Sunday, December 1, 2019

Thanksgiving Pheasants at Woodland's Hunt Club

    We had Thanksgiving week set aside from work and school, so we dialed up Mendel Woodland and set up a hunt for Tuesday of that week.  The hunting crowd would be light and the big rain was not set to hit until the next day.
     Our companions on this walkabout were Ryan Stewart and his son Alec.  We were joined by expert breeder/handler David Awbrey and his son Gabriel, who came out to help us with the dogs we got from David's Mudbone Kennels six months ago.
     Tommy, David and I got the dogs and gear into the car late Monday afternoon and pointed the truck toward El Centro around 4:45 pm, which is the wrong time to start a trip down that way.  We hit some traffic and decided to stop in the cool altitude of Alpine, where  we were seated at the dog friendly patio at the Alpine Tavern. 

 Our jackets came in handy and the burgers were really good.  We forgot our dog food, so we had to splurge on multiple grilled chicken breasts for Dersu and Tashtego.
       The delay allowed Alec and Ryan to catch up and arrive first at our overnight destination at the Quality Inn in El Centro. We purchased emergency dog food at the CVS across the street.
        We got up early and made it to the motel's captive Denny's for a big fat breakfast and then took the 20 minute drive to Mendel's place.  Mendel was waiting for us when we got there and we all headed out to the fields after Mendel awarded us cool hats.

          Dave joined us with his muscular Vizsla Vince, who relentlessly swept the field that held both rooster pheasant and chukar partridge.
           Our pups were both stoked to be out there, but Dersu soon let us know that he was more interested in getting back to our base camp of trucks and chairs.  We substituted Tashtego soon thereafter and Dersu passed on his second rotation when we tried to work him into the line up.  
 David added a headless bonus hen that flew right at and directly above him as he torched off a round.  Ryan and Alec also got in decap shots, which makes for a clean presentation at the dinner table and a spectacularly disturbing separation in the moment of impact.
     Vince was relentless in his pursuit, as he began pointing on birds as we worked Tash into the point on the end of a 30 foot lead, as Tash is not to be trusted to stay close in a field full of birds and bird scent.   
      Although we had a few get away from our gunfire and also the pursuit of the dogs, we hit most of our targets, including several multi-chukar flushes that startled out of the dense alfalfa in a panic of percussive wing bursts.   
      Everyone got in on the action  and made some really nice shots.   My phone battery died, so I did not get any photos in the field. 
     Just like last time, we were treated to a great military display from the nearby Naval Air Station.  We watched as helicopter gunships made strafing runs with rockets and cannons that produced flaming gunfire and staccato thumps of ground impact.
     Dave, Gabriel and their cool dogs had to leave us after we had done most of our damage, but Tash kept hunting the strays that escaped us earlier and we eventually tallied up 16 pheasant and 9 chukar for the day. Tash was not perfect and left a couple downed birds we could not find (without a dog) to chase after new prospects when we let  him off the leash, but he still got us four birds in a final pass from which perfect gundogmanship would have produced six. 

David, as usual, got in a few solo gunslinger photos as Tommy chased Tashtego into the horizon.  He totally ran off after a stray bird when we came back and started to set out the dead birds for the photo session that he avoided, along with Tommy, who came back for one last picture.

      Upon his return, Tash also availed himself of the opportunity to run loose through the camp and catch my mirror-finish 25 year-old Weatherby on his long lead before taking it on a gun-bashing sleigh ride through the gravel of an irrigation ditch.  The gun is likely to outlive both dog and master, so Tash has carved his own love note on a classic double gun that had survived scores of hunts without blemish.  

Ryan and Alec gather behind the Plank of Plenty.  Note the Weatherby's last place of rest in the photo of the two hunters, before Tashtego tore through camp in Tommy's fleeting grasp.
     Victor  and his boy came to the cleaning shack after our hunt to help us clean and bag our bounty, as we had seriously dawdled in the pursuit of our indefatigable Chocolate German. 
     With Tash escaping like Major Shears from the camp on the River Kwai, Dersu trolled Colonel Saito beneath a bridge of birds he could not build himself. 
      After we said our goodbyes to Victor, we headed back hungry for a dinner stop at Montana Jane's  in Alpine.  This  time, we left our dirty, exhausted dogs resting in their kennels inside the truck as we had a really great dinner beneath a moose antler chandelier in the perfect atmosphere of their dining room.  Alpine in the most logical and picturesque midway stop on this trip from southern Orange County.

    We managed to hit a bit of traffic, finding that taking the 15 north instead of the 805 west offered no secret Northwest passage away from lengthy stretches of brake lights.  Both dogs and humans submitted to a thorough bathing process upon our return.
     Once again, we found room for improvement in our own experience and what we can expect from our dogs.  At this stage of our team's hunting development, Dersu is chasing a more polite and ornamental identity. Tash needs restraint from his Ahab-like pursuit, up with which we cannot keep. 
      In recognizing our reality, the e-collars have been ordered, but both of these dogs are already smarter and more loyal to America than Devin Nunes will ever live to be.

