Sunday, November 5, 2023

Fall Back Baby

 Saturday afternoon your reporter and Connor Devaney joined Secret Skipper at the Island of Romance to chase our favorite aquatic insects.

We had been trying to get Connor to join us for several seasons, but this time he ran out of excuses, as both Sarah Jane and WendyJo were headed to a baby shower from which we had been cruelly  excluded.

We went to a spot Skipper and I used to fish eight years ago, but had left alone as we had phenomenal luck at an alternative venue for several seasons before our amazing stretch of good luck ran aground.

We left Cabrillo Marina in Pedro at 1:30 pm and headed out into a surprising thick fog, which stayed with us most of the way across the channel.

We had pleasant weather with a bit more wind than one would anticipate with so much fog.  Things cleared up about 2/3 of the way across as the island came into view.

We baited up with frozen sardines and fresh salmon carcasses from San Pedro Fish Market.

As we scouted the potential zones, we were joined by a roving pod of white-faced Risso's dolphins that periodically swung by our position in a lazy orbit they were making through bait schools.  

They approached us closely, but are generally shy and tended to sink out when we tried to join them.

We set out three deep (over 200), three mid-range, and four in under 100.

Our first set resulted in pegged floats from a quickening current and bought us 8 legals, mostly in the mid range, as the shallows produced an abundant supply of shorts and the deeps disappointed.

After the first set, things slowed down and we encountered an onslaught of spider crabs and lobster that were maddenly close to legal, but did not make the grade.

We relocated the deeps into the mid-range and clustered 6 rigs in a tight area that continued to gag up a couple legals per set. We watched a red 3/4 moon rise up over the mainland as we chipped away with our pulls and the current started backing off. We were one bug short of a limit for a long interval as we went through  more shorts and spiders.  We probably tossed at least 25 spiders and more than 40 shorts before we finally got our 21st legal. We had several nice bugs, no giants and a couple that had survived measurement to make the death squad. We celebrated finally capturing our last victim by breaking down gear for the ride home, which was smooth and clear.

We made it back home by 4 am, thanks to the clocks turning back an hour, so it was more like the old days of paying dues for 16 hours and barely sneaking back before morning started and other humans rose to bother us.

This time around, events and routine prevented rallying the family for an immediate feast, so I will focus a bit of this report on the process of preserving these tails for the future, which is where we are all headed.

First, we lay out our equipment to convert the living to the frozen.

Lobster tails are separated from the less prized portions with a rapid brain scramble and break away.

Thorns are removed from the tails with clippers.

We use the  antennae to extract the digestive system by insertion.

The finished tails and antennae are tastefully displayed in a floral arrangement before being taken inside for packaging.

Tails are wrapped in foil to prevent sharp edges from penetrating the vacuum seal bags into which they are placed.

The final step is vacuum sealing with our faithful Food Saver, as the sealer crunches the foil down and keeps the shell edges from penetrating the plastic.  One of the side benefits of freezing the tails in the shells is that they separate more easily if you like to split the tails and pop the  tail meat to the top for buttering and broiling in that style of serving these roaches to your guests.

They are almost as good as fresh if you process them this way, which allows you to plan ahead, or just sneak out a couple of tails when you feel like you deserve a culinary reward  because life has been so unfair to people like us.

Anyway, we had to work more like we used to do when we were younger, but it was a good lesson for Connor 's debut into what was  a fairly easy and successful outing.  It makes for a slow moving Sunday, but at least we got to take advantage of our time travel away from daylight savings and the free hour we get as compensation for the depressing arc of scarce winter sunlight before the Solstice turns the tide.

We will bank a quiet Sunday recovery and the opportunity to reserve a future date for a family gathering that will no doubt keep us informed that

These Are The Days

Monday, July 17, 2023

Nocturnal Emission

 Gentle Readers:

It has been far too long, but that is because your reporter has failed to do anything worth mentioning, unless  you count work, and who does that?

On Friday, I was summoned by Secret Skipper to travel once again to a location that I am not allowed to disclose, to yank on knife jigs all night long for the bluefin that I rarely catch.

We tried to get David or Connor to go, but they already knew that our plan was to make them stay awake all night and ceaselessly drop these jigs down on heavy gear and then reel them back up in the dark until dawn, when we surrender like vampires slinking back to our coffins before the sun scorches us.  How is that not fun?

So once again, it was just the two old men of the sea.

We met at Cabrillo right at high tide, so the ramp was almost level and easy.  The forecast was for a bunch of crappy washing-machine chop that would await us at our ultra-secret location.  That weatherman was correct.

On the way out at 7:30 pm, we stopped at Mike's bait barge to get the best sardines and mackerel that either of us have ever seen in nearly 60 years of fishing live bait.  It was slimey, quick and big. It was also unnecessary.

We punched out to sea and cleared the end of an unnamed island where the buffalo roam.

Once we did that, we noticed the glow of the fleet, like a city from space, with all of the big sport boats at the secret spot.  

We pounded along until we were among them.  Most of the major sport boats were either on station, or arriving.  The fleet was spread out over a very wide area, with little solar systems of boats orbiting one another and chasing meter marks in a vaster universe of distant, hopeful lights.

Skipper was using his 50 international and I had my sleeker Calstar rail rod with a Talica 25 spooled with 100# spectra to a hundred yards of 100# mono.  I selected a 400 gram Rip Roller, which was the largest jig I had. I had swapped out the factory hooks for the much bigger stinger hooks that Breck at Hogan's Tackle had counseled me to install, so I was confident in that department. We knew we were going to get blown around and would have a hard time getting down, so bigger seemed better.

