Sunday, September 25, 2022

Ozzy and Chariot

Gentle Readers:

With this essay, I promise only brevity in place of quality and I'm lying about that.

Friday, after your reporter left the exciting CLM construction law seminar  in San Diego to get a jump on the weekend's plan for carnage, Secret Skipper took me out for a nocturnal mission that matched delusion to reality. Our plan and destination was all night knife-jigging for bluefin at the Osborn Bank.  We had big gear and big plans for big fish.  We left the dock early with many ice chests and lots of ice.  We spoke of breaking out the pressure cooker to can those 200 pound  fish we could not accommodate by eating, gifting or freezing.  We might have to work all day Sunday and take off Monday just to get it all processed.

We procured two very generous scoops of large and sluggish sardines from Mike at Pedro Bait company at 7 pm and proceeded through surprisingly calm seas to arrive on station at the Osborn by a little after 9 pm.  We noticed the glow of the fleet on the backside of Catalina on our way out.

There were few boats on the Osborn and we jigged on our giant gear for a couple of hours of nothing and no marks before deciding to head toward the light in the distance like squid do.

We joined the fleet, which was about 15 miles away, to tediously reel up and drop down amidst a host of sport boats doing the same thing for mostly the same results, all night long.

At gray light, we decided to head toward Clemente instead of Santa Barbara Island and look for paddies, dorado and maybe some of those yellowfin that had moved in to balance out our catch of pelagics.

We made it to the west end early in the morning and saw lots of bird action and breaking fish.

Skipper hooked up to what seemed like a small yellowtail.

As it turns out, it was a Laguna Tuna that we released instead of converting it to lobster bait for the upcoming opener.

Compare and contrast it with another rider that had so recently occupied the deck of our vessel.

Skipper got another quality bonito that, had it been a yellowfin tuna, would have qualified for a 12 pound class caption in Western Outdoor News.

It was neither of those things.

Your narrator also got in on the action with the bonito and barracuda, but could not hang a yellowtail.

Skipper eventually found a quality resident yellowtail that fought him up and down the water column every step of the way before your reporter got the chance to plant the gaff.  He weighed over 26 pounds.  It would have been our preference to forego this measurement and lie about the size, but we burdened ourselves by bringing a scale.

We should have taken advantage of the good weather to start our long uphill journey back to San Pedro and end the day on a positive note in the morning, but we had expectations of finding dorado and so left biting yellows to hunt paddies.  It has been such a treat to have these great schools of them here in such record abundance, so we just had to try.  Your narrator took the binos up into the tower and had no problem skillfully scanning the horizon to put us on one dry paddy after another all the way across the channel to the backside of Catalina.  We eventually fished tight to the backside in the complete absence of current or wind and quickly abandoned that program.

We doubled back down and out a bit to work some paddies on the 152 that did not produce. We stopped in the calm water to cut up the yellowtail.  The blood and chunks brought a flurry of jumping dorado that we could not get to bite our tired 'dines.

Once again, like it was a college keg party, we fished too hard and stayed too long.  The wind came up and started blowing a grumpy chop that produced an unhappy angle of attack for our return trip.  This extended the remaining ride time from an hour to three hours as the wind waves plumed over the house and moguled our journey home into a pounding, spine-compressing head-throb.   It was like the ride the losers experienced during the chariot race in Ben Hur and made me long for a mouthful of opium to keep from chipping my teeth.

After an exhausting clean up at the slip, we split up a really nice fish and decided which of the five ice chests that our big plans had equipped us with would best transport a single bag of fillets and 175 pounds of ice.

We will still dine in style on some great hamachi tonight, have some cocktails and pontificate about how to catch big fish, one has to sometimes fish hard without finding them.

I am saying this to console myself, as I certainly know that some people don't have to fish hard at all to be rewarded with huge fish, because it all has to balance out somehow.

Well, to those people, I would just say that you can thank us for the hard work we put in to catch less in order to balance out your bountiful experience, whether you deserve it or not.

It appears that the ferocious bite that has been going on was paused for a great many anglers on Saturday, so my cry for victimhood is more of a chorus than a soliloquy.  This company of misery brings comfort, as does the knowledge that we get to do this instead of dodging the splash of bullets in Ukraine or a million other shitty things that afflicted the world on Saturday, reminding us once again that 

These are the Days.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Midnight Riders

 Gentle Readers:

I know that I am in the middle of reporting on our trip north, but I must interrupt that process to publish a report of this weekend's carnage.  Secret Skipper staged what was a virtual reprise of a trip we all took together five years ago at the 43 Fathom Spot. Skipper took Tommy, David and your faithful reporter out in search of dorado on Saturday, September 17.  We had a good plan and it worked.

