Sunday, October 16, 2022

Lobstering around the Dodgers

Gentle Readers:

    Your reporter and Secret Skipper avoided investing any more time  watching the distraction of the greatest baseball team ever to get their asses handed to them by the San Diego Padres in major league baseball history.

We opted to take advantage of the rain to sneak over to Catalina for our first trip of this 2022 season.  Connor Devaney was supposed to come with us for his first foray into this fishery, but he expressed concern about the possibility of rain.  We assured him that it would not be that bad and that we would not think of him as being a sissy if he didn't come with us, even though he knew that we totally would.

As it turns out, he ended up in the hospital with something that could have made the trip a bad idea, so we let him off the hook, although we did stop by his hospital room to egg his window early in the morning after we got back.

It had been raining and the forecast, in combination with gas prices and the Dodger game, made for uncrowded prospects at the island of Romance.  We liked our chances.

We got a scoop of fabulously active sardines from Mike at San Pedro Bait Company around 1 pm.  We stopped on several paddies on the way over but got no love from the pelagics in 65 degree water.

In the lee of the island, we were treated with a spectacular assault on shoals of pinhead anchovy by voracious mackerel that we quickly tired of catching and releasing as we waited for darkness to ripen.

The rain had moved through the island and the wind was down.  The tide was falling as we prepped our gear and made ready to start dropping at 5:30 for a crawl that would not be starting until after a 6:30 sunset.  Daylight savings time lobster season is always a late start, but sometimes gives you shirt-sleeve weather, as it did on this becalmed evening.

We had a great combination of fresh sardines, frozen sardines and fresh salmon carcasses.  There was very little current and the counter weights hung vertically.

We made three deep sets in water over 200 feet deep, but these proved unproductive when we started to pull gear at 7:15.  It was as easy as it gets, with no wind or chop to make the buoys anything other than stationary targets. We got to park and pull instead of the sometimes aggressive motor jockeying that can be required to maintain position during gear hauling.

The three midrange pulls earned their keep with 4 legals to get us pocket money as we started rolling toward the 4 shallow sets.  We were very optimistic because these have been our most consistent performers and the recent rain was likely to get them walking from the run-off so close to their domain.

We were not disappointed. 75 feet was the depth for  the evening walk.  One of the shorts had 10 lobster, 5 of which were legals.  

Another had 10 with 3 legals.  None of them were particularly large, but we were already throwing back keeper lobster after 9 pulls.

By 8:20 pm we had matriculated into recovery mode, first hauling in and breaking down the expensive but labor intensive deep sets that performed like the Dodgers in producing nothing, despite their vaunted depth.

We were treated to periodic flashes of lightning above the mainland as we worked our way through dumping bait and stacking gear in the stern.  We had the area completely to ourselves during the very short time we needed to haul 19 pulls.  We listened to the mighty Trojans let Utah get the last touchdown and go for two.  Our radio reception made it hard to discern any defensive plays being transmitted during the broadcast.

When we got to the shallow sets, it was the same thing all over.  We had one with 13 in it, 5 of which were legals.  We threw one legal after another into the sea as we listened to the Dodgers blow a 3-0 lead.  I was so glad we were doing better than they were.

We arrived in Pedro at the tail end of a tiny little squall that made us put our rain gear back on as we cleaned up.

The tide was out, so the ramp was steep, but that is about the only thing I can conjure up for complaining.  We listed to the radio account of the Dodgers laying down their bats in the final inning like they were trying to inherit the Earth as we buttoned up the boat.  Their team and ours finished up about the same time.  Even with the money and youthful stardom pulsing at me from the Dodger airwaves, I was glad I was part of this crew and not theirs.

Your narrator was home by 1 am, which is as good as it gets for lobstering during daylight savings time.  The trip was stupid, easy and an enchanting alternative to so many other lamer things that I could have, and probably should have done.

We got the mandatory Lobster Life photo in before the boys went off to another lightning infested swim meet.

