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