Wednesday, August 15, 2018

HAMilton


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

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

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

I changed my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 View from our table on the patio.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the Days.















Sunday, June 17, 2018

Turret Honey

      This fall, we noticed a significant uptick in indoor bee activity at our residence.  Our children complained frequently about the fact that dead bees seemed be accumulating in cereal bowl sized servings in light fixtures and crawling about on our floors, sometimes stinging the bottoms of our feet.
       After the problems seemed to be getting worse, rather than going away, we decided to investigate during the winter.  It was determined by the professionals we hired that bees had decided to make a home in the framing of the turret feature on the front of our house.  I had always wondered what it was for.

      We were advised that it would probably be necessary to remove a portion of  our roof assembly, especially if they had expanded their hive beyond the immediate confines of the turret and into the general attic area.  It was explained that it would be necessary to wait until after the rainy season was over, so that we could utilize a "bee friendly" method of extraction and allow for the roof assembly to be opened up for an extended period of days or weeks.  We had decided that we wanted to pursue this more humane method of relating to our friends in the insect kingdom, as we are  untimately dependent on them for our human agricultural needs and survival.
      We encouraged our children to share their space with these humming guests until the weather improved. Morning bee sweeps became part of indoor living. Lizzy, who is fatally allergic to bee stings and carries an Epi-pen, moved to northern California.  Sarah stayed in her position to hold until relieved, just like Private Ryan.
        By April, the torrential rains that characterize typical Orange county wet seasons had abated sufficiently to allow us to proceed.


     We decided to hire Dan the BeeMan, who seemed quite confident and knowledgeable.  When the day arrived, I decided to go up into the attic and scout out the situation.  I had been up there a few months earlier and there was no evidence of any visible hive.  I climbed up the ladder and flipped on the switch.  Instantly, the humming started and I noticed a slow swarm start to mingle from a set of honeycombs that was now quite visible coming down from the framing below the turrent.  There were hundred of dead bees on the attic flooring.  I cut the lights and scuttled down the ladder as if it was a crash-diving sub before closing the hatch like I was escaping from a childhood monster.

     We began the investigation at the top of the turret, where there was a lot of bee action commuting back and forth from the small gaps in the exterior building envelope where the turret assembly met the main roof.


The shingling and felt was removed to expose the sheathing.

     The sheathing was removed to reveal a massive infestation that swarmed our team of extractors, protected by their bee apparel (known as Bee-wear in the industry).  They pumped soothing smoke into the void.

Once the roof was opened up, everybody got pretty mad and the extent of these five-foot long honeycombs was revealed.  The smoke was increased.  It seemed important to bake these critters into a more mellow state during this critical invasion of their inner kingdom.

On of the key combs was removed in a frame to draw out the guards. 

 It was placed into a box immediately outside the turret.  

Our attendant scooped them up in huge wads and gently escorted them into the box. 

       Other bees then began voluntarily streaming into the box by the tens of thousands, occasionally stinging one of our bee techs in the tiny gaps in his Bee-wear.

      The roof had to be left open for most of the week as the bees began furiously cleaning the framing of honey.  They do a far better job of this than humans.  The port of entry was a series of gaps left in the blocking at the end of the turret rafters.  

      It was sealed up once the bees had cleaned up their former domain.  Our bee harvesters returned in a week to extract the remaining thousands of bees that continued to swarm around the exterior of our home, like Ronin.  They estimated that our hive had maxed out at about 60,000 bees, so our pad is no longer the high-density housing it used to be.

     In the interim we were presented with four huge bags filled with honeycomb, nectar and honey.  We learned that the nectar honeycombs, which Dan helpfully sorted for us, lasted about a month before it would begin to ferment and therefore needed to be extracted and consumed first. 

I went online to research extracting honey from honeycombs and learned a great deal. One of the things I discovered is that I did not own any honeycomb tools, nor did I have the enormous stainless steel honeycomb centifuge that spins the carousels of  framed honeycombs to force the honey out of each individual chamber, as demonstrated in every you-tube video I saw.  

