Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve Halibut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the Days

Saturday, November 18, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Are The Days

Monday, October 2, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf gaffs yet another for THE Bruce

Angus displays his own loss of pelagic virginity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Are the Days.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mint Green Magic When the Navy Sings the Blues

As Commander Cody might have said in “Hot-Rod Lincoln - Went out of San Pedro late last night - with Secret Skipper and Big Dave, just after the clock turned Thursday.  Up until Go-time, we were uncertain as to whether we would be going to fish White Seabass at I Will kill You If You Tell Canyon at Catalina or make the longer run down to the Desperation area of Roberto Clemente Island for a shot at a mixed bag of bluefin and yellowtail, with a puncher’s chance at one of the bigs.
                We opted to swing for the fences and made the nocturnal voyage toward the island that we almost share with Mexico and sometimes share with the US Navy.
                We had a mixed bag of sardines and mackerel as we ran across really massive bait clouds outside the corner on the approach to Pyramid.  We got outside the lee of the island in the gray and found somewhat cranky water at Desperation.  Our plan was to look around and then head in toward China to anchor up in yellowtail country.  We had credible dope that the bluefin might join in the fun at that location.
                The Thunderbird set up east of us.  We started chumming in ones and twos.  Secret skipper got picked up on a fly-lined  ‘dine and it was game on.  He brought the fish into Big Dave’s head gaff   as the sun started to break the horizon.  It was a great start and a decent fish between 15 and 20 pounds.
                While Skipper was on, we saw bluefin start to blow up on bait about 600 yards to the east under a gathering of pinwheeling terns.  The spouts of mist created by their collisions with the surface started marching towards us in incremental eruptions.  I changed out my gear to the heavy stuff and got a big mackerel into the current that was headed in the right direction.  Larry’s fish hit the deck and we prepared for bigger game.
                When all was in place and the fish were about 250 yards away, a Sea Stallion helicopter  suddenly thumped  up and over the crest of the island behind us, like in the Gary Owen scene from “We Were Soldiers.”  We knew they were not coming to save us.
                Ours was the first boat over which they hovered.  I looked up and waved, hoping they would just cheerfully wave back and mosey on.  This was not the case.  Instead, the helmeted spokesperson forcefully and repeatedly pointed toward Mexico, clearly advising us to clear out.
                “But we are Dreamers and we don’t want to go to Mexico”,  We shouted back, knowing that our pleas to remain would be drowned out by the numbing throb of those huge rotors whipping up the sea around us.
                As he left to deliver the same news to everyone else in the general area (including those out on Desperation), the copter dipped and the  rotor blast put us in a whirl of mist that blew Secret Skipper’s lucky hat right off his head and into an oblivion from which we were unable to retrieve it.
                “Well, you are wet Dreamers now!” was what I thought I heard him say over the deafening pulse as he headed off to spread the bad news to other anglers.
                We dutifully stopped what we were doing and headed back up the front side as the rest of the fleet got the news in seriatum and sullenly fell in behind us.  We watched as two of the sport boats tried to tuck into the corner area where we had seen big bait marks and birds gathering, but the copter reappeared to harry them off that mark and drive them in our direction.
                We ultimately set up at Lizard rock in a promising zone and began to flyline baits towards the beach.  It was an instant bite on both big Calicos and 10 to 15 pound yellows that joined in the mix.  The seals cruised in on our party, but did little damage to our efforts.  They ultimately moved toward the sport boats that set up a short but critical distance to the west of us near Purse seine.
                After we put 10 yellowtails in the box, we started releasing fish that your reporter probably would have been happy to throw on the ice on a leaner day.  I felt liberated enough to start throwing  a mint green surface Iron (my favorite way to fish) and was rewarded with a mix of Old School San Clemente sized calicos and  several more yellows,  at one point going ten for ten on consecutive casts.   Since so many of the fish got a catch and release pass at that point, the fish  already on ice were pissed about that, as they no-doubt felt like the people who actually paid to go to Woodstock before it was declared a free concert.
                Secret Skipper got a big tug from something that behaved abnormally and then mutated into a giant wad of kelp.  As he dragged the weeds ever closer against fiercely active resistance, I saw a flash of cream and brown that put my heart into my mouth about the largest calico ever hooked in the history of humanity.  Right about then, it revealed itself to be a loggerhead turtle. It was snagged in the back flipper.  Big Dave figured he could just grab it and put it on the deck where it would serenely allow us to operate, but it proved to be a much heavier and feistier animal than what we had envisioned. 

