RESPECT your catches…

Show RESPECT for all living beings

This note, this moment, is an adjunct to my last post about my fantastic morning of fishing at Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA.  Even if you don’t fish, like the majority of the tourists who observed it, you may like it because it shows how I respect all living things, even those that I “hunt” with my rod and reel.  I can only hope that you feel the same way.

When I arrived at the wharf, there was already a man fishing off of it.  I said hello, etc. then I went about my business of catching fish.  After 20 minutes or so of him seeing me catch one fish after another, he came over and asked if I had any bait he could have.  I looked at the SEVEN lines he had out in the ocean and wondered what he was fishing with if he had no bait but I didn’t ask him why he needed any, I just gave him one of the Mackerels I had caught.  A few minutes later, after he watched me catch more  Mackerels and Calico Bass he asked me if I had a smaller hook that he could use to catch them.  I had a Mackerel in hand so I showed him the size of the fish’s mouth compared to the hook he was using while telling him  that the hook, the bait, and the fishing outfit had nothing to do with my catching fish.  His blank look told me what I had suspected from the first, the man was seemingly Developmentally Disabled.  He was high functioning but still at a loss about what I was trying to tell him.  I have a degree in Psychology and I worked in the field for over 6 years, so I know of what I speak.

Still, I gave him a pack of hooks since I have hundreds of them.  Over the next few hours, I threw a few Mackerel in his bucket so he didn’t have to ask for more bait.  Then he caught the Shovelnose Shark I mentioned in my previous post.

After a few moments of hollering about his catch, I went over to see if he needed any help, only to find a TOURIST trying to haul in  the fish.  The “fisherman” was blathering on about his “bad arm” and asking anyone around to get the crab net he had so they could land the shark.  When no one wanted to do anything and the tourist, surely out of his league, was looking stressed  I fetched my pier gaff and hauled the fish in. 

Before I brought it over the railing, I told the horde of spectators to back off, when they didn’t move, I got ticked off and told them that the fish was harmless but the gaff I was using would go right through their shoes—and foot—if they stepped on it.  That got me a lot of space.

After I brought the 20 to 30-pound shark over the railing, I had to work the gaff out of one of the fleshy parts of its head.  I have gaffed a lot of these fish, who are properly named Guitar Fish and I knew that I could get it out and that the fish would survive if I did it right, so I took my fishing towel out of my back pocket and put it over the beast while rubbing on it and telling the shark that it would be okay once I got the gaff out.  No one said a word except the “fisherman” who was carrying on about his “catch”.  I finally told him to shut the hell up and let me do what needed to be done.  The crowd concurred and he quieted down. 

It took a few minutes, but I got the gaff out with a minimal amount of blood which I sopped up with the towel.  Then I picked up the shark and made a mistake.

Instead of just putting it back in the ocean, I asked the “fisherman” what he wanted to do with it.  Was he going to keep it and eat it (they are edible) or should I throw it back?  This decision clearly confused the “fisherman” and he started talking about having to ask someone before he could decide.  I don’t know who this person was but I assumed it was his attendant who was nowhere to be seen.  So, I put the fish over the rail with the intent of returning it to the sea.  This led to a loud protestation by the “fisherman”, almost to the point of crying.  So I handed him the fish and told him he only had about 5 minutes to decide or find whoever it was he needed to ask before the fish died.  Then I went back to fishing, followed by most of the tourist who applauded me for my gentleness and respect for the shark, so I said a few words then went back to fishing, angry at myself for not putting the fish back in the ocean.   

Later, I saw the “fisherman” carrying around the clearly dead shark with seemingly no idea what to do with it.  I never did see who he was going to ask, which was probably a good thing, because he and maybe the “fisherman” would have gone over the rail with my steel-tipped shoes as propulsion.

Stearn’s Wharf I: What a MORNING!

When I moved from Phoenix, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA in 1979, Stearn’s Wharf was not open to the public.  It was closed due to a huge fire that roared through it in 1973.  It finally reopened in 1981 but by that time, the Goleta Pier was my fishing spot of choice so I never fished off the wharf before I moved to Ventura, CA in 1984. 

