.
Above is an example of Skipper's culinary handiwork. He and his wife are sophisticated adults who dine when they eat. When my own family is in a serious hurry to get our teeth engaged with this grade of sashimi, we usually just mix it up in individual feedbags equipped with ear-loops and then just hork it down until the bags cave in like flat balloons - like playing that sexy song by that German chick in reverse.  Some situations dictate that there is simply no time to accommodate art.  Additionally, feedbags are so much more fashionable during the pandemic.

     To summarize (even though it is way too late for that now), it is always better to be lucky than good  - and sometimes a bit of each can carry the day.  

     Here's hoping that our strange and troubled surroundings take a turn for the better.  In the meantime, I will try to keep in mind the privileges that I still get to enjoy and, of course, the raw truth that
These Are The Days.









Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Ghost of Mother's Day

     Well, like everyone, your narrator has been cooped up without much of a tale to tell. Since March 13th, we have been sheltering in place with the same small family garrison, carefully avoiding all of the projects and self improvement we always told ourselves we would engage in if we only had the time...You know, like the book you would write if only they would send you to prison for the kind of crime you really don't have the balls to commit.

      I finally broke out for a dawn patrol exploration with Secret Skipper, who has also been a good citizen like me by staying fully at home and avoiding anyone who is not already totally sick of him.

     We planned to head over to Catalina to try and score something good to eat for a Mother's Day dinner that would feature, as it must, home cooking.  We were thinking calico bass, yellowtail, or maybe chasing the reds.  We agreed to pack our own lunches, rather than invite the contagion of co-mingling.

     I was giddy rummaging  through my tackle and then going through the samurai discipline of taking just one bag of terminal gear and two rods.  I left the house at 4 am and was at the ramp in San Pedro by 5 am.  With minimal gear, compared to the siege warfare of lobstering, we basically just got on the boat and drove out of Cabrillo marina toward Mike's Bait barge in the pre-dawn darkness.

     We got a nice scoop of 4-5 inch sardines, which remained lively until the survivors were released at the end of the day.  We had heard rumors of a big yellowtail bite at the west end, so we headed for the east end and a chance to pick up live squid from the Carnage, which was supposed to be set up east of Avalon.

     The ride over was easy and emerging gray light revealed a lot of overcast that would stick with us most of the day.  We ran at a steady 31 mph and burned fuel at a rate of over 1.3 miles to the gallon, which is damn good mileage on a boat this solid with twin 250s.  We spotted the lights of the Carnage right where he was supposed to be and got a great scoop of squid, which mostly settled down with our sardines, except for the ones savagely engulfed in their tentacles and torn to pieces.

     We decided to fish the quarry off the east end at sunrise.  We had the place mostly to ourselves, except for constant strafing from the seals who took turns taking our sardines right behind the head on every cast we made.  We switched to squid and got a few bass that we released, along with some halfmoon.  We decided to move up the island.  

     We fished Hen rock for a few more calicos and barracuda and then moved on to Empire, where the birds telegraphed yellowtail water.  We saw a big one break water and the birds got busy.  We anchored up well to the east of another Parker which was crewed by a Dad and his boys out for a fun day.  We watched them pull in a calico and we started to get the same action as we fought off the seals and hoped the yellows would come our way.  The dad then got into the stern and put a big arc into what was clearly a solid fish.  It began taking line and he was pumping back against it.  His kids were excited and he was handing it off to them to reel down and then taking over when the fish started to outmaneuver the young anglers.  The Dad's generosity in giving his  kids their turns was increasing the risk that the fish would get away, or that the seals would get their chance to lurk below the boat and pounce on an exhausted prize they could never catch on their own.
     Sure enough, as the fish came to color and Dad went for the gaff, a huge bull sea lion erupted on the fish in a boil of tragic piracy.  The yellowtail was way too big for the seal to simply gulp down, so it surfaced about 40 yards outside their boat and proceeded to thrash the fish to bits at the surface for the next 30 minutes while the disappointed kids looked on across a short stretch of water and the birds churned in a frenzy above that mayhem. Eventually, they pulled anchor and left their mocking tormentor trying to gator down chunks of the prize they came so close to capturing for themselves. We caught a few more mediocre bass, halfmoon and a sheephead before heading west. 