  It stayed in the water while we freed it up and both crew and quarry were equally relieved when it swam back into its aquarium of origin.
                By 12:30, Big Dave and Skipper were  ready to leave, although your narrator could have stayed there and thrown that wintergreen candy bar until Hell froze over.  Reason prevailed and we headed back into a choppy swell toward San Pedro.
                We are having a hamachi and calico bass feast for our cronies tonight.  I had mostly refrained from keeping calicos over the past 15 years or so, out of respect for a fish I love and in deference to   one of the Credos of political correctness within the angling community.  My kids, who have grown up in this regime, recently asked me why we always threw them back if they tasted as good as I claimed, so we kept a few and had a fish fry.  It was a huge hit and my Jewish offspring suggested we could modify our longstanding practice, so I could go back to being more Catholic about Calico Fridays, like I will be doing tonight.
                So anyway, I kept this limit and probably will not apologize for it, as they are quite tasty and I have several good recipes that have mostly been mothballed for nearly a generation.
                The mint green jig is continuing to beckon and kid-catchable sized yellowfin have just moved up in force, so I think there is still some gas in this season’s tank.  Perhaps the best is yet to come, but gentle readers, you all know by now what’s coming next in this narrative.

These Are The Days

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dodo’s and Big Yellows at the 43                               

     Since my boat has been out of action this season, Secret Skipper invited me to skip work and take my two boys, Tommy and David, out to paddy hop for dorado and yellowtail on Wednesday, August 16.   We heard reports of tuna on the backside of Clemente and at the Tanner, but we decided to take a path from the slide at the east end of Catalina down along the ridge.
     We packed our gear, made our sandwiches the night before and drove up to Cabrillo Marina from San Juan at 3:20 am.  We were headed out to the 152/277 zone with two scoops of good sardines from the San Pedro Bait company by 5 am.
     The boys were wearing their lucky souvenir Jigstop T-shirts in honor of the closing of our favorite tackle store and iconic repository for my disposable income for the past 35 years
     We encountered choppy 68 degree water in the gray light on the way past Catalina.  We put out the trollers and stopped on a couple of dry paddies at the 277, where we marked pretty good volume on the bait and metered some uncertain marks.
     The sky remained mostly overcast as the water gradually warmed up as we worked our way toward the 181.  We saw very few boats, heard limited radio traffic about one blind-strike dorado and mostly negative reports from the 209 and the 267, which we bypassed.
     We found 70 degree water and less chop at the 181.   The air remained surprisingly and pleasantly cool. Tommy and Davey got up in the tower to scan for kelp paddies as we metered bait schools 100 feet down.  We saw no porpoise or whales here, or anywhere else the entire day.
     We dragged around the 181 and started to chase warmer water out toward the  43 instead of continuing down toward the 182.  We saw more terns and bits of kelp that kept us looking.
     In the late morning, your narrator spotted a paddy that had some heft to it.  As we approached, we saw dorado flash through our path.  Secret Skipper swung the boat into a controlled slide upwind of the paddy and we tossed a half dozen sardines over the side.  Dorado immediately swarmed the bait, crashing between us and the paddy.  We pinned bait on our 2/0 ringed hooks and fired some casts toward the  paddy.
Fairly instantly, we were all hooked up in succession.  The fish were all decent sized hens that screamed off our 20# flouro-top-shotted line and slashed a path through the water and into the air in a frenzy of acrobatic action.

Skipper pumped up a shocking blue dodo, while your narrator bagged one that was flashing gold when introduced to the gaff.

     Tommy hung one on an Okuma Cedros spinner that was more than a match for a fish that jumped and somersaulted many times in the corner between downward runs when it felt itself drawn too close to the boat.

     In my excitement to re-tie Tommy’s rig and get it back out, I expertly cast a lively sardine over the outrigger pole and into the water twenty yards from the side of the boat.  
     Before I could make a really solid effort to sweep my line off that limb, my bait got picked up and line began flying off the reel and over the rigger pole as the fish sounded.  David went up into the tower like a monkey and I passed him the rod with the line still peeling off.  David got the line off the pole and passed it down.  When he came off the ladder I handed him the loaded stick, since he had rescued the rig after I hooked a fish in an impossibly stupid way.  No matter how many mistakes we made, these fish just wanted to be with us.

David worked it up the rail, stayed determined and after a while the fish was in the box with the others before we motored back toward our paddy, which was now teaming with wheeling terns that screeched out encouragement for us to throw bait, which we did. 