     Ryan planned what sounded like a great Pheasant-featured Thanksgiving dinner.  We jumped the gun and had a bunch over for a pre-Thanksgiving game bird feast with many side dishes and sobriety-quenching beverages.  We slow-cooked the pheasant leg/thigh sections in a hoison/citrus vinegrette.  We roasted the chukars in little bags after marinating them in lemon-pepper-garlic dressing and rubbed and roasted the pheasant fore-sections in bacon jackets.

Utilizing these culinary variations, we were able to stretch out our stomachs in an exercise from the Book of Yoga for Gluttons, allowing us to digestively limber-up for the eat-to-win contest with our relatives the next day.
     Later, the carcasses were used for my traditional cauldron of pheasant soup that is a recipe straight out of MacBeth's Book of Primitive Hospitality.  We hope that you all enjoyed good company in whatever celebration you arranged as we roll into what sure looks like winter weather.  The longest tides of darkness are now upon us, but the fires are out, the mornings are crisper and

These Are The Days



Monday, October 21, 2019

Mexicali Redbirds

    Friday night, Tommy, David and our two pointing puppies Dersu and Tashtego hardnosed the highway with me for our first pheasant hunting trip together.  The boys had licensed up after completing their hunter's safety course at On Target in Mission Viejo.  The dogs had recently completed their first live bird training day with the Inland Empire and San Diego chapters of NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association) at the Honey Springs facility in eastern San Diego county.  The local properties like Raahagues hunt club and Four Winds where I used to go with their older brother Isaac and our old pointer Victor to chase the redbirds are gone now.  The dedicated operators who used to scratch it out so we could still experience upland game action have been driven out of business by the ratchet-like forces in our state that doom such enterprises to shuttering their operations and never coming back.

      The latest onslaught of California laws regulating hunting, guns and ammo plagued our preparation  for this longer journey as well.  We are now required to use steel shot, but unless you have the new Real California ID, you cannot purchase it in California.   

 Fortunately, I had a few boxes left over from a couple of seasons ago, but I am not currently eligible to purchase ammunition in the State of California, where I have hunted for the past 45 years. We got it done, but this asinine obstacle to outdoor recreation is an example of why some folks think that California, a state I adore above all others, is stupid.  I have now applied to my home state of Ohio to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, so that I can commence the process of proving that I am a US citizen to the indoor wizards of bureaucracy who are imposing this stumbling block to outdoor activity.

      We headed down to El Centro to spend the night at the dog friendly and cattle-pungent grounds of the Quality Inn, so that we could arrive at Mendel Woodland's pheasant hunting property in Imperial at 7 am after getting a great six am breakfast at Denny's, an eatery which has always been synonymous with family road trips for me.

      When I booked our day earlier in the week, I explained to the owner, Mendel Woodland, that we had six month old pointers and two 14 year old boys who had never hunted live birds, but who were reasonably handy at hitting moving targets with shotguns from our standard family indoctrination into essential American marksmanship.  Mendel was helpful and encouraging.  He advised me to get a handler and an experienced dog to show our pups the way of the Jedi knights of the dog world, so that is what we did.

      We arrived at the site on the lucky view side of Mexicali Mountain in Mexico, after a 20 minute ride from El Centro, the last three miles of which was an agricultural dirt road that took us past the network of canals that provide sustenance to this thirsty farmland.  Fighter jets from the adjacent Naval  Air Facility provided us with some pretty cool distractions as they maneuvered about in the clear skies above.  We brought our binoculars to take in the free air show.

     The boys got the dogs out and we cruised the grounds as we awaited our escorts in the long shadows cast by temples of stacked hay.

     Mendel's ambassador Joanna arrived to greet us and explain what we would be doing.  She introduced us to Victor, our guide for the day, and his five year-old German Shorthair pointer Duchess.  This dog was very mellow and experienced.  She had just given birth to a litter four weeks earlier, but was ready for business.   Our dogs immediately bonded with her and followed her around, just as we had hoped.

     We took to the field after getting some safety reminders and a game plan from Victor, who spoke only Spanish.  This might have been more of an obstacle for me, but Tommy and Davey are both fluent in Spanish, so their translation of our conversations and Victor's suggestions made the day that much richer.

     We took our German Chocolate Tashtego out first, as he is the most bird obsessed of our two pups.  We kept him on a long lead at first, as he followed Duchess into some pretty thick cover.  The taller grass made the birds invisible, but kept them from being able to sprint away.  Duchess began scenting into the light wind and going on point. 

We flushed our first pheasant and Davey, who was using his sister Lizzy's 20 gauge side-by-side, knocked it down with his first shot. Duchess brought it back to hand before wheeling and going on point again.

  Another rooster flushed in front of Davey and he fired his second shot for his second bird.  Tash paid attention and began to stalk the birds that Duchess was locating, eventually taking over the retrieval duties like a user who just got handed the keys to the pharmacy. 

 Victor encouraged us to drop the long lead we had on Tashtego to prevent him from running off birds, as Victor correctly perceived that Tash was a quick learner and understood what was going on.  Victor began holding his dog back as we moved on birds and let Tash come in for the flush and retrieve.  The birds began flying Tommy's way and he started dropping them with a quick little Remington 20 gauge auto-loader.

