Saturday, November 1, 2014


Colorado Deer Hunt, October 2014


            During the last week of October I joined Mark Simpkins, Rob and Jan Graner, and Kyle and Martha Trimmer  for an eastern plains hunt with Jack Cassidy Outfitters.  We hunted the Painted Canyon Ranch, which is located between the practically abandoned towns of Kim and Pritchett at the southeast corner of Colorado.  Mark and I flew, while Kyle, Rob, Martha and Jan drove, which proved far faster and more efficient than flying US Air.
      Rob and Manny

            Mark and I arrived at the LAX three hours before our scheduled departure, since we were traveling with guns.  After a relatively tedious but uneventful check-in, we experienced what is apparently a standard 45 minute delay for US Air.  We landed at the creepiest and most poorly designed airport in America, Denver International.

            We rented a Nissan four wheel drive truck and headed to Trinidad, where we joined the other members of our group at the friendly and clean La Quinta Inn.  Trinidad, which now has a bustling mineral extraction economy, was previously known as the sex-change capital of the US.  On January 1, Trinidad will join some of the other counties in Colorado that have legalized marijuana dispensaries and this town of 9,000 will have 14 of them.  I did not realize that much of the state does not have legalized weed commerce, as I expected a region filled with Rastafarian lotus–eaters and the agricultural product of their politics.  We were in the rural/agricultural part of the state for all of our activities.  I never saw any trace of dope-culture, or anyone smoking, selling or otherwise interacting with this weed.

            We had lunch in the town of Kim, which features this charming outpost café and little else.  The food was good and the people were nice.  Not a lot going on to get the mostly old folks we saw there excited.

            We left Trinidad and drove east along the depressing flat lands leading out through hollowed out farmland towns with mostly boarded-up businesses and abandoned homes.

     
       After winding our way to the Everett ranch and checking in with our guide Chris, we found a very remote and wasp-infested shooting range outside of Springfield where we dialed in our rifles and got a flat tire on a dirt road about 25 miles from anything, including cell service.

            Our bunkhouse accommodations at the Everett cattle ranch were much nicer than I expected.  Although there was no cell phone service for Verizon, there was satellite TV and we were able to watch all of the World Series games after a day in the field.  Congratulations to the Giants.
            Rob’s wife Jan is a Navajo medicine woman whose real name is Cooking Chicken.  Although she has a very nice custom-made Cooper 30/06 rifle with a Swarovski scope, she prefers archery hunting for bear at close range.  Because of her ursine prejudice, she declined to fill her deer tag on this trip, leaving Rob to fill their freezer with his permit.  For the past two seasons, Cooking Chicken has taken a large black bear with a handmade Navajo bow and arrow rig.  Both times the bear was dispatched with an arrow through the right eye at virtually the same location off a trail in the Blue Mesa area near Montrose, Colorado.  She had beautiful head-attached rugs made from the skins and says that the eye shots keep the skins pristine and make for a clean kill.  She always shoots for the right eye, rather than the left, because in her culture, that is the eye which confronts the truth.


            Kyle is a drummer for the Katrina Waves, which is a Storyland Jazz combo out of New Orleans.  He has hunted extensively in most of the western states, often while traveling on tours with the Waves.


Kyle’s wife Martha is part Comanche and her own tribe once controlled the land we were hunting. Her Indian name is Washington Redskin, as the Comanche are huge football fans.  She is a recently retired major in the army and does not hunt, although she is a specialist in mountain survival tactics.  She can also skin-out and butcher any land animal because she worked as a furrier/hide tanner when she lived on a reservation in Oklahoma before joining the armed forces.  She had a beautiful set of beaded, deerskin pajamas and  matching moccasins that she crafted herself and in which she lounged about the bunkhouse when each day’s hunt ended.

Our second guide Manuel arrived that night.  Manny lives in Trinidad. In addition to working as an outfitter, Manny has a water and power engineering position with the city of Trinidad.  He was recently given the task of designing an enormous pneumatic grid throughout the city in anticipation of the establishment of so many pot dispensaries in three months.  These systems, which have been installed in a few sections already, are like stupendous hamster habi-trails. They are like those you see in old black and white movies about office high rises and sexual intrigue in the workplace. There can be no 90 degree turns as the air driven vessels speed through tubes that are both underground and sweep overhead in some parts of town, like the “T Line” in Boston.  The calculation for maintaining air-pressure and cycling the airlock and direction deflectors are extremely complex.  They must also be completely re-calibrated as each new dispensary comes on line.  Right now, all of these space age little day-glo plexi-glass torpedoes  are empty, or else jokingly filled with burritos used to test the system’s tolerances, as these burritos (called "test piglets") are so heavy as to build in structural redundancy.  For now, legal weed has not yet hit the beach in this town, but it will really be something come January 1st when the law takes effect and these delivery systems whistle about.

On day one, Manny took Rob, Kyle, Washington and Cooking Chicken into the canyon area while Chris got stuck with Mark and me on a long, binocular-intensive drive through flatlands that seemed to extend forever, as we searched through the barely cold early morning sunrise into the heat of a very hot day.  The first two days were, in fact, record-setting high temperature days for the area this time of year.  The net result of that was that the deer completed their activities after nightfall and before sunrise and were mostly undetectable for us.  We passed many properties that seemed from the long distance of an arrow-straight dirt road to be little residential outposts with lines of trees and a windmill set among multiple buildings.  When you got closer, you would usually find the windows out and the abandoned buildings in varying states of decay.  Young people tend to leave this part of the country as soon as they can flee or enlist and the parents move out when they get old.  There is nobody left to take up that yoke when they are gone.