I guess it's time to root for the Padres, give thanks to Poseidon for delivering up to us again and keep in mind that

These are the days.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Flossing the Kenai

 Gentle Readers:

I have repeatedly interrupted my longer than necessary historical interpretation of our Alaskan Adventure with Nike's Rangers in August because I keep going out to chase local fish.  My neighbors count on my disclosure of Dana Point fishing failure because they need to know where not to go in local waters on more of an emergency basis than my readers need another load of Alaskan fantasy.

Well too bad for all of you, as I am now resuming my look back at the freshwater experience we had with Zack Lloyd of Glacier Run Outfitters on the Kenai.  I will have to rely on my memory and overriding feelings about what should have happened on those watery adventures to spin this yarn.

We have discussed our ocean experiences with OFish'ial Charters out of Homer in earlier reports.  On some of the alternating days, we headed back up the highway to Soldatna to join Zack for the unique fishing experience of flossing for sockeye on the Kenai River.

This kind of fishing, explained in a prior post entitled "It's a Wild Northland," involves standing in waders in the unwarm water of the Kenai river with heavy fly gear while backhanding a weighted bare hook about ten feet upstream and relentlessly sweeping it back toward shore with the rod tip just above the surface once it gets about 30 degrees downstream.  If the line is drawn properly and an open-mouth salmon swims into the path of your line, the fish is hooked on the outside of its jaw, often at the extreme end of the rod sweep as the angler is awkwardly twisted back into a full downstream rotation.

The angler's all stand in relatively close proximity to one another in the coveted locations where the fish aggregate in the current before heading further upstream.  Each person is standing slightly over two rod lengths from the most adjacent angler at locations most impacted by the pressure of a consistent run.

This post will once again scramble the multiple mornings we spent, both in separate groups and all together, during several days of utilizing this technique to harvest sockeye salmon, which are the lifeblood of the Alaskan ecology.

Nike's fierce enthusiasm for this kind of fishing is reflected in the guide and time table she chose for us.  On the first day, after Ajax, Dionysus and Paris opted to sleep in, Nike, Penny, Isaac, Archimedes and your reporter took the early shift with our guide Zack at a marina slough a very short distance from the prized location where we would start our nocturnal wading.

After a night of  beverage-informed enthusiasm, the late start guys seemingly had the advantage of potentially getting a fair night's sleep. The volunteers for Nike's forced march piled into the van just after midnight to drive back up to Soldatna to make sure we could put on our headlamps and gear in Zack's river sled at 3:30 am.  We had to be the first ones to wade out into the current, taking cautious steps in the slippery darkness to stake our claim for a good spot, like bears.  Your reporter did not chance many photos in the dark, but did get a few in the emerging dawn.

On the highway, we encountered a  truck stopped in our lane with its engine compartment on fire.  The driver, who appeared to be a grown man, was on the phone with his mother, offering to take full responsibility for whatever had just happened to bring him to this unhappy situation.  It was one of the few times during our trip when it was not raining, which was bad luck for our motorist.  He had used up whatever liquid he had and the fire had swarmed back up in his opened engine compartment.  We used the entirety of our day's water and beer supply to douse the flames, while our nervous motorist scampered a short distance several times into the woods to complete undisclosed chores.

We got the fire out by the time we turned the scene over to the state trooper who fortunately responded rather quickly to this middle of nowhere spot.  We assured the officer that the empty beverage cans did not represent anything that the driver had consumed, although we privately discussed the strong possibility that he was influenced by the mysterious forces of chemistry before we came along.

Our  good deed for the day accomplished at an early stage of that day's activities, we proceeded to our rally point at a trailer-boat marina on the Kenai.  It was a very short boat ride to our spot on a bar where we stumbled out of the boat and cautiously edged out into our positions along the river while wearing headlamps and rain gear.

Setting out at 3 am on day two of the Kenai, Archy and Dionysus manage broader grins than your reporter at the momentary lack of rainfall.

We fished in the darkness for several hours, mostly to stake out the prime spot.  Other groups of anglers came along once it got closer to daylight.  The fish are even closer to shore in the dark and we were handcuffed by a few takers that were swimming right next to our boots.  