We left our house at 12:15 am and rolled out of the slip in 'Pedro a little after 1:30 am.  

We were targeting the dorado that had been in such tremendous historical abundance, but also  intended to drag for bluefin on heavy gear if we got the chance away from the clouds of boats certain to be with us.  We  each packed 20 pound rigs with 20# fluro; 30 pound fluro tipped medium bait rods; a couple of 40 pounders and heavy trollers.  This necessitated festooning the rocket launchers to capacity.

David paused beneath this display of piscatorial firepower spangling back the glare of the deck lights, adding to the Romance of the Sea ambiance that accompanies midnight departures.

 We dropped a Benjamin on a couple scoops of medium-sized sardines at the San Pedro Bait barge and were on our way back down towards Dana by 2 am.

Our goal was to roll down to the 279 area before gray light and then fan out from the fleet to find a paddy that was holding mahi.  We anticipated grumpy seas and so made better time with smoother water that allowed us to be on station early and loitering in the darkness at 4 am.

The ride afforded Tommy an opportunity to resume the sleep that was briefly interrupted by having to get out of bed and sleep in the car on the way up the coast to Pedro.  He was able to get right to sleep in the v berth after we got bait and headed into the open sea.

The sky was mostly overcast, with the moon partially visible.  It was T-shirt weather, even at this hour, though the heat-lock that had fevered up the state for weeks had finally broken.

We saw the lights of other boats and expected that a vast fleet would be revealed as darkness began to give way to gray, like the bunker view from Normandy on D-Day.

Instead, by the time we began to perceive the horizon, there were only a couple of boats in sight.  Had we somehow gotten separated from the herd?  Was that a bad thing or a good thing?

The Tomahawk and the Truline were the only boats in our area and they soon left after drifting a few dry paddies, just like we did.

As we mosied away from the only boats in sight, we found many worthy paddies to investigate in the 70 plus degree water.  Tommy and David, armed with binoculars and a walkie-talkie connection to the wheelhouse, were our young-eyed scouts in the tower.

The area we concentrated on was at the margin of the big eastern cloud cover.  After an hour or two of baiting promising spots that did not deliver biters, the boys spotted one that was a floating hotel, complete with standing birds.

We threw bait and fish flashed and jumped.  The boys and I started with our lightest 20 pound rigs and #1 circle hooks to provide the best chance if the fish were choosy. 

David got bit, as a dorado screamed of line and was airborne by the time he started to put an arc in the rod. 

Then your narrator hooked up on a bull that made a huge run as David's mahi jumped near the boat and broke off.

 Skipper hooked up and handed off to David so he could gaff my bull dorado as it came to color after a some acrobatics and deep runs that caused me to trade up to my Excalibur Truline and 30 pound line after this stop.

Skipper put your correspondent on the first dead fish with a perfect head shot with the gaff I made for him as David stayed busy with his own fish.

Skipper stayed busy with the gaff as David pumped in his dorado.

These fish are not easy to hit with the hook as they change direction on a dime at the rail.

David was on the board with this specimen.

We drifted well off the kelp and Tommy got lit up again. 

We saw several jumpers and free swimmers around us as they milled about on a pretty elliptical gyre.

Tommy arched back and took his fish toward the corner. Several of these colorful fish won their freedom with boatside acrobatics and gaff dodging maneuvers, but not this one.

The slightly larger bulls tended to go deep and nod hard, like yellowtail, after a couple of surface runs.  

The hens tended to stay on the top and really twisted and spun away from the gaff at the rail, so a quick stick across the back was the ticket.

We kept rolling back up to the kelp and getting bit, not always right away and not always that close to the kelp.

The fish were all good sized, ranging mostly in the 13-17 pound range.  This one caught by your reporter had a fresh gaff hole in the back, as Skipper made a perfect head shot on a fish that was caught after its second and more fatal mistake of the week.  

The boys pulled on a double in the corner.

Over the next couple hours, we pulled limits of really nice fish and decided to push toward the 181.  

Initially, we trolled a few assorted cedar plugs and small tuna feathers at 7 knots while trying out Skipper's new outriggers.  After a while, Skipper and I decided to break out the heavy artillery we were dying to use and drag the hi-speed Nomads in the hope of a blind strike from a bluefin while looking for paddies at 12-13 knots.  This is really hauling ass for trolling and allowed us to cover a lot of ground with the scouts in the tower.