     By late morning we had only landed a few keeper calicos and Skipper was debating chasing the radio fish that were supposedly wide open at Eagle Rock on the other side of the west end.  We did not want to go there and had several other spots in mind on our constant probe to the west.  We then stopped at a very familiar and versatile spot near the Isthmus, where we metered around before selecting a spot for the hook in 60 feet of water that would put our stern above a steep decline and a strong west current.  It was a good corridor for calicos and the right structure through which yellows or even a white seabass might flow. There were other spots nearby to try for deeper species and the current was perfect.

     Using squid on leadheads and sliding sinker rigs, we each got a steady bite from calicos, including a nicer grade of fish.  Then Skipper got lit up on a fish that started taking line in head-shaking pulses and he knew he had something good.  

     The fish was in heavy structure and Skipper masterfully worked the braid through the stuff near the bottom and got it up to where it was swimming free.  He had to dance back and forth near the transom and bury his rod to keep the line out of the props a couple of times as the fish blasted several short bursts of power that caused us to speculate as to what it might be. 

      When it seemed like Skipper was finally gaining the upper hand, the fish just sort of gave up, which caused Skipper to say that maybe it was a white sea bass.  Moments later, the fish came to color and showed itself to be exactly that.  Skipper dragged it up and it laid out perfectly for a gaff shot I was poised to deliver right to the head.
   Now, I consider myself to be a competent gaffer and nobody had been drinking, but somehow I managed to forcefully deliver a gaff shot to the gill plate that resulted in the gaff coming out of my hands and landing in the water beyond the proned-out croaker.  I was mortified and instinctively reached down into the water, seized the head of the fish and dragged it up and into the boat just like I meant to do it that way. 

      I was so relieved to see this totally bitchen ghost of the sea stretched out on the deck instead of swimming away with Skipper glaring at me that I might have thought of Jesus for a moment (The Jewish one who died for my sins, not the Mexican one who is the God of fishing boat repair).



     We admired the amazing copper to purple coloration on this unexpected prize until it was time to pull the anchor and start looking for the gaff that the current had so swiftly carried west.
We found it and then reset, but the current went abruptly slack and then, in a moment, turned a 180 and started eastward.  We took this as a sign that we should cut fish and head home.

     Skipper, as usual, did a handy job with the wet work and we were back in Pedro by 3 pm, having telephoned upgraded meal plans to our small circles of lucky diners.

     We had our maximum allowable dining group attend a feast that started with cocktails amidst the always rare seabass sashimi, followed by a beautifully side-dished pile of seabass fillets.  

     Despite our efforts to chase these ghosts whenever we can, white seabass remains among the rarest and most appreciated game-consuming experiences our family ever gets to have.

     We ate the calicos the following night as part of our official Mother's Day chow-down and honestly, they were just as delicious, if more familiar.

     Here's hoping that brighter times are ahead, but even in what has been for most of us a crisis of inconvenience, we all know that
                                These are the Days.
     

     
     