     I had none of what I needed and so proceeded with a more primitive approach. I probably got about  3 or 4 pints of this fabulous liquid in a painstaking process that included tweezering  out hundred of individual bees and bee parts and mashing the wax to force out the nectar.  It only took about 2 hours per pint and I had three bags of the more immortal honey-not-nectar to go.  We could theoretically take our time with the honey, but there was still the issue of hundreds of dead bees that had to be addressed.
     Wendy had decided to go with the "set it and forget it" method recommended by Dan.  This involved simply cutting a hole in the bag, supending it over a collendar and cheescloth strainer and leaving it alone for half a day for each bag.  She obtained a couple of gallons with about ten percent of the time and effort I put in.  I might have obtained a couple of pints more, but she completely skipped the whole bee carcass extraction portion of the process.  Hers was the completely superior method in terms of efficiency.

   In the end, we had many jars of nectar and honey that was fabulous, clear and delicious.  I ate more honey that week than in any other year of my life.  We decided to call it "Turret Honey" in honor of its truly homemade origin.

     We took a pint of the rare nectar to my partner Ryan, who makes great craft beer with his co-conspirator Steve.  They told me that they figured they could whip up a batch of honey blonde with the fruits of our lumber and teach us a few things about how to brew up some memorable beverage.

David and I went over to Steves house in Long Beach, where we hung out with Steve, Steve's dad, Ryan.....

 ......and Steve's chickens 

     while we got a lesson on how to make beer.

     I designed a label from a great old photo of the deck of my dad's cruiser, the Manchester.  This picture was taken during a sublime moment at the end of a day of shelling the mountains above Wonsan Harbor in North Korea.  Dad's cruiser had turret-mounted fast firing naval rifles that had huge shell casings, like bullets, instead of powder bags, which allowed it pour fire precisely and rapidly.  
The lone observer appears to be cooling the end of the day and the mood of the moment seems to beg for "Miller time."

     Ryan and Steve worked hard to get this one-of-a-kind brew bottled, charged and labled by Father's Day.  We went up to Long Beach the night before and picked up a bunch.  Our whole family celebrated Father's Day at my Dad's assisted living facility (Aegis) in Laguna Niguel today with a big brunch that featured our family brew and a tip of the hat to the days and nights my Dad spent bringing carnage and preserving democracy on this ragged peninsula.  He did more than Donald to move the needle of hope in the Forgotten War. We are lucky enough to still get to spend time with him on this day and burp to the illustration of high seas action and it's epilogue.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful Father's Day and remembering that....

These are the Days.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve Halibut

     Tommy, David and I decided to cap off the last day of the year with a lazy, late start halibut trip in local waters.  After a rib eye and lobster scramble to start the day and dispose of the evidence of our Saturday night gluttony, we meandered down to Dana after the fog began to dissipate around 10 am.  The tide was still fairly high, but planning a ferocious ebb.

     We got a great couple of passes of sardines from the Baitmasters at Everingham's and headed down toward an area outside San Clemente Pier.  We started our drift in 135 feet of water, using three ring swivels, 8 ounce sinkers and a trap hook set up with 25# fluorocarbon leader and 3/0 octopus hooks.

      The wind was out of the east and the current was pretty slack, so we power drifted and "bounce-balled" our sinkers at depths between 100 and 130 feet.  We got no love, as the fish were not ready to bite.

      We hadn't budgeted a lot of time for this outing, so we decided to try up closer to the harbor for a final few drifts. We set up in about 98 feet of water near the eastern most Candy Cane marker, just outside the deepest of the commercial lobster buoys. The wind had shifted to a more traditional westerly blow that accelerated our drift.

     We marked a lot of activity toward the bottom and the area felt fishy.  After we bagged a couple lizard fish and a sand bass, Tommy got to reel in a fish that felt like the right kind.  We were able to boat a nice 26 inch halibut that guaranteed a great New Year's Eve dinner.  We were stoked to be on the board with the elusive species we were targeting.

     We moved further west and outside into 120 feet of water beyond the western candy cane to the flag buoy.  After about 100 yards we got the vibrato on a rod tip that signaled bait molestation.  We put the reel in free spool before slowly picking up the slack and arcing the rod into the telltale head shakes of a healthy halibut.  We brought it up slowly with a loose drag that allowed it to take line when it decided to surge.  It glided to the net without much hysteria and was on the deck for a quick tap to the head before relocating into our bathtub style main bait tank.  This one was 32 inches and had considerably more heft than its roommate.

     It was close to 2 pm and we were pretty satisfied with our haul, so we jammed back to the harbor and were at the gas dock in five minutes.  It didn't take much to top off the tank after a pleasantly short excursion in such gentle weather.

