NOTE: These blog postings should be read in chronological order as listed in the menu above since they tell of sequential experiences.
Even if I could have had the opportunity to name this blog, The Old Man and the Sea, I would not have done so because like the great Ernest Hemingway, I too am a writer and there is no way that I would ever imply that I am of his caliber. I write a good story but then there are masters such as he and followers such as me for reasons that can be seen clearly in our respective texts.
However, this blog title is not labeled incorrectly because of my adding an “s” to it because even though all of my saltwater fishing is confined to the Pacific Ocean. All oceans and all seas, are connected and thus makes them all one body, a body that keeps our planet blue.
I will be posting fishing stories, Grandpa’s Advice, and Memories to this blog.
So, drop in, then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
I still remember my first catch. I was fishing with my Grandpa Duffy in a body of water behind my Aunt Amy’s and Uncle Frank’s house. They had a small boat tied up to dock that sat just above the water and must have been 20 feet of so in length. It looked dangerous to me so grandpa and I fished from the shore. When my first fish hooked itself on my line, I was excited and started jumping up and down then grandpa put his hand on my head and told me to take care of business first, then I could get excited. He said if I didn’t do this, the fish might get away. This was the first bit of wisdom he passed on to me.
After I reeled in a small Perch, I asked grandpa if we were going to eat it. He said it was too small for that and that we should put it back in the water so it could grow up, then we’d catch it later. Even though this made me a little sad, I loved seeing the little thing swim away, maybe to its mommy.
I remember these events clearly as if they took place yesterday, but I was only five years old, and that was 61 years ago.
Since that time, I have caught, released, eaten, or used for bait thousands of fish, some weighing in excess of 100 pounds and some smaller than my first catch. Regardless of their size, species, or eventual fate, they all had my respect, a respect for nature, just as my grandpa showed me with that first little Perch.
Now that I have retired because society seems to think I am an “old man”, I have taken up the sport again after over a decade away from it.
This blog will tell the tales of my fishing ventures and it will pass along some of my grandfather’s sage advice, advice that is still relevant today, six decades later. Those posts will be called, “Advice From Grandpa”. I will also be posting an occasional fishing memory from times past, these will simply be labeled as “Memories”.
In Michigan, in the 1950’s, it must have been illegal to fish with more than one pole at a time, but Grandpa Duffy, who was a very law-abiding man, told me to use two poles “when I could get away with it”. What he meant by this is that if possible, fish at more than one water level at the same time because not all fish feed in the same way.
The “wishing pole” was the one that you cast out to the deepest part of the lake that you could reach and weight it so it would stay on the bottom where the biggest Catfish, Carp, and other bottom-feeders dwelt. If you caught something that you didn’t want to eat, like a giant Carp, you at least had the sport of landing it. Then you’d throw it back.
The “fishing pole” was the one that you held in your hand at all time. You could use a bobber if you liked to keep your bait off the bottom but Grandpa Duffy, and me too, liked to just use what he called “drift lines” where you cast your line out, without a weight, and let it drift so fish would think it is just a floating meal. Perch, Crappie, Sun Fish, and Bass all feed this way along with many others.
This plan holds true in the ocean as well where Sharks, Rays, Halibuts, and many other fish feed on the bottom and these tend to be bigger fish. Mackerel, Perch, Croakers, and Sea Bass, among many others prefer bait that is drifting and moving almost as if it were alive. Using a drift line means staying aware of what is going on, keeping your pole in your hands and watching for every dip in the tip of your rod. It is a very interactive way of fishing that many fishermen don’t have the patience or energy to deal with which is why I can be standing 10 feet from another fisherman catching fish after fish while they are being shut out. On many days, I show people how I fish and they still don’t catch anything because they are not interested in putting in the effort needed to fish this way.
Although I sometimes go to my local lake, Lake Casitas, and do a little freshwater fishing, most of my efforts are limited to the Pacific Ocean. I grew up in Arizona where saltwater fishing is not an option so for 20 years I fished in lakes, lagoons, rivers, and streams where there were only a limited number of species to catch (Perch, Crappie, Sun Fish, Bass, Catfish, Carp, etc.). Once I moved to California, took in the splendor of the ocean, and realized that there are unlimited types of fish to catch, I became “hooked” on saltwater fishing, so to speak…
Most of the time, I fish off what I consider my home base, the 1600 hundred-foot Ventura Pier in my hometown of Ventura, CA. I also fish in the surf and at other piers in the area such as the ones located in Goleta, CA and Port Hueneme, CA. I may even try Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, though I hear that it is not a very good fishing spot.
The Ventura Pier was first built in 1872 when it was known as the Ventura Wharf. It was mainly used as a commerce connection to accept imports of all types of goods and to export the area’s agricultural products and crude oil.
Over the years, the pier has been destroyed or damaged by storms several times (twice since I have been here) and in 1916 it was destroyed in a collision with the freighter, the Coos Bay. At one time, the pier was 1958 feet-long and was the longest pier in California.
Today the pier is no longer used commercial purposes, it is strictly a fishing pier and one of the biggest tourist attractions in our area. There are two restaurants on the land side of the pier as well.
I fish on the pier at least two or three times per week and people have come to know me as the “guy who catches all those fish” and as someone who is always willing to share fish, bait, and advice if I am asked for it. I especially love helping the kids and whenever the chance arises, I tell them about the fish I catch and that they should respect them no matter what becomes of them.