This year's sockeye run had been stupendous, so the  daily limit was raised to 6 fish. The last time we fished the Kenai, the limit was three and they did not taste as good as this year's run. An angler can also take silver salmon, for which the limit is two.  Many of the fish we actually hooked were pink salmon, which are generally considered less than prime and are released after a spirited  fight. 

The fish were in various states of their spawning changes, including this beautifully humped specimen (a pink) caught by your narrator and displayed by Zack before being released to pursue its suicidal mission to soldier upstream and ejaculate.

Getting photographs in the rainy rushing waters was a challenge, as a wet phone is easily lost in the slippery darkness. Dionysus discovered this early into our trip, resulting in his being deprived of his cell phone for the duration of our adventure.  This was a handicap he did manage to overcome, but it was certainly a lesson for all of us.  It tempers one's enthusiasm for fighting through rain gear to snap an action photo while trying to maintain balance, hold your fly rod in your mouth, find the button and get a shot of someone else catching a fish while trying not to step on a salmon carcass or trip over a snag.  Several anglers, including Nike, ended up falling into the river just trying to move around while fighting fish. 

Your narrator nearly went down at least a dozen times while slipping on carcasses washing downstream, backing into snags while fighting fish, or just trying to get into a good stance to brace against the current.  

Penny caught several fish, but periodically climbed back into the boat to give her numbed feet a chance to warm up so she could avoid falling in the cold waters. 

One never knows what is striking the hook until it is brought to bay.
In the photo above, Penny gives a smile from behind a monster salmon Isaac was there to photograph.  You can plainly see that this youthfully optimistic fish is as long as her arm, but Isaac released it anyway.

Penny did not fall, but Nike counted among the fallen because of her take no prisoners attitude in running about in the shallows to chase fish that try so hard to make the most of the short life they have left.

On the first day, we all did great in the morning and were rewarded for our early start and good samaritan highway work. Later in the morning, we grew thirsty as a result of our fire-fighting efforts, crying like British soldiers for Gunga Din.  One dared not sip from the waters we fished, as they were well seasoned with decaying salmon carcasses. The afternoon crew did not fare so well, causing Paris to question the value of standing in the rain for hours while catching nothing. He limited his remaining fishing activities to one ocean boat ride before fleeing for home midway into our trip when he found out we were going flossing again. He threw a rock through the front window with a note tied to it that read "Salmon flossing is bullshit" before hitch-hiking on the moose-meat wagon that makes its daily run to the Homer airport.

Paris and Penny in happier times on the ocean before he went AWOL

The morning fishing was fantastic, especially after the first few hours of standing in the dark and trying not to fall gave way to daylight.  Zack was kept busy running through the rapids with his net to harvest or release whatever the members of our group brought in. The species was not always ascertainable until the fish was in the net.  The fish often ran back behind the line of fisher folk, jumping and zig zagging along the line.

Our group was large, so the fearsome duo of Ajax and Dionysus were set up on our most upstream point of our picket line to scare away interlopers. Their  rods were both on fire, catching many fish at a point where the river took a bend above a fallen tree.

Because of the distance, Zack soon gave them one of his nets so that they could capture each other's fish, as he was worn down by having to run upcurrent so many times to snare their countless hookups. 

I was posted next to them and so got several pictures of their frothy hijinks after I cautiously retrieved my phone out of the flapped pocket of a fancy new Aftco rain jacket that proved to be less waterproof than I anticipated, as the constant rain eventually soaked through. Below, armed with the net Zack left for them, Ajax thunders through the extended shallows toward another of Jerry's victims.

Allow me to continue my bitter review of my outerwear, which I finally broke down and bought to replace a twenty-five year old faithful servant that was no longer keeping me dry.  The new jacket, misleadingly named the Hydronaut (Hydro Not?) fits great and has really cool pockets, but is more water-indifferent than water-proof.  I could not return it because I learned their policy is that all returns must come back unworn and with tags still attached. I did not see a lot of other guys wearing jackets with tags on the Kenai, so bad on me.  I intend to buy some waterproofing spray to enhance its ability to repel water, which is roughly on par with a former reality TV host's ability to leave top secret documents where they belong.