      It was a great way to leave 2017 in the rear view mirror, and remind Tommy and Davey that sometimes a plan can come together just like in your dreams the night before. As Isaak Walton noted - That is the charm of fishing, the pursuit of that which is elusive, yet attainable.  It is the lure of failure cast to trigger anticipation in a perpetual series of occasions for hope. Hope is something America can certainly use as we look to make this a better year than the one in our wake.

      The end of the year invariably makes us all think of Time, the stream that we all go fishing in for the moments that matter, whether they are big or small. 

        Here's wishing that The New Year brings you times that are good, occasions for hope and the chance to dream, because

These are the Days
       
        

Saturday, November 18, 2017

JESUS SAVES



Friday Tommy and David had a day off from school.  We had made an advance reservation for them to miss swim practice in order to chase lobster with Secret Skipper, which was an event they had been looking forward to for a month. They had been aboard the “Legal Limit” for some epic fin-fish trips, but had never been able to score a ticket on one of his nocturnal missions to pull hoops at the Island of Romance.  They had demonstrated their mettle recently and had earned a spot on this more commercial style enterprise, which requires teamwork and staying awake past just about everybody’s bedtime.

Secret Skipper had a tough opening to this season, nabbing only 5 legal bugs in two trips so far. I tried to manage the boys’ expectations, to no avail.  They had awakened on several Saturday mornings to run down and peer into an ice chest harboring these mystical creatures after Isaac and I came home home at dawn and crashed following a night with Skipper.  They  listened all too closely when both of us regaled them with descriptions of Skipper’s advanced methods and his systematic pursuit of these marine insects. Despite my attempts to keep them from counting their chickens this time, the boys were quite confident about Secret Skipper’s prowess and unflinchingly anticipated a long night of piscatorial splendor.

We met at the Cabrillo Marina dock at noon, with a giant bucket of KFC and other supplies. The boat gleamed and I asked Skipper if he had just detailed it.  Indeed he had, and his trusty all-purpose boat caregiver and mechanic Jesus had also just replaced the batteries, so we did not even bring a generator.

  After we loaded up and shoved off, Secret Skipper handed the boys their very own “Legal Limit” T-shirts, which of course got them even more stoked. Skipper turned past the marina breakwater and pointed the bow toward our destination.

“What the hell?! All of our electronics just shut down.  I have no navigation or depth charting’ – Skipper said right as we ran past the bait barge.  “I’m calling Jesus right now”.
‘Fat chance that he is going to waiting by the phone for you,” I thought.

“Hello – Jesus.  We have problems with the electrical” Larry said into his phone.  He and Jesus exchanged a few ideas as Skipper opened the hatches and began relaying information to his man.  After we tried throwing the various switches and rebooting the systems to no avail, Skipper said we would have to head back, because it was unsafe to try and complete this expedition in the dark without GPS or sonar.
“We have a clock and a compass.  Can’t we just do it like the old days and go for it?”
“Aren’t you worried about compromising the safety of your children?  What would Wendy think?”  he asked.
“They are better swimmers than almost anyone we know and Wendy wouldn’t miss me, or even you, all that much.” I reponded.  Skipper was not persuaded and got back on the phone as we headed back into San Pedro.  A couple of Jesus’ disciples were already on their way with a new battery.  This service was quite incredible, as every marine mechanic I have ever worked with has sworn an oath of unreliability and a vow to never show up for an appointment.

We used the time at the dock to cut up and pack the bait tubes as the mechanics arrived, diagnosed the problem, went to West Marine and swapped out two of our four batteries.  They took care of us like Skipper was the President of the United States (I mean that only as an example of a general category of important person).  There had been a drain in the electrical system and that is all mechanically challenged boat operators like Skipper and I could really comprehend.  By 2:30 pm we were headed back out.

We got to the Enchanted Isle and deployed our first set in diminishing daylight. Skipper had once again completely reworked his system with a new kind of rope and several rigs that would go to 350 feet down.  We had experienced pretty good results in the deeper water last season and Skipper wanted to make sure he advanced our capacity for this one. We had three shallow hoops in under a hundred feet; a few more midrange in the 180 to 200 foot depth; one just under 250 and the rest in really deep water in the 300 foot zone, where no divers and few other hoopers dare to drop.

After waiting for sunset and then the actual darkness that takes longer to set in, we started pulling around 6 pm.  Our first set was good in the shallow zone for a couple of nice bugs.  We also scored in the midrange, but the deep stuff, which takes more effort and time, was surprisingly dry.

