Thursday, December 17, 2015

Honky-tonk Hunt

   This year's pheasant hunting efforts took us to Bird Landing, which is a town perhaps most famous as the site of the 1982 Clint Eastwood film "Honky-tonk Man," which I never bothered to see, because it came out during that phase when he was making all of those monkey movies and monkeys are no friends of mine.

      The town, which consists of a fire station, an abandoned set house and Shirley's Tavern, is about an hour and fifteen minutes from anywhere, unless you count Rio Vista or Fairfield.

    I knew I was going on a mostly business road trip up the central valley and into the Sacramento area, so I decided that I would get back into pheasant hunting for the first time since my beloved pointer, Victor, went off to the happy hunting ground and took with him my enthusiasm for upland game hunting.  I called my pals up north to force them to spend time with me, as it had been decades since I had hunted the Sacramento area, where I went for many years on opening day in the Sutter Basin in the 80s and 90s, when we were all a bit slimmer in the hip.

 I managed to get in three very unique hunts there in December and I must say, before this report descends into the abyss of false adventure, that this is the coolest public access hunting club I have had the pleasure of abusing.

     The facility is set near Grizzly Island on the California Delta.  It has a great sporting clay range; ample parking; a cool snack bar where they make great burgers that would rival the deliciousness that you can get on a sport boat; first class bird processing; and a pro shop that has a wonderful selection of guns, ammo, and all of the hunting accessories that could put you in an ad for Cabelas or LL Bean.

     The hunting lodge is actually a converted elementary school, with the name of the school still visible on the exterior of the building.

      This was certainly an appropriate bit of signage, as the expedition proved to be a learning experience for all of us.

   Note the school auditorium chairs out front (some Nor Cal readers have advised that these seats are actually stadium seats auctioned from the demolition of Candlestick Park and you all must know how important it is that my reports contain no inaccuracies)

      Being an out-of-towner, I had called the place innumerable times to make all of the arrangements, with Kimberly, who patiently fielded all of my questions and took my reservations.  I opted for the "Businessman's Special" which included up to 20 pheasants, lunch and all birds cleaned and bagged.  I also reserved a dog and handler.

     On Day one, I met my lifelong friends and roommates from UCSB's infamous Dildo Hall, Mick and Vince, along with Mick's brother in law Mike at the facility on a day that promised a very welcome rainstorm, which meant that we had to get our slaughter completed before a storm that was expected to hit at noon.

    When I arrived, I was actually quite startled to meet Kimberly, who is a beautiful girl who would make any dad proud of her obvious knowledge of hunting craft and firearms.  She was assisted by another very good looking young woman named Taylor who was equally polite, enthusiastic and handled firearms with the casual expertise of Steve McQueen in "The Getaway".

     We all got checked in by 7:30 am and went out to our assigned field to rendezvous with dog handler Willy and his enthusiastic German shorthair pointer, Lassen.  

     Willy's dog handling approach is to let his dogs range far out into a very large field, well ahead and mostly out of range of the hunters, so that keeping up with the dog to avoid long flushed  birds requires track shoes and stamina that we really did not possess.  Even when the birds lit up 70 yards out, we still dumped rounds at them and screamed "And don't come back!" as they flew downwind.

Willy points in the direction he last saw his pointer.

      Even when the dog calmed down and set up a classic Field and Stream point for me on the end of our line, I managed to miss a picture perfect flush in front of all of my friends.  Willy and my pals sensed that we might be in for a difficult hunt with my skill set and the time limit created by the approaching storm. Eventually, we were able to come up with a plan that secured our success.

     Because of the impending rain in an otherwise dismal few years of serious drought, burning in the fields is permitted when rain has either started or is so imminent that the likelihood of fire spreading into adjacent properties is virtually impossible.  Helpful members of the Bird Landing staff carried kerosene cans to the upwind borders of our assigned field while we were instructed to take up positions along a ditch that would serve as a firebreak.

     When the wind that preceded the rain freshened up to about 15 miles an hour, the crew sprinkled the kerosene along a barbed wire fence on the west side of the field and then deployed a World War II vintage flamethrower to make sure that the flames advanced evenly.  It proved to be a supremely effective technique. as the flames approached and the nervous birds scooted out in front of us, only to be momentarily frozen by the pointing dog before rocketing into the sky as we fired away like the beleaguered garrison of Rourke's drift holding off charging Zulus.  The birds began dropping for us as the dogs skirted the front edge of the bush fire to retrieve our shot game.