Penny brought a nice sockeye to Zack's waiting net before getting back into the boat to regain circulation in her feetNike and I both caught this moment in a crossfire of camera work.

While Penny was in the boat restoring circulation, she took this quality photo of Isaac with a nice silver, which I think are the best fighters.

Nike and Zack took a break after Zack's splashy charge through the shallows to capture another sockeye.

Zack displays another quality specimen. 

Isaac demonstrated the proper technique of backing toward the shoreline, arcing the rod toward land and leading his feisty victim upstream to Zack's waiting mesh.

Jerry tugged on one of the many fish that tried to take him under the horizontal tree that was his nemesis at that spot.  Ajax managed to dig it out to add to their pile.

Zack had to ferry Ajax and Dionysus back separately during daylight hours because their size exceeded his boat's capacity, which is not something anyone notices at night.

We all got back to the dock at the end of each morning to hang out and get some poses in with our  painstakingly arranged daily body count.

Isaac crouched next to our more careless pile from Day One.  Several of these fish bore large bite wounds from the gauntlet of seals at the mouth of the river.  Some of these did not seem survivable, but they made it as far as our spot on the river. Thus, their brave perseverance was ultimately futile.

Nike and Penny got in the mandatory girl-and-guide photo

Your reporter and Isaac snuck in a similar shot when Zack had his back turned at the cutting table.

Isaac and Nike cooled off in the misty rain while Zack continued to perform the wet work with the speed and precision of a samurai.

We felt like we had put in a long day when we left, but the truth was that we were done at 8:30 in the morning.  This afforded us the opportunity to have breakfast at Ginger's, which turned out to be one of my favorite places to eat on this trip.

The food was really good and the Rock-n-Roll decor was fabulous.  It is located in a deserted mall in Soldatna that is a throwback to another era.

The mall features dreamy artwork depicting the spirit and elements of the Alaskan ecology.

We usually stay away from eating what we catch on a fishing trip, preferring to eat land animals, such as the pig that used to own these ribs expertly prepared by Archimedes.  Many people do not realize that pigs can grow a new set of ribs faster than a lizard grows a new tail.
Nevertheless, Ajax did prepare a fabulously delicious meal for all of us from a silver that Penny caught and donated to the cause.
We enjoyed a few fun nights out, although on this occasion the table your reporter shared with Penny was invaded by a Kilroy-like intruder.

We made the most of our early morning finishes to walk about the town and check out all it has to offer

When the sun came out to start baking us, I even got the chance to buy my little boy an ice cream cone at the crude, yet appropriately  named Spit Licks creamery.
I still owe another Alaskan report about the Kasilof, as well as the tragic day of salmon trolling that occurred when Isaac and I were abandoned to the exploitation of flim-flam farmers from Minnesota, but I will leave this patient readership with the image of Nike and Penny demonstrating for social media how to consume alcohol and provoke a charge from a mother moose guarding its calf.  As even stupid animals know,

These are the Days

Knife jigging for Tunettes

On September 30th, Isaac and your reporter joined Secret Skipper to head out with the rest of the fleet past Catalina Island to yank jigs all night again for the big bluefin other people keep catching.

We left Pedro at 5 pm, picked up a scoop and a half of just shoot me sardines from the hospice pen and headed out in cranky chop to set up just after dark.

It was windy so we used the 400 gram Mustad knife jigs we upgraded with larger assist hooks and 200 pound leader.  We constantly rejuvenated their luminescence with a blinding TV- advertised flashlight that is so powerful that it produces recoil, even after you freeze it in a block of ice and repeatedly drive over it in a huge pick up truck while your neighbors call the police.

We changed location constantly as we chased meter marks around in the backlight of the fleet over many square miles.  Many long range sport boats were out there with us, along with a few small boats like ours.  The zones we explored got progressively more crowded and the seas eventually flattened out quite a bit.  Several boats got fish, including the "small ones" in the 50 pound class, as well as the bigger ones over 100.

