Sunday, November 27, 2022

Celebrating Holy Massacre

 Gentle Readers:

On Friday, while we were still recovering from our Thanksgiving food stupor, Tommy, David, Isaac and your reporter joined Secret Skipper on a mission to see if we could extend our good luck with all  four of the Schmitt boys in action.  We had never had the full complement out for a night of hooping, but this year's fortune made the idea of filling five cards more than just a dream.  

Your narrator used up all of the turkey leftovers making sandwiches for this rare excursion about which Secret Skipper and I have fantasized for years as we have toiled away, mostly by ourselves, to throw back so many legal lobster these past few seasons, and most especially this one.

Isaac, who had been receiving our reports and invitations from the north, held the door open for  a chance to cash-in on the bold talk we engaged in during the invitational process that lured him away from  Haley's grandmother's house in LA to join his younger brothers on this often-planned-but-never-executed adventure.

Tommy and David, who only had swim practice for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day, had a 7 am 10 am pool workout and so were able to eat and then sleep on the way to Cabrillo Marina, where we would rendezvous with Skipper and Isaac.

We left Pedro at 1:30, with some fresh salmon carcasses and plans to load up on fresh sardines at the San Pedro Bait Barge, since we had used up our supply of frozen on the slaughter we have perpetrated on earlier trips so far this season.

We were disappointed to find the legendary Dreamer waiting for the seiner  Wolverine to deliver a fresh load of live bait (we only needed dead), as they scraped the boxes for the elusive fin bait that remained.

After about an hour of holding position in the wind, we watched as the Wolverine gradually tied up and helped Dreamer fill its tanks before allowing us to pull up and load our five gallon bucket with a scoop and a half of sardines for a hundred dollars.  We thanked them for their patience and decided to try a completely different island than the one that has produced limits without fail for the last 2 1/2 seasons.

We pointed into really calm seas and made the channel crossing at 30 miles an hour. David continued his nap on the velvety v-berth of backpacks and canvas to the lullaby of slapping ripples cleaved by our keel.

We had exactly enough bait to fill the bait cages, as Tommy and Isaac obeyed Skipper's instructions, which, in the tradition of old school chain of command, were delivered at knife-point.

We had a tiny slice of  a southern moon to work with, so we were optimistic that there would be sufficient darkness to cause our prey to walkabout in a parade of scavenging.  Skipper even broke out his secret bug spray, which we use to coat each stuffed bait cage with an odious slime further calculated to lure them into our little cafeterias of death from above.

We had our set completed at 4:30 pm, just as the Gale Force and Triton made their appearance at our location.  Neither of them were fishing our specific area and so once again we had the lee to ourselves.

Skipper of course wanted to start pulling hoops during daylight, as soon as the last float was away.  We kept trying to distract him long enough for night time to arrive, but we ended up "checking" on a few during what might generously be called dusk, with the orange yellow glow of the all-too-recent sunset still lighting up the island.  

We moved our 250, which was of course empty, to a more favorable looking spot and then molested a couple of the shallow drops to get them out a bit deeper.  We did note a few shorts in the shallows, which we decided to leave in so that others would see and join them, as these insects seem to love a crowd when feeding.

Isaac began to question our optimism and speculate that since we now had overstaffed our seagoing safari, that the animals might not come out to play in the way he was trying to suggest we had promised him with all of our enthusiasm for this reunion of wizards and apprentices.

We rolled out to the mid-rangers we had set in about 180 feet and started pulling about 45 minutes too early.

We had a big mountain to climb and so the tactic of a short soak the first time around was a bit of a gamble, as the first set is usually the best in terms of producing volume.  We once again debated the shop-worn topic of whether lobster leave a baited hoop once they get in (they definitely don't), as it is essential to support our impatient Skipper's My Pillow theory of premature ejection.   This nonsense is cover for the fact that Skipper simply cannot bear to leave lobster hoops on the bottom once he no longer has anything to do except pull them right back up again.

Despite all of this theory, the initial pull produced 6 legals and was the hoop of the night by a big margin.  Isaac became a believer.

We worked our way through a crawl that probably would have produced limits in two sets for all of us if we had any patience, but we kept yanking until we had 20 legal bugs on board after the first complete set.  Not bad by any standard.

The night just kept getting calmer as we watched Gale Force come over and start to pull on its set a mile or so away from us.

Isaac's doubt began to give way to cautious team spirit as he sampled the quality of our guests.  We moved through our first set with a pretty consistent harvest of mostly shorts with a few solid legals mixed in. 

 We proceeded to work through three sets, as the harvest slowed down to the point where we were pulling faster than they could cover the ground to get inside for the elevator ride up.  The shorts we were leaving inside to incite the crowd started to get in the way and fill us with false hope, so we started throwing back more of the shorts and leaving only a couple in each hoop to spread the good news.  We pulled a ratio that was probably 60/40 shorts to legals, with males constituting roughly one third of the keepers.  