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

SEAQUESTRIA

On Friday, March 6th, I experienced the extremely rare double feature of having a Motion for Summary Judgment granted in my client's favor in Los Angeles Superior Court, and then going to San Pedro Harbor to run the table on the lobster one final time this season.
    Because of my concern for LA traffic (which seems a quaint memory now), I left my house at 4:30 and arrived more than two hours early for my hearing, which in turn was made last on the court's calendar, so that we argued to a judge in an empty courtroom, where no one could hear the final gurgle of a lawsuit being put to death.
   Since the judge went my way, I was suddenly free to head out for one last trip with Secret Skipper and to meet Isaac for his one and only shot at these critters since he returned home from his 5 month trek through South America.  The truth is that I had planned this victory party regardless of the outcome (It's a Victory party and Somebody has to win), so I was going either way.
On my way down to the harbor, I stopped in Long Beach to have a giant breakfast with my brother Charlie.  He chose a place and navigated me to the Pot Holder, which is a great place to get some eggs and marijuana, as one might surmise from its name. After dropping my brother off at his office and heading across the bridge to Pedro, I discovered that I left my cell phone at the restaurant, but managed to go back and find it, even though I did not remember where it was and had no cell phone or brother to guide me.
I then met Secret Skipper down at Cabrillo Marina where I changed out of my black suit/wingtip getup and into my Grunden rubber Lobsterwear.  Isaac soon showed up with sandwiches and other provisions which were loaded onto the boat in carts we tried to stay in front of on a ramp that was dramatically steepened by a big low tide. 
The moon would be mostly full, but we had no fear of lunar-inspired failure, as this has been a season like no other.  We had an experienced crew of three, which is the ideal number for getting the hard work done without having too many limits to try and fill in one night. Skipper is the ruler and driver, I am the buoy grabber and line puller, while Isaac expertly coiled all of the line off the wheel and onto the deck so that our lines were as straight as if we had soaked them in Jeri-curl.
     The ride over to the Island of Romance was windy and bumpy as it has been most every time we have gone, but that just keeps the fair weather crowds thinner.  Skipper had secured fresh salmon carcasses and we bought eighty bucks worth of live sardines from Mike at the San Pedro Bait Company barge.  Mike entertained us with one of the greatest stories about the relationship between fishermen and seals that I have ever witnessed, complete with stage-worthy acting out of certain scenes.  I am forbidden by an oath I took from repeating any of it in writing, but ask me some time when we are together and consuming something other than Corona.
    We arrived at the island early enough to get all of our gear deployed by 4:30 pm and do a little bass fishing.  We caught no little bass, nor did we get big ones, despite saving some of our sardines for bait.  Each sardine we threw was expertly eaten by the big seals which relentlessly plagued our efforts.  We resorted to throwing plastics in a kind of half-hearted way to kill time before the now daylight savings delayed darkness would envelope us and allow the bugs to crawl our way.
     We were stoked to get our gear deployed early because soon two other boats came over to start sewing their hoop pattern around ours.  We sort of had dibs under the loosely interpreted Law of the Fish, but that did not stop these otherwise friendly fellow piscatorians from placing some of their gear in our way.
     We started pulling at 6:15 and got some action in the deepest set of 300 foot rigs.  We moved into the mid-range hoops we set in 150-200 feet and got even better results, giving us six solidly legal bugs before we got to our last three shallow hoops, which produced no legals.
     We rolled back out for another set of pulls and things began to thin out.  We did manage four more legals in the mid range set and so had ten in 20 pulls, which is usually a damn good ratio, but this year has spoiled us with expectations of easier limits.
     We then began a long process of pulling mostly empty hoops and took many pulls to get to eleven.  At that point, we were concerned that limits might not be achievable, but we all knew it was probably our last trip and nobody was remotely ready to puss out and go home.
     We took a break from the constant pulling and ate our  chips and sandwiches as the seas and wind became progressively calmer.  One of the other boats reset their gear on both sides of our set, so we were treated to them churning back and forth across our set to leave us bobbing in their wakes as they checked their own gear.  It was a bit of a party foul, but nothing worth mentioning to them. The other guys stayed shallow and left relatively early after a couple of unproductive sets.
     We had many more empty pulls on our way to thirteen good sized specimens after four sets, but there was still activity worth chasing, including more short lobster and a rare  (in southern waters) dungeness crab in one of the shallow hoops.  It looked like it had recently molted and was too small to keep, but it was a good sign.
     We also snared a decent sized and very ornery scorpionfish, which we tried to extract with Isaac's brand new pliers.  That sparkling tool disappeared into the sea before we could properly engage its services and so we left the fish in the hoop to  shelter in place until it could extract itself after we sent it back down.
     It was past ten pm and our rate of catch was pretty meager. We had not caught a legal lobster in more pulls than we would consider promising to achieve our limit of 21.  Skipper, who was used to being back in his bed early this season, then boldly predicted that we were about to start hitting hoops that would be holding more than one legal.  This wizard-like prophecy came true and what became our last set started producing in what was now a glassy ocean. Skipper made the decision to start recovering and breaking down our gear before we had limits, which I consider a risky insult to the vindictive attention of the Gods of the Sea.  Apparently, the Gods of the Sea really did not give a shit about our attitude. We made our triple limit in that set and ended up throwing back four legals as we enthusiastically harvested the final banzai charge these delicious marine lemmings would make against us this season.
     We were done pulling and had all of our gear stowed by 11 pm.  The ride home on a dead flat ocean was like butter.  We cleaned up the boat, aided by a much flatter ramp in the high tide, snapped a picture of the unfortunate occupants of our ice chest and then divided up our catch for the parties we would get to host one more time this year.