We got neither of those.  Shortly before gray light, after another exhausting night of jacking our handles, we hit a pile of promising marks and got some biters. By that time, the improving weather had allowed us to change out to 300 gram jigs. The fish barely fought back against our heavy gear and we boated three in short order.  They were bounceable with the gear we had, but we gaffed them out of our sense of ceremony.   We bled, gilled and gutted them to get them in the kill bag and buried in ice right away.  Their dainty size made our ice supply look impressive.  

They were all about 20 pounds and were the smallest bluefin we have even heard of this year. I have no action photos, as we all hooked up at once and the rods didn't bend much anyway. We were grateful we still had a few spots left for the giant ones to fill out our limits as we watched the sun come up.  We planned out finishing out the early morning by dragging the Nomads around once we had sufficient visibility to put them out 350 yards behind the boat.

The sky was cloudy and stayed that way all night and into the part of the morning we stuck around to see.  Sea temps were 67- 69, noticeably colder than what we found last week when we did the same thing for no tuna and ended up salvaging the day fishing yellows at Clemente.

The ocean grew positively glassy.  We got one hook up on the mackerel pattern Mad Mac.  We kept the boat in gear to make sure that we maximized our chances for a double hook up. Instead the fish let go after about five seconds, even though your narrator furiously reeled in the diminishing hope that it was a huge tuna charging the boat.  That proved to be the highlight of our trolling adventure, though our striping the ocean continued another three hours until about 10:30 am.

Around 9 am we stopped on some free swimming dorado we spotted well off a nice paddy.  Skipper was the only one ready with light gear and he tossed on them as we slowed down for his cast.  He got his fish to color before we could winch-monkey both jigs back into the boat, which Isaac interrupted doing to gaff Skipper's fish. The dodo was long and skinny, but mostly skinny.  We rolled  back up on the paddy that was sparkling with jumpers, but could not get any of our gummy takes to stick.

We passed off half of our remaining moribund dines to some friends in another boat.  Their bait had rolled just before ours completed that process.  They had caught a couple of nice tuna during the night and expressed their congratulations to us about catching three, until they learned how small our fish were.  At that point they kind of stood back and moved away slowly, trying awkwardly to avoid embarrassing us by looking directly into our eyes.  We did not let them see our fish, but pointed at the kill bag, bulging like the Michelin Man with its bountiful supply of ice enveloping our pygmy prey.

We had obligations that required us to leave the grounds by 11 am and we had a smooth 32 mile an hour ride home.

An exhausted Skipper meat-axed our well-chilled prey on the way home, so we all have some nice sashimi for watching football and feeling sore today.

The sky was cloudy and stayed that way all night and into the part of the morning we stuck around to see.  Sea temps were 67- 69, noticeably colder than what we found last week when we did the same thing for no tuna.

The ocean was actually very fishy, with yellowfin on some of the dolphin pods and many good bluefin results for people with more talent than we bring.  There were several spots of tuna-chasing dolphin crashing around in calming water, so it is still on out there and probably going to get better before it goes away.

We made it back to the harbor and were unpleasantly surprised that prices at the fuel dock had jumped over 20 per cent since we gassed up less than a week ago.  $7.50 per gallon may do more to keep us at home than the mediocre results we have achieved dragging these jigs at the least efficient speed that most boats can deliver.

If you are small and weak, the good news in our scouting report is that there are now bluefin available that everyone, including small children and old people, can get over the rail.  

On the way in, we dodged the newly planted lobster pots mining the harbor entrance at Pedro light.  It was a reminder of the season opener and the fact that we now all have an opportunity to load our cages with pelagic carcasses and chase bugs.  This will be more economical if we bring oars or rig sails, but the notion of lobster, bluefin and dorado in the same trip is a pretty cool (and achievable) fantasy.

Get your gear dusted off for that incredible triple fantasy while you can, because

These are the Days