Nobody in either hunting party saw much in the morning.  The evening hunt started in hot weather and generated a hike to set an ambush at a likely confluence of evening deer that decided to stay put in the heat.  We got back and the others were still out, which we took as a good sign for them.   When they pulled in well after dark, Rob had scored a nice buck he shot right at sundown. It was a bedded buck that Manny spotted at about a mile.  Rob got to about 400 yards out from that spot in the vanishing light before he began lobbing shells at the antlers in the scrub.  The deer got up to look around at the dirt kicking up around it and Rob put one through its curious neck, which caused it to more permanently commit to the nap that Rob’s gunfire had interrupted.

 Rob was shooting a custom Dakota rifle, chambered in 30/06 with a scope that was a scale model of the one they have in the Mount Palomar Observatory.  The recoil and irresistible momentum created by the retreating scope caused Rob to pitch back into an impressive colony of cactus and he was impaled from the back of his knee through the back of his shoulder. Manny located the buck in the dark below a crescent moon and dragged it back to the truck for field dressing as night set in.    It took Cooking Chicken three hours of pliers and tweezers work, followed by the application of an ancient Navajo medicinal poultice made from cactus fruit to set him straight.  It is really handy that the herbal antidote for the irritant in the cactus spines is found within its own fruit, and it is a basic element in the catalogue of cures possessed by Navajo medicine women.

The next day was hotter.  Mark and Chris dropped me off to climb to a high point on a little mesa, where I could glass the draws below within my theoretical field of fire.  Mark and Chris went further and then dismounted to hunt one of the canyons on foot.  As I hiked up the rocky incline and got near the top, I found a bleached skull from a buck and was reminded to become paranoid about the abundance of local mountain lions.  I found a spot that afforded the right combination of concealment and vantage point, arranged myself within it and began scanning for several hours.  I  grew bleary-eyed  from scanning  and constantly fingering the focus knob of my binoculars as I examined every irregular object until  I could completely rule it out as being an animal.  As one does in this kind of motionless waiting, I began using my rangefinder to calculate the distance to various objects of reference that were within 500 yards, so if a target was acquired near any one of these spots, I would know what rate of bullet drop to calculate into my cross-hair elevation in the event I had to reach out to the wildlife.  These mathematical calisthenics served only to kill time, rather than deer, as none of them appeared at any of my points of interception.

When we got back to the bunkhouse, Manny’s truck was already back and the rest of our group was relaxing to the tune of a nice 3x4 buck that Kyle brought down with less than half a box of ammunition.  It was virtually field dressed for them when they got to stand over it. 

The parts of Rob and Kyles deer not for eating


 The successful members of our group went to a local butcher to have their harvest processed, while Mark, Manny and I went into Springfield to get the tire fixed and eat at Pappy’s BBQ on Main street, which could also be called Only street.  The food here is absolutely great, and they have fantastic serve yourself bean station, complete with onions, jalapenos and a loaf of white bread.

Springfield is mostly boarded up, but apparently has a local metalwork artist whose statues of whimsical western characters lurk near virtually any building of consequence, whether occupied or vacant.


The décor in the town reflects a certain high caliber style of hunting philosophy, so I had Mark take a picture of me at the town’s monument to their one-shot-one kill attitude.




The first business establishment one encounters in this burg is Pop’s liquor, which is run by a very tall, very funny and friendly proprietor by the name of Cecil Wade.  It is the only place which sells store-bought alcoholic beverages for 150 miles in any direction.  I wish it was closer to my house.

The store’s motto, emblazoned on its souvenir matchbooks, is a simple enough directive that anyone can embrace.


With the other members of our party now tagged out and avoiding the heat by hanging around the satellite TV, Mark and I now each had our own guide, like a sort of Special Olympics hunting tutor.

 With the weather finally cooling off a bit, Manny and I saw a few bucks in the evening gray.  They were marginal shooters and I passed on each one we were able to identify and size up.  Mark and Chris returned a bit after us, not having seen any bucks.  Despite my unfilled tag, I did feel like we were getting closer to what we came for as my head hit the pillow.

The following morning Mark and Chris left for the canyons while Manny and I decided to glass the mesas that lead to a canyon on another part of the ranch.  Manny spotted a couple of bucks to which we gave a "better next year" pass and we continued glassing and driving the flat lands below that mesa ridge.
  About 8:30 am, I spotted two bucks working their way up toward the top of the mesa at about 275 yards and got closer. Both were nice, but I shot the bigger one after glassing to  the right to verify the location of the lesser before swinging back on the greater to squeeze the trigger. I took the shot at 178 yards uphill at the base of a vertical rock escarpment.  The deer were walking left to right and pausing on a trail above a steep incline of about 300 feet of rocky cactus-infested ground before the slope became more gradual.  I snapped off a double lung shot with a 165 gr. Hornady SST, which generates a tad over 2900 fps at the muzzle.  The gun was my model 70 Winchester 30/06 bolt gun, equipped with a Nikon Monarch standard cross-hair scope.  The buck dropped in mid-stride, fell onto a flat rock and did not move until we climbed up and moved it down.  The recoil of a live shot is almost undetectable in the adrenaline of the moment and I saw the whole thing through my scope as though I was shooting a BB gun.  It was a crisp discharge.