Over the decades since then, the wharf has been open and closed due to another fire, storms, etc. and I heard mixed reviews about the fishing prospects.  Some said it was fantastic and others said it was pathetic so today I decided to try it and see which side was telling the truth while knowing that BOTH sides could be right, depending on the weather, the skill of the fisherman, having the right outfit, and other factors.

Despite having been to the wharf’s website, I was still a little fuzzy about what it would cost me to park on it though that didn’t really matter since I was going to fish off of it for whatever it would cost me.  I knew that the wharf opened at 7 AM and that the first 1 ½ of parking was free and that after that is was $2.50 an hour.  So, I figured I’d just go in, fish for $5.00 worth of time just to see what was what.  However, when I arrived at 7:15 AM, the gate was up and the ticket machine was not functioning, so I drove in while deciding to deal with any questions when I left.        

My line was in the water for, at the most, 15 minutes when I caught my first Calico Bass.  This is fish that you do not find around my home base, the Ventura Pier, and even though it was 4 inches short of the legal limit, I was thrilled since I figured that where there was one, there would be more and I was right.  I caught 6 more Calicos in 4 hours but all were under the legal limit so ALL of them went back into the ocean..  After I caught the 5th one, I had the feeling that the same fish kept biting over and over again.  Especially since this one winked at me…

When I was not catching Calico Bass, I was catching Mackerel as fast as I could bait up and put my line in the water.  I actually lost count of how many I reeled in, but I know that I caught at least 27 of them with more after that, how many, I don’t know but I know it had to be at least 6  more, so let’s call it 33 Mackerel for the MORNING since I only fished for 4 hours.  When I first started catching them, I kept a few for bait then began to give them to other fishermen for bait but it wasn’t long before everyone had plenty of bait so I started throwing them back in while telling them to send me a halibut.  Not one of the ungrateful little buggers did as I asked them and I wound up getting no bites on my ocean bottom line.  The closest I got to a big fish was gaffing up a Shovel Nose shark for a fellow fisherman.  He’d caught it on the Mackerel I gave him.

I visited the Stearn’s Wharf Bait & Tackle to buy some salted Anchovies and was disappointed that they didn’t have a “Shut Up & Fish” t-shirt in a medium but I will check to see if they have any in stock the next time I visit the wharf because after today, I will definitely be back.   

As I was leaving, fully expecting to have to argue my way into a smaller parking fee, I was surprised that my visit would not cost me anything since the city realized that the ticket machine had been malfunctioning that morning. 

The nice lady attendant, just waved me out.

Advice from Grandpa: Patience is the best bait (this worked today)

As a 5 to 7-year-old kid (which were the years I spent fishing with grandpa or just talking about fishing with him), I wanted to catch a fish every time my bait hit the water while not understanding how unrealistic that was.  Grandpa told me more than once that “patience is the best bait” meaning that there are more times that you have to wait to catch a fish then you are actually catching fish.  It took me a while to understand this but I finally did and now, 60 years later, it is still the truth.

Today was a prime example.  I usually don’t fish on the weekends due to the tourist crowding the pier and I especially don’t fish on holiday weekends like this one, but I was feeling very restless so I threw caution to the wind and went to the Ventura Pier.  I got there later than I usually do and I was shocked to see how many people were out fishing today.  There were more anglers than tourists. 

Still, I went out to one of my favorite spots and found it open.  After two hours of no fish, though, I was ready to go in and take a rare shut out home with me.  Then I remembered what grandpa told me and instead of going in, I moved further out on the pier to the deeper end of it.  In about 20 minutes, I caught three large Mackerel and my Wishing Pole started getting a lot of attention. 

Outside of catching a $*@! # bait stealer, my Wishing Pole was very quiet despite getting that attention.  However, I wound up catching seven Mackerel on my ultra-light Fishing Pole not counting two that wriggled off the hook half way to the pier. 

Seven fish in about an hour and half made today a good day but it would have never happened had not grandpa cautioned me about impatience all those decades past. 