     In less than forty minutes we managed to boat all six dorado we hooked and everyone was on the board.

     David found himself locked into a bigger model that screamed off line and headed deep like a yellowtail, because it was.

     David leaned into the arcing venerable Calstar as Secret Skipper stayed close, sensing that this was a big fish.

David’s fish took him all over the boat as he traded advantages with a fish that seemed to know where the props were.
     Eventually, David outlasted the beast, which laid out perfectly for a gaff shot.

It was a personal best for David and we were mighty stoked.

Skipper hooked up again and pumped another respectable yellow to the rail, where I got the chance to play Queequeg with the gaff.

     As we got about 100 yards downstream of the kelp, the water erupted in a huge splash as a giant fish breached and flopped onto the paddy. 
     What was that?!  We all agreed it had a giant head and looked to be at least four feet long.  I came out of the water a couple more times in the immediate orbit of the kelp and seemed to shut down the bite.  We speculated as to what it could be, deciding that it was an enormous cannibal dorado that was eating the other fish and didn’t want our bait.  We motored up to the magic kelp and discovered it was a 300 pound mola trying to shake off parasites by flopping onto the kelp.  So much for our sea monster.
     We put out the trollers and continued to head out toward the 43 as the water warmed and the wind began to freshen up.
      David sang out from his perch that he saw a good paddy with birds above.  As we motored closer, we saw not only birds in the air, but also observed several standing on the paddy, which is always an occasion for increased hope.
We pulled in the trollers and started to sneak up on this car-sized cabbage.  There was little need for that, as several dozen good-sized yellowtail came charging out to greet us.
     We began chumming and both Skipper and I hooked up yellows that we dispatched with surprising ease, owing perhaps to their disappointing size, which permitted us to bounce them onto the deck and get them in the bleed buckets.  Tommy went out with the spinner, which had a top shot that was now down to about 11 inches of fluoro.
Skipper noted that the line was peeling off Tommy’s reel like it was attached to a passing train, while Tommy’s gaze was focused elsewhere.

“Hey Tommy, you might want to take a look at your reel and turn the handle before all of your line disappears.”

     Tommy looked down and engaged the bail.  The rod went down to the rail with authority as the spectra whistled through the guides toward the center of the earth.
Skipper knew right away that this was one of the bigger ones we had seen and took himself out of the action to mentor Tommy through the experience. 
     After about fifteen minutes of mostly losing ground to the fish, Tommy was pleading for someone else to take over. 

 Skipper would have none of it, helping Tommy keep off the rail and coaching him around the deck.

Your narrator also hooked up to one of these more sizeable models, and we were both wired and screaming. It was time to grin and grind.

After we got close to the half hour mark, Tommy’s fish showed signs of heartbreak as Tommy gained line with decreasing loss when the fish tried to run.
When it finally spiraled up and laid out for the gaff, Tommy was as close to finished as was the fish.  Skipper sank the gaff and heaved the fish up and over the rail to deposit it on the deck with a heavy thump. It was a personal best for Tommy and a new family record.
     Your reporter's fish met the steel a few moments later.

 Tommy was too beat to actually lift the fish and retired from further action for a while.

     We made a couple more drifts and boated several more sizeable yellows after extremely satisfying battles.  The wind had come up, we were 74 miles from the dock and it was getting late.
We headed into westerly chop that just got worse as we made our way back.  We had to slow way down to deal with the close interval seas and water plumed over the bow and the house.  We decided that our best chance to cut fish would be to roll into the lee of Catalina and find calm water.  We took a ferocious 50 mile beating getting there and found a peaceful spot to recover and begin the wet work around 7 pm. 

     Before the knives came out, Tommy and David hoisted two of their yellows amidst the carnage.

We cut fish for more than an hour with the entire crew helping to process our most terrible kill.  The boat looked like a slaughterhouse when we were done with our butchery and began scrubbing down for the last leg of our journey.  It was dark when the boys went below to hibernate while we made our way across the channel back to Cabrillo Marina.
After cleaning the boat like Zombies trying to snap out of it, we loaded up our vehicles and nodded home.  We picked up more ice just before the market closed at midnight and offloaded in the driveway.
We all knew we were too bloody to just fall into bed.  When I finally hit the shower, the water ran down the drain like the bathroom of the Bates Motel.
We are having a gathering of feeders on Friday, from what was certainly one of the more intensive and rewarding efforts we have had in a season crippled by our boat’s mechanical difficulties, but saved by the expertly delivered generosity of Secret Skipper and his mighty boat.

