Sunday, November 5, 2023

Fall Back Baby

 Saturday afternoon your reporter and Connor Devaney joined Secret Skipper at the Island of Romance to chase our favorite aquatic insects.

We had been trying to get Connor to join us for several seasons, but this time he ran out of excuses, as both Sarah Jane and WendyJo were headed to a baby shower from which we had been cruelly  excluded.

We went to a spot Skipper and I used to fish eight years ago, but had left alone as we had phenomenal luck at an alternative venue for several seasons before our amazing stretch of good luck ran aground.

We left Cabrillo Marina in Pedro at 1:30 pm and headed out into a surprising thick fog, which stayed with us most of the way across the channel.

We had pleasant weather with a bit more wind than one would anticipate with so much fog.  Things cleared up about 2/3 of the way across as the island came into view.

We baited up with frozen sardines and fresh salmon carcasses from San Pedro Fish Market.

As we scouted the potential zones, we were joined by a roving pod of white-faced Risso's dolphins that periodically swung by our position in a lazy orbit they were making through bait schools.  

They approached us closely, but are generally shy and tended to sink out when we tried to join them.

We set out three deep (over 200), three mid-range, and four in under 100.

Our first set resulted in pegged floats from a quickening current and bought us 8 legals, mostly in the mid range, as the shallows produced an abundant supply of shorts and the deeps disappointed.

After the first set, things slowed down and we encountered an onslaught of spider crabs and lobster that were maddenly close to legal, but did not make the grade.

We relocated the deeps into the mid-range and clustered 6 rigs in a tight area that continued to gag up a couple legals per set. We watched a red 3/4 moon rise up over the mainland as we chipped away with our pulls and the current started backing off. We were one bug short of a limit for a long interval as we went through  more shorts and spiders.  We probably tossed at least 25 spiders and more than 40 shorts before we finally got our 21st legal. We had several nice bugs, no giants and a couple that had survived measurement to make the death squad. We celebrated finally capturing our last victim by breaking down gear for the ride home, which was smooth and clear.

We made it back home by 4 am, thanks to the clocks turning back an hour, so it was more like the old days of paying dues for 16 hours and barely sneaking back before morning started and other humans rose to bother us.

This time around, events and routine prevented rallying the family for an immediate feast, so I will focus a bit of this report on the process of preserving these tails for the future, which is where we are all headed.

First, we lay out our equipment to convert the living to the frozen.

Lobster tails are separated from the less prized portions with a rapid brain scramble and break away.

Thorns are removed from the tails with clippers.

We use the  antennae to extract the digestive system by insertion.

The finished tails and antennae are tastefully displayed in a floral arrangement before being taken inside for packaging.

Tails are wrapped in foil to prevent sharp edges from penetrating the vacuum seal bags into which they are placed.

The final step is vacuum sealing with our faithful Food Saver, as the sealer crunches the foil down and keeps the shell edges from penetrating the plastic.  One of the side benefits of freezing the tails in the shells is that they separate more easily if you like to split the tails and pop the  tail meat to the top for buttering and broiling in that style of serving these roaches to your guests.

They are almost as good as fresh if you process them this way, which allows you to plan ahead, or just sneak out a couple of tails when you feel like you deserve a culinary reward  because life has been so unfair to people like us.

Anyway, we had to work more like we used to do when we were younger, but it was a good lesson for Connor 's debut into what was  a fairly easy and successful outing.  It makes for a slow moving Sunday, but at least we got to take advantage of our time travel away from daylight savings and the free hour we get as compensation for the depressing arc of scarce winter sunlight before the Solstice turns the tide.

We will bank a quiet Sunday recovery and the opportunity to reserve a future date for a family gathering that will no doubt keep us informed that

These Are The Days

Monday, July 17, 2023

Nocturnal Emission

 Gentle Readers:

It has been far too long, but that is because your reporter has failed to do anything worth mentioning, unless  you count work, and who does that?

On Friday, I was summoned by Secret Skipper to travel once again to a location that I am not allowed to disclose, to yank on knife jigs all night long for the bluefin that I rarely catch.

We tried to get David or Connor to go, but they already knew that our plan was to make them stay awake all night and ceaselessly drop these jigs down on heavy gear and then reel them back up in the dark until dawn, when we surrender like vampires slinking back to our coffins before the sun scorches us.  How is that not fun?