     We got five in pretty short order and went back to change puppies.  Dersu came out and followed Duchess around, scenting the air and backing up his dog teacher, while Tash wailed back at the truck for his turn to come around again.  Dersu was less aggressive at wanting to usurp Duchess' role as primary dog and he was content to ride side car and bound like a deer through the field to celebrate the idea of being a hunting dog. 

 We were stoked that both of our dogs did not range far out into the field and came back to us whenever we called them in.

     Dersu was pretty psyched while he was in the field, but he started to lose focus as the sun beat down and we rotated Tash back into the lineup.  Our little harpooneer came off the bench like a player looking at free agency as he relentlessly bounded through the tall grass to gather red-eyed prey for his gunners.

 He began hogging all of the retrieves and was electrified by the experience.

     The sun got higher and we took more hydration breaks.  Tash was on fire when he was up, but Dersu started to head back toward shade where Tash was tied up when it was his turn to join Duchess in the field.  I think I heard Tash say to Dersu "What is wrong with you?" when Dersu left the field to join Tash near the truck.  Tash was more than happy to give up his shade to get back into action.

     I shot back-up for the boys, who were almost always on target, so that I just worked in a few shots on birds that looked like they might get away.  Three of them did, but we ended up with thirteen roosters and I think Tommy and Davey dropped ten of them, with the death from below being pretty evenly distributed.

     We had some fast pursuits across fields and canals.  Tommy managed to get his shoe sucked off by the mud in the bank of a canal he did not make his longest jump of the day to clear, but that was near the end of the hunt.

  Above,Tommy walking a levee road with Victor and a nice rooster Tommy dumped after  extracting himself  from the mud and retrieving his shoe.  Shortly after this photo was taken, Tommy handed his gun to Victor so that he could carry our exhausted Tash back to the diminishing shade near the truck, where a well-rested Dersu posed with us, as his rubbery buddy was now completely unwilling to voluntarily leave the shade to pose with our bounty.

Davey, like his Crockett namesake, did not waste a lot of ammo missing birds, so we took this shot while Tommy made another effort to drag Tash back into the sun for a group shot.

 At the end of the morning, when we had done our damage, Joanna drove out to us in her badass truck to bring us sodas and delicious burritos that we scarfed down back at the buildings at the the club HQ.  Woodland's has a cool bird cleaning facility and Victor showed my boys the best way to skin out and clean a pheasant.  The fact that it was Victor who was actually doing the wet work was probably a substantial factor in convincing my boys that his was a superior method.

     After Victor took our pictures and we got our birds packed away in the ice chest, we wheeled toward the Pacific and took Interstate 8 through the mountains and back to the coast.  We were home by 5 pm, which probably seemed like a short ride to the dogs and boys who all slept like Rip Van Winkle on the 3 1/2 hour ride home in our ancient Ford War Wagon.  I would have to say it was well worth the time and effort we put in to make this happen.
      We invited our friends and family over for a Sunday feast that featured a number of my different pheasant recipes, none of which rendered these birds inedible.

     I sure appreciate the day that Mendel's club and Victor's perfectly administered lesson plan was able to provide.  This was an extremely positive first experience for both the dogs and humans of our pack.

     As soon as I can get the documents from Youngstown, Ohio to prove my citizenship, I intend to buy more ammunition and get back out to Woodland's again. These dogs are going to get more skillful and willing to get into our photos without the application of force. The season is young, as is this new crop of hunting creatures whose training is just getting under way.  Crisper mornings for winter upland game weather are on the way, so we can dust off our jackets and dream of field time to come, knowing that

These are the Days.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fishing with Godot

     Tommy, David and I went out  of  'Pedro with Secret Skipper on August 2nd as early as time would allow.  We pulled our from the dock at the stroke of midnight .  We had a good plan.  We were to rendezvous with Skipper' s good buddy East Westman, who runs a  highly regarded charter business on his boat, Mandatory.  Our destination was St. Stanwyck Island, the least understood of the Channel Island chain, which runs from southern frontier of  central coast California all the way down to Oceanside.  East told Skipper that he would meet us there, as he knows that island like the palm of his hand.  I had not been to that place in 35 years and neither Skipper nor I knew any of the good spots from memory.
     We would get sardines and meet Mandatory to team up with our combined squid lights to tank up on the candy bait and get schooled on the nuances of this fantastic rock that beckoned from 46 miles beyond our point of departure.
     The marine forecast was a  bit dodgy, with 4 foot swells at 7 second intervals to give us a series of unrelenting hurdles to lunge through with both wind and seas directly against our course.  That would mean a downhill return, so there was a bright side.
     The crossing proved to be quite nautical.  East had let Skipper know that we were in for a bumpy ride, as he was five hours ahead of us in a larger and slower boat.  Tommy bounced around in the cushion- fortified berth he spun like a cocoon in a vain attempt to keep himself from impacting the interior of the cabin, while Skipper, David and I grabbed handholds in the helm station to wedge ourselves against the hard-to-anticipate impacts that slammed us from the darkness. The wind somewhat unexpectedly came up to blow 20 plus as we got  closer.   It was a new moon, which meant big tides and a beautiful night sky that dazzled us with so many points of light that it sparkled like snowfall in a part of the sea unsullied by any adjacent light pollution.  We arrived  in the jostling rebound of the lee of the island at about 3 and got to unclench a little from the hard ride.  We radioed and scouted the rally point for the Mandatory with no reply.  We then turned on the squid lights at a location that was more random than we would have liked.  We jigged in vain until gray light overtook us.
     The weather began to lay down as we gave up on finding the bait that only darkness can provide.  In the clarity of that transitional pause between chasing bait and the pursuit of the game fish we came to kill, we were treated to an interlude that allowed us to gradually unwrap the emergence of a dawn that slowly revealed the  breathtaking character of our  destination.
     We snuck up on the outside rock that stands sentry to the island from the cover of the approaching swell