     We managed to gun down 13 birds before the rain started coming down in earnest and forced us back to the lodge to eat like fascist pigs while the staff cleaned and bagged our hapless quarry.  We were off the property by 1 pm and said our goodbyes after this wonderful Gaucho reunion, vowing that we would not let another 25 years go by before trying this again, as it was unlikely that we would live long enough to renew such acquaintances on this kind of cadence.


     A few days later, after a night of drinking herbal tea and discussing business with my law partners Jerry, Bob, and Rob, we headed out to Bird Landing again, where I was able to now act like I had been there before and was almost a local.  We had good weather with which to work and were assigned a field with much more challenging terrain, necessitated, in part, by the fact that the field I had hunted days earlier had been burned to stubble.  Once again, we were guided by Willy, his trusty and swift pointer Lassen, and another larger and more classic looking German shorthair named Oso.  

     The field we hunted was quite extensive and featured canyons and draws that required some degree of scrambling up and down ravines and ditches.  Jerry picked up a fine rental gun in the form of a Browning pigeon grade over and under 12 gauge, with which he did a great deal of damage.  Rob used my Weatherby Orion over and under, while Bob was equipped with his own Orion.  I once again used my 1927 Hubertus sweet 16, which makes me look like a really cool hunting guy until I actually start shooting it at moving targets.

     On this occasion, we faced the challenge posed by primates which invaded our field from an adjacent sheep ranch. Although it is a little known fact of life on the Delta, the use of monkeys (mostly baboons) by local sheep men is more common that you might think.  These monkeys are quite at home among the sheep and generally keep them inside their assigned range.  The smarter monkeys have actually been trained to shear the sheep with electric shears, for which they are rewarded with banana flavored pellets.  Some of the monkeys, like their human owners, actually try to breed with the sheep and show a preference for them over their own kind (monkey see, monkey do).  This generally results in these monkeys being put down by the ranchers, who only become aware of their hairy shepherds' romantic entanglements when the ewes give birth to fetal monsters, like in "Eraserhead".  The monkeys are not stupid and know that this type of conduct is not only taboo, but has serious consequences.  Even so, some of them cannot resist the wooly call of these bleating sirens of the Suisun Basin.

The male monkeys occasionally become bored with their mundane sheep keeping duties and surly at the thought of carnal deprivation, which leads them to do mischief in the pheasant fields by chasing birds out.  This poses a challenge to the hunters, who cannot see these primates creeping through the grass to vandalize the hunting experience of the humans they loath.  The monkeys cannot smell the birds or freeze them up the way a good pointer will do, so they instead simply creep through the ditches and try to startle roosters they randomly encounter.

     Because baboons are substantial monkeys, almost apes, really, the shot size we were using on upland game is generally not lethal to them.  Nevertheless, we shot several, which caused them to slink away to lick their wounds and surrender the field back to us humans, as we are  well to the right of them on the ubiquitous evolutionary chart we all got to look at in elementary school.

     It turned out that this field was loaded with roosters, so once we peppered the monkeys to drive them back to the sheep fields, we were able to score eighteen out of twenty before heading off to eat the delicious burgers that awaited us while our birds were processed.

     The last day I took advantage of a little known experimental program sponsored by the department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game), which is testing out the concept of pursuing  pheasant with handgun rounds at closer range than what is commonly encountered with standard 12 gauge shotguns.  They are trying to cope with loss of habitat and available hunting space by compartmentalizing the experience.  The cartridges use #8 shot, with a maximum effective range of about 25 yards.  The shells are similar to the snake shot commonly manufactured for pistols, but because of California regulations designed to protect condors, which are found in every county in the state, copper pellets are mandated.

      Because the repeated use of shot, especially copper plated shot, can damage the rifling of standard gun barrels, it is highly advisable to use smoothbore barrels.  The use of barrels which have no rifling twist also prevents the shot from spiraling out of the barrel and breaking up the tight pattern that is necessary to bring down a large game bird with such small shot.

     I had been selected for this event because officials with Fish and Wildlife have been reading my columns and wanted the publicity that my massive readership would bring to their program.  I knew in advance that I was going to be selected for this program that is otherwise subject to a lottery style drawing.  Because of this, I had the opportunity to order a smoothbore replacement barrel for my Les Baer custom .45 government model 1911.  I ordered mine from the Brownell's catalogue for $125.  It arrived within five business days and took a couple of minutes to install.