Manny and I climbed up to the top and had to take a few breaks as we worked our way down to the truck, where I was afforded the opportunity to use my beautiful Anza hunting knife to field dress the bounty of my morning.
A shout out to the boys at Anza knives

  We got back to the bunkhouse by 10 am and I had commenced the process of working my way toward being somebody when Mark and Chris came back with an empty truck.  

From that point on, Manny, Chris, Mark and I hunted together, with Mark as our only armed member. The weather got much cooler – down into the low 30s. We glassed canyons and fields with determined thoroughness and spotted many creatures, including a small group of mountain sheep traversing rocky canyon below.


Out on the mesa, we saw abundant antelope 

 When we stopped to glass, I started heading out ahead to scout on foot, like I thought I was Kit Carson.  I was able to sneak up on several groups of deer, but none were  great shooters.


After seeing several marginal bucks and does that came out to walk in the coolness of shaded canyons, we popped out onto a mesa from which Manny spotted a huge bear working its way up a draw into a canyon.  Mark was itching to try a 300 yard shot with his .308, but that would almost certainly result in four guys with one gun pursuing a pissed off bear up into a canyon in diminishing daylight.   Mark decided that he did not have enough reach with that .308, which later events would prove to be more than just a hunch. I decided to stay closer to the truck after this encounter.  We had one day left and Mark expressed concerns that he was might have to lower the bar of acceptable targets before we had to drive back to Denver.  We returned to the bunkhouse in time to watch the Royals scorch the giants with the false hope of a 10 to zero ass-kicking, which proved to be their final victory. 

The final morning had me awake at 3 am, anxious to get out at the first hint of gray light for our last chance at a morning hunt for our group to tag out.  Manny woke up later than the rest of us and seemed comparatively casual about starting out after sunrise, like he had an appointment with the deer.  It turned out that he did.  We headed out and glassed a couple of promising areas.  Mark passed on a 3x3 that he probably would have taken if it had been closing time, but we were still optimistic.

Chris then spotted a group of six bachelor males heading up a draw toward the top of a mesa.  They were about 400 yards out and three of them were shooters, with one noticeably larger buck in the mix.  Manny thought we could work our way to the other side of the canyon and get a shot off across the canyon before they got to the top.  The race was on.

We scrambled up the rocky incline to a point of elevation and concealment about 270 yards from the deer.  There was much huffing, puffing and fumbling around as we glassed the group and Mark tried to find a good rest for the shot as they began to get away from us.  They just reached the top of the mesa as Mark’s shot crackled across the canyon.  The deer bolted and Mark jacked more shots through his gun, pausing only once to reload.  The big deer fell back from the rest and was clearly hit.  Mark moved forward and anchored him.  

We discovered that the nonleaded and expensive federal copper bullets had not done their job, as can be seen in the photo of a bullet that barely punched through the hide before stopping at the shoulder bone.  Mark decided that he was now committed to buying a .300 magnum to replace his .308, which he had cogitated about before this trip.

Mark and Chris exchanged high fives of relief and jubilation at what was the exclamation point of a successful hunt for all of us.

 Manny exclaimed that it was a dandy.  He and I went down for the truck while Chris and Mark went to the spot on foot.   We were back at the bunkhouse by 9:30am.  Manny and Chris cut up the deer and then we went back into Springfield to buy another bottle at Pops and get ready for game seven.  We had our stuff mostly packed up for an early 5 am departure.  We were then able to completely relax in the sublime pleasure of a great dinner, adult beverages and watching the Giants win another World Series.
     Manny, Mark and Chris with Mark's buck


We left in the dark and saw so many deer, including big bucks, crossing the road ahead of us that we had to slam on the brakes at several spots.  We stopped at both Cabelas and Bass pro shops and Mark picked out the gun knew he wanted…..I mean needed….for the next hunt.

I cannot complete this report without including some experience with our return flight on US Air.  The process of checking luggage at Denver is a royal pain, especially with guns. They hit Mark up for an extra $100 for being over 50 pounds in his suitcase (after the $60 charge he had already paid).  I had to take a couple of things out of my suitcase and into my carry on to avoid the additional $100 they wanted me to fork out and in the process had to open my suitcase full of cool hunting gear for the world to see.  It was the last time I would see it, at least as of this writing.

We boarded the jet and taxied to the runway, at which point the captain announced that we would be returning to the gate to have an engineer fix a minor problem in five minutes.  The problem turned out to be the fact that the tray table for the aisle passenger in the row ahead of ours would not remain in its upright position.  After about 45 minutes, a technician (not really sure if he was an engineer) showed up with a roll of duct tape and taped it up by wrapping a band around the tray and the seat in front of it.  I was lucky enough to have a woman with a huge baby right behind me.  Within five minutes of settling in, the baby took a prodigious crap, mostly in his diaper, as his mother playfully called him “Mr. Stinky.”