     We fired up and began to explore the island for Mandatory and spots that looked fishy. We ended up circumnavigating the island (not very hard, since it is so small) and there was no trace of our intended companions, but plenty of chunky and willing calico bass.  We also hooked a couple of yellowtail that broke us off in the structure and kelp forests.

     Half way around the island, we encountered this foundered little fishing boat, whose crew was no longer in attendance.

      It was completely swamped, but they obviously had made it to the island.  Later, we observed a man in a zodiac drive over to assess the situation.

      As we periodically radioed for our friends on the Mandatory, we continued to pick at the bass, hunt for yellows and drive off the seals which overpopulate  this remarkable sea mount. The island has limitations on how anglers may fish, including an entire quadrant that is completely off limits and  further restrictions on fishing deep water.  Given the fact that this island rises in a near vertical ascent  where it crowns the surface of the water, this regulation has the effect of closing off a sizable number of adjacent pinnacles.

      We fished inside Stanwyck Bay for more bass and  another couple of larger fish that managed to escape us by getting into structure from which we could not extract them.  The day got progressively more beautiful as we fished a spot that is a piece of Nature's Cathedral to the Sea.

     We came around the the arch beneath  an outcropping that juts our into the sea like a pier.

     Below, David takes a break in the action just off shore from the statue of St. Stanwyck, who, legend has it, drove away the seals which infested this island in the early 1700s after being freed from a slave ship  by a galleon full of Spanish explorers, who brought him on to California after intercepting his temporary owners.  This resourceful and grateful native of the Belgian Congo converted to Catholicism and  began working miracles of nature in the early days of the missions along the El Camino Real, eventually settling at the mission in Santa Barbara. This prodigious piece of idolatry memorializes the patron saint at this hallowed spot at the back of Stanwyck Bay.

   In the tradition of sea-dogma, the  pedestal beneath the statue marks a spot from which the last of the sea lions were captured and transported away to a location from which they could never return.

     Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the Friends-of-the-Sea-lion movement joined forces with the Enemies-of-Seamen progressive caucus.    With their rally cry of  "Seamen stains our sensitivity!" this alliance steadily gained traction.  One of its achievements was the establishment of a seal hatchery across the entire side of the island that faces our shore. The sea lion eggs are nurtured in what is now a solar powered hatchery facility, which replaced the old diesel powered hatchery that started this program.  Friends-of-the-Sea-lion projects that this program, along with state and federal protections now in place to make it a crime to even  say a mean thing about a Californian sea lion, will mean that sea lions will soon be the most important and numerous ethnic demographic in the entire Golden State.
     Like Shelley's Ozymandias mutely mocking the subject's delusional tribute to his own immortal power,  the statue  of St. Stanwyck stands sentinel to a lost cause.  The  sea lions are more numerous than ever and sent patrols to follow our every move, along with dogging every other boat that presented them the opportunity for harassment and plunder.  Though the monument to St. Stanwyck remains, our only active guardians are the makos and whites, whose appetites cannot keep pace with the expansion of these pinnipeds.
      As we approached mid day, we went around the island again and continued to find spots that either would not fish because of conflicts in the current and wind direction, or  produced a pretty steady bass bite with  a couple of big yellowtail successfully launching screaming runs into kelp forests.  After noon, when  we were running low on bait and were resigned to the possibility of going home with no exotics, we found a spot below fluttering birds and breaking fish.  We were not the only ones there, but there were few boats in the entire area, as this offshore location gets limited angling pressure because it is so highly restricted and a bit of a pain to get to.
     Crashing yellowtail began breaking on bait fish to our east. The boils migrated toward our boat beneath the telltale wheels of seabirds that began moving in our direction.
     Skipper, who had joined us in tying on a circle hook and fresh fluro to replace the frayed leader he did not trust, was the first to get lit up with a yellow that tore off his line in a screeching run that allowed us to get hopeful again.

Skipper swore that he would jump into the sea and swim away from the boat forever if this one got away too.  It did not.

We were greatly relieved when we managed to  pump it to the top for a crisp gaff shot right in the mouth ...

and over the rail into the boat..

What huge relief to end our losing streak at the fins of these tasty adversaries..