     Because of the fact that this is an experimental program, the normal rules of pheasant hunting do not apply.  Instead of being released into a 100 acre field, the birds are planted in an abandoned farmhouse.  The “hunt” takes place room to room, with only one hunter and a Fish and Wildlife observer to follow you around.  Before you go in, Fish and Wildlife requires you to purchase a special “smoothbore handgun card” which is a seventeen foot long document on two large wooden spindles, much like the Torah.  Each of the birds actually killed in this enterprise are given names.  Those names must be inscribed on this bird scroll and sent in to the DFW within 72 hours of completing the hunt.

     My assigned Fish and Wildlife observer was a small, bearded man with wire rimmed spectacles and a modest goatee that made him look like Leon Trotsky.  It turned out that he had a great sense of humor about the whole hunting program, which he predicted was a experiment that would not last long.  Trotsky, as he allowed me to call him (he told me that his friends already had given him that nickname), explained that I would have five minutes to kick in the front door and  shoot as many birds as I could out of the 24 birds he had stashed in various rooms.  The windows had been removed to give the birds a sporting chance to get away.  I wore earphones, as the discharge of a .45 inside of a building without using ear protection is just asking for injury.

   I got into the house, armed with four magazines, each of which held 8 rounds.  I shoved the first one in and racked the slide as Trotsky knocked on the door and declared himself to be the Avon Lady.  I put my boot into a front door that must have been made out of balsa wood, judging by the way it disintegrated when I kicked and almost fell down as it gave way so easily.  The action was fast and furious as the birds cackled and flashed about in the splintered sunlight that dappled the interior of this apparently unsalvageable edifice.  I did not distinguish between birds in flight and those on the floor as I fired at motion until my slide locked out and it was time to slam another magazine into the housing of my pistol.  I left the spent magazines and shot birds on the floor as I charged up the stairs to complete my mission.  I was done in 3 ½ minutes.  I used up three magazines and ended up with 17 birds, with the remainder escaping from the open windows.

     The downed birds were gathered by a Fish and Wildlife intern who used a snow shovel and a wheel barrow.  The longest part of the whole event was waiting around and smoking Camels with Trotsky as the intern struggled to name each bird and write down the names of the fallen on the DFW Torah.  I took the document to the UPS store in Fairfield to make sure it went to the state right away and I did not get hit with the fine that the Department otherwise sends out within five business days of the hunt unless they receive the scroll.  I sent it certified, so there would be no doubt.

     The whole experimental handgun thing did not impart a feeling of great sportsmanship.  I have to admit it was some fast action and was pretty fun, even though I felt kind of bad about the proximity of the kill and what seemed like an excessive amount of roosters for one person.  At least DFW is trying to serve the hunting public with innovative programs and do something that I do not think many will get to experience, unless this program becomes more popular than I think it will turn out to be.

  These birds were destined to be donated to the Holiday Poultry Feed for the old folks at the Suisun City Home For The Bewildered, so this adventure was for a good cause.

     Although it was a strange way to renew my neglected passion for upland game hunting, I certainly got to fire my share of shots, hang out with some of  my best old asshole buddies and rekindle my love for the outdoor life. 

 Here's hoping that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy a Savage Christmas, because it is that time of year; meat is murder; and....

 These are the Days.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Romance of Sunset Tuna

     Kurt , his son Scott, my son Isaac and his girl Sera agreed to go out for what has become the usual siege of fuel and bait against the shoals  of tuna that have invaded our very backyard to the sea.  Isaac heads off to Berkeley next week, so this was the last chance in this exceptional summer for me to fish with my favorite and most-helpful  fishing companion.  Isaac has grown into an accomplished waterman who can do everything on the boat and help less experienced anglers find success.

     We were about 20th in line for bait at 3:30 am at the Dana bait barge, where we got about a 70/30 mix of big sardine and bigger mackerel.  We got an extra ½ scoop for chop and chum, in case the bait tank mortality was too thin.  No worries about that.  Like most of this year’s fast turn-around bait, the sardines succumbed to the mackerel’s fullback style orbit.  They were too numerous and we were too lazy in the choppy ride to try and separate them.

We decided to avoid the masses heading toward the spots off the county border.  We punched out into radar driving and chop during the last hour of a pretty great meteor shower.   Sea temps outside the harbor  started at 68 and got warmer as we made our way out.   It was 71 when we started fishing in the early light at the 267.  We trolled around for nothing and none of the paddies we stopped on to chum and drift were marking fish.  Channel 72 was filled non-stop with the usual howling, begging and vulgarity that characterizes  weekend Piscatoria.