So once again, it was just the two old men of the sea.

We met at Cabrillo right at high tide, so the ramp was almost level and easy.  The forecast was for a bunch of crappy washing-machine chop that would await us at our ultra-secret location.  That weatherman was correct.

On the way out at 7:30 pm, we stopped at Mike's bait barge to get the best sardines and mackerel that either of us have ever seen in nearly 60 years of fishing live bait.  It was slimey, quick and big. It was also unnecessary.

We punched out to sea and cleared the end of an unnamed island where the buffalo roam.

Once we did that, we noticed the glow of the fleet, like a city from space, with all of the big sport boats at the secret spot.  

We pounded along until we were among them.  Most of the major sport boats were either on station, or arriving.  The fleet was spread out over a very wide area, with little solar systems of boats orbiting one another and chasing meter marks in a vaster universe of distant, hopeful lights.

Skipper was using his 50 international and I had my sleeker Calstar rail rod with a Talica 25 spooled with 100# spectra to a hundred yards of 100# mono.  I selected a 400 gram Rip Roller, which was the largest jig I had. I had swapped out the factory hooks for the much bigger stinger hooks that Breck at Hogan's Tackle had counseled me to install, so I was confident in that department. We knew we were going to get blown around and would have a hard time getting down, so bigger seemed better.

We drove around listening to Jack FM and all of the personal injury lawyer ads.  I know those jingles by heart.  When we encountered marks, which were anywhere from 150 to 400 feet down, we would stop and drop.

Our little boat would invariably swing bow downwind and our lures would flag behind like we were trolling.  The wind was pushing us around more than the bigger boats and we had so much scope that it was hard to know if we made the depth where we metered fish that were probably miles away by the time we put our jigs in the zone

We were in touch with one of our code friends (Cody Friendman), who has been very successful on prior outings when we were fishing the same water for nothing.  He kept encouraging us by occasionally checking in to let us know that it sucked for him, too.

Your narrator was getting cranky around 4 am, when we finally observed someone in a turquoise hoodie taking a knee at the rail.  They eventually dragged what looked like a 50 pound plus tuna over the rail.

It gave us a bit of hope that after 7 hours we might get to be like them.

When it was close to the end of the night, we commiserated that this night-time arm wrestling does not seem to pay off for us. We were about to just quit while we were behind when we noticed that we had also hopelessly tangled our lines.

It came up in a big wad and I just cut the spectra above the mono on my rig to be done with it, even though it would cost me the professional splice connection from Hogans.

I was going to just heave it into the trash amidst my self-loathing, but my cheapness overcame other emotions and I ended up trying to put the mono back on with a series of really shitty Albrights that did not make me proud .   Finally, I got one to hold up and figured I could get by, but I was done with this crap.  I washed off the jig in fresh water and put it away.  Skipper did the same thing and our rods were in the rocket launchers when Cody called to let us know he had just dumped a fish and asked if we had hung one.  We told him that this whole thing was stupid and we were cold, old and done.

He asked us if we were grown men and suggested, in harsh terms, that we should drop back down for the last of the gray light and die like fisherman. 

"Tie it back on and drop it down.  There is still 15 minutes of usable darkness."

 "Hey man, you are not the boss of me.  You can't make me do this by shaming me", was what I was thinking as I got the jig out, made the connection and let it fall because he was calling me a pussy.

At about 200 feet, my spool stopped revolving.  I started to get excited and looked over at Skipper to make sure he hadn't picked me up, but he was till dropping.

"I think I just got stopped."

I started winding down into a solid hookset as the rod went bendo.  Skipper reeled in and the fight was on. The fish gave a lot of head shakes and worried me. I backed off just bit on the drag because I started thinking about that knot.  The fish kind of milled around and I was able to sneak back a lot of line.  I wound through the connection and put my drag back where I wanted it.  I decided to take a knee and rail him up.  It came up pretty steadily.  We were hoping that it was over 50 pounds.  It was at color in about 10-12 minutes and then took a hard turn for the props.  I had to banjo twang the mono over the cowling covers on the outboards to chase it.  That was scary, but then it settled into some really big pinwheels as it gradually came more into view as the darkness gave way to daylight.