As we waited nearly an hour for the tape to arrive, the mother asked the flight attendant if she had time to change her baby.  He said yes.  Instead of changing the baby, she just changed her mind and turned up his baby music to distract him.  He reflected his discomfort over the next 3 hours by kicking the back of my chair and pounding on his tray table, while his mother kept calling him “Mr. Stinky” periodically to let everyone around her know that she smelled it too.

When we finally got back to LAX, we were diverted to a spur terminal and had to be taken by bus to the main terminal.  Most people missed their connecting flights. The baggage carrousel for US Air showed a different city and flight number, but we saw people from our flight discover their luggage and begin removing it.  We found our guns, unattended, sitting in an unmanned area to the side of the terminal.  My bag never showed up.  It had my hunting ammo, boots, custom knives and all of my first line warm clothing and hunting equipment in it.  I got home, sans gear, at about 9:45 pm.  If we had driven back from Colorado, I would have made it home in about the same amount of time, saved money, and I would have my gear, some of which is not easily replaced.

But enough of the griping. This has been a great and lucky year for outdoor sports and it seems that I have recovered sight in a shooting eye that was pretty useless this time last year.  The hunting experience we had with Cassidy Outfitters was first rate, again.  I know that this week I have experienced with such great companions and teachers is a treasured addition to the memories I have been banking.  To paraphrase Pops, Get Out and Be Somebody, because, as is clear to everyone who knows…..

These are the Days


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Carnage off Clemente - fish report for September 17, 2014


On September 16, 2014, your reporter was once again a lucky guest on board Tom Patierno’s 44 Pacifica “Limitless.”
Our charter master, who is of Spanish Basque extraction and a long time family friend, was Soy Latte.  Soy’s parents grew up in Spain and moved across the street from us in Long Beach when they first immigrated.  They had the foresight to name him for a beverage that has now been vocalized by millions of baristas across the left coast.  The literal translation of his name is “I am an expensive caffeinated drink invariably ordered by pretentiously health conscious women.”
                Soy, who normally fishes using brightly colored hand tied zippers from the land of his ancestors, brought three of his children, as well as his salmon fishing buddy, Monte Crisco. Monte insisted on being called “MC” because of his instinctive sense of rhythm and tendency to break into a frenzied, baggy-pants dance routine whenever he hooked a fish, or thought he was about to.

                Soy has tried for years to get people to nickname him “Swifty” without any real success.  To humor Soy and thank him for including me on this day on the water, I will call him by that name for the duration of this report.

              The last time I saw Swifty’s daughter Pantera, she was a little kid.  Pantera is not only a capable angler, but has grown into a beautiful young graduate student living in San Diego.  Swifty gave her this exotic name because he was at the San Diego Zoo, looking at the “Big Cat” exhibit, when he decided to call his wife, who was at the hospital giving birth to their daughter.  Swifty only had enough change for a short conversation, and his young bride was exhausted from a long labor – “Good job, Babe – Let’s name her Pantera, because I know she’ll be a wildcat just like you.”







             Swifty’s other two sons are half twins, born on the same  day to different mothers.  Swifty was home watching a re-run of “Battle of the Bulge”, which features a star-studded cast in a classic movie about the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes during World War ll.  Swifty did not have to use a pay phone this time.  He called the hospitals with congratulations and to telephonically name his newborn sons.

                Luger, who is a bit taller and does not look much like his half-twin Mauser, went to college in Boulder before becoming a CPA and opening a highly successful business manufacturing and telemarketing a high protein beverage used to feed captive, or rescued marine mammals, especially sea monkeys.

                Mauser, who is a mechanical engineer, has turned an abandoned warehouse in San Bernardino into a humming factory that mass-produces air sickness bags for most of the national market, as well as making custom six and a half foot black plastic zipper bags for some of the Asian airline companies.

                 We were chased down to San Diego by weather generated by the edge of a Mexican hurricane, with scattered cells of thunder, lightning and little rainbows.  We all rendezvoused at the Dana Landing Marina right at the end of a tropical downpour, complete with heavy thunder and lightning strikes to the flag pole near the ramp.

                We were greeted and helped aboard at 8 pm by Tom, his deckhand Christian and second skipper Paul Nosferatu, who runs the boat at night and then retreats into his coffin once daylight breaks.

                We baited up with many gentle passes of perfect sardines and headed up swell toward the rumors-behind-the-news at a spot just inside of the U.S. Navy’s private parcel of maritime warfare, San Clemente island.   The water temperature on the way out was 74 in the harbor and 75 plus once we got outside. We were tight on the front side near Pyramid Head.

                After rigging up for tuna with 20# fluorocarbon leaders, rubber core sinkers and 2/0 hooks, I downed a few beers with our team.  It was then time to retire to a bouncy spot in the upper bunk in the bow cabin, where my primary goal was to remain in place and avoid pitching out when the bow and bunk dropped out from under me every once in a while.   

                As I struggled to sleep amidst fitful dreams of hammerheads and atomic backlashes, Swifty and MC guzzled moonshine on the deck.  Eventually naked except for the lifejackets skipper Paul made them put on in the pitching darkness; they sang and danced like prancing goat boys to the Bee Gees until almost 3 am, when they finally put their clothes back on and passed out in the salon.

                After we arrived on station and began a steady drift in the current I woke up for good, grabbed some coffee and took a look around,  Every boat in the southern California fishing fleet, including some long range boats, seemed to be drifting with us, as witnessed by acres of bobbing lights.