We hit the 209 for much the same thing as the wind on the lumpy seas freshened.  We found more promising and numerous paddies, but none produced.  We hit the 277 and found 71-72.4 water, no birds and lots of nice kelps that consumed our bait and chum.  We trolled back towards San Clemente and decided at 1:40 to beat it Back to Dana to get more dines and we moved the mackerel to the center tank.  We re-baited with the dine/mackerel  party mix and headed out to a blue whale we marked, along with some fish below.  These were the first fish we had marked all day.

Within a mile of the harbor entrance, we had a marlin swim by and then pop up again right under our bow when we stopped to try and locate it.  We cast a mackerel in the direction we last saw it and trolled around without raising it.  We found the whale and a huge kelp nearby, but it was only 2.5 miles out.  We baited/chummed the spot and had our backs turned when the whale came up less than twenty yards from our shut down boat.  It came right over to us and swept virtually under our pulpit to huff some big mist out of its salad-bowl sized blowhole.  We got nothing, but  were not discouraged, as almost all of our tuna this year have come near sunset after a hard day of fishing for little or nothing.

We zig-zagged all over the off shore lane running from Dana to Carlsbad, looking for paddies, birds and marks.  At Carlsbad, in 72 degree water at about 6 pm, we headed in from about 13 miles out and saw a tern ahead flutter the right way.  We headed towards it and watched as a storm of birds began to form at the spot and then race to the northwest at more than 10 knots.  We banged into the swell  and setting sun to give chase and head off what looked like a pod of miniature dolphins and turned out to be tuna acting the same way.  We got into their paths and threw chopped chum and either almost dead, or dead sardines.  We got hooked up  times three and landed two. 
 Anglers prepare for charging school of tuna splashing toward Fishfinder

 Isaac hangs one while wearing his "Friends of the Sea Lions" T shirt

 Tuna meets the steel

 By then, the tuna were gone and were probably several miles away.  We rode straight into the sunset in pursuit and found them on the same course.  We got in front, but they turned left and we had to wind in and chase, dragster style, as the sun got low. 

Scott poses for Glamour Shot as anglers go bendo behind him

We found them again and had more chop to feed them.  We hung another three and got them into the boat.  These were 35 pound models.  Sera made her fishing debut with a quality yellowfin.  We headed back into a jarring chop and butchered our catch on the new table I built to save my wretched back from the crappy cutting board and wet towel combination with which I have been getting by.

We lost a couple large tuna that ended up virtually spooling us and then grinding back through the desperation drag we pressured up to stop from getting spooled.  We should have backed down on the drags once we got back enough line to calm down, but nobody’s perfect.

Father and SUN on a double

Kurt strains to elevate his fish while Scott is more casual with that task

This is almost exactly the same thing we did last week when we got 3 yellow fin and one big dorado in the morning and then went back for bait to take advantage of a sunset bite down south that got us 2 more dorado and 6 more yellowfin.  We chummed furiously to bring the tuna to a paddy isaac found that was initially holding a few dorado.

Isaac reaps it on the paddy he found and chummed up last week

Rob and Erik on last week's evening bite, when we got 9 tuna and 3 dorado

We were offloaded and driving for more ice and home before 11pm.  19  hours;  106 gallons of fuel; and 2 ½ scoops of  bait for five 30 plus pound tuna we got lucky enough to find again with the people we love.

Time is the stream we all go fishing in, and these times are as spectacular as the meteors that greeted us when this trip started. 

  These Are The Days.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


On August 1, 2015 Tommy and David joined their older set of  twins, Isaac and Lizzy, for a crack at bending the new rods I just built for them on some local pelagics.  The rods were mated to Torium 16s, spooled with 65 spectra and 100 yard top shots of 25# P-line.  The fish have been cooperating, so we did not bother with fluorocarbon.

We decided to skip the Saturday morning predawn line up at Everinghams and took a nice late start, arriving at the bait barge in the daylight at 7:30 am.  There were only a couple of boats ahead of us.  Jeff the baitmaster hooked us up with trout sized sardines and a few mackerel.

We headed south and put out the trollers.  We occasionally stopped on some marks to chop and chum the casualties from the bait tanks while drifting live baits, which has been the primary technique this year. The marks were mostly below 100 feet and they would not rise to our offerings or hit the iron we dropped down on whatever was down there.  We kept going.  The seas were light, temps ranged between 72 and 74 and we mostly stayed between 8 to 12 miles from shore.

We dragged in with some dolphin pods, but got no action.  We stopped on a few pieces of hard to find kelp and mostly stayed away from the big crowds of boats down by the domes and off Oceanside.  The boys consumed snacks and took several lengthy naps on top of the jumble of equipment and lifejackets below.