We continued pulling and moving our dry hoops to more promising locations as the night wore on.  The boys took turns pulling and coiling, as well as grabbing the keepers and throwing back the shorts.  The production was steady and most of the bugs we got were either easily identified as short or obviously legal by a good margin.

We eventually brought the deep rigs in closer, but they still were not producing.  That left it to the midrange and shallow rigs to do our damage. The crawl started to taper off when the moon came up after midnight. We pulled from 6 pm until 2 am when we had tallied twenty seven lobsters and called it quits. Most of our luck came in the 170 to 195 foot depth. The boys helped break down and stack the gear with Skipper and we headed back to San Pedro with Tommy and David’s rather demanding expectations met.

We were home by around 4 am and hit the sack, after placing our ice chest full of kicking bugs in the garage. 

Armed with this bounty, I invited over neighbors and friends, cooked up my rice pilaf, and feasted on surf and turf Saturday evening.  We even persuaded Secret Skipper and his Secret Fiancé’ to come all the way down from Redondo to join in the food, beverage and glory.  While we feasted, I left a cauldron of lobster legs simmering. The next day I completed the arduous process of making lobster bisque, which turned out to be the best batch I have ever made.

Tommy and David have enjoyed unparalleled success, as has Secret Skipper, on the trips that they have taken on the Legal limit in the past couple of years.  The synergy of this combination is quite uncanny and I am glad that I was also present during all of these remarkable demonstrations of the chemistry of the right crew.  I know that someday there will be a reckoning.  For now, the boys have earned their shirts and are only going to get bigger and stronger, unlike Secret Skipper and me.

The evening was quite sublime and there were several occasions during this gluttony to give thanks and take credit for the good fortune we experienced.  Needless to say, none of it would have been possible on this occasion were it not for the remarkable intervention of our savior, Jesus, for whom flagons were raised and toasts were offered at the Big Kids' table.  


I hope that you all have a chance to get together with the ones you love  to celebrate this Thanksgiving and remember that


These Are The Days

Monday, October 2, 2017

BOAT ENVY AND THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENT



     This year my boat went on the disabled list after the usual spring futility of chasing rumors in high winds with limited prospects. Since then, I have been lucky enough to get invited out several times on the boats of others when the action heated up.  Invariably, this has allowed me the opportunity to fish on better boats with more capable skippers than what my own passengers experience.

     On Friday, I got a call from my friend Robert Bruce, the owner of a stupendous 50 foot Mikelson.  He advised that I should skip work on Monday to go chase yellowfin tuna off the coast of San Diego, where these fish had recently been feeding in abundance.

     Robert has made a fortune in the bill collecting business, collecting every imaginable type of bill and marketing them to natural history museums and internationally to Asian herbal stores and Hobby Lobby.  When I got down to the boat with my gear on Sunday night, he was on the phone negotiating a shipment of several railroad cars of Vietnamese duck bills to Brazil, where they would be exchanged for a much smaller container of hornbills and toucan bills, which in turn, would be made into banana split boats for upscale boutique restaurants in France.

     Robert gave me the “just-about-done-with-this-call” nod from beneath the full scale model of a hawksbill turtle that was suspended from the ceiling in the boat’s capacious salon.  “Just make sure that the bill of lading is with the shipment when that container ship leaves Rio.  Gotta go.”

     “Hey Ed.  Glad you could make it.  Let me give you a tour.”  I checked out the beautifully appointed fly bridge, where there was sufficient navigational redundancy to prevent even the US Navy from colliding with his sportfishing machine.

      Robert, whose Scottish heritage technically requires him to be addressed as Robert THE Bruce, is an avid sportsman whose interests include fly-fishing and every kind of hunting.  The Bruce clan left Scotland many generations ago to settle in Texas before it became a state.  They can trace their American lineage to Ethan Bruce, one of the early Texas Rangers and the commander of a regiment in the Texas War of Independence.

      Once aboard, I was reunited with Robert’s son Houston, with whom I have fished on prior occasions.  Houston had just returned from the windswept cliffs of the Orkney Islands, where he had gone for a ceremonial family reunion hunting trip with his native clan.  They hunt at night, with torches and muzzle loading shotguns, for a huge subspecies of rabbit which attains the size of a small kangaroo.  The population of these destructive hares periodically reaches a tipping point and they are driven across the grassy green tops of the plateaus from which they either double back toward the approaching line of armed islanders, or plunge to the crashing waves at the base of the cliffs. But that story is for another day.

