Friday, February 14, 2020

Quick work at the Emerald Isle

On February 7th I got another invite from Secret Skipper, who has been totally on fire this year at the Island of Romance. We had to go on a Friday, which meant playing some hooky, but that would hopefully beat the crowds and Skipper has been running the table on  rapid limits every time this year. I tried to recruit Tommy, David or Sarah to go with us, as they are licensed up, but Sarah had to work and the boys could not miss an afternoon of high school.  
     Your narrator got into work early, made some lawyer-like noises and then escaped the office to arrive at San Pedro by 12:45.  There was a deep low tide that was just short of bottoming out, which made for a steep ramp from the parking lot down to the docks.We loaded up the boat in short order and headed over to San Pedro bait to buy sixty bucks worth of live bait to add to the salmon carcasses Skipper had bought at the fish market.  The concept of live bait for cutting up and cramming into lobster bait cages might seem bit odd, but fresh is generally better than frozen and that is how they sell it.  There is no discount for the dead stuff and the bait always seems to stay lively in the winter.
The Wizard at his station .   
 The weather had been very cold all week and we packed warm clothes to wear beneath our "deadliest catch" slickers. Conditions were brisk as we headed across the channel.  We were set for a big full moon on Saturday and it would be up before the sun went down Friday night.  This meant a lot of light and the likelihood of the lobster being more active in deeper water during a night of fishing  that would barely supply darkness.  
It was nearly the opposite of the lunar conditions from my last report, which documented quick limits.
     When we arrived at our point of attack, we anchored up in pretty deep water to go through the important and disgusting task of taking a meat cleaver to the now moribund sardines and frozen salmon carcasses and cramming them into the upgraded bait cages that Skipper introduced as part of his technological warfare against these delicious insects of the sea. 
 We then put out each hoop and paid out all the line to make sure it was not tangled before we hauled everything back aboard and decided we were ready to start scouting for structure.  
     We were patient in finding some big stones and kelp, even in the water that was over 200 feet deep.  We began a careful deployment of our deepest rigs (300 feet) in a ripping current tat rushed underneath a sea surface that was rapidly calming down from its afternoon tantrum. We scoured the boat clean from all of the bait gore as soon as we made our set.  This made the final cleanup at the dock a much quicker and less crust-infested task. We had all of our gear deployed by 5:15 and then it was time to mow down a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and wait for darkness, or at least less sunlight.
     We began hauling gear in our two 300 foot hoops in very calm conditions.  Each one had two big keepers and we were off to the races.
     The mid-range sets also produced, including one which contained five legals and another three-plus pounder.  

When we got to the shallows (under 100 feet) we continued to collect and had 11 legals,  mostly pretty big ones, at the end of eight-pulls,  Given that we were three away from our limit, we decided to start recovering gear and not send it back down while we were still on the first set, which is something I have never done.  We had a few that only held shorts and one which held nothing but a very angry angel shark that somehow managed to get its entire self into the hoop, but the remaining hoops kept producing to the point where we got our 14 bug quota and again threw back a full limit in the next eight pulls.  All legals were females.
     We had all of the gear cleaned up and stowed away for the ride back by 7:15.  The ride home was smooth and we were tied up and cleaning the boat by 8:35 pm. Clean up was swift and easy, in part because we pre-cleaned and also because we were back so soon that we did not experience the cranky fatigue that usually accompanies cleaning up and hauling the gear back up to the parking lot at 3 am.  Even the tide cooperated with us by supplying a major high that leveled out the ramp for our off-load. This was the quickest and easiest lobster trip I have ever experienced.
      I would have been home by 10:30 if the 405 was not reduced to one lane at several points on my ride home. As it was, my ride home was forty minutes longer than it should have been, but I was home just a little after 11 pm. instead of staggering in at sunrise.  I stashed a limit in the garage.
     I had the boys stand in for the mandatory "Lobster Life" photo by which I have charted their development since they were toddlers.

     We invited my kid-brother Charlie and his wife Shelby, along with their pointer Milo, who is brother to our Tashtego, to come over Saturday afternoon to plunder our catch.  

These lobster invites are always a short notice event and we were lucky to catch them without plans, although their kids lost out on mass consumption by making plans for a Saturday night that did not involve wasting their time with the elderly. 
     This has been one of the most consistent seasons in more than a decade and we have been bringing home a nice grade of roaches.  We are heading off to a Drug Lord vacation in Mexico, so this story will have to do for now. This lobster season still has legs and these creatures have been crawling. Eat them while you can can catch them, because
These are the Days

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Buffalo Lobster on the last New Moon

On the afternoon of December 27, secret Skipper took David and I out to the island of Romance for the last trip of the decade.  It had been raining hard for two days and there was a one percent moon, so atmospheric and celestial conditions were aligned.