                I climbed the ladder to check in with Paul, looked down and saw a big hammerhead make a pass through the lights.  This was a sure sign we were in the zone, so I put out a bait, even though it was at least an hour before gray light would begin.

                I got picked up and set the hook.  After a hard initial run, the hook pulled in a series of violent shakes.  Hammerhead?  I tossed out a fresh one and was picked up again.  This time it was the hammerhead and he made short work of my gear before flashing away from the boat.  I grabbed another rod from the rack, twisted on a sinker, and tossed out.  I was bit again within seconds and this time it stuck, as line peeled off against the drag.

                I yelled for all the sleepers to get up on deck and get at it.  One by one, our sleepy band staggered out on the deck and blinked in the lights.  The rods they were issued went bendo as soon as the baits hit the water.

                All six of us were hooked up in the confusion created by a combination of darkness and recently interrupted slumber.  Lines crossed and fish were burned off, but were quickly replaced by new rigs and singing reels as the tuna swarmed the boat.  Everyone boated at least one before total darkness gave way to gray and we drifted off the fish.

                As the first colors of the morning became detectable, we saw the fleet begin to mill around .  We joined them in a slow search for sonar fish, with one cedar plug dragging behind us to keep the fish honest.

                Tom found a huge spot of tuna and we put out the baits as we slid over them.  It was instant hysteria as fish hit our sinkered baits immediately.  All six of us were solidly wired again as the rising sun creased the horizon.  Everybody was screaming like confederate soldiers.

                Then the radio crackled out a message from the U. S. Navy to all vessels fishing the area – “Get out now.”  When the Navy says now, they don’t mean later, because they need to blow up stuff on a very specific timetable.  Helicopters buzzed the angling fleet, along with red launches full of sailors armed with bullhorns.  “Reel in and get out” was what they thought they were saying.  I thought I heard them say “grab your 40 pound outfit and jack down your drag for another one,” which is what I did.  Twice.  The bite was so hot they bit straight 40 eight feet from the swim step.  I just had to bulldog two more before we fled as solid a bite as I have seen in what has been a very good season.

                We had 21 tuna in the hold as we popped our breakfast beers and started to re-tie all the rigs we broke off in the melee. The fleet, dazed by the gut punch of this abrupt termination of a white hot bite, scattered in all directions way from the island.  Thanks Obama.

                We put out a marlin jig and a cedar plug and began searching for kelp paddies.  As we fueled up on breakfast sandwiches, we drove past boats in the distance that were stopped on paddies.  We stopped on a couple we found and drew non-stop action from small yellowtail that we hoped would give way to dorado or yellowfin.  After spending bait on catch-and-release yellowtail that did not mutate into something greater, we would motor far enough away to put out the trolling rigs without drawing strikes from firecracker yellows.
Christian gives the all good sign after finding the magic paddy
 
                We headed toward the 289 and were in that general area when Christian found a paddy from the crow’s nest.  We began our drift and pulled a couple of yellows off the upswell side.  As we slid away from the kelp, we got sonar marks and the tuna charged the boat, just like they did at Pyramid head before the Navy obliterated our bite.  Tuna exploded on bait dropped with feet of the boat and you could see them flashing about.  They bit the 40.  For about half an hour they probably would have bit a lariat, as what had been mere slaughter became total carnage.  It was that stupid. 

 Pantera gazes upon her most terrible kill to date

                The pandemonium gradually petered down into a plunker bite and  we were back down to  fishing 20 pound line, but  we put 58 tuna  into the  raw salt water chiller below deck and had a building wind and swell to push us home.  The crew broke out the cutting boards and delivered a heavy dose of butchery as we pointed down swell for Mission Bay.



Swifty and Pantera celebrate some father-daughter carnage on the high seas
 
 
 
          We consumed copious quantities of tri-tip sandwiches prepared by Swifty's first wife and washed it down with the rest of the 90 beers that proved to be the right amount for our voyage.  We traded high fives and played "Name that Tune" to Swifty's classic rock collection.  We were tied up and off loaded by 5 pm.



              I am transforming my home into a cannery this weekend.  I have two cases canned and am waiting on the last batch of the evening as I type this report.

                The fish killing machine that is Limitless, along with its savage crew, delivered once again.  This bite sure seems like it might be durable enough to drive some combo lobster and tuna trips right into Halloween. Get out there and kill something good to eat, because Brothers and Sisters, it is right here, right now.
 

These are the Days.

               

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fiji Girl trip September 13,2014



On September 12, your reporter joined Isaac, Kim, Kevin and Matt Sage on board the Fiji Girl for a trip into Mexican waters in search of exotics.  The weather Friday night in San Diego was hot and windy, which caused us concern about what conditions would be like on the outside.

            Our crew beat me down to San Diego and loaded up a scoop of green sardines and a five gallon bucket of mackerel for chopped chum.  After a late dinner at Volares and a single malt for good Karma, we bunked down in anticipation of a 3 am departure.

We headed out toward the 425 and the Hidden Bank in the choppy darkness with a very close interval swell that put us in the ditch all the way out and all the way home.

The water was 74 plus in the harbor.  We hit a band of 69 degree water a few miles out and then it went right back up to the 74 plus range everywhere else.