At about 9:30 pm we had achieved the impossible dream of reaching   five full limits.  We averaged roughly one legal per pull.  Kipling once said "when it comes to slaughter, you will do your work on water," but I am not sure he was thinking of  the war on lobster.  
It sure makes me want to shout Gunga La Gunga. 
   We began to break down and stack the gear for Tommy's nest-of-canvas nap home at 30 mph on another silky ride to the green beacon of San Pedro light. 
 We were at the dock by 11 pm, which is the latest we have arrived home in port during this ridiculous season of abundance.  We had a big crew for a fast clean up.  All of us shook hands in the parking lot to celebrate the first time we have all been together to both make the attempt and actually pull off the dream of full limits for five.

     Isaac took a sleeping Tommy home as he followed the hibernating David and I back down to San Juan, where we knew WendyJo would be anxious to throw down for another feast after hosting her family for Thanksgiving turkey 48 hours earlier.

The full crew of boys arranged themselves with our sad pets for the mandatory Lobster Life photo as the flags of a Grateful Nation and one of our pointing dogs gave witness.

Even Fred MacMurray would be jealous of me.

After the medieval wet work was done, we had a stack of candidates for  consumption.  
We were able to muster a group of losers who had no holiday plans to come over to help us consume another kill.

Our modest crowd of consumers politely waited their turn, just as we did at the bait barge, before getting down to the Om-nom-nomery that is our sound-track for celebrations of food, friends and family.

We hope that all of you are enjoying the last vestiges of family time and the aftermath of double-down gluttony from the safety of the NFL couch, or wherever this extended weekend may have taken you. 

May these times of good fortune remain with us as long  as the Deity sees fit, as we give thanks for our circumstances and never forget that
These are the Days.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Fast Action on Big Bugs

 Saturday night Secret Skipper and I were able to persuade David to crew with us at Fantasy Island, which has just been so good to us in recent times.

We were coming off what we thought was the greatest crawl we had ever seen a couple of weeks ago and figured it would be hard to beat.

We knew we had a big moon, but it was not going to rise until 8. Darkness is getting serious these days by five thirty so we figured to have some time before any lunar grip started to influence the crawl.

We were on the heels of a hard rain, so the big ones might come out to march to the tune we were playing.

We left Pedro by 1:30 pm and had a very gentle ride over at 27 mph, with no real bumping.

We had an uneventful bait cutting and cage stuffing session and started to deploy gear by 4:30.  We found a nice set of stones in 175 feet and bracketed them on four sides in a tight square.

We spaced the 6 shallower hoops in ranges of 50 to 130 feet on some promising structure to wait for an hour of post sundown walk about. 

We noticed one of of our shallows was in too tight and went in to check it and re-set it.  When it came up, it had four shorts and a real nice legal.  We were on the board.

 While we were loitering, a really pretty Grady White 30 with a couple of knuckle-heads began maneuvering around our mid-rangers.  We were stunned when they dumped over a hoop right in the midst of our four buoys and then moved away.  It was an incredibly rude move.  We assumed that they thought we had a good spot that they just had to invade. Their hoop was lighter, their floats tinier and it just drifted around in our set.  We did not want to pull through their mess and decided to to let them pull first.  We watched them come over and try to figure out how to even get close.  They did a pretty good job of backing in among our buoys without chopping up our lines.  It was  an obvious party foul.  We asked them why they had come from a set that was close to 1,000 yards away to put one in the middle of our set.  Instead of just apologizing and getting out of there, they lamely tried to say that there were no buoys there when they made their set.  We just said that was bullshit, as we had watched them come over and set on top of our gear, which of course they knew was true, so they just got busy.  They ended up having to haul our buoy aboard and untangle their rope and light gear from our buoy before giving it back over the side.  They were scraping our other buoys as they carefully backed out and then just headed far away into the darkness, which we were certainly glad to see.  I got some pictures of them bumping our gear about, but I think that posting them would spoil our celebration of a pretty fun time.

The delay caused by their goonmanship probably helped us, because our mid-rangers had a bit more time to soak before we got busy.

We pulled on the first one and it felt heavy.  As it came up, there was a race-around of brown and an incredible haul came into view.  We had 14 bugs, 9 of which were real nice legals.  We now had ten bugs in two pulls.

We made our way through the rest of the gear and every hoop was holding big lobster, along with a lot of sub-legals, especially in the shallows.

The tank was filled with 2-3 pounders in record time. We had our limit in the seventh pull and started recovering gear before UCLA started the game they should not have lost. We took 18 pulls to complete all our activity, dump our bait and stack gear for a nice ride home. 

We threw back many legal lobster once again.  We were on the way home by 7:30 and tied up in Pedro an hour later, as the moon began to rise to the north.

Tommy and David paused for the Lobster Life photo before the cruel work of processing began.