     THE Bruce poured me single malt and directed me to help myself from a wicker basket full of fried rabbit, which tastes remarkably like Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It was delicious.

     I was introduced to another father-son set of highlanders, Angus MacDonald and his father Olden.  They are descended from a rival clan to that of THE Bruce and Houston, but have forsworn their ancient blood-oath to go out on this trip, as fellowship at sea is prized above all attributes among the traditions of the seafaring men of this rugged coast.  This is the case even though neither Olden nor Angus had ever actually been fishing on the ocean.

     Olden and Angus run the famous North County Alligator Farm outside Escondido.  Originally it was established to harvest and sell the hides of this remarkably versatile crocodilian, but the business just took off to include exporting meat to various restaurant chains.  Then the place itself became an amusement park where folks pay admission to see the operation and go on a series of funky rides on a tour of the various tanks and habitats throughout the park.  Olden gives priority to the hiring of amputees as park staffers and realizes significant tax and employment benefits, as well as the support of veteran’s organizations, which gives the Escondido Gator farm its famous cache’ as a tourist destination.

     They offered me a heapin’ helpin’ of deep-fried gator chunks from a wicker basket.  It was quite delicious and tasted remarkably like Kentucky Fried chicken.

      The last person to whom I was introduced was the professional skipper hired by THE Bruce to take us to where the fish would be waiting.  His last name is Erikson and he is descended from a line of Vikings that can trace their lineage to the settlement of Greenland.  His family settled several generations ago in Northern Washington, where his dad ran boats across the treacherous bar at Astoria before giving up that dangerous and life shortening vocation for cultivating marijuana in the Bigfoot habitat of the Cascade Mountains.  Hence, Captain Erikson’s first name is actually “Leaf”, instead of the more traditional “Leif” commonly associated with Vikings.  He had no use for the weed and gave up the plantation life to return to his nautical roots, delivering yachts up and down the Pacific coast. Leaf proved himself to be key man to our collective enjoyment and ability to remain lazier than we would have been without his capable guidance.

     After a gator and rabbit induced stupor forced me to my bunk on our pre-fishing sleepover in one the this vessel's comfortable staterooms, Robert and Leaf fired up the 3208 cat diesels and pulled the "Billable Ours" out of the slip.   We proceeded to get 2 ½ scoops of healthy sardines and motored off into the predawn darkness on the way to the lower Nine.

     We were west of the Coronado islands  when it was time to put out the trollers and look for signs of yellowfin tuna, which had recently burst onto the local scene north of the Mexican border.  Leaf was at the helm as THE Bruce was below, making fluffy omelets to order as we woke up to drink latte and squint into the cloudy gray light.

     We marked a few fish along our route, but decided to fish a paddy which telegraphed the tuna that Leaf marked below on the sub-chasing quality sonar that THE Bruce installed on his command center.

     “Let’s get fly-lines out and see if we can bring these fish up.”  Leaf came down to the cockpit with the anglers and started to liberally broadcast sardines from the tank.  Before long we had a hookup and the fish was ably gaffed by Houston.  Leaf continued a steady cadence of tossing sardines into our drift as the paddy on which we had originally stopped became an eroding speck on the horizon.  No other boats approached, as we were taking advantage of one of the virtues of fishing on a Monday.

             Olden's first tuna ably gaffed and displayed by Houston.


     The bite ebbed and flowed, but the fish never completely left us.  We lost surprisingly few of our hooked fish, which were mostly in the 15 to 22 pound range.  These tunas were easily managed on 20 pound line with a relaxing drag setting that allowed us to savor each fight.  Once aboard, the fish were bled as they thumped away and pumped out on the beautiful teak deck.  When the action was at its peak and there were multiple hookups, the cockpit was corral of carnage as the bleeders and anglers slid about the deck until the frenzy subsided to the point where the fish could be loaded into ice filled fish boxes below the deck. 

     The sun had come up. The San Diego shoreline was clearly visible and less than an hour’s run from where we were performing our slaughter.  THE Bruce kept up the encouragement and beverage service to our willing crew, while taking breaks to reel in tuna and yell “YOU MAY TAKE OUR BAIT, BUT YOU’LL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!”

Leaf gaffs yet another for THE Bruce

Angus displays his own loss of pelagic virginity.