As gray light started emerging, we were greeted by white caps and wind that seemed to increase as we left the mainland further in our wake.  The trolling jigs went out as we approached the north side of the Coronados.  We picked up a few bonito just past North Island.

 We droned on with the crew scouring the hazy horizon for birds.  Sea conditions made spotting signs of breaking fish difficult and we did not see the right kind of birds with all of our glassing from the fly bridge.
 
We got a blind jig strike from two Dorado short of the 425 and Isaac nabbed a baitfish.  We managed to boat all three, despite a Chinese fire drill that left Kim bleeding from a wound on the back of his leg, which Isaac patched up with his life guard bandaging skills.

Isaac and Matt with two nice hen dorado

I got to turn the handle on this bull dorado, which briefly escaped the gaff and the kill sack for five more minutes of pandemonium

The weather worsened as we went further toward the Hidden Bank.  Water temp was 73 to 74.5 almost everywhere we went. We found several parties where you could catch a few small Dorado and all the small yellow tail that you wanted, on bait, trolled jigs, and cast and retrieve jigs.  We could not find tuna, as the wind and chop worked against us  We saw no  tern piles or breaking fish, although we knew they were out there somewhere.  The fish we were not keeping were eager to take our jigs, so we had plenty to do before we ate ourselves into a stupor with the enormous carnitas breakfast burritos we picked up from Aurora’s Taqueria in Dana Point. That fare put us into a swaying set of doldrums as we banged around the Hidden Bank for several hours without finding the tuna.  Sea conditions at the Hidden seemed worse than elsewhere and we decided to work our way back in the early afternoon.

. On the way in, with sea conditions much improved, we glassed bird piles near the spot where we had picked up the bonito west of the Coronados.  We metered tuna within 600 yards of North Island in an area that became very fishy. We got a trolled bluefin on the cedar, chummed out a bucket of chopped bait, and drew boils.  The petrels swarmed us and took our fly-lined dines before we could get bit.

   

            We put the jigs back and proceeded to get non-stop hookups on big bonito.  We eventually pulled the trollers, as we were pretty beat up from the bang around at the Hidden.

            We had to earn our fish this time.  Hottest jig was the blue/green cedar, but other cedars worked, as did rapalas, catchees, and other traditional silver headed skirts.

These are the Days

 

 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Local - Yellowfin Off Dana 8/31/14


 August 31 Fish report: Dana Yellowfin for Forrest’s Birthday.

 

 With barely time to recover from our successful trip on the Limitless, I was fortunate enough to be included on Forrest Werner’s annual birthday fishing trip.  One of his regular crew was in jail this time, so I got to go at the last minute when he could not make bail.

The crew on the Werner’s 41 foot Egg Harbor sportfisher included Forrest, his brother Frank, Moe, Gary, Jim and your reporter.  Fishing for local yellowfin had been productive for many this summer, although we have certainly logged some hours of looking/trolling without being interrupted by hooked fish.  The abundance of exotic piscatorial opportunity had also been well reported, but we decided to brave the crowds on Sunday of the Labor Day weekend to take another shot and celebrate Forrest’s birthday.

Conditions were a bit choppy and windy, as they have been in the mornings lately.  There was just a trace of the swell that had rolled through  earlier this week.  The water temp was 70 degrees in Dana Point Harbor, as we pulled out at 4:15 am to get two absolutely beautiful scoops of sardines at the bait barge.  There was a line of a dozen or so boats ahead of us, but it was great to get this kind of bait in the middle of such a big weekend.

We headed mostly south at about 8 knots with sea temps ranging between 72 and 73 degrees.  Many boats peeled off  in the darkness for the 267, where the action had been as hot as the water, including a report of a wahoo being caught.  We decided to look for signs of fish in between the high spots along an s-curving 180 heading.

As has recently been the case, the ocean gave us long sleeve weather in the darkness, but gradually gave way to scattered sunshine and flattening conditions as the morning matured. 

The Werner’s boat, which I had never fished on before, is perfectly equipped for fishing tuna, with a two sided bait tank, outriggers, and most of all, a great system that Forrest and Frank have for trolling orchestrated and frequently changed-out patterns of jigs.  We trolled five rigs and often had deep diving Rapalas or Marauders on the flat-lined corners.  Forrest changed the pattern every 30 minutes, and we washed, coiled and dried the feathers as they came off their shift. Despite this disciplined and scientific approach, trolling proved ineffective, as has frequently been the case this season, as fish breaking water on the surface get shy around the jigs.

We started seeing a few terns among the gulls and shearwaters, but nothing came into our pattern.  There were small bits of kelp that were holding small bait, but nothing holding visible game fish.  There were all kinds of questionable radio fish, as well as radio combat, as boats competed for big paddies that were producing fish.  The tuna would come up briefly and foam on the bits of bait on the small kelps, but would sink out as we either dragged past the spot or hauled in the trollers and slid in with bait.  We stopped on several promising bird piles and threw bait, but got no takers, even with the chum cadence we laid down in drifts among the agitated white birds.

We saw many of the local landings’ sport boats striping the water from time to time as we fished the area inside the line between the 209 and the 181.  We were not fishing the high spots as much as we were chasing bird schools.