The downside to this program is that the lures are generally a thousand feet behind the boat to account for the wake-shy tastes of bluefin.  Fortunately for us, there were hardly any other boats anywhere to cut across our line, despite the fact that we were hitting pretty generic water.

Each time we saw a promising paddy, we had to grind in our lures like winch monkeys and plot our drift with the bait gear.  We hit some paddies that were absolutely mouth-watering, but did not produce.  

Skipper did pull one more off a paddy.  We did not stay because we had tuna fever, so it was once again back out with the two big rigs.  Skipper had his International 50 on the port and I put out my Tiagra 50 wide on starboard, with 200 pound mono backed by 200 pound spectra.  We fondly refer to it as The Pig.

David was asleep in the v-berth and Tommy was sleep-scouting in the tower when a gust of wind took Tommy's Allgire Foundation fishing hat off his head, causing him to reach back in vain as it blew into the sea near the 312.  As he began to sound the Hat Overboard! alarm, the Pig began to grunt the low frequency siren of its clicker.  We had specifically set the drag to very light tension, so the line raced off the spool as the boat remained in gear.

I got on the handle and brought the drag lever into increasing tension as the fish began to slow.  We all wanted it to be a bluefin, so I went through the exercise of verbally exorcising every other alternative fish, hat, or clump of kelp that could account for the line coming off the reel.  

Soon the line stopped  going out and the rod tip lost some of its tension.  I started turning the handle furiously and it seemed our prey had either freed itself or was coming right at us.

I assumed the latter and kept winding furiously as the line came tight again and the fish took another short run.  Skipper kept the fish away from the boat and had to accelerate to keep the fish from passing us on the starboard.  

We got ahead of it and it started to go from one side of the motors to the other as I fought it stand-up style to keep the line away from the props.  The fish started coming to the boat steadily as the rod provided lift and the reel inexorably dragged him closer.  Skipper kept him away from the props with some matador steering as we arced away from his attempts to cross below us.  Soon he started to pinwheel in nice circles as we kept his head up and spiralling toward the surface.  He was no match for this machinery.

We pegged the 12 foot leader as Skipper put it into neutral and got into the stern for a shot with the gaff made just for this occasion.  With Tommy filming from the tower, your reporter grabbed the line to pull the last six feet into range as the tuna spun up next to the rail.  Skipper stuck it in the pectoral as it gushed red.  David came in from the other side with a second gaff and the two of them heaved it over the rail.  It hit the deck with a very satisfying thump as we screamed like chimpanzees.  We have a video, but I am too lame to include it in this report.

We bled it, gutted it through the head and took out the gills before ramming an ice bag to replace its guts and start cooling it off in the kill bag with all of the stiff, cold dorado and rock salted ice.

We turned toward home and put out the trollers, knowing we had our work cut out for us to clean all these fish and make it to Pedro by midnight. The water got steadily warmer, climbing to nearly 74 degrees by the time we got to the backside of Catalina. We stopped off at some paddies, but were mostly trying to make it to the lee of Catalina to start cutting fish before dark.  We pulled into a cove short of Long Point and Skipper began the wet work with a knife whose blade grew as weary of the cleaving as Tommy did trying to stand up and watch.

It was well into the dark of night when the boys hoisted the tuna for Skipper to start  carefully carving with the fresh knife he had saved for butchering this incredible gift from Poseidon.

This trip was reminiscent of another memorable day that Skipper brought us five years ago.  He sent me the picture below to remind me of the occasion and chart the growth of our young crewmen.

                                                                August 16, 2022

Tommy and David once again proved to be our lucky charms as we found a way to rival one of the best angling days of their young lives, and of our old ones.

We spent a couple hours cutting our catch and then cleaning up the boat when we nosed into Pedro.  We drove home after picking up more ice and staggered into the house around 1 am before crashing hard after a 25 hour tour.  It was like Gilligan's Island grad school.

 The past five years have presented some of the most amazing fishing opportunities in local waters in my nearly 60 years (gulp) of fishing and paying attention to what we could catch in our lifetimes and what Zane Grey wrote about catching 100 years ago.

It is as good as it gets right now, so make your own luck, trade your hat to the ocean for a tuna and turn that handle while you are above ground, because

These are the Days

Friday, September 9, 2022

El Norte


Gentle Readers:

Once again, it is time for the report on the bi-annual Alaskan trip with Chartermistress Nike Wuhu and her band of thralls.  The crew on this Homer's Odessey included returning veterans Ajax Hagerty, Dionysus Satran and your narrator. This is a team that cuts players, so you'd better bring your game. We were joined by replacements Archimedes Boyd, Paris Fragoso, never-caught-a-fish Penthesilea Ventriglia, and new generation starter-yeast Isaac Schmitt, now relocated on the left coast from a year as a sternman in the Boston lobster fishery.