The radio was filled with particularly hate-filled epithets, even for a weekend, as vulgarities were exchanged among the rude, lines were crossed and worlds collided in the areas of heavy boat traffic where fish had been reported.  We stayed away from the big crowds, but still encountered day boater dirt bikers that raced up on us when we were drifting and chumming above sonar marks, as they must have thought we were on fish that they were entitled to intercept at close range.

In the mid afternoon we got a blind strike on a yellowfin that hit a purple catchee behind a daisy chain of black and green hootchies.  We cleared the trollers and threw baits as Isaac dragged the fish to the gaff.  We stopped, chummed  and drifted without follow up from any of his friends, but the ocean was getting livelier.  Water temps were closer to 74 and the wind started up.

We started heading out from Carlsbad where there was not much traffic.  We turned toward Dana at 4 pm, still confident that we could take advantage of a bite that has mostly been late in the day for our crew, no matter how early we seem to get out there.  We had the trollers out when we saw a driveway sized paddy down swell.  As we pointed toward it, we got a jig strike on a purple halco trolled on the short corner.

David endeavours to persevere

David was elected to turn the handle as we finally got on the board with the smallest yellowfin we have boated this year, but it was perfect for David’s first tuna. 

The fish still muscled David around a bit, so that by the time we had cleared the trollers and boated his fish, we were drifting down directly on that massive kelp hotel.  We started chopping and chumming with the abundant dead bait that the afternoon generally provides.  When we got even with the paddy we could see action on the surface and Tommy got lit up on his new bait stick ( it was actually David’s, but he graciously allowed Tommy to take on the fish, since he had just boated the first one on the troller).

Tommy endeavours to persevere.

Tommy’s fish took him around the boat several times, but he gamely hung in there and did all of the climbing around he needed to do to get the fish within gaff range.  During the fight, we saw free-swimming dorado flashing in the clear blue water below the boat. 

Tommy got his fish to gaff and was so exhausted that he had to  go below and eat virtually an entire box of powdered donuts before rejoining us. 

We kept up a regular cadence of chopped sardine and fresh baits in the water.  Surprisingly, we had the paddy all to ourselves.  A couple of sport boats came closer from the distance, including a couple of long range boats out of San Diego.  They kept at binocular distance and seemed to have their own action further outside.

Lizzy hung a tuna and leaned back to stroke it to the surface as Dad and David watched with concern.

David got lit up again and enjoyed the same multiple orbits around the boat as these 20 pound plus yellowfin screamed line off of his rig.

Dad clears lines as David comes up the rail

Lizzy got lit up by a dorado and it dragged her around the boat a few times and got into the air before she subdued it. 

Proud Daddio hoists Lizzy's first dorado

 The boys each hooked up on dorado as heart-pounding mayhem overtook our immediate environment. Everyone concentrated and nobody came unbuttoned during long bouts of rod bending excitement.  The bite just kept getting better and free swimmers began crashing around us.

With everyone else a bit tuckered from these strong fish on light gear, Isaac put the wood to a quality yellowfin as we watched the sun get low. 

 Happy to be here

Dad gaffs the final fish of the day before we fled for home

We had gone eight for eight on hooked fish and it was time to leave them biting.

 Dontcha wish it could always be like this?

 There was no way we were going to be able to cut up all of these fish and be back before dark.  We were planning on taking the kids’ high school teacher, MR. BAKER, out the next morning, so there would be no rest for the weary. Thankfully, Wendy was not waiting for us to bring her little boys back home, as she was spending the night in Long Beach.  The boys and Lizzy hit the rack below; as Isaac took the wheel and I started to cut fish on our crappy fish board in a sideways swell.  I got the five tuna butchered first and the dorado were all cut in the cloudy darkness at 8 miles an hour.

The fish box is a  great place to cool off on a day like this

By the time the fish were cut and we could start going faster, we were still 18 miles out.  We came home on the radar at a speed that was a little uncomfortable for nocturnal maritime travel, but we just wanted to get in.  The blue moon rose above the coastal clouds right as we got to Dana Harbor after 10 pm.  Folks were still partying on their boats in the marina as we pulled in and gave some of our bagged fish to our friend JT, who helped us offload our gear and drag our stuff up to the truck.