     It would have been a sadder and more lonely trip home if we had been forced to leave Skipper at the base of the statue and drive his boat back to Pedro.  To make sure of driving his point home, Skipper hooked and landed another yellowtail right after this one.
      Your narrator hung one a short time later, as did David.  Tommy got busy with the camera as David was wired and we had a double going. I kept a tight drag, but felt my own anxiety about not wanting to lose another one of these fish that seem to sell their lives so dearly.  It kept making runs and nodding the rod tip up and down against our efforts to claw it from the depths.

It eventually succumbed to Skipper's gaff shot.

  David kept his rig from being yanked into the sea on a yellow that screamed line off his reel against a very tight drag.  It was a big strong fish that ultimately gained its freedom through sheer force.

     With our hold now occupied by three nice yellows, we decided to head back after cutting up our catch.
     Autopsy revealed that these jacks were chock full of tuna crab, which must have been pluming deeper in the water column, as we saw none at the surface.

     We pulled the hook and headed back.  This time, the much gentler wind  and seas were at our back as we surfed home in less than two hours.
     On the way back, when we were in cell-phone range, East Westman finally broke his radio silence to let us know that he was sorry that he was unable to join us.  It seemed that out of concern for his clients' safety, he had turned back mid-channel from Stanwyck and headed to the safer waters off Catalina.  The need for preserving the secrecy of his location and new plan prevented him from answering any of the radio calls we made, along with the fact that he had angrily shattered his radio with a baseball bat after he caught one of his clients frantically trying to Mayday the coast guard when Mandatory was still pointed into the treacherous waters on the way to Stanwyck.
     Thanks to Skipper's raw courage, tremendous angling skills and energetic willingness to risk all our lives in the pursuit of game fish, we had what we needed for another hamachi festival as we join with arriving family to celebrate our Dad's 90th birthday this weekend.
     May your  weekend be as fun and your food fight for its survival just as much as ours, so we can all get to say.....

These are the Days

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ask Me No Secrets

This is a short report, under this publication's rather elastic standards of brevity, because it ultimately involves the crafty application of guarded information.

Isaac and your narrator joined Secret Skipper on a nocturnal mission for white seabass.  It was to be an all-nighter at a secret venue where it was reliably rumored that white sea bass had recently stopped getting caught. We were working with a waning full moon. We left 'Pedro just before midnight on an impossibly romantic rendezvous with the unknown.  Conditions in the channel were clear on the deck with a canopy of clouds as we headed out to a spot we will never reveal, no matter what you do to us.

We were able to make some squid, but our mind-bending squid lights fizzled before we made less than a dozen pieces, which we used on both Carolina style rigs and the traditional bouncing squid tipped white jig.  We wore our black ninja terrycloth fishing jumpsuits and felt-bottomed fishing slippers to stay invisible, noiseless and cozy.  The water was surprisingly warm.  We have a sea temp gauge and the water in the bait tank felt close to 70.

Batman paid his inevitable visit to Commissioner Isaac at about 3 am, which proved to be the apex event of this entire ambush.  It grabbed a tipped white jig about four cranks off the bottom and set in the rod holder.  It took him around the boat before visually forcing us to admit that it was a ray (and a really nice one) when we got our jig back and set it free in what turned out to be a relatively cordial encounter. 

 We picked up a nice scoop of squid from two glowing supply spaceships that passed near us in an otherwise light-starved location in the  middle of nowhere.  They were escorted by a sub-pod of Risso's dolphin.  These large creatures were rhythmically rising to feed on the squid these craft were magnetically pulling to their lights. They snorted like war horses pulling impossibly stupendous chariots as they rose to loudly exhale bursts of mist into the blinding light that back lit them from the baitships.  With our profile broken up by blackened artillery mesh we strung up to aid in concealment, we  fished the dark and through the gray for nothing worth mentioning, but feel free to read on.

 Nobody near us seemed to have done any better on the targeted exotics, but we did not make direct eye-contact with anyone, so that we would help each other forget where we had been in the event we were interrogated individually. We hit Madness Reef for some nice Calico and pesky barracuda, but got no love from the yellows.

Secret Skipper then went below to unroll an ancient, smelly goatskin which swaddled an old map with fire-darkened edges.The  description of the operational depth we were seeking used the standard measure preferred by secretive meat-fishing socialites.  It of course involves a calculation of the buoyancy necessary to float a standard clipper ship's weather vane from that era over a course of 1.15 miles using only a raft of dead monkeys woven together with hemp.   He squinted up from the illumination cast by a whale oil lamp  hung in his cabin to give his strategizing more drama.

  "We're going to the Phlegmish Splat."

Isaac and I remembered the old stories of this legendary spot on the seafloor where red fish abound, along with other fierce denizens of this rocky mesa.  It got it's name from one of the old captains who ran  the Sea Sport for Eddie McEwan out of Pacific Landing in the 1960's.  He loved this spot, just like he loved chain-smoking Camels and expectorating enthusiastically from the bridge as gangion-loads of red fish came over the rail in the bad old days of rock-codding near the naval weapons dumping grounds.  Even though he could have used the scale and dead monkey conversion chart he keeps on board as an alternative calculation weight, Skipper used an abacus. It was an 81 monkey journey, so it would not be a short ride. 