We got into an area about 13 to 15 miles south of Dana when the fish started coming up seriously.  We found a few spots to drift and throw chum in a fairly large area with a few floating kelps. We were fishing a kelp that was also spotted by the Enterprise, San Mateo and Dana Pride, all of which came on station and started spending sardines.  The addition of their chum lines brought more fish up in a fairly wide patch of blue water. The tuna kept popping up under the terns circulating in an area that was several acres. A hammerhead slashed its way into the edge of this zone of activity.  The appearance of this fish, as much as anything else, has been a consistent harbinger of biting yellowfin for us recently. 

We started getting plunker bites on the long soak when they came through our zone. The fish did not want to bite our heavier line, but we did get bit on the 20 pound fluro. We managed to boat 5, all but one of which were in the 22 to 30 pound range.  This grade of fish gave us some great action on a late afternoon bite that made the trip.  We busted off more that we should have, but the fish were pretty feisty.


Forrest was on the gaff for all five fish


Frank with yellowfin

 We had planned to come in early, but had to stay a bit later when we finally got the bite we had been searching for on a nice, but manageable, grade of fish. 


 We left the area with the fish biting, put out the marlin jigs and cut up the fish on the gentle ride home. Autopsies revealed that these fish were stuffed with sardines from the chum that kept them around the fleet. 


 Forrest makes ready to cut fish under the watchful supervision of Gary.
We were back and cleaned up in to Dana by sunset.

 

These fish are all over the place right now.  Sportboats bristling rent rods like porcupines are boating big scores of 20 to 30 pound yellowfin tuna close enough to shore to make out  the metallic flashes of cars on the freeway near Oceanside, so it is about as good as it gets for us south county anglers right now.  This bite looks pretty strong in conditions that may last through October, but I am getting in as many licks as I can right now, because, as you may know,

These are the Days.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tunado - fish report for August 26, 2014


Tunado August 26, 2014

We got a chance to get out with Tom Patierno on the Limitless on Tuesday, August 26th. 
 
 Our crew consisted of Erik, John, Marlon, Rob and your reporter.  Conditions had been excellent, with lots of yellowfin along the border in 74 degree water.  We left Dana Landing at ten, headed over to the bait barge where Tom carefully selected and the crew gently handled our premium sardines.

We motored out beneath a waxing new moon, with forecasts of encountering the leading edge of a hurricane swell on the outside.  Conditions were pretty choppy on the way out. We strung gear and bunked down in our restless anticipation.  We bounced along toward our destiny for the next few hours amidst the twinkling of the outbound fleet.

We got out on deck and started fishing in the darkness, with fly lined sardines, deep jig drops and groggy dreams of nocturnal bluefin and opah.  Assisted by caffeine, we gradually gained our senses as the shadows of gray light became discernible.

We got no love at this spot amidst the loitering fleet in what were foreboding conditions, with more windchop than you want to see before sunrise.  As the gray gave way to dawn, the fleet started firing up and trolling away, like searching spokes growing from a lumpy hub.

We put out our rigs and it was not that long before Tom called out to bring them in as we caught up with some fluttering white terns.  Tom gave us the go sign to toss out fly lined baits as we slid up to the marks he had on sonar.

It was pretty instant.  I got the first hookup on the spinning reel I was committed to trying out.  It is an Okuma Cedros, packed with 65 # spectra and slung beneath a Calstar 20-40 spinning rod.  It is easy to cast, has big drags and is geared up to really put big pressure on fish.  I was seeing what I could do with it while trying to make sure I did not lose the first hook up.  I did not have to worry as everyone else hooked up in the next three minutes.  We all caught fish and I was able to make short work of two 15 to 20 pound yellowfin on my new grinder.  We also saw a hammerhead in this zone, which though normally a rare occurrence, has become more common in this area over the past couple weeks.

 
The fish left and we were soon on the troll as we chased down another bird pile.  We had a short stop during which the grinder bagged one of two more tuna before we stroked out to another bird pile in the distance.  We stopped, threw bait and all got a good flurry of a smaller grade of yellowfin in the 12 to 15 pound range.  After we each bagged a couple of these fish, we drove away to look for a bigger fish, as we each had several and it was barely 7 am.  We had not gone far enough to do anything except re-rig some of the broken off outfits we had been rotating through on the first few stops before we hit the jackpot.

 Deckhand Christian spotted a distant tornado of furious terns working above what turned out to be another hammerhead.  Tom let us know that the sonar picture looked promising and we made ready at the rail as our dangerous machine closed in on the spot. 

 
The bite was instantly stupid.  We had fish blow up on our baits while we were still sliding in.  Several times, all of us were hooked up and you had to stall your fish to avoid getting tangled in colliding orbits of circle-of-death tuna flashing color at the corners.
We pulled on a bigger grade of 18 to 25 pound fish on a fish-per-cast bite.  The lifespan for each bait was seconds from splashdown.  Early pandemonium gave way to a sublime hilarity as we realized these fish wanted to stay, which they did until we left them.  They bit straight 50 and I caught fish on every rig I brought, mostly settling on my favorite old Trueline, with fluoro tipped 20 pound Ande above 65 pound spectra on a Trinidad 16 reel.  Several times I slipped up the rail to take my time on fatiguing these pretty fish from the serene solitude of the bow pulpit.

