Saturday, December 30, 2023

Blasting and Casting into a Brand New Year

Gentle Readers:
     The end of 2023 brought us big tides, huge waves, biting fish and a chance to get in a little bit of upland game hunting, or more accurately, hiking with a gun, as we declared an end to the War on Christmas.

     Frolicking winter bathers came into view from Young's Beach Shack, where we munched out on great food while watching some of the biggest sets of the year roll in with the king tides.  Beaches to the north took greater damage, so it was more splendid than terrifying for us softy southerners.
     The fish in the harbor bit for us, as halibut moved in tight to feed right after the morning tide peaked.  Hot bait was the white Zoom on a 1/4 ounce dart head, which Tommy rigged up below.

     Your reporter got to play the role of butt whisperer, as many fish rose to the occasion and gave me my three best days of the year, all in a row. It was like the miracle of Jesus with the loafers and fishes.          Getting to release legal flatfish in front of an audience of  surprised harbor-walkers is always fun and I have mostly cast for nothing but fresh air in the harbor this year.

The spotted bay bass even got into the act, as the action was good for about 40 minutes after each morning high tide peaked.

     On December 29, your reporter  and pointing dog Tashtego were joined by my fellow mid-westerner Patrick Neverlate at Woodlands Pheasant club, which is located just on the lucky side of the Mexican border.  It was our first try at the redbirds in over a year and it seems we were a bit rusty.
Mendel  Woodland has steadily improved the facility, which now boasts a clubhouse decorated with  some really beautiful avian taxidermy to go with enhanced food and beverage amenities and real furniture.

     Tash watched us powder every clay we tried to hit as we gained false confidence practicing with the thrower before going out to miss  many of the birds in the giant field Mendel had reserved for us.  Note the obvious expression of doubt on this dog's face after he watched us blast those discs and then walk away thinking that we were ready.

     One of the nice things about upland game hunting is you get to walk and talk, just like golfing, which is an activity in which I no longer engage.  There is no need for silence or sneaking around when strolling behind a working dog, unlike the wet misery of duck hunting or freezing in a snowdrift ambush for antlered prey.

     Patrick is from Wabash, Indiana, which is famous for making cannonballs and mink farming. He was relieved that the busload of his extended family had at long last headed back east after coming out  to stay with his family the day before Thanksgiving in order to spend Christmas in California. Patrick's family has, for generations, run the largest mink ranch west of Fort Wayne and it is quite a storied enterprise.
     Neverlate Mink Ranch has been around since the famous Indiana grave robbing scandal of 1902.  That caper involved Rufus Cantrell, who many of my readers probably remember best for trying to take advantage of the body shortage in dissection facilities for medical research institutions in the greater Indianapolis area when there was  a lucrative black market for body parts. 
       Neverlate Ranch supplies all of  the raw materials used in manufacturing the mink-pelt mud flaps that are mandated by  Wabash County regulations to be installed on every semi-trailer load of mink meat transported to Chicago through Wabash County. Some folks think this requirement is a scam perpetrated by county aldermen trying to support a strictly local interest through an unfair economic burden on interstate commerce.  Most people from Wabash do not feel that way because people in California have ruined the whole idea of wearing real fur, but road safety is still important to everyone who drives our nation's highways. 
     Neverlate Dairy also has the most sophisticated mink-milk extraction facility south of South Bend.  Patrick's encyclopedic knowledge of  the history and the nuances of the mink industry is extremely impressive. 
     I tried to chime in about the important products of my own home town of Youngstown, Ohio, where they used to make steel and car bombs when I was a kid, but the manufacturing demand for those commodities seems on the decline in America these days. Plus, they're just not as relevant or interesting as what goes on in the world of mink wrangling.
     I learned that milking these crafty critters is a black art, as you cannot just hook them up to teat vacuums like they do with cows. Minks do not have udders, nor do they have any regard for them. Milking a squirming mink requires small hands and a mind capable of conning a  wiley weasel, which is why so many milk ranch employees are ex-carnival workers. 
      The mink-milk advisory board of Indiana is constantly lobbying to curtail the lactose-intolerant California alternatives of almond milk, oat milk and woke milk, none of which should be allowed to identify as a legitimate dairy beverage.  Patrick's visiting relatives from Wabash finally left his house only after getting quite militant about how they felt about the marketing of  "California Seed Juice," as they call it.  Patrick's second cousin Bertha modeled her genuine Neverlate Mammary Lane Mink Ranch coat emblazoned on the back with the company motto (that is really more of a cross-industry challenge) -  "No mammal - No milk."
Tash toiled away in the field, as the Woodland pheasants tend to run fast and fly hard.  Tash was quartering and pointing furiously at birds that erupted at point blank range, but seemed to fly right through our flak like we were in an episode of the A team, which some of you oldsters might remember as a TV show starring George Peppard and
Mr. T cast as members of an elite team who took down feared but zany criminals. It was popular during a time when television was trying to avoid depicting death from gun violence, but knew that the audience wanted gun violence. The series featured  fully automatic gunfights with the most rounds expended per targets hit in the history of American crime shows.  The criminals tended to surrender after everything around them was damaged by spray from assault rifles that did not kill anyone.  Our pheasants were not as cowardly as the foes of the A Team, which was a marginal show, but less so than the uncontrollable margins in my blog format.
With Tash performing the Sysephean chore of locating quick birds in vast cover only to see them leave the field unharmed, Mendel finally had to come out into our field with a samurai sword.  He would point at the flushing pheasants like the Japanese gunnery officers on the doomed carriers in the movie Midway, directing his gunners to try and throw enough steel into the air to stop the dive bombers that had finally arrived in the nick of time to kill them.
     Eventually, we had enough birds to eat and photograph, but not in that order.  We headed back to the clubhouse, where  both man and dog  could find serenity while contemplating the flatness of it all.
While our birds were getting cleaned, Mendel fed us tacos and beverages at a table with more talented hunters who are regulars at the club and really nice, helpful guys with cool dogs.