"The only thing is that we can't talk about this spot, ever. So, for your own protection I am going to have to put you below and gag you on the way there.....You know, so you don't talk about it."

It seemed reasonable, so we went through a wardrobe door in the cuddy cabin below to play cribbage with gags on while Skipper cut his radar and ran in a zig zag pattern to keep us guessing.  When we got finally got there, we went down to the bottom with iron and pinned-on live squid connected to spectra by a fluoro top-shot. We watched a whale come up to check us out. 

We started catching a lot of nice reds, a ling that barely made legal, and assorted other rockfish. We bled them and got them on ice right away, since we love to eat reds more than some people love God.
Isaac got a chance to savor a moment with the always-yet-endangered salmon grouper as Skipper pulled on another red.
 These fish seemed to love the flatfall/squid combo and the Tady glow-white with squid, but geniuses think the real common denominator was the live squid.
We even got a young wolf-eel your reporter had to work out of its cave before inspecting and releasing it to ribbon its way back into the depths.

All in all,  it was a good call to turn and burn from an established top-secret spot to get to a nearly unreachable and completely unrememberable Piscatorium.

After a brief but productive session we returned to a spot closer to the mainland, looking for yellows, but enjoying a steady  calico bass bite periodically invaded by barracuda.

Skipper did his usual commercial-quality job of cutting up the catch, so we will feed our dinner guests this marine harvest in rare style.  By that I mean that at least during the main course of the meal, they will have to wear blindfolds....., so they won't be able to pinpoint the exact location of these fish.  It's a pretty understandable concern, so this is  completely normal. We will all take them off and light candles for dessert.

Not every plan hits its target, so it's wonderful to have this ancient knowledge available for salvaging a productive outing on these banzai excursions.
We learned a lot on this trip, especially how to make sure things learned in sacred confidence remain confidential.  We would ask that you don't run out like some copy-cat and get a dead monkey conversion app for your Iphone, because some things ought to be left to the old ways.
Those times may be largely forgotten, but

              These are the Days

Monday, July 1, 2019

For Immediate Consumption

     Sorry for the lack of reporting, but we have not done much fishing since the melancholia of selling our fabulous Fishfinder took root at the start of the year.  That mighty little boat provided family lessons and adventure for 15 years that I will always treasure, even with the maintenance headaches that are a basic element of such piscatorial pursuits.  We found a worthy buyer who has young kids and the right attitude, so that took some of the sting out of it.  

     The day before we surrendered the boat, Isaac and I went out for one last local trip across our closest old stomping grounds as we fished plastics on the edges of structure from Three-Arch to the Headlands for cooperative bass on a spectacular day to say goodbye to our fierce little machine.

     The loss of the Finder opened the kids’ drumbeat to recruit a replacement for beloved Victor, our pointing dog of 13 years who went to the happy hunting ground a few years ago.  After some intramural haggling and enthusiastic confusion, we emerged from this decision-making process with our two new pups, Dersu

and Tashtego.  Their names are derived from the literary obscuria by which Isaac and I are both possessed.

     These ice-cube brained puppies are now the focus of our current administration, with their inexhaustible cuteness and evaporative attention spans.

     On Friday, Isaac and your narrator got our first Island trip in the books, courtesy of Secret Skipper.
     The plan was to head over to the west end in the pre-dawn hours, with squid and sardines.  We met Skipper at his slip in Cabrillo Marina at 3:30 am and shoved off for the San Pedro bait barge in the dark.  We got a nice scoop of cured sardines from Mike and then headed all the way down to cash in on a scoop of Squid from Nacho down near Seal Beach.

     We were the second boat there and the guy ahead of us in a Parker was engaged in a rather animated display of shouting and gesturing with Nacho as we pulled in.  After he got tanked up, the Parker gunned away from the dock to drift a short distance away.  Nacho told us to go to the other side from where we had lined up.  He then dashed into the barge office to drop a workload that apparently would not be denied.  We tied up and held the boat off of the sides of the barge while we waited.  He emerged after an interlude to yell at us to get off his dock, but otherwise thanked us for the opportunity for internal emancipation in what he explained to us was a more desperate situation than we had realized.
     We tanked up on squid, which layered out nicely with the cured sardines.  We pointed toward the west end, which was now 31 miles away, given the detour we made to get the squid.  This proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and money.
We came around Eagle rock in the last of the gray and anchored up in an eastern current with Eagle Rock several hundred yards astern of us and our bow toward Ben Weston.  Options was there, as was the Toronado, which was the most inside boat.  We were on the outside of Options and a squid boat, but still in a decent spot.  The group on the Options began lighting it up with yells of enthusiasm as they kept the fish on their stern with a steady doling of chum.  Birds were hitting the water and a big bald eagle even skimmed in to take part in the surface action. 
     I was going for white seabass with a heavy rig consisting of 80 pound braid, a 40# top shot of fluro, a large egg sinker above a 5/0 red octopus hook and an angry squid.  Isaac went lighter, while Skipper’s offing went back and forth between sardine and squid, with a rig similar to mine, except with 30# fluro and a 4/0 hook.
Options started scoring on several nice sized yellows and added a white seabass.
       We were only getting calicos until Isaac got a big take on his sinkered squid and set the hook into a screaming run.  