Advice from Grandpa: Offer a smorgasbord

Always have more than one kind of bait when you go fishing

This is not exactly how grandpa said it since he was a “little Irishman from Minnesota” as he’d always told everyone and big words were not part of his plain spoken vocabulary, but I understood what he meant when he told me that not all fish eat the same things.  So, he regularly cautioned me to take more than one type of bait when I go fishing.   In his case, he’d have night crawlers, Salmon eggs, corn, and often sweetened bread dough for catfish.

This, of course, made sense to me and over the course of the decades has always played true. 

When I fish in the Pacific Ocean I have, at a minimum, three kinds of bait: Anchovies, Mackerel, and Squid.  Sometimes I will take Blood Worms although I don’t like using live bait but I am always willing to change bait on any pole at any time.  This is what grandpa really meant.

Flexibility is a key element in fishing since there are factors that could interrupt your well laid plans for an outing which could limit your fishing options so don’t limit yourself.  The fish you want to catch may not be around so if you have only the bait they like, then you should just go home.  However, if you have a selection, you can change bait, maybe catch some other type of fish, and have a successful day.  A few weeks ago, I was fishing off the deep end of the Ventura Pier using Squid as bait and nothing was hitting on it.  So, I changed to Mackerel and I started getting hits right away.  Eventually, I hooked into a Bat Ray about two feet wide.  I didn’t land it do to faulty fishing line but it was close enough for me to gauge its width. 

If I had not switched bait, I know I would not have had a chance to even look at it.

Port Hueneme Fishing Pier

Today, I had some business that took me down to the Naval Seabee Base in Port Hueneme, CA so while I was in the town, I visited the fishing pier at Port Hueneme Beach thinking that I may try fishing there again someday. 

To say that it is quirky is an understatement. 

I have not fished there in probably 25 years so I forgot all of its eccentricities.  The biggest of these is that easily half the pier is over the beach and, no, you cannot fish for Sand Sharks there.  The water line doesn’t start until after the next biggest eccentricity, the zig zag that is maybe half way up the pier.  The Ventura Pier and the Goleta Pier both bend a little, but neither zig zag.  I can’t say that I have been on any other pier that does.

Along with these oddities is the parking:  You have to pay for the privilege in advance.  The cost is two dollars an hour and if you lose track of the time, your excursion could get pricey if you are hit with a fine.  Since there is no gated entrance or exit, I have to assume that the police come around every so often to check your parking ticket that you must display on your dashboard.  This seems like a waste of police manpower to me but then I don’t live in the town and I cannot say for sure who enforces the parking limit.  Maybe no one does.

Once you get over the water, it gets very crowded.  The amount of people fishing there today would rate as a slow day on either of the other piers I mentioned above but in Port Hueneme, it looked like they were having a convention.  The pier is only about 15 feet wide which makes the fishing even more claustrophobic.  I didn’t see any signs forbidding overhead casting but then I didn’t see anyone doing it either and I can see why not; if you tried it, most likely you’d hook an angler before a fish. 

I talked to three old boys encamped out on the end of the pier who looked like they’d been living there for a while but, as fishermen usually are, they were nice and talked fishing to me.  Their opinion was mixed regarding how good or bad the fishing is on the pier, but it seemed like it always that way among these friends.  One man did point out a Mackerel laying on a very messy bait cutting board that was much larger than the ones that I get at my home pier but then again, that was only fish I saw among those many anglers. 

There were also a lot of “fishermen” jigging for small fish.  These are the guys that are too lazy to actually fish and I do not like being around people like that especially in close quarters.

Right now, I’ll say I won’t fish there again, but then I may change my mind and try it for an hour or two. 

If nothing else, Port Hueneme Beach is a beautiful place.

Shark Bait: It’s Good to be Home

Call me Captain Ahab.  I have been in search of the white whale since last week when one got away due to old equipment that has now been replaced and though I didn’t catch a whale, the 42”, 30 to 40-pound Shovelhead shark pictured above would have defeated my efforts if I had not upgraded as I did. 