     The patio dining experience was really a sublime way to bullshit away the end of a fun morning on a day when the  weather was Goldilocks-perfect from start to finish. It will start to warm up earlier in a month or two, so this is the time of the season.
     We hope to get out again, as this place just seems to keep getting better and we have yet to be told that we are not allowed back.
     Until that day of reckoning, we will hope for a Treason-free 2024; try disappointing our dog a little less during the year to come; and always keep in mind the inescapable truth that

These Are The Days

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Seasoned Greetings

 Once again, your reporter and Utah freshman Thomas Edison Schmitt joined our good friend Robert on the annual pilgrimage to  Mount Palomar, where we celebrate the Winter Solstice with mountain-top gunfire on opening day of the one-week season for the innocent  band tailed pigeon. Our cultish enthusiasm for this hunt is the invariable jumping off point for the year-end musings excreted by this publication, as we are too lazy and cheap to send out Holiday cards like thoughtful people do. 

We have become empty nesters (not counting the hounds), so Tommy was extracted from the airport  late Friday night, just in time to meet up with his buddy Jack Perez at our house at midnight before taking a quick nap prior to our 3:30 am departure.  The rigors of brother David's academic schedule back east kept him from joining in our mountainous reindeer games. 

We were on time and in place when the ridge-top and white dome of the observatory came into gradual focus as a tangerine glow crept upward to backlight them from the east.

The birds were elusive, but shots were attainable as we greeted the day and gave Tashtego something to mark and retrieve. He bounced around every time he heard distant gunfire and wanted so badly to give chase, but we avoided party fouls with other hunters. We kept him stealthy and close at hand for recovering the birds within our own fields of fire.

Tash rounded up the bounty of our flak; we all got off the mountain in good spirits; and we made it to the Palomar General store to grab ice by late morning.  For those of you who do not like semi-colons, get a colon flush, but don't expect me to be your doctor.

We decompressed at the Lake Henshaw Cafe for our traditional pagan Solstice wolf-down.  We made time for casual reflection on our good fortune with Robert, who teaches us something whenever we have adventures with him.

Then it was time for hard-nosing the highway in the Napmobile for great father-son conversation with my first-year college boy on the long trip back to civilization.

This year has been action packed for our descendants, especially the little boys. Their growth has done nothing to change their lack of seniority within our clan, but has allowed them access to their older siblings' clubhouse of adulthood.  Below is prom night at the Mission.

California State Championship swim finals brought another fun weekend as David successfully defended the state butterfly crown he has held for two years.  

The boys enjoyed playful goodbyes with their relay teammates after capping off a rewarding and ribbon-infested high school swimming experience. They came away with friendships that will stay with them after college scatters their ranks.

We got some big kids to come down for graduation as we closed the books on public school.

Summer brought the pursuit of aquatic prey and chances for good times, as Connor and David prowled the deck of the 3/4 day boat out of Dana on a trip spearheaded by Sarah Jane.

Your reporter teamed up with Secret Skipper to harvest tuna.

Piscatorial pursuits allowed us to continue our tradition of  forcing extended family and friends over for Neptunian guttony

and provide more opportunities to share times of abundance with the people we love.

Isaac  got his 100 ton Captain's license (it totally will not fit in his wallet); treated us to New England style culinary presentations of creatures we killed in California; 

and got engaged to Haley, so we are stoked.

Sarah and Connor stayed local and we got to hang out with them a lot.

Lizzy and boyfriend David were treated to some seagoing adventures with their nautical cousins Trevor and Diego on the Big Island, where they got to meet Trevor and Alex's new baby, Caspian.

Our generous friend Ernie let us stay at his fabulous place in Tahoe for an all-too-brief nuclear family get together, as sisters strolled; 

 Tommy went fishing minimalist-style in the mouth of Blackwood Creek;

and WendyJo side-eyed her children as part of the perils of family poker with Mom.

We got to spend more time with the Hounds of Love during breaks from their needy bark-a-thons, as other resident pack members have devolved into occasional visitors.

The world has not necessarily become a more wonderful place with respect to the fortunes of others this year as the dark days of winter grip our hemisphere. Peace seems out of reach for so many people with so little control over their circumstances.  Every ordinary day of American life is a Godsend of free will and luxury.

 Our family has been mostly favored by the Deity  as we process these final shortest days of the year and lean into the advance of increasing illumination in the rhythm of our lives.

Once again, it is time to listen for the refrain of those old-timey optimistic voices, as we feel our way past the forces of darkness and draw toward the light to come.

You're out of the woods.

You're out of the dark. 

You're out of the night.

Step into the sun.

Step into the light.

Happy Holidays to all who have dared to continue reading to this point.

 If you are religious like me, have a Savage Christmas, stay grateful and say a prayer to Saint Isadore of  Seville, the patron saint of punctuation. If you are without God -  Endeavor to persevere.

May all of us find a means to reflect in gratitude for a sultry dog day afternoon...,

as we remind ourselves, and those around us, that

These Are the Days.

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