It was as nice a grade of lobster as we ever get.

They gathered politely in the kitchen to await disassembly.

It was short, easy and stupidly fun.  We did not even get tired. I wish I could somehow bank what we returned to the sea, but life is not like that.

I have to get in one more shot of David on the best pull we have ever made in decades of doing this, because it is hard to see how it could get better. We just don't know how long this crawl we keep cashing in on is going to produce, but we do know that

These are the Days.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022


 Saturday night your narrator was once again invited by Secret Skipper to head out in search of the not-so-elusive California spiny lobster.

We were concerned that Saturday might produce a crowd, but we were buoyed by a weather forecast that called for brisk weather at our island destination.

Connor and Sarah begged out of another invite because they were throwing a Halloween party.  Tommy had been ill, needed to sleep and was forbidden by WendyJo from going on a boat (where he historically sleeps more than at any other venue). David had a big day planned into the afternoon at a pumpkin patch, so once again our potential crew was unavailable.  It would be just the two of us trying to find 14 bugs that were big enough to eat.

We skipped our usual load of live sardines and went with the frozen as we made our way to Pedro light and the gap in the breakwater.  

We were nearly intercepted by a pirate ship that was bearing down on us as we exited the Cabrillo Marina Channel.   The Captain got on a bullhorn and ordered us to hove to and surrender.

We turned down the radio and told him that if he expected us to stop, he would need to grow a pair - of outboards.  Then we saluted his vessel and gunned it to the west.

We hit a moderate amount of wind chop in the San Pedro Channel, so we were held to less than 20 mph on the way over.

Because of our relative success in the shallower sets over the last two-plus seasons, we decided to reduce the length of our two deepest 300 footers down to 100 feet by coiling and zip-tying 200 feet of it in a bundle on the counter-sunk side of the float.  It turned out the matted coil had so much buoyancy that we had to clip-in another hefty sinker get it to counter-sink so that the tag end would neither float nor drag down to the bottom.

We set three 200 footers at about 160-170 feet, one 250 footer at 189 and the 150 at about 120.

We put the other 5 at between 100 and 40 feet, so that we had a neat row of shallows and five more scattered on rocks in the mid-range.

The wind died down, but the current started flagging the countersinkers and eventually pegged the deep floats.  We got nervous about how they looked.  We tested one of the deeper hoops and found starfish in the mesh, so we were pretty sure our hoops were not lifting off the bottom.

We rolled into the shallows and started listening to college football on the radio as we waited till dark like Audrey Hepburn. Nobody came out to join us and we had the island to ourselves.

We decided to start with one of 200 footers at around 7:15 with a crescent moon to the west, just above the silhouette of the island.  When we edged up to retrieve the float, we noted that the current was no longer roaring and the floats were not pegged.

Your narrator grabbed the buoy and fed the line through the Bagram as Skipper sampled the tension with his experienced grip.  "This one has got meat.  It feels really promising."  This was welcome news that I received cautiously, as the mid-rangers had been hitting pretty near the Mendoza line, just as the deepies had performed their way completely out of the lineup and into the shallows.

The meshed hoop came into view in the lights as we saw a scurry of brown movement.  The first pull produced five legal lobster, two of which were really large specimens.

The 250 came up blank and we got four more nice legals in the next three pulls.  This brought us to nine with five pulls left in our set, rolling into the 5 shallows that have recently been the most productive depth.  We were not disappointed, as we easily made our limit in nine pulls and then turned back out to recover gear, dump bait and then strip and stack it all neatly for the ride home.

As we celebrated on our retrieval, we threw back at least 20 legals and probably three dozen shorts in the stupidest crawl to which I have borne witness in over twenty years of hoop lobstering.

We were tied up and cleaning the boat in Pedro by 10 pm and I was home in San Juan Capistrano before midnight, which is a first for me on any daylight savings time run.

I made the fishing averse twins fulfill the "lobster life" growth chart photo, despite their very limited connection to the enterprise.  It pains the old guys that the next generation continues to miss opportunities to earn and learn during these halcyon days of crustaceanal carnage.

We had mostly females, but a couple of nice males, as they good naturedly dogpiled for slaughter in the sink.

The overall size was really excellent.

They all ended up stacked in anticipation of their starring role in our big production.

We called up the Howards, the Devaneys and the rest of our dependable lobster eating crew for a Sunday feast that featured salmon, ribeye, and a pile of bugs your reporter dared our guests to try to consume.  

It remains nice enough to dine outside in shirt sleeve weather on Halloween weekend.  Even cousin Andrea, who just happened by for a quick visit on her way back home from San Diego, was pressed into the fight against leftovers.

These are days of abundance in our local marine cycle.  This is currently a very healthy fishery that is not getting stomped on for the moment.  

Gather them while you may and share what you can snatch like a grasshopper from Poseidon's open palm, cuz 

These are the Days