     The ocean was still grumpy from the storms, but we hardnosed through the chop and figured it would be less crowded because of it.  We baited with salmon carcasses and sardines.  We made our initial set under the gaze of a bison that came grazing down the trail leading to a rocky overlook above us. It was really cool to see, even though this photo was taken in diminishing light.  He had no idea.

     We made our sets in three different bands of water, figuring that the bugs would be most active in the shallows in the aftermath of the runoff.  We put five shallow (under 100 feet); two medium (140 to 180) and three in deeper water beyond the 200 foot level, looking for structure and kelp at every location.  
      All the sets were made as the bison slowly meandered toward where we drifted close to shore, waiting for darkness to engulf us and get the critters crawling.   In the early twilight, a thin crescent moon eased up low in the southwest horizon and went back down before we even noticed it was gone.

     Our first pull in the deep set produced a great lobster that did not require measuring.  Getting started that way provided an optimistic vibe, for sure.  Most of the rest of the hoops produced bugs, some of which were shorts, while others easily made the grade.  We got 8 in the first set of ten and were really stoked.

     We moved a couple of the shallow hoops out into deeper water when we reset and then began a second run of collecting.  We had several pulls with more than one legal and threw back several that were right at the gauge line.  They seemed to be crawling almost everywhere but we had two hoops that were producing the majority of our biggest ones.  After the second pass we had 17 and reset to just go right back to pulling the first one again.  Three pulls in, we had limits of seven each and began to recover gear to break down, stack and head back to San Pedro.  Once again these bugs were everywhere and we threw back at least a limit just getting our equipment back on board for the ride home.

     We got the last shallow one over the rail and into the stack when our attention was drawn to a blinding searchlight sweeping the escarpment above us.  We turned around to see what it was, but we were sightless looking back into it.  We then saw the beam hover over a spot and our bison was completely lit up.  It was right at the edge of column of rock that plunged vertically into the sea, which is exactly what that bison did as we heard a deafening crack from the direction of the searchlight source.  The bison's left rear leg collapse and it began clopping the rock with its forelegs and turning to the left.  This movement caused it to cantilever over the edge and rebound from a barnacled boiler rock into the quiet water of the cove like a calving glacier.

      We heard a high-pitched outboard whine approaching us and then the light was on us.  Again, we were blinded.  Almost instantly, a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with three wardens was bumping up to our port side and throwing ropes over our cleats.
    The first warden hurdled onto our deck and announced their authority to inspect our licenses and the live bait tank full of big lobster.  Our California lobster cards, which are three feet long, were uncoiled like rolls of toilet paper for inspection of what we had recorded as our harvest.

     " I see that you have not used New Times Roman text in your inscription for your lobster harvest.  You need to be aware of that  your printing looks like Italics.  I could give you a ticket, or even confiscate your boat right now for that violation alone, so those bugs in your tank better be legal."

        As they peered into the tank with their headlamps, I could see that they were impressed by the size of the members of our limit.  I couldn't help myself and decided to speak.  "Hey officers, did  you just shoot a buffalo off that cliff with a rifle?"

       "Who are you, Dick Tracy?  We'll do the questioning around here.  Give us your camera phones for now.  We will return them to you if you check out."  Skipper, David and I exchanged confused glances.

     "Where did you get those lobsters?

     "Right out there, in deeper water."  Skipper pointed toward the lights of the mainland.

      "Are they still crawling?"

       "Well, yeah, I guess so.  In fact I've never seen them crawl so consistently", was Skippers careful response.

      We then heard the sound of a diesel engine as this weird barge pulled up from where the zodiac boat had come.  It was manned by three more wardens and had a hydraulic crane mounted in the center.

       "This is the Wildlife Therapy Float, or WTF, which is paid for not only by your fishing license fee, but also through a special lobster card fee duplication program we have to fine your for not turning in your lobster card, even if you actually turn it in and send us proof that you did."

     I exclaimed back "Hey, that is exactly what happened to me!  I got fined when I bought my new card this year for not reporting my harvest.  I sent  a copy of the the thank you email from DFW and the confirmation number for my timely reporting of last season's harvest, but they sent me an email saying that they were just keeping the money, because they had achieved possession of my payment and there is a specific Finders/Keepers provision in the code which makes it conclusively presumed to be DFW property."