Sarah, who was going with us the next day, was stoked about our news.  The little boys, though they probably got eight hours sleep out there, were destined for their swim award BBQ and got to sleep in.
Wendy arrived home at 7 am the next day (Sunday), shortly before Connor Devaney and Baker, the youngest looking high school teacher in America, joined Isaac, Lizzy, Sarah and I for an even later start.  When we got to the boat around 8:30 am, our main bait tank had failed and we were stocked with plenty of dead for chum, with one big mackerel that survived the die-off.  We filled our two remaining auxiliary bait tanks with a nice scoop of bait (a bit smaller than yesterday’s) from Jeff at the barge.

We engaged in much the same pattern and trolled toward our numbers from the previous bonanza.  There was no way we were going to be first on that huge paddy and we stopped on a few marks and applied our chum liberally for nothing.

When we were about five miles short of “the spot”, we saw a mako finning and quickly hooked up the mackerel to a shark rig.  The shark sunk out and we scanned the horizon.  The kids spotted a fin, but it was moving much faster.  This time, it was a hammerhead, harbinger of pelagic game fish.  We headed it off and began to fling our chopped bait to start a chum line.  We got marks at a little over a hundred feet as our fly-lined baits trailed up swell.  We dropped a sinkered bait just to keep the fish honest.  We yo-yoed the flat fall jig.  Then we got a solid mark 35 feet directly below the boat.

“I’m on!”  Lizzy said from the bow, as the line began screaming off her spinner, which was loaded with 250 yards of 30#.  She handed off the fish to Connor, who watched his first tuna strip his line dangerously close to the spool.

Connor endeavours to persevere

 I put the boat in gear as we chased it about twenty yards as Connor made back some of the line.  The fish took him to the stern, where I tightened up the drag a few notches.  For the next half hour, Connor was taken in a continuous orbit around the boat and we all had to clear a path for him.  The fish finally came awkwardly to gaff under the bow of the boat, as we were just glad to get in on the boat.  We had a solid 35 pounder over the rail and were on a 14 for 14 streak of no fish lost.

Connor takes jackpot honors on Day 2

Connor got a take and handed off to Baker, their beloved teacher, who is also a very experienced angler with cool equipment. 

Baker comin' down the rail

Baker went round in much the same fashion with a hybrid bait/jig stick that is a little stiff and less forgiving than most of the noodlier rods we were employing on these fish.  Dorado began jumping in our chum slick. A tin boat with two desperados noticed our hookup  and shot over from seemingly out of nowhere (we had been miles from any other boat) to park on our slick and the fish that had previously been boiling up swell.  We shook our heads at them, but they stayed barnacled to our efforts.  Baker’s fish came unbuttoned to howls of disappointment. 

Shortly after that, I got picked up on my Truline “Excalibur” and I handed off to Sarah, who started another exhausting exhibition in rod arcing and grunt-emitting action at the rail. 

Sarah's tuna comes up to sample the gaff

She was as spent as that fish when we finally got the steel into it and hoisted it over the rail. 

One for the Fatherland

We worked the spot for a while longer, but it seemed our promising window at that location had dissipated.  We pushed on toward our magic paddy.  When we got to the area, it was later in the afternoon and the spot was crowded with angry and manner-less anglers, some of whom could be heard expressing their frustration on the radio.  We turned away and headed out.  We found a small paddy and stayed about 40 yards off as we started chumming.  We got no marks but decided to fish it before heading back north.  I was yo-yoing a jig and must have looked like I was hooked up.  A 50 foot plus yacht turned toward us and squatted down as its skipper hit the throttle for flank speed and began bearing down on us.  He drove right up over the top of the paddy we were fishing as his crew began to cast lines like they were in a calf roping contest.  They dragged Isaac’s fly-lined bait in and made no effort to back off or apologize.  They were clearly rich, but honor-less retards of the sea, so we just kept the .45 below and left without saying a word.

On the way back up, with the sun getting low, we approached a small paddy with the trollers out. There were no other boats visible. We got a jig strike before we got there and pulled in a yellowfin on a dorado-pattern cedar plug behind a yellow and orange pattern hootchie daisy-chain.

Sarah muscles up final fish of the day

We slid toward the paddy and started chumming cut bait with our fly lines in good position.  From what I am convinced was a wormhole from Arkansas, a speeding day boater occupied by cartoonishly obese shirtless dorks, came roaring out of nowhere to pull a sliding brodie right on top of the kelp we were drifting from 30 yards away.  “Having any luck around here?” one of them yelled at us in a voice loud enough to make his big fat tits bounce in rhythm to his stupid salutation.  We just stared at them and said “Apparently, this is not our day” as they dropped their baits on the bits of the paddy they had just blended up with their prop.  They bounced around for a few minutes before putting the throttle down to virtually pop a wheelie as they roared away toward another episode of “Whale Wars”

We turned in disgust for Dana and put out the trollers.  We stopped on some marks below San Mateo, but got no love as the sun began settling.  We hit cruising speed and were about a mile from the harbor entrance after sunset, when we encountered an extraordinary performance by a juvenile humpback whale that put on the greatest breaching show I have ever seen in these waters.  We cut the motor and drifted next to it as it seemed to be showing off for us.  We could hear it breathing and slapping the water with its huge pectoral fins.  We were transfixed by this display for about 40 minutes and left in wonder, as we once again made landfall in the darkness.  It was a fantastic end to a great weekend spent almost entirely on the water.