     We were stoked with anticipation that it was our turn now as his line played out to the stern.  He started pumping it back and began to get the upper hand as his white seabass ultimately started coming up to unmask itself as a big fat bat ray.  I got picked up soon thereafter, but when I went to set the j-hook with about a hundred yards of line off my reel, we all noticed that my sliding sinker was advancing on the rod tip.  This was an immediate tell that batman had also grabbed my bait, so I pumped in the wing-hooked beast  more sullenly and with less applause than Isaac initally generated.
  We re-rigged and began our cat and mouse with the calicos and perch.  After about a half hour, skipper’s braid began whistling through the guides on his 9 foot custom Phenix rod.  The fish took out a stupendous amount of line as it made a steady run back toward the rock. 
     When it seemed that it could not be stopped, Skipper tightened up the drag and finally began to turn it back towards us.  After steady pressure applied over several minutes, the fish started losing heart and giving up, just like a white seabass and unlike the yellows that nod and pull to the end. 

 Skipper got back almost all of the line and was a couple of turns short of bringing the beast to bay when the sickening DOINK of the line parting ended our anticipation of slaying the first game fish of the season.

      Every time we thought about it again, it was bigger than we initially thought it would be.  We had a scale on board, so our speculation about what it was and how big it must have been was really more like science than guesswork.
       The Toronado’s anchor chain began clanking through the roller, signaling his departure from this spot. After the Options had loaded up with 10 yellows and two nice white seabass from its perfect set, he pulled his hook and let us know he was headed down the backside.  The tide had turned and it looked like slack conditions.
We hung out for a while, but ultimately decided to take a short peek at some of the backside spots on the west end.  We fished Ironbound cove for bass on everything we threw and hit a few more spots that produced many pedestrian calicos and a couple of perch and small sheephead.  Plastics were getting hit as well, but when a barracuda sawed Isaac's brand new 7.5 inch swimbait in half within 2 seconds of his first cast hitting the water, harder or cheaper baits were employed.
     We thought about chasing down the fleet gathering at Ben Weston, but decided that the backside chop and placing ourselves on the farthest point of the island from home would make for a bumpy day, cost a lot of fuel and give us less fishing time.
We opted to cut back around to the front side before we were very committed down the back.  We hit Johnson’s beach and Starlight, hoping for halibut but settling for more bass, with the slack current standing the kelp straight up.  We headed east and looked for birds in the high sun beauty of a calm and clear day.
     A couple of miles down we came around the corner to a ferris wheel of birds.  Once we got a better peek as we worked around an outcropping, we saw a couple of sportboats tucked in on a spot with breaking fish.  We gave them a wide berth as they had a couple of bent rods.  Ultimately we settled in closer to shore and several hundred yards east of the Victory, which had the command position in a substantial area of roaming yellowtail.  The current was going east to west, so our bow was toward the isthmus when we dropped anchor.  The crashing yellows were mostly off in the distance near the sporties, but their movements were betrayed by the birds circling above the general area.  Conditions were good for them to come our way as their pattern near the sportboats took a more elliptical bend.
     Your reporter went to straight fly-lined squid on 30# fluro and switched out to my  ancient Truline rod and a much longer 100 yard topshot of 20 pound mono instead of almost pure braid.  We began hooking bass on every cast as we tried to get our baits out beyond them into the drift toward the commotion of birds and the rotation of boils to the west.  Skipper  tried to get underneath and went down with weighted squid  to add a couple of  male sheephead to the mix.
      I switched to a circle hook so we could release more bass instead of risking the gullet hooking that setting a J hook often provides.  After a dozen or so bass, the line began peeling off the reel with much more authority.  I aimed the rod tip at the fish and let it load up on the hook, which I had lazily tied with an improved clinch knot.  The rod loaded up and arced into a sold run.  The fish burned me down to spectra and kept going.   I thought I was going to get this one, but after I had not quite reached the point of stalemate, I was greeted by the DOINK of freedom as the line went slack.  I pulled it in.  No hook.  I  then tied on a meticulous San Diego Jam knot and went back out with a bit less drag.  After a couple more bass and some takes and drops, I finally got it out far enough to get another long burn.  Again I loaded up.  Once more, thinking I was going to put us on the board with a fat yellow and after much more time than I want to devote to this sentence, I was doinked again.  I backed off my drag a bit more and proceeded to tie on a double Palomar that did not make me proud, but also stood up to the pull-like-an-ape test that is part of my scientific method, even though we have a scale on the boat.
     The folks on Victory kept hooking up, but it ultimately began clanking up its chain as it was ready to head back to the mainland.  Skipper then announced that we also needed to head back for a secret party he had not told us about, right when things seemed fishy.
      We still had a shitload of bait and those fish were already splashing our way, so we whined at Skipper to let us stay a bit longer as we began to broadcast out some of our bait with a more urgent cadence. 
     Isaac had steadily trimmed his fluro topshot on calicos until he finally eroded it to just 20# mono.  Of course, it was at this point that he got lit up on a fish that initially ran a short distance with the bait and stopped, before getting serious and thumping away against Isaacs circle hook soft-set. 