Thanks to the military planning of Nike, all members of this scattered squad made landfall  in Anchorage within hours on the same afternoon.  We took two giant vans down the Sterling Highway to our destination at a fabulous home nested above its namesake of Homer, overlooking outer Kachemak Bay.

We spent the first day provisioning dainty samplings of alcohol and end-of-times supplies of food.  Archimedes made a major miscalculation and bought a 195 pound bag of pancake mix after recalling stories his parents told him about the Great Depression.  It almost ruined the whole trip when there was still some left after our final breakfast of this journey.   

This failure of breakfast consumption is primarily because Nike's regimen called for lazy sleep-in ocean fishing days when we did not have to get up for fishing until 4 am, as well as early days when we were on the road just after midnight to make sure we were the first humans standing hip deep in the swift waters of the Kenai at 3:30 am to stake our nocturnal claim to the good spots, just like bears.

On our day of acclimation, we wandered into the Salty Dawg to get some free money and mark our spot. Homer was much livelier this time around compared to the masked dystopia of our last visit during the covid plague.

We fished seven days.  This report will concentrate on and hopelessly scramble the ocean experiences we had together over three days with OFish'ial charters.  If my readers do not protest loudly enough, this report will be followed by the essay on the virtues of night-time fly-rodding for sockeye in the next edition.  I am also considering a separate report on the one day that our group rubbed Isaac and  your reporter off on the rail when we had to split up on different boats and crews for dedicated salmon trolling on the only day without significant rainfall.  We all caught fish, but Isaac and I were put on a boat with a family of midwestern grifters, who ran a con on us as part of their masquerade as wholesome, innocent farmers.

We started the first of our three trips with skipper Garret, deckhands Austin and Zeke crewing the 35 foot Asteria.  The deckhands were fabulous and both on their way to higher education after this summer season.  Garret is an extremely charismatic captain who is a relatively recent transplant from the east coast.  He is the oldest of 6 and has brought out four of his sisters, all of whom work in the local sportfishing community.  His sister Sierra runs one of his boats, the Sweet Tea, and we buddy boated with them on a couple of the trips.

Like most of the guides on Nike's trips, he was initially selected based on his good looks, which is one of Nike's many prerogatives as our fearless leader.  Garret also guides boat-based hunting trips to Kodiak for Brown Bear.  He had some great stories about clients discovering what that adventure can bring to human predators if the tables start to turn and a rifle becomes a defensive weapon.  We did learn from all of our guides that harvesting bears under monitored circumstances has helped to bring balance back to the moose population, as these bears each consume at least twenty moose per season.  We also learned that the bag limit for residents hunting wolves is ten - per day, so they are not exactly treated like cows in India.

Our destination on day one was the Chugach islands, where we made big halibut our first priority on a 35 mile race to get in place for the right tide.  

The tides this time around were huge - up to 25 feet, so the currents were fierce at full flow.  The charter included others outside our group, several of whom were incredibly knowledgeable about the fishery in Homer and and every aspect of the northern commercial boat building industry, especially the popular Delta made in Seattle.

On the long rides this kind of fishing featured,  your reporter spent way too much time in the wheelhouse, peppering our very knowledgable skipper with questions about every kind of fishing,  hunting and game management program that Alaska has to offer.  I think he might have been ready to fake an abandon ship drill to get me to stop asking for information like a 3rd grader, but he stayed on the wheel and never reached for the flare gun as he tried to help make me smarter than I was when I got on the boat.  If only he knew the number of people who were depending on my journalism for this data, he probably would have been pretty bummed out.

I would like to bore my readers with all I have learned, but I will wait until I have you trapped at my house in a conversation that will constitute payment for attending one of the fish feasts that this excursion should afford.

Penthesilea (she calls herself Penny) had never caught a fish in her life and started things off by dragging in a 50 pound flattie that turned out to be the first and biggest, affording her hallowed status as Butt Whisperer of the Day. 

 Each angler is entitled to keep one halibut over 29 inches and one under 29.  We were fishing where we expected big ones and it turned out a fish under 29 was a pretty rare find in these locations.  Though many filled both slots on some days, your reporter was not able to land a fish small enough to take home. 

We stayed on the halibut spot long enough for everyone to claim one fish over 29, with long cause award going to Archy, whose patience was finally rewarded with a quality specimen, as he and Pentheselia raced each other on this double hook up at the end of the halibut part of the day. 