I first began posting my fish stories on my personal Facebook page but I am going to migrate all of those tales to this blog and add to it as I go along. Check in daily or sign up for updates if you’d like to follow along as I go about my activities. Even if you do not fish, I think you will enjoy the stories.
July 23, 2019 FB Post
I decided to try my hand at surf fishing today which is something I have not tried too often in the past. After two hours and no fish, I moved to the Ventura Pier where I last fished 10 years ago. I didn’t catch anything with my ocean bottom rig (my Wishing Pole) but after I moved in towards the shore, I caught six small Perch, all of who went back into the ocean, and better yet, four small Mackerel. Three were too small to keep but this guy just made the legal limit and then became bait.
From FB post of July 28, 2019
I didn’t catch quite as many fish today as I did on my last outing, but the variety was greater and the fish bigger including a Skate Ray which weighed around 20 pounds. Tomorrow I go to my old haunting grounds, the Goleta Beach Pier where I have caught hundreds of fish including a Bat Ray with a 4-foot wide wingspan.
I did have a heart-attack moment today, though. I had just outfitted and baited my Fishing pole and tossed the hook in the water while I outfitted and baited my Wishing pole. Suddenly, I heard the crack of my line guide hitting the edge of the pier. The 8-foot pole was bent double. I grabbed it and tried to pull back but the line went slack. Reeling in I saw that I had lost everything, hook, line, bait, and sinker. THEN some guy with his phone on video record asked me if I had seen the “whale”. I was about to tell him that what he saw, and what hit my line, was a shark of some sort when another guy ran up yelling about the whale next to the pier. So I guess it was a whale of some sort and had I not secured my pole, it would have been in the somewhere in the deep blue sea ala Moby Dick.
I don’t think I could have landed it anyway.
From FB post of July 29, 2019
I was at the fishing pier in Goleta, CA today at sunup (6 AM). It was still dark, very overcast, and a cold wind was blowing but I caught a good-sized Croaker, after only being there for 15 minutes. For the next 1 3/4 hours, I didn’t get anything but a few nibbles and it was too cold for that so I headed to the Ventura Pier where I caught another Croaker right away which I gave to a lady who asked for it.
Then for the next few hours, all I caught were small fish which I threw back. However, when I was packing up to leave and reeling in my wishing pole, I realized that I had a fish on the line. It turned out to be a small Skate Ray, my third of the week. I finally landed the fish and when I turned to put it on the pier, I found a crowd of about 25 people watching me. Some were videoing the “event” and others were taking pictures. Most of the group were kids so I took the time to explain what type of fish it was, a ray not a shark. and that they had been on Earth since the days of the dinosaur. Then I told them I had to make a decision. The little thing had nearly swallowed the hook the whole way so if I removed it, I knew it would die. My other choice was to snip my line as close to the hook as I could and put the fish back in the ocean where it had a chance of surviving. I asked the kids what they thought I should do and most of them told me to cut the line, which I did. Then they all watched as I put it back in the ocean. That got me a round of applause. So I tipped my hat, answered some questions, and went home.
From FB post of July 31, 2019
I hadn’t planned on going fishing today. I went to my 6:30 AM Pilates class and I was just going to putter around the house after that.
Then I got a call:
CALLER: Is this John Darling?
CALLER: This is the Pacific Ocean calling, I was wondering where you were today?
ME: I didn’t know the Pacific Ocean had a phone.
P/O: Sure I do, I also have indoor plumbing, solar heating, and other modern things.
ME: Great! What can I do for you?
P/O: You can get your lazy butt out here an fish in my back yard.
ME: Well…let me look at my schedule (knowing it was blank), I guess I COULD be there in about half an hour.
P/O: Okay, see you then. Don’t stand me up or I will send you a tsunami as a reminder.
Well, California avoided a catastrophe because I went and though I didn’t catch much, I did catch something you don’t often get on a hook. It was a medium-size crab which refused to release my Mackerel bait.
As a reward for being an unusual catch, I tossed it back into the P/O instead of a pot of boiling water.
From FB post of August 1, 2019
I had an “equable” day fishing today. I caught 6 Mackerel (and 1 Smelt). Two of the Mackerel went back into the Pacific, two went into my bait box, and two went into the bait boxes of people on either side of me who couldn’t understand why I was the only one catching fish even though I told them what they needed to do.
A day catching Mackerels, no matter what size, is a great day for a fisherman. They are almost pure muscle and swim at a speed of 5.5 KM per second. They usually hit your line going full speed so you have to have secured your pole or you could lose it. When I know they are around, my pole never leaves my hands when there is bait in the water.
From FB post of August 2, 2019
My slow fishing day (2 Mackerel, 2 Smelt, and 1 #&% bait stealer) got off to an auspicious start when I arrived at the Ventura Pier at 6:45 AM only to find it still closed even though it is supposed to be open at 6:30 AM. There were anglers and tourists waiting for someone from the City of Ventura to come and open the gate. A workman finally strolled in around 7:10 to do the job. The anglers were not really upset but three tourists from Colorado were pretty put out. At the time, it was a bright sunny day and people were out and about early. However, that did not last.
Around 8 AM a huge fog bank rolled in. The featured picture above was taken around 10 AM. By that time, the pier did not seem to be attached to the land. It was surreal hearing the sounds of Highway 101, an occasional train or a siren without seeing exactly where the sound was coming from.