Hammerheads, tuna, dorado, jumping whales, and a big fat El Nino that still has a lot of gas in the piscatorial tank.
 This may go on for a long time, but get out there while you can, because 

These are the days.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Big Weather and Five for Five On Evening Tuna

             On Saturday, July 18, Isaac and I took Jade and Shane, two of our summer clerks, out for an electrifying day of thunder and lightning on the high seas below Dana point.

               We got into line for bait by 4:30 am and were headed toward the area below the domes by day break. We dragged lures on a few dolphin pods outside the harbor, but did not fart around for long. We got into a drift and started our chum line, while everyone started up with the early morning chatter on the radio.

  After while, Jade got bit on a fly-lined sardine and we belted her up for the siege that fish put on.

Jade pulled for a while before calling in for relief pitching from Shane.

             Shane took over as the fish continued to make runs and orbit our little vessel

The clouds are building on the horizon as Shane turned the handle.
             This tuna, after forcing us through a series of ballet dancing, rod handoff moves around the boat, managed to get away at the point where it had begun to circle to color.  We then took notice of one of fly-lined rods getting spooled to the knot and we lost another tuna after we managed to wind about ten yards of line back on with heavy pressure.

           We fished the area for a while before heading out in to ominous clouds to the south.  We dragged our jigs steadily off shore as huge thunderheads and lighting flashes beckoned us.  We looked for better weather and birds outside, as the lighting and cracking thunder enveloped us.  Jade asked me to promise her that she would not get killed, but I demurred, saying that our summer clerkship program involved a certain amount of lowering  of their expectations.  I advised her to eat some more chips and sandwiches and look a the dolphins and whales we were seeing.  That way her final memory of the sea would be more positive and sublime.

             We found a few pockets of  decent weather, but the worst was still out there.  After burning fuel trying to get electrocuted further offshore, we decided to  become chickens of the sea and head toward terrestria.  At least we were not burdened by a fish cleaning chore.  While we were still ten miles out, the rain became torrential, yet warm. We all crowded inside the enclosure and consumed tall Stellas to maintain personal ballast.  By the time we got into the harbor, the downpour onshore was in full swing.  We stashed the rods and hauled ass for beers and burgers at Hennessey's, as I had vaguely promised our concerned young anglers that I would at least bring them back alive for hot food if they did not land their fish.  It was a decent venue to decompress.  The storm continued into the next day, as afternoon cells swept in from the south and caused flash floods further inland.


             On July 21, Isaac and I headed down to the Finder to clean up our gear and wash the boat down after two days of heavy rain on the water. We had been on a scouting trip on the 20th and found some giant tuna milling around about 35 miles off shore, but these majestic creatures did not want to die for us and we fled home at 30 knots as the afternoon storms without lightning caught us about 20 miles out.  It was raining so hard that the fuel dock would not pump gas.  The next day, we could not get the girls or Tommy and David to join us, as it was a trip that only promised chores and a probable boat ride.  The weather had changed to just plain hot, so was a good day to hit the surf and that’s what the other kids elected to pursue.

                Isaac called up Matt when we decided that we would poke out to take a look around in the balmy, clearing weather at 11 am. We headed southeast toward the domes at trolling speed, about 8 miles off shore.  There was a smattering of boats off San Onofre, and another group down by Las Pulgas.  We made a couple of drifts, but decided to keep rolling.  We trolled outside into increasingly warming water.  At about 12 miles out, we peaked out at 76 degrees..  We fished a couple of dolphin pods without drawing strikes.  We stopped on a couple of paddies and chopped and chummed while drifting baits before putting the trollers out and moving on.  We bent back to the west toward the 267 in water that was consistently above 73 degrees.  We found a few spots of puddling fish that would not go our way off San Clemente and the overall activity of the ocean seemed to increase, with white terns much more active and a general feeling of building “fishiness.”  