We drove around listening to Jack FM and all of the personal injury lawyer ads.  I know those jingles by heart.  When we encountered marks, which were anywhere from 150 to 400 feet down, we would stop and drop.

Our little boat would invariably swing bow downwind and our lures would flag behind like we were trolling.  The wind was pushing us around more than the bigger boats and we had so much scope that it was hard to know if we made the depth where we metered fish that were probably miles away by the time we put our jigs in the zone

We were in touch with one of our code friends (Cody Friendman), who has been very successful on prior outings when we were fishing the same water for nothing.  He kept encouraging us by occasionally checking in to let us know that it sucked for him, too.

Your narrator was getting cranky around 4 am, when we finally observed someone in a turquoise hoodie taking a knee at the rail.  They eventually dragged what looked like a 50 pound plus tuna over the rail.

It gave us a bit of hope that after 7 hours we might get to be like them.

When it was close to the end of the night, we commiserated that this night-time arm wrestling does not seem to pay off for us. We were about to just quit while we were behind when we noticed that we had also hopelessly tangled our lines.

It came up in a big wad and I just cut the spectra above the mono on my rig to be done with it, even though it would cost me the professional splice connection from Hogans.

I was going to just heave it into the trash amidst my self-loathing, but my cheapness overcame other emotions and I ended up trying to put the mono back on with a series of really shitty Albrights that did not make me proud .   Finally, I got one to hold up and figured I could get by, but I was done with this crap.  I washed off the jig in fresh water and put it away.  Skipper did the same thing and our rods were in the rocket launchers when Cody called to let us know he had just dumped a fish and asked if we had hung one.  We told him that this whole thing was stupid and we were cold, old and done.

He asked us if we were grown men and suggested, in harsh terms, that we should drop back down for the last of the gray light and die like fisherman. 

"Tie it back on and drop it down.  There is still 15 minutes of usable darkness."

 "Hey man, you are not the boss of me.  You can't make me do this by shaming me", was what I was thinking as I got the jig out, made the connection and let it fall because he was calling me a pussy.

At about 200 feet, my spool stopped revolving.  I started to get excited and looked over at Skipper to make sure he hadn't picked me up, but he was till dropping.

"I think I just got stopped."

I started winding down into a solid hookset as the rod went bendo.  Skipper reeled in and the fight was on. The fish gave a lot of head shakes and worried me. I backed off just bit on the drag because I started thinking about that knot.  The fish kind of milled around and I was able to sneak back a lot of line.  I wound through the connection and put my drag back where I wanted it.  I decided to take a knee and rail him up.  It came up pretty steadily.  We were hoping that it was over 50 pounds.  It was at color in about 10-12 minutes and then took a hard turn for the props.  I had to banjo twang the mono over the cowling covers on the outboards to chase it.  That was scary, but then it settled into some really big pinwheels as it gradually came more into view as the darkness gave way to daylight.

When it came into full view about 30 minutes into the fight, we were alarmed, because it was six feet long and smoking that jig like a cigar.  That meant it was not sawing the line, which was a good thing.

Skipper got a gaff shot into its throat as I backed off the drag, put the rod into a holder and fumbled around for the other gaff, which I planted in its head right as it shook Skipper's gaff-shot free.  Skipper sunk the gaff right back into its eye socket and then we heaved it up.  It was not a mighty enough heave and the fish slid back.  We tried again and got it part way onto the rail, but failed to get it past the midpoint.  We finally choked up on the gaffs right to the shank of the hook and were able to just barely get it flop onto the deck with a giant thud as we fell backward  with it and tried to get out of the way.  If it had weighed  ten more pounds I do not think that we could have prevailed.

Skipper and I hugged each other like it was Pride Month and hooted like the raging old chimps we know ourselves to be.

The fish was bigger than your reporter, who had to cut the jig out of its mouth because it was so solidly hooked with both stingers. 

We think that was one of the reasons it never got a good head of steam on us.  

We could not move it and got it into the kill bag condom style.

Even after we cut off the head, it still would not fit and we needed the tail to move it around with a rope.

We iced it down and drove over to San Clemente to let it cool off while we tried for yellowtail (seals would not let us).  We caught and released a bunch of bass and big bonito.  We trolled back toward home with Nomads and stopped on many beautiful paddies that were not holding fish.

We stopped to cut it up in the lee at Catalina on the way back.

Skipper took a shot of the hook set before we hacked it free.  The jig was visibly bent from the torquing.

The ramp was again pleasantly level as we got back to Pedro almost 24 hours after departure.

We were able to scramble a pile of our friends and family over for unlimited toro and other treats. 

Connor held court at the eatery after once again not joining us for the fishing part of the trip

David and Wendy set up a great Poke' bar for our guests, who all brought tons of sides and fun beverages.

Your reporter got to clean up and hang out with sister Mary Lou at the cutting board.

We had planned on searing some too, but the Poke' bar did everyone in and we had to leave room for alcohol.

David showed everyone the way with his leadership in buffet (Hey that rhymes.)

This tuna was by far and away your reporter's personal best.  It was 66 inches long at the fork and 50 inches in girth. It taped out at 206, but that involves formulaic theory. No matter what, it qualified as the pig on a jig I have yearned for all these years.

I owe Cody a debt of gratitude for shaming me off my plan of bitterly giving up and instead getting to once again remember how lucky I am.  It is yet another reminder that

These are the Days