     We were home by 2:35 am, which is still earlier than we generally achieve in other years when we often come home with fewer lobster.  I had been up nearly 24 hours, so sleep was pretty easy to achieve, although I knew when my head hit the pillow that we were going to have to get up and leave for Raahagues gun club by 8:15 am with all our gear and two dogs for the NAVHDA Rattlesnake training and shotgun shooting we had signed up for earlier this year.
     As for that experience, I just wish that they had allowed us to take pictures, as it is a fascinating process where the dogs are essentially taken on a walk with a trained handler to encounter several rattlesnakes, which my dogs now believe are capable of jolting them with electricity after they get a chance to see, smell, hear and get way too close, as puppies will do.  It was clear that our instructor was a big fan of rattlesnakes and held them in high regard.  I decided to pretend that I did too, or at least  refrain from pissing him off by telling him how many I had killed in my own neighborhood (none in the last year).
   In any event, both of my  11 month old dogs were appropriately rattled by the experience and we decided to just skip the shotgun shooting part of our plans and head back to Dana for a big fat breakfasty lunch and a nap that would prepare us for the live band reggae party our neighbors were throwing Saturday night.  We advised our hosts that we would not be bringing any of our lobster to their party, but would instead selfishly invite them over the following evening for a more exclusive dining experience.
     I had an all too wonderful time at the party and woke up a bit furry in the mouth and sore from lobstering and dancing about, but Sunday night was the positive payback for getting up off the deck and cooking up our last steak and lobster pigfest of the season.  
     Your narrator managed to snap the mandatory Lobster-years photo of Tommy and David, clean and prep these bugs and start putting together another surf and turf experience befitting a Resident of the United States.


     Our hosts of the prior evening, Stacy and John, are seasoned veterans of our family's eat-what-we-kill lifestyle  They arrived with beverages, their daughter Zoe and her two fellow students from Marquette University, Tessa and Sarah.  One of these girls claimed to have never tasted lobster, so we had a mission.
    John, who is a form restaurant guy (See Plato's theory of the forms) and a culinary raconteur, is a great friend and always a most enthusiastic participant in these carnivorous gatherings.
     Suffice it to say, that there was plenty to eat and even to take home for later consumption, as left-over lobster is one of the mightiest badges of pure luxury, in the same way as a donut side dish is regarded by some as a necessary passenger on any plate of surf and turf.
     Well, things are certainly different now as real sequestration seems to have overtaken our carefree criminal lifestyle of consumption and interaction with one another.

    By the way - Happy St. Paddy's Day even if this year's parade is more intimate than we would prefer.

     Here's hoping that all of you are sheltering in place with something good to read after you get through this drivel, that you have more than the exoskeletons of lobsters with which to wipe your bums and that you never forget to remember that