      He had set his drag to stun and began a steady journey of back and forth.  I documented the concentration expressed by Skipper and student as Isaac painstakingly worked the fish toward the boat, trying to avoid the heavy horse play that had left Skipper and me in the 0 for 3 column.
     The fish came up on the lee side and laid out in total resignation for Skippers gaff shot. 

 Skipper brought it over the rail to howls of celebratory relief.  

     After we congratulated ourselves on getting on the board, going home in time for Skipper’s party just seemed like a stupid idea, instead of what we had to do.

Then Skipper’s spectra began whistling through the guides as he hooked up a yellow that seemed to have more heft. 

      He also was using a light drag and babied that yellow to the point where it was to color and on its side.  At that moment, I was still out and internally crying “what about me?” when I decided to reel in and help get Skipper's fish aboard.  I was turning toward Isaac and Skipper, and most of the way done with a rapid reel-on when  yellow exploded on my bait about ten feet from the stern.  The reel was in gear and the yellowtail almost yanked the rig out of my hands, despite a fairly gentle drag setting to which I had retreated after my earlier failures.  I let it go where it wanted.

     My fish began a screaming run and I left Isaac to gaff Skipper’s larger yellow while I decided to bear down on my own fish.  I kept thinking about my shitty knot with every gentle pump of the rod, as Skipper and Isaac celebrated the big thump of a fat yellowtail that was immediately put into the bleed bucket with Isaac’s fish.

     Mine eventually got closer and went deep, wrapping me on a kelp stringer that I managed to saw off and add to the drag that my light setting was creating.  The fish came to the boat and Skipper sank the gaff.  We put that one in a bleed bucket and began grinning, knowing that we all had quality fish.

Fishing clothes always seem to make me look fat, so it was good to have a home-guard sized yellow to hide behind.

We know that the big one was at least 25 pounds and the other was over 20 because we have a scale on the boat.  It is a certified Western Outdoor News
"30 # class" scale.

Skipper felt that we had what we needed to feed our hungry friends and renewed his call to head home.  I greedily cast out and hooked up again.  Once again, the crappiest knot I had tied all day long held up and we boated a fourth fish.

Note that the trusty meat axe of my harvest-hungry surgeon has driven me to wear long sleeves and a pescadero's Hijab while on the water. It may be too little/too late, but I'm standing here on this boat, with better prospects than this fish.

     Skipper began cutting fish as Isaac and I helped bag the cuts and scrubbed down the boat. I left a squid out on the clicker, which is a really lame way to try and get hung with a circle hook, because it requires an active feed-and-load technique.  I had a couple more takes, but could not make them stick with that hook and this hands-off approach.  In a span of about five minutes, the wind huffed up from the west and set our boat back in the opposite direction, pop- corning the channel we were about to cross.
After a few snaps to document our luck, we got down to the wet work.

Skipper’s superb knife work was finished up in short order in the relative calm of our fishing spot before we turned toward home.  You can see my rod in the holder, set to clicker, as I squirt some of the blood and squid ink off the rail.  It is the virtual fisherman's method for multi-tasking.

     The ride home turned out to be pretty easy, with the wind chop on our port quarter.  We were also much cooler guys on that ride home than we would have been if we had left an hour earlier with nothing but calico bass and Skipper's party on our horizon.

     We got the boat cleaned up in short order back at the dock and Skipper’s guests arrived an hour later, as they had been instructed from his wheelhouse.
     Isaac and I came home in surprisingly light Friday evening traffic and left our catch thoroughly iced down in the chest before hitting the showers and the hay. We called in our catch to the host of the party we were invited to, knowing that it was the pescadero/surf crowd who would be stoked on sharing our good fortune. 
     We kept a couple of whole sheephead for ceviche, cursing the recent stupid regulation that required sheephead to be left whole unless it is ready for immediate consumption.   That night, I slept on the downstairs couch while on dog duty, getting up like a zombie a couple of time as escort for their business before dawn came and Wendy hardnosed the highway for Long Beach early Saturday morning.
     Isaac and I trimmed out the yellowtail into perfect hamachi billets and cleaned the sheephead, after which I conducted a little research into the stupid for immediate consumption regulation that I discovered was repealed a few months earlier this year.
     We were able to show up to our friend Byron’s start-of- summer party with the uncooked bounty of the sea to add to the tuna and corn on the grill.

    Isaac made a killer ponzu sauce to go with the chilled hamachi, which the girls fell upon like she-wolves, foregoing utensils in a frenzy that sent Isaac back to the cutting board to load up two more platters after plate loads evaporated in few seconds of savage om-nom-nommery.

    There was more hamachi  and Peruvian lettuce sauce for another Sunday feast at our house, but the plates were savaged before I could draw my camera for a foody shot.

     As summer advances, we  hope to duplicate this style of feeding with greater regularity. 

     We might have to share some with the dogs, as we integrate them into a first season of aquatic savagery of which we hope they take notice and approve for many years to come.  Some day soon, it will be their job to put pheasants on the table.

     Though we are boatless, we are far from friendless…and no longer dogless anymore. 
Summer is upon us, life is good, and

         These Are The Days