At nine am, we had 40 fish in the 34 degree salt water chiller and were releasing any  fish that did not seem worthy or damaged  The wind and chop had died off, leaving us with a building and determined swell from the south that started to give us a cadenced change in elevation as sets passed under the boat. Tom suggested we might want to leave some room on our dance cards for a shot at the bluefin that had been reported in the area of the 43.  We needed a break anyway.

We put out the marlin jigs and dragged toward the 43, which gave us time to re-string, heat up some machaca burritos Erik scored, and head slap each others’ helmets for the lucky morning we were experiencing.

We passed over a few empty paddies on way to the 43, where one sport boat was on the anchor.  We saw a couple of bird piles and headed toward the biggest one.  Tom yelled down that the meter was showing up and down fish.  John strung up with a rubber banded torpedo sinker to drop down 150 feet on what we hoped were bluefin. The rest of us tossed out fly lines on Tom’s signal.  Right away we came under attack.  John almost got pulled to the bottom as what turned out to be a big yellowfin slammed his suspended bait while the reel was in gear. 
 
 We all got picked up in turn on another spot of fish that would not leave us.  These fish were marginally, but consistently larger than what we had been catching earlier.  We plugged our 50 fish limit and then spent the next several hours catching and releasing fish we wished we could keep.  I found myself wishing I could just warehouse these easy hookups to disburse on more desperate days.  We spread out, took our time reeling and brought them up to flutter along as Christian backed out the hooks in the corner of their mouths.

 
The bite was steady, with few spells where we did not have at least one hooked up.  People began to take food and beverage breaks, but we always kept an angler or two on duty.  The fish would not leave us, so we left them to put out marlin jigs and look for paddies on the way in.  The swell was mounting and fun, as it pushed us back toward home like we were in a baby carriage.  After catching up on our neglected beer consumption quota, we all snuck below for transcendental naps. 
 

We picked up the jigs and roared the last few miles into Mission Bay in perfect weather and swells that would prove to be the vanguard of the most epic surf to hit our beaches in years.  The crew did a great job (as always) in cutting up and bagging our fish, which remained chilling at 34 degrees from within minutes of coming over the rail to the transfer to our ice chests.  The treatment of the catch is an art on this boat, ensuring that your dining experience, whether of the raw or cooked, will be as close to perfect as possible.  Ours was, and we are still in the midst of neighbor and friend banzai sushi sessions and BBQs.

We rolled up to the fuel dock before 5 pm, happy, sober and well rested.  I noticed a barge occupied by a surly group of cigarette smoking chimps was tied up to an adjacent finger of the dock, but I was too ecstatic about our good fortune to really evaluate them. We took turns taking loads in carts up to the parking lot and buying more ice to pack up the catch we divided up into the ice chests we each had in our trucks

The only downer about this trip, of which I was unaware as I cheerfully drove home from a perfect trip, was that my wallet, which had been in the outer pocket of my back pack, ended up in the hands of criminals.  I was sure I had misplaced it, but many hours of frantically searching everywhere turned up nothing.  I called in my card companies.  Most showed no activities, except one, which had multiple fraud purchases from service stations in Downey and Bellflower, which meant that I could stop looking and blaming early dementia for this loss.

This is a major hassle, obviously, and I wanted to avoid it.  I began recreating the scenario at the fuel dock and trying to place the faces that might seem retrospectively suspicious.  I got a call from the MasterCard people that a very hairy man had used my driver’s license to successfully pass himself off as me at a fruit stand, but had “scampered” away when a an animal control vehicle pulled into the adjacent lot.  It hit me like a thunderbolt – It was those barge monkeys!

I called one of my friends at the FBI to report my suspicions.  They were way ahead of me.  “Your cash is gone” he said matter-of-factly, “but we have a pretty good idea that those apes (they are not technically monkeys, but I tend to lump them all together when I run into extremists) are part of a splinter faction attending the Dinner to Honor Hamas being hosted by  former president Jimmy Carter at the Montage.”

 The dead giveaway was that the name of his “Habitat for Humanity” sponsorship hats had been subtly altered to “Pads for Primates”.  They claimed that they were just trying to be more inclusive and suggested that primates included humans, so it was cool.  It definitely was not cool and both the FBI and Homeland security agreed with me. They humored me by letting me come with them on the raid.  Even as Carter took to the podium to suggest to the Arab-costumed crowd that these hairy reasoners be given their own habitat, the feds closed in. 

The apes knew the jig was up and they came out swinging.  There were dressed in the flowing robes of Arab Gorilla garb, so it was hard to tell them from the rest of the crowd until they started to take up defensive positions in that peculiar knuckle-dragging gate.  They all reached for cell phones (which could have been detonators) and that was all the provocation our boys needed to hose them down with the belt fed machine guns that all federal agents carry under their coats.  None of the 12 monkeys that were discovered lived more than 5 more seconds.  This was a bummer for me, as I was hoping that some would be taken alive and water boarded, so they could be coerced into saying what they did with my wallet.  When I expressed this to the agent, he disdainfully blew into the locked-open chamber of his warm gun to clear out the smoke. Then he slowly looked out of the side of his face at me and said “You can never talk or negotiate with them no matter what you try-- They’re not human.”

Now I know to keep a tight grip on my gear around sea monkeys and throw bait on hammerheads, but now that those apes are dead, I have to go stand in line at the DMV.

Thanks Obama.

These are the Days