Friday, February 14, 2020

Quick work at the Emerald Isle

On February 7th I got another invite from Secret Skipper, who has been totally on fire this year at the Island of Romance. We had to go on a Friday, which meant playing some hooky, but that would hopefully beat the crowds and Skipper has been running the table on  rapid limits every time this year. I tried to recruit Tommy, David or Sarah to go with us, as they are licensed up, but Sarah had to work and the boys could not miss an afternoon of high school.  
     Your narrator got into work early, made some lawyer-like noises and then escaped the office to arrive at San Pedro by 12:45.  There was a deep low tide that was just short of bottoming out, which made for a steep ramp from the parking lot down to the docks.We loaded up the boat in short order and headed over to San Pedro bait to buy sixty bucks worth of live bait to add to the salmon carcasses Skipper had bought at the fish market.  The concept of live bait for cutting up and cramming into lobster bait cages might seem bit odd, but fresh is generally better than frozen and that is how they sell it.  There is no discount for the dead stuff and the bait always seems to stay lively in the winter.
The Wizard at his station .   
 The weather had been very cold all week and we packed warm clothes to wear beneath our "deadliest catch" slickers. Conditions were brisk as we headed across the channel.  We were set for a big full moon on Saturday and it would be up before the sun went down Friday night.  This meant a lot of light and the likelihood of the lobster being more active in deeper water during a night of fishing  that would barely supply darkness.  
It was nearly the opposite of the lunar conditions from my last report, which documented quick limits.
     When we arrived at our point of attack, we anchored up in pretty deep water to go through the important and disgusting task of taking a meat cleaver to the now moribund sardines and frozen salmon carcasses and cramming them into the upgraded bait cages that Skipper introduced as part of his technological warfare against these delicious insects of the sea. 
 We then put out each hoop and paid out all the line to make sure it was not tangled before we hauled everything back aboard and decided we were ready to start scouting for structure.  
     We were patient in finding some big stones and kelp, even in the water that was over 200 feet deep.  We began a careful deployment of our deepest rigs (300 feet) in a ripping current that rushed underneath a sea surface that was rapidly calming down from its afternoon tantrum. We scoured the boat clean from all of the bait gore as soon as we made our set.  This made the final cleanup at the dock a much quicker and less crust-infested task. We had all of our gear deployed by 5:15 and then it was time to mow down a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and wait for darkness, or at least less sunlight.
     We began hauling gear in our two 300 foot hoops in very calm conditions.  Each one had two big keepers and we were off to the races.
     The mid-range sets also produced, including one which contained five legals and another three-plus pounder.  

When we got to the shallows (under 100 feet) we continued to collect and had 11 legals,  mostly pretty big ones, at the end of eight-pulls,  Given that we were three away from our limit, we decided to start recovering gear and not send it back down while we were still on the first set, which is something I have never done.  We had a few that only held shorts and one which held nothing but a very angry angel shark that somehow managed to get its entire self into the hoop, but the remaining hoops kept producing to the point where we got our 14 bug quota and again threw back a full limit in the next eight pulls.  All legals were females.
     We had all of the gear cleaned up and stowed away for the ride back by 7:15.  The ride home was smooth and we were tied up and cleaning the boat by 8:35 pm. Clean up was swift and easy, in part because we pre-cleaned and also because we were back so soon that we did not experience the cranky fatigue that usually accompanies cleaning up and hauling the gear back up to the parking lot at 3 am.  Even the tide cooperated with us by supplying a major high that leveled out the ramp for our off-load. This was the quickest and easiest lobster trip I have ever experienced.
      I would have been home by 10:30 if the 405 was not reduced to one lane at several points on my path. As it was, my road time was forty minutes longer than it should have been, but I was home just a little after 11 pm. instead of staggering in at sunrise.  I stashed a limit in the garage.
     I had the boys stand in for the mandatory "Lobster Life" photo by which I have charted their development since they were toddlers.

     We invited my kid-brother Charlie and his wife Shelby, along with their pointer Milo, who is brother to our Tashtego, to come over Saturday afternoon to plunder our catch.  

These lobster invites are always a short notice event and we were lucky to catch them without plans, although their kids lost out on mass consumption by making plans for a Saturday night that did not involve wasting their time with the elderly. 
     This has been one of the most consistent seasons in more than a decade and we have been bringing home a nice grade of roaches.  We are heading off to a Drug Lord vacation in Mexico, so this story will have to do for now. This lobster season still has legs and these creatures have been crawling. Eat them while you can can catch them, because
These are the Days