     As we approached the noon hour, we were running low on bait and had 22 fish on ice in the hold.  THE Bruce pointed out that none of us get to spend a significant portion of our lives wired to such piscatorial stimuli, so he plotted a return to San Diego to pick up more bait and have a civilized lunch. THE Bruce took the opportunity of calm inner waters to serve us up a vegan salad, with gator and rabbit chunk side dishes, so we would have something to keep us going and balance out the halftime cocktails we enjoyed on the promenade deck.

     On the way in, Leaf schooled me in demonstrating an efficient and skillful fish cutting technique that I must say is the best blade work that I have ever witnessed in over 45 years of catching and cutting tuna.  We got a good start on butchering our catch after Houston headed and gutted the fish as a preliminary event to Leaf’s purposeful finish carpentry. He brought his own knives, which he revealed to me could be purchased for $6.99 each at the Fart and Smile store. I tried to imitate his methods when I briefly relieved him, but it was like letting a dog mouth-cut your steak at a nice restaurant.  Leaf quickly and mercifully retook his station to make sure the fillets remained sashimi-grade.

After gaffing so many fish for others, Houston strikes a pose.


     After re-stocking our bait supply, we thundered back out toward our spot and noted that there were a few boats in the area.  Leaf spotted a large concentration of common dolphin, which were travelling fast and jumping with purposeful alacrity.

     As we approached the large pod, none of them seemed that interested in coming over to ride our bow wave, as dolphin often do.  These were not “friendlies” Leaf noted, which meant that these mammals were focused on feeding and likely keying on tuna below. 

 People often think that the tuna follow the dolphin, but it is quite the other way around.  The dolphin hang above the tuna, who force the defensive bait balls toward the surface for the benefit of the mammals and birds patrolling above.

     Leaf yelled down to put out the trollers.  I grabbed one with a natural cedar plug and started to pay out line behind the boat as Leaf maneuvered us in front of the oncoming dolphin.  Before I could do anything, a tuna slammed the plug I was spooling out and screamed line off the reel.  I yelled “hookup!” and it was game on.  I got the trolled fish and one more, but then it was time to chase the dolphin to get back into position in classic “run and gun” style of racing to the spearpoint of the pod for the tuna they were screening.

     As soon as we got close, we had a double on the trollers.  We caught more fish on fly-lined bait as the dolphin continued their gallop away from us.  Once again, the engines were gunned and we gave chase, stopping in the path of the dolphin to repeatedly hook up on cast baits without deploying the trollers.

     We picked up 15 more tuna fishing the ponies and it was time to head to the barn, as we had a couple of hours of fish cutting and bagging to get done on a short ride home.  We had to pause outside the harbor in order to get all of the wet work completed as the crew feverishly processed the handiwork of Leaf’s samurai strokes.

     When we reached the slip, everyone was beat and the MacDonald’s indicated that they only wanted a couple of pieces of fish, as they were going out of town.  The other four members of our crew ended up with two dock carts full of beautifully trimmed out tuna loins.

     I was home before midnight and was able to give away a few bags to the kind of friends I could call up late on a Monday night to come over to share the bounty.  I deposited a chock full ice chest of tuna on the front porch for my son to vacuum seal that which was not eaten at the Rosh Hashanah dinner party I would be missing in favor of my five am departure for Chicago Tuesday morning.  I was able to sleep on the plane and dream about fish I had actually caught.

     Perhaps the only unfortunate part of this magical trip was the fact that Angus and Olden are completely ruined for fishing on the ocean in light of this preposterously lucky catch on their very first try.

     Once again, the misfortune of not having access to my own boat proved to be a fantastic stroke of luck, as I was  privileged to get invited on a way better boat with an insanely gracious host, cool companions and a hired captain from whom I learned a great deal.

     When I got back from Chicago at the end of the week, I went to Fart and Smile to buy a couple of the knives to which Leaf had turned me on.  These blades remain safely packaged in plastic and free from any bloodstains in the cabin of my little fishing boat, which is eligible for a PETA sponsorship based on the mercy it has involuntarily provided the aquatic community this season.

     This trip broke my streak of not catching tuna for nearly two years in a barn burner of action.  Such times are worth savoring, as we seldom get to experience this kind of fellowship and angling success with predictable regularity.

     Make it count while you can, because the best part of the season is still upon us, you and your friends are not going to live forever, and….


These Are the Days.

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