When it came into full view about 30 minutes into the fight, we were alarmed, because it was six feet long and smoking that jig like a cigar.  That meant it was not sawing the line, which was a good thing.

Skipper got a gaff shot into its throat as I backed off the drag, put the rod into a holder and fumbled around for the other gaff, which I planted in its head right as it shook Skipper's gaff-shot free.  Skipper sunk the gaff right back into its eye socket and then we heaved it up.  It was not a mighty enough heave and the fish slid back.  We tried again and got it part way onto the rail, but failed to get it past the midpoint.  We finally choked up on the gaffs right to the shank of the hook and were able to just barely get it flop onto the deck with a giant thud as we fell backward  with it and tried to get out of the way.  If it had weighed  ten more pounds I do not think that we could have prevailed.

Skipper and I hugged each other like it was Pride Month and hooted like the raging old chimps we know ourselves to be.

The fish was bigger than your reporter, who had to cut the jig out of its mouth because it was so solidly hooked with both stingers. 

We think that was one of the reasons it never got a good head of steam on us.  

We could not move it and got it into the kill bag condom style.

Even after we cut off the head, it still would not fit and we needed the tail to move it around with a rope.

We iced it down and drove over to San Clemente to let it cool off while we tried for yellowtail (seals would not let us).  We caught and released a bunch of bass and big bonito.  We trolled back toward home with Nomads and stopped on many beautiful paddies that were not holding fish.

We stopped to cut it up in the lee at Catalina on the way back.

Skipper took a shot of the hook set before we hacked it free.  The jig was visibly bent from the torquing.

The ramp was again pleasantly level as we got back to Pedro almost 24 hours after departure.

We were able to scramble a pile of our friends and family over for unlimited toro and other treats. 

Connor held court at the eatery after once again not joining us for the fishing part of the trip

David and Wendy set up a great Poke' bar for our guests, who all brought tons of sides and fun beverages.

Your reporter got to clean up and hang out with sister Mary Lou at the cutting board.

We had planned on searing some too, but the Poke' bar did everyone in and we had to leave room for alcohol.

David showed everyone the way with his leadership in buffet (Hey that rhymes.)

This tuna was by far and away your reporter's personal best.  It was 66 inches long at the fork and 50 inches in girth. It taped out at 206, but that involves formulaic theory. No matter what, it qualified as the pig on a jig I have yearned for all these years.

I owe Cody a debt of gratitude for shaming me off my plan of bitterly giving up and instead getting to once again remember how lucky I am.  It is yet another reminder that

These are the Days

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Celebrating Holy Massacre

 Gentle Readers:

On Friday, while we were still recovering from our Thanksgiving food stupor, Tommy, David, Isaac and your reporter joined Secret Skipper on a mission to see if we could extend our good luck with all  four of the Schmitt boys in action.  We had never had the full complement out for a night of hooping, but this year's fortune made the idea of filling five cards more than just a dream.  

Your narrator used up all of the turkey leftovers making sandwiches for this rare excursion about which Secret Skipper and I have fantasized for years as we have toiled away, mostly by ourselves, to throw back so many legal lobster these past few seasons, and most especially this one.

Isaac, who had been receiving our reports and invitations from the north, held the door open for  a chance to cash-in on the bold talk we engaged in during the invitational process that lured him away from  Haley's grandmother's house in LA to join his younger brothers on this often-planned-but-never-executed adventure.

Tommy and David, who only had swim practice for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day, had a 7 am 10 am pool workout and so were able to eat and then sleep on the way to Cabrillo Marina, where we would rendezvous with Skipper and Isaac.

We left Pedro at 1:30, with some fresh salmon carcasses and plans to load up on fresh sardines at the San Pedro Bait Barge, since we had used up our supply of frozen on the slaughter we have perpetrated on earlier trips so far this season.

We were disappointed to find the legendary Dreamer waiting for the seiner  Wolverine to deliver a fresh load of live bait (we only needed dead), as they scraped the boxes for the elusive fin bait that remained.

After about an hour of holding position in the wind, we watched as the Wolverine gradually tied up and helped Dreamer fill its tanks before allowing us to pull up and load our five gallon bucket with a scoop and a half of sardines for a hundred dollars.  We thanked them for their patience and decided to try a completely different island than the one that has produced limits without fail for the last 2 1/2 seasons.