This allowed us to move on to target ling cod, rock cod and breezing salmon that ate the same vertical jigs we were dropping on the rockfish.

The lings bit like mad, but a legal has to be three feet long, so many  of these ferocious gators were pitched back after providing lengthy rod bouncing battles.  Below, Austin plants the steel on one that stayed on the boat after its long but losing battle with Isaac.

This was the largest ling of the trip and Isaac's personal best by a wide margin. He was fishing a big white grub.

Dionysus got in some good gruntin' action shots

before hoisting in a posed photo denigrated by his need to drop the fish and gulp refreshments.

He also had good luck with the yellow eye and is so photogenic that I have to give him three in a row.

Paris nabbed a quality 'butt, 

along with a beautiful yelloweye, for which the limit is one.

Nike went bendo and got into the grind off the bow.

She got a nice flattie, courtesy of Austin's gaffmanship.
She had to throw her big stompin' yelloweye back 
because she had already boated the one resident rockfish per day allowable under the strict rules of this fishery

Over the three days of fishing we had on this vessel, we spent one day at the Chugach Island passage. The other two took us out to the far edges of the Kodiak archipelago to fish the Barren Islands, where we found even larger halibut, insanely aggressive lings and piles of black rockfish visible beyond the side-eyed glance from Nike's ziptied victim.
Ajax managed the most efficient program, getting a legal ling...,

 and filling both halibut slots each day to go along with the easy limits of  delicious black rockfish that ate every chrome jig that fluttered down among the clouds of them that gathered below us.

Penny and Archie struck an impossibly cute pose with the elusive small halibut they managed to add to their tallies.

Penny also managed a dreamboat shot with our skipper and the drunken Irish Lord she released after this photo.

Your narrator managed to bag a personal best pigfish halibut of the trip on day two at the Barrens, but we had many fish in this weight class.

Your reporter also lost a monster on day three after stealthily working it up the water column to where I thought I would be able to get a picture. She bit a whole greenling that had already caught the same ling twice. It woke up when it saw the boat and smoked 100 yards off my righteous Accurate reel to run right back down to its hole and cut me off on a ledge.  I already had a limit and was duty bound to let it go, but we all wanted to get a shot of that fish before it beat us to the release.

Nike cheered Isaac on as he wickedly recovered his line on his own personal best halibut at the Barrens on Day Two.

Each day the carnage in the stern provided an opportunity to grab a shot like the one below, although a couple of those 65 miles trips involved railgrabbing rides home that caused us to shine on recording our slaughter on the slimed up deck.  The father-son shot is from Day One at Chugach, where, after limiting on halibut, we drifted through clouds of rockfish, lings and salmon that struck our yo-yo jigs.  Isaac even managed to net a salmon that I jigged up and brought to the boat.  It came unbuttoned and momentarily became a free-swimmer at the rail, only to be put to death due to Isaac's anticipation and deft netmanship.

                The primary lesson Nike has reinforced in all of us is: Don't wait for these experiences to straggle forward from the notion column of "some day we will do this."

Once we got home to our fabulous pad, the cocktails flowed  and we took in the view.

After sufficient lubrication, Isaac, Dionysus and your reporter wandered up the road to track an intriguing sign that had earlier sparked our curiousity.

We followed the handy arrow and got to meet yet another remarkbly colorful fellow by the name of Dale, who had one great resident Alaskan story after another and an inventory of curios that I only wish I could have bartered over.  He had a nice single action .44, as well as some lesser guns right on down to a blank pistol with a rusted shut cylinder.  There was really a bunch of great stuff that I would have liked to put into the trunk of my nonexistent car to clutter up my garage at home.

At the end of three days of larding up freezer fodder with this valiant crew, we bid our goodbyes and were on our way, but not before our leader got her glamour shot with Austin, Zeke, and Garret.

It did rain on us almost every day, but we all had rubber boots, as well as an enthusiasm for keeping loose and walking about to sample all this town has to offer.

Isaac and I toured the harbor, ogling all of the boats we wish we could try operating.  We took this photo of a 32 foot Bristol Bay gillnetter because we wanted to send a picture to Isaac's sister Sarah Jane, not realizing that this was the same model boat on which Isaac would sign on to crew out of Half Moon Bay when we returned to the lower 48.

I cannot stand typing any more of this story than you can reading it, so I will sit back in my chair and pause my narrative of our adventures on the brine, before we transition to the freshwater experience in the report to follow.  I will think about that later.

Though we did not need a heavenly sign from the ever-present rain, Nature never stopped reminding us of how lucky we are, or of the obvious fact that

These are the Days