                We found a real nice paddy about 11.5 miles off Dana and shut off the motor.  We still had  most of our bait and chopped and chummed the recently departed back into the food chain.  We drifted for nothing, but marked fish 75 to 100 feet down.  Another boat, the Steadfast, came over to our paddy.  This always raises the potential for territoriality, but we decided to take a cooperative approach and remained in radio communication with their crew as we each drifted down a side of the paddy.  We ran uphill, cut the motor and drifted by for a second d pass.  I was instantly rewarded with a take within five seconds of throwing a pretty big fly-lined sardine on a 2/0 owner circle hook and 25 pound line.

             The fish quickly took my fluro/mono  down to the spectra backing and it felt like a tuna.  After a few minutes I had him close and Isaac sank a nice gaff shot to the head.  We were on the board.

                Isaac, noting the meter marks, decided to drop down on our power jigging rig, which is a 8 ½ foot Calstar stick with a Torsa 20 spooled with 80 spectra and a top shot of 40 pound. He let a flat fall jig flutter down and was picked up close to 100 feet down. He wound down and was wired on another 30 pound yellowfin that he dispatched with brutal efficiency on that powerful combo.

                We went up for another pass and Matt got lit up on the power spinner rig, with spectra and a short fluro top shot.  Although he did not want to be seen turning the handle on a spinner, he did anyway and started power pumping his fish to the boat, where Isaac introduced it to the gaff.  In the meantime, I had hooked up again on a fish that ended up towing our boat around on 25 pound line for over 20 minutes.  This was despite the fact that I tightened down the drag to a dangerous level once I got back all of the spectra line and was down to 100 yards of mono.  Although it turned out to be our biggest fish by a couple of pounds, it was under 35 pounds and resulted in a certain amount of criticism for taking so long, even after my orthopedic limitations were considered.  The Steadfast crew was also wired and the action was just getting hotter.  While my fish took me around the boat several times (I tried to stay in the bow as much as possible), Isaac got lit up again. 


               Another six pack boat, a 34 foot Radovich with a crew of anglers, some of whom had clearly been well fed by their mothers and wore baseball hats on backwards, cruised right in on the paddy.  At least they were chumming the area to get some meat for their customers after putting themselves between us and the paddy we were working.  In the meantime, with my fish straight up and down and Isaac’s fresh one still quite active, we encountered a tangle that cause us to think that we would lose both fish to line-wrap.   We went tip-to-tip several times to try and figure out which way to rotate our rods as the fish continued to circle each other and make things worse.  We eventually guessed right and, after an excitable exercise in rod twirling, I was back in the bow with mine and Isaac's began the death spiral to the gaff than Matt had waiting in the stern.

                We got both fish in the locker and were five-for five on that spot.  Meanwhile, the Radovich hooked a 10 pound dorado that flopped all over their deck when they finally got it aboard.  One of the crew grabbed a baseball bat and began pounding it into fish meal on the deck.  We could hear the impact and watch the blood splatter from our spot by the kelp when we ran up for one final pass.  In the meantime, another six pack boat, the 44 foot Pacifica “Comanche,”  rolled up on all of the excitement and  parked on the kelp  to drift for its customers.

                It was getting late in the afternoon when Steadfast and our crew said our goodbyes to each other as we left the area in the hands of the professional skippers who had barged in late.  We dragged our lures and fished a couple of paddies in the sunset, but really were out of time.  The water was extremely fishy within a mile of the headlands as we used up the last of our light.

               We were able to gas up after dark because the Fury was there adding 900 gallons to its tanks.  We had a chance to chat with Rick Doesburg, one of my favorite skippers in the world, about how this season was shaping up and discuss our mutual hatred of seals.  We did not get the boat cleaned up until nearly ten pm and then spent a couple more hours processing 150 pounds  (about 80 pounds of fillet) of tuna at home.  I fell into an exhausted sleep well after midnight, but it ended up being a pretty good day.

             Isaac went back out on Wednesday with our partner David and got another yellowfin that towed him around like mine had, so he is a bit more sympathetic to the elderly now.  When my kids turn ten, I generally make them fishing poles that are distinctly their own.  I just finished the rods I was wrapping for Tommy and Davey.

         The lads, who are roughly the size of chimpanzees (I always wanted one), are being shanghaied into the current offshore scenario that may be a bit above their current weight class, as this season is a remarkable one that may not come our way in the foreseeable future.

        These Mexican pelagics that are such a rare treat may stay for a few months, but they are within 5 miles from home port as I type this.  This is a ridiculously proximity for something that is mostly never around, so get at it while you can, because

These are the Days.