     These fish are showing up with sincerity, so get out there and comb through the kelps to find the magic paddy that delivers.  It may take some effort and a mouthpiece-wearing ride home, but the water is warm, life is short, and

 These are the days.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


     I celebrated my birthday, the end of the club pheasant hunting season and my friend Tim’s retirement  with a  hunt at Raahagues Pheasant club a few weeks ago.  The rains had made access difficult during most of the season and this hunt, which we scheduled at the last moment, took place in fields that featured belt-high foliage.

     As always, the folks at Raahagues did a great job of setting us up with a really personable guide, Steve Kimpton, of Kimpton’s guide service, and his dazzlingly good-looking German shorthair, aptly named Hunter.  I would highly recommend this pair if you want to enhance the rare experience (for me anyway) of going for a pleasant walk with a gun.

     This year’s hunt was a bit mournful for me to the extent that California hunters are now required to use steel shot, which is simply not as effective as lead, but more importantly, rules out the use of older or antique style shotguns.  I have enjoyed hunting upland game with my gorgeous 1927 Hubertus 16 gauge side-by-side, but the dedicated chokes on a gun of that vintage preclude the use of steel shot, which can destroy an irreplaceable barrel, as steel refuses to compress like lead as it hits the choke at the end of the barrel.

     I like old things.
     I realize that many of those who might be reading this will have little sympathy, and perhaps urge me to get out a tiny violin to accompany this old school bitchery, but my violin is too large.  I do, however, have this tiny guitar to accompany my swan song to an artistic example of gunmaking, and so, to inversely quote Tony Montana from Scarface, I must “Say Goodbye to My Little Freng.”

     Fortunately, as I am a gun lunatic, I have a couple more modern shotguns with variable chokes and barrels that can either withstand the pressure of steel, or be replaced if damage is done.  I used my Benelli Supersport 12 gauge, while Tim used my trustworthy Remington 870 to process this steel.  We were able to get the job done.

     Hunter, our dog for the day, rekindled my desire to get another pointer, as I am still mostly in mourning for the loss of Victor, my hunting companion for so many years.  Hunter is a tall and well built creature.  Because of the high grass, he would essentially disappear as the birds tended to use the heavy cover to run rather than flush.  Hunter did a great job of locating and holding point on our quarry.

     Typical of late season hunting, the sun got on us relatively early and the dog heated up. The brush worked all of us pretty hard, and we took a couple of breaks to let the dog cool off.  Hunter found a rut filled with water from the recent rain and used it as a spa, making it clear that he would resume the hunt when he felt like it.  He knew, as we did, that there was no way we were going to be able to extract these birds from this sea of tall green grass without him.

We were done after a few hours. Steve grabbed a quick snap before we headed back to the club to engage in the luxury of having our birds cleaned for us while we drank beer in the clubhouse.  This is as close as I come to golfing.

     We mostly hit what we aimed at and ended up going ten for ten, thanks to a stray that flew into our field like a kamikaze right as we were breaking down our guns at the truck.

     We invited our good friends the Devaneys over to share our kill, as Wendy is always anxious to have our sophisticated friends over to hear about how I blew their dinner out of the sky and had a dog bring it back to me in its mouth. 

      I spent an inordinate amount of time concocting a blackberry shallot reduction sauce to accompany the birds I brined and then roasted, but it came out about as well as I could have reasonably expected. I made my wild rice and asparagus with hollandaise, in which David soaked everything he ate.  I think he poured the leftover sauce on his cereal the next morning, as he is a huge fan of hollandaise.  Despite the professional bird cleaning, there were, of course, a few BBs that stowed away in our fork loads, so caution had to be exercised.  Biting down on lead shot is no treat, but steel can be a tooth cracker.

     I made a pheasant stock and ate pheasant soup for the rest of the week to make sure I wrung as much of a pheasant fix out of this one trip of the season as I could.  The last bowl featured most of the shot that had settled to the bottom of my huge cauldron, so that dining experience was more of a mine-sweeping operation.

     Bird season is over for me.  The ocean is starting to reveal some stirring of the game fish with which I hope to collide once these infernal spring winds become a bit less treacherous.  The big rains should create a favorable environment for boar hunting once the back roads are dry and the wild oats get higher, if you like that kind of porkicide.

     I am stoked about the prospects for outdoor recreation coming our way. There is a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks noisily occupying the tree in our backyard, the daylight is starting to stretch out to allow watching sunsets after work, and….

These Are the Days.