The guy who seemed to be in command looked right at me and pointed his finger.  "That is exactly how this program is intended to work and our WTF vessel is part of that program."

     "I am  still not sure I understand how this program is supposed to work,"  I responded.

"Okay, I am about to show you.  First of all, Skipper, can you redeploy another set?"

Skipper answered "I guess so, but we already have our limit."

"My wardens don't, so here is what you are going to do.  I am going to take your two passengers hostage on our barge and you are going to take two of my wardens out for another set because we prefer not to have to eat this bison without lobster."


"Just do what I say and you will understand.  I am a sworn officer of the law and a protector of wildlife.  Do you guys have a couple of gaffs we could use to maneuver that buffalo  into the sling we have on the crane?"

Skipper said yes and David and I jumped onto the WTF with the gaffs. Skipper  motored way with the two wardens and began resetting our gear.  We had already discarded our bait, so the wardens replenished our bait cages with some chunks of bloody seal meat from a cooler they off loaded from the WTF barge.

David and I stood by with our gaffs as we idled up to the carcass, which was slowly drifting with the tide into deeper water.  We gaffed each end of it and the wardens guided it rather expertly into the sling.  The winch on the crane groaned a bit as this animal that must have weighed close to a ton was strapped into a spreader bar and inverted above the water immediately adjacent to the rail.

     As they were engaging in what seemed like a very practiced routine, I asked them what it was that they were doing.

    "This is part of a new program whereby Fish and Game wants to personally share the experience of its constituents by engaging with them."

"I mean with the bison."

He looked at me as he momentarily backed away from the spots in the hide he had been carefully notching with a Kukri knife.  "Oh, we are allowed to shoot one bison a week, to take measurements and stuff....but then we get to eat it and then mail our feces into the DFW lab where they document it."

"Document it for what?"

"For evidence of human feces of course."

     One of the wardens inserted the end of an air pressure hose into the notch which had been cut into the hide and then turned on the compressor, which fired up in a startling grind.  He inserted the nozzle into the notch in the hide and squeezed the lever.  The hide began inflating and separating from the carcass.  They pulled it completely off in a flurry of pneumatic tearing.   They spread the hide out on the deck and then pulled a heavy duty SAWZ-ALL from a coffin-sized tool chest. It had a 14 inch stainles steel reciprocating blade. The warden handling the saw put on goggles and a Grundig rubber overall-and-jacket combination.  He began butchering off slabs of prime bison meat that the other wardens helped peel off with the gaffs like the crew of the Pequod harvesting blubber under Ahab's watchful eye.  They worked with unbelievable precision and purpose.

Our attention was drawn to the leeward. Skipper and the two wardens tied up alongside with twenty more lobster and got off the boat.

The head warden then addressed me again.  "  I ran your GO ID on our DFW database.  Your story about the bogus fine checks out.  Because of our mistake in assessing a fine against you when you had done nothing to deserve it, we are awarding you guys thirty-five pounds of delicious buffalo steaks to take home with you.  In addition, I want to also say that the Skipper of this boat is, without a doubt, the finest lobster skipper I have ever met in 47 years of writing tickets and protecting wildlife for this remarkable state agency, as evidenced by his harvest of twenty lobster for my two men in just one set.  We will all get to celebrate the end of the year with locally caught surf and turf.  Now, please get away from here and speak to no one about this."  He handed back our cell phones.

We remained puzzled, but decided to do as we were instructed.  It had been both a confusing and educational experience.

We cleaned up in San Pedro and divided up our catch.  All of the bugs we caught were females.

 I invited a bunch of our pals to come over for a pre-New years eve get-together.

Tommy and David stood in for the obligatory "Lobster Life" documentation.  

After prepping all day, your narrator shook up and assisted in consuming a Liquidity of Manhattans.

I dared anyone to not eat all of the bison steak and lobster that they could possibly ram into their digestive systems.

The food all came out pretty well and our diehard Packer neighbors were able to celebrate their team's victory in style, rather than coming over and inflicting buzz kill.

This was the the most consistent crawl I have ever seen in decades of lobstering.  We met a bunch of righteous guys from the Department of Fish and Game who proved to us how much this agency cares about wildlife and legal justice.  Once again, we learned a lot more about the constant innovation the Department is injecting into its experimental programs to improve the experience of their license buying constituents.

  I realize that I was told not to talk about this program, but it is really too peculiar to  keep secret and nobody is really going to read this post anyway.  If you do, don't tell. 

 There, I think that counts as confidentiality.

Wishing all of you a great start to a New Year and a new set of experiences, or at least more of your favorite ones.

These Are the Days.