We pointed into really calm seas and made the channel crossing at 30 miles an hour. David continued his nap on the velvety v-berth of backpacks and canvas to the lullaby of slapping ripples cleaved by our keel.

We had exactly enough bait to fill the bait cages, as Tommy and Isaac obeyed Skipper's instructions, which, in the tradition of old school chain of command, were delivered at knife-point.

We had a tiny slice of  a southern moon to work with, so we were optimistic that there would be sufficient darkness to cause our prey to walkabout in a parade of scavenging.  Skipper even broke out his secret bug spray, which we use to coat each stuffed bait cage with an odious slime further calculated to lure them into our little cafeterias of death from above.

We had our set completed at 4:30 pm, just as the Gale Force and Triton made their appearance at our location.  Neither of them were fishing our specific area and so once again we had the lee to ourselves.

Skipper of course wanted to start pulling hoops during daylight, as soon as the last float was away.  We kept trying to distract him long enough for night time to arrive, but we ended up "checking" on a few during what might generously be called dusk, with the orange yellow glow of the all-too-recent sunset still lighting up the island.  

We moved our 250, which was of course empty, to a more favorable looking spot and then molested a couple of the shallow drops to get them out a bit deeper.  We did note a few shorts in the shallows, which we decided to leave in so that others would see and join them, as these insects seem to love a crowd when feeding.

Isaac began to question our optimism and speculate that since we now had overstaffed our seagoing safari, that the animals might not come out to play in the way he was trying to suggest we had promised him with all of our enthusiasm for this reunion of wizards and apprentices.

We rolled out to the mid-rangers we had set in about 180 feet and started pulling about 45 minutes too early.

We had a big mountain to climb and so the tactic of a short soak the first time around was a bit of a gamble, as the first set is usually the best in terms of producing volume.  We once again debated the shop-worn topic of whether lobster leave a baited hoop once they get in (they definitely don't), as it is essential to support our impatient Skipper's My Pillow theory of premature ejection.   This nonsense is cover for the fact that Skipper simply cannot bear to leave lobster hoops on the bottom once he no longer has anything to do except pull them right back up again.

Despite all of this theory, the initial pull produced 6 legals and was the hoop of the night by a big margin.  Isaac became a believer.

We worked our way through a crawl that probably would have produced limits in two sets for all of us if we had any patience, but we kept yanking until we had 20 legal bugs on board after the first complete set.  Not bad by any standard.

The night just kept getting calmer as we watched Gale Force come over and start to pull on its set a mile or so away from us.

Isaac's doubt began to give way to cautious team spirit as he sampled the quality of our guests.  We moved through our first set with a pretty consistent harvest of mostly shorts with a few solid legals mixed in. 

 We proceeded to work through three sets, as the harvest slowed down to the point where we were pulling faster than they could cover the ground to get inside for the elevator ride up.  The shorts we were leaving inside to incite the crowd started to get in the way and fill us with false hope, so we started throwing back more of the shorts and leaving only a couple in each hoop to spread the good news.  We pulled a ratio that was probably 60/40 shorts to legals, with males constituting roughly one third of the keepers.  

At about 9:30 pm we had achieved the impossible dream of reaching   five full limits.  We averaged roughly one legal per pull.  Kipling once said "when it comes to slaughter, you will do your work on water," but I am not sure he was thinking of  the war on lobster.  
It sure makes me want to shout Gunga La Gunga. 
   We began to break down and stack the gear for Tommy's nest-of-canvas nap home at 30 mph on another silky ride to the green beacon of San Pedro light. 
 We were at the dock by 11 pm, which is the latest we have arrived home in port during this ridiculous season of abundance.  We had a big crew for a fast clean up.  All of us shook hands in the parking lot to celebrate the first time we have all been together to both make the attempt and actually pull off the dream of full limits for five.

     Isaac took a sleeping Tommy home as he followed the hibernating David and I back down to San Juan, where we knew WendyJo would be anxious to throw down for another feast after hosting her family for Thanksgiving turkey 48 hours earlier.

The full crew of boys arranged themselves with our sad pets for the mandatory Lobster Life photo as the flags of a Grateful Nation and one of our pointing dogs gave witness.

Even Fred MacMurray would be jealous of me.