My trip to the Goleta Pier was such a disappointment, that instead of going to try Stearn’s Wharf or the Port Hueneme Pier today, I decided to stay on my home pier in Ventura.  I only caught four fish but each one was different and each one was larger than the last. 

Here they are listed in order of appearance:

  1. 6” Croaker
  2. 12” Mackerel
  3. 14” Sand Shark
  4. 42” Shovelhead Shark

Yes I did “catch” two sharks today but the first one ticked me off so much, it was all I could do to keep calm as I, hopefully, saved the little guy’s life.  More on that later.

I had been fishing off the end of the pier while I hunted sharks using squid as bait.  After a few hours, though, all I had to show for my efforts was the Croaker, the Mackerel, and the Sand Shark.  So I decided to move landward and fish in the exact same place where the shark got away last week.  Another hour passed, the wind started blowing ferociously, so my drift lining had to end, nothing was coming of it anyway except for Smelt nibbles.  Then I heard the sound that I had been longing for all week: the screeching of my drag.  Today, though, I didn’t race to my Wishing Pole since I knew I had adequate line in both length and quality to deal with what ever was taking my squid to the deeper end of the ocean. 

I picked up my outfit, looked at the line as it shot off the reel and when the fish hesitated for a moment, I pulled back to make sure the hook was set.  After that, I knew that whatever it was had no choice except to either bite through my 40-pound test leader or come to the pier. 

Once I had the fish to the surface, I knew that I would have to gaff it to get it on the pier, so I called to a neighboring fisherman for help, and as all fishermen will do, he gladly came over and took my gaff out of my bucket.  Then he held my pole as I lowered it into the ocean.  Once I had it in the shark’s tail, he reeled in my line as I lifted the shark over the railing. 

After taking a few pictures, I put the shark back into the ocean, not much worse for wear.  He would survive and hopefully my first shark would do so as well.

The little 14” d Shark that I “caught” was a lucky little thing.  I didn’t really “catch” it, though, what I caught was the line on the jig that was wrapped around it.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the red and green beads on this jig.  The line on the jig was anchored by a 2-ounce inverted pyramid weight.  Apparently this little guy somehow became entangled in the jig and broke the line it was attached to then managed to swim away.  I don’t know if it could have fed since several of the 6 hooks on the jig were embedded in it.  If it had been able to feed and grow, the line, anchored in its skin by the hooks and weight, may have eventually killed it due to the inability of it to eat as needed or tearing its skin so it would bleed then get devoured by other sea creatures.  Crazy as it may sound, I think the little guy knew that was trying to help it as I worked the hooks out of it then wrapped it in my fishing towel.  The look in its cold, reptilian eyes seemed to soften just before I put it back in the ocean where it slowly swum away into its future. 

In my opinion, people who jig like this do it because they are too stupid and lazy to fish.  The practice needs to be outlawed because of incidents like this and the fact that so many of those who do this keep what they catch, like this little guy, undersized Perch, Smelt, Mackerel, etc.  Every time I see a someone jigging, I have to resist the temptation to cut their lines and throw them into the ocean.  I mean, if we kill all the little fish, there will be no big fish.    

The man fishing next to me felt the same.  As I worked on the little shark, he said more than once that jigging “ain’t fishin’” as he described just how he wanted to deal with these lazy fishermen.

I could only shake my head in agreement and know that grandpa would feel the same..

Goleta Pier Redux

The Goleta Beach Pier has been in existence, in one form or another, since the early 1930s. 

When I first moved to Santa Barbara, CA 40 years ago it quickly became my fishing hub.  Though, today it is 1450 feet in length, when I first started fishing off of it, it was only about a third of that length.  The extension that came years later made this the best fishing spot I have ever visited.  To date, it is where I caught the biggest fish of my lifetime; a giant Bat Ray which measured 48” from wing tip to wing tip and me and the three other men who finally hauled it out of the Pacific estimated it’s weight to be in excess of 150 pounds. 

So, when I finally decided to