After the medieval wet work was done, we had a stack of candidates for  consumption.  
We were able to muster a group of losers who had no holiday plans to come over to help us consume another kill.

Our modest crowd of consumers politely waited their turn, just as we did at the bait barge, before getting down to the Om-nom-nomery that is our sound-track for celebrations of food, friends and family.

We hope that all of you are enjoying the last vestiges of family time and the aftermath of double-down gluttony from the safety of the NFL couch, or wherever this extended weekend may have taken you. 

May these times of good fortune remain with us as long  as the Deity sees fit, as we give thanks for our circumstances and never forget that
These are the Days.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Fast Action on Big Bugs

 Saturday night Secret Skipper and I were able to persuade David to crew with us at Fantasy Island, which has just been so good to us in recent times.

We were coming off what we thought was the greatest crawl we had ever seen a couple of weeks ago and figured it would be hard to beat.

We knew we had a big moon, but it was not going to rise until 8. Darkness is getting serious these days by five thirty so we figured to have some time before any lunar grip started to influence the crawl.

We were on the heels of a hard rain, so the big ones might come out to march to the tune we were playing.

We left Pedro by 1:30 pm and had a very gentle ride over at 27 mph, with no real bumping.

We had an uneventful bait cutting and cage stuffing session and started to deploy gear by 4:30.  We found a nice set of stones in 175 feet and bracketed them on four sides in a tight square.

We spaced the 6 shallower hoops in ranges of 50 to 130 feet on some promising structure to wait for an hour of post sundown walk about. 

We noticed one of of our shallows was in too tight and went in to check it and re-set it.  When it came up, it had four shorts and a real nice legal.  We were on the board.

 While we were loitering, a really pretty Grady White 30 with a couple of knuckle-heads began maneuvering around our mid-rangers.  We were stunned when they dumped over a hoop right in the midst of our four buoys and then moved away.  It was an incredibly rude move.  We assumed that they thought we had a good spot that they just had to invade. Their hoop was lighter, their floats tinier and it just drifted around in our set.  We did not want to pull through their mess and decided to to let them pull first.  We watched them come over and try to figure out how to even get close.  They did a pretty good job of backing in among our buoys without chopping up our lines.  It was  an obvious party foul.  We asked them why they had come from a set that was close to 1,000 yards away to put one in the middle of our set.  Instead of just apologizing and getting out of there, they lamely tried to say that there were no buoys there when they made their set.  We just said that was bullshit, as we had watched them come over and set on top of our gear, which of course they knew was true, so they just got busy.  They ended up having to haul our buoy aboard and untangle their rope and light gear from our buoy before giving it back over the side.  They were scraping our other buoys as they carefully backed out and then just headed far away into the darkness, which we were certainly glad to see.  I got some pictures of them bumping our gear about, but I think that posting them would spoil our celebration of a pretty fun time.

The delay caused by their goonmanship probably helped us, because our mid-rangers had a bit more time to soak before we got busy.

We pulled on the first one and it felt heavy.  As it came up, there was a race-around of brown and an incredible haul came into view.  We had 14 bugs, 9 of which were real nice legals.  We now had ten bugs in two pulls.

We made our way through the rest of the gear and every hoop was holding big lobster, along with a lot of sub-legals, especially in the shallows.

The tank was filled with 2-3 pounders in record time. We had our limit in the seventh pull and started recovering gear before UCLA started the game they should not have lost. We took 18 pulls to complete all our activity, dump our bait and stack gear for a nice ride home. 

We threw back many legal lobster once again.  We were on the way home by 7:30 and tied up in Pedro an hour later, as the moon began to rise to the north.

Tommy and David paused for the Lobster Life photo before the cruel work of processing began.

It was as nice a grade of lobster as we ever get.

They gathered politely in the kitchen to await disassembly.

It was short, easy and stupidly fun.  We did not even get tired. I wish I could somehow bank what we returned to the sea, but life is not like that.

I have to get in one more shot of David on the best pull we have ever made in decades of doing this, because it is hard to see how it could get better. We just don't know how long this crawl we keep cashing in on is going to produce, but we do know that

These are the Days.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022


 Saturday night your narrator was once again invited by Secret Skipper to head out in search of the not-so-elusive California spiny lobster.

We were concerned that Saturday might produce a crowd, but we were buoyed by a weather forecast that called for brisk weather at our island destination.

Connor and Sarah begged out of another invite because they were throwing a Halloween party.  Tommy had been ill, needed to sleep and was forbidden by WendyJo from going on a boat (where he historically sleeps more than at any other venue). David had a big day planned into the afternoon at a pumpkin patch, so once again our potential crew was unavailable.  It would be just the two of us trying to find 14 bugs that were big enough to eat.

We skipped our usual load of live sardines and went with the frozen as we made our way to Pedro light and the gap in the breakwater.  

We were nearly intercepted by a pirate ship that was bearing down on us as we exited the Cabrillo Marina Channel.   The Captain got on a bullhorn and ordered us to hove to and surrender.

We turned down the radio and told him that if he expected us to stop, he would need to grow a pair - of outboards.  Then we saluted his vessel and gunned it to the west.

We hit a moderate amount of wind chop in the San Pedro Channel, so we were held to less than 20 mph on the way over.

Because of our relative success in the shallower sets over the last two-plus seasons, we decided to reduce the length of our two deepest 300 footers down to 100 feet by coiling and zip-tying 200 feet of it in a bundle on the counter-sunk side of the float.  It turned out the matted coil had so much buoyancy that we had to clip-in another hefty sinker get it to counter-sink so that the tag end would neither float nor drag down to the bottom.

We set three 200 footers at about 160-170 feet, one 250 footer at 189 and the 150 at about 120.

We put the other 5 at between 100 and 40 feet, so that we had a neat row of shallows and five more scattered on rocks in the mid-range.

The wind died down, but the current started flagging the countersinkers and eventually pegged the deep floats.  We got nervous about how they looked.  We tested one of the deeper hoops and found starfish in the mesh, so we were pretty sure our hoops were not lifting off the bottom.

We rolled into the shallows and started listening to college football on the radio as we waited till dark like Audrey Hepburn. Nobody came out to join us and we had the island to ourselves.

We decided to start with one of 200 footers at around 7:15 with a crescent moon to the west, just above the silhouette of the island.  When we edged up to retrieve the float, we noted that the current was no longer roaring and the floats were not pegged.

Your narrator grabbed the buoy and fed the line through the Bagram as Skipper sampled the tension with his experienced grip.  "This one has got meat.  It feels really promising."  This was welcome news that I received cautiously, as the mid-rangers had been hitting pretty near the Mendoza line, just as the deepies had performed their way completely out of the lineup and into the shallows.

The meshed hoop came into view in the lights as we saw a scurry of brown movement.  The first pull produced five legal lobster, two of which were really large specimens.

The 250 came up blank and we got four more nice legals in the next three pulls.  This brought us to nine with five pulls left in our set, rolling into the 5 shallows that have recently been the most productive depth.  We were not disappointed, as we easily made our limit in nine pulls and then turned back out to recover gear, dump bait and then strip and stack it all neatly for the ride home.

As we celebrated on our retrieval, we threw back at least 20 legals and probably three dozen shorts in the stupidest crawl to which I have borne witness in over twenty years of hoop lobstering.

We were tied up and cleaning the boat in Pedro by 10 pm and I was home in San Juan Capistrano before midnight, which is a first for me on any daylight savings time run.

I made the fishing averse twins fulfill the "lobster life" growth chart photo, despite their very limited connection to the enterprise.  It pains the old guys that the next generation continues to miss opportunities to earn and learn during these halcyon days of crustaceanal carnage.

We had mostly females, but a couple of nice males, as they good naturedly dogpiled for slaughter in the sink.

The overall size was really excellent.

They all ended up stacked in anticipation of their starring role in our big production.

We called up the Howards, the Devaneys and the rest of our dependable lobster eating crew for a Sunday feast that featured salmon, ribeye, and a pile of bugs your reporter dared our guests to try to consume.  

It remains nice enough to dine outside in shirt sleeve weather on Halloween weekend.  Even cousin Andrea, who just happened by for a quick visit on her way back home from San Diego, was pressed into the fight against leftovers.

These are days of abundance in our local marine cycle.  This is currently a very healthy fishery that is not getting stomped on for the moment.  

Gather them while you may and share what you can snatch like a grasshopper from Poseidon's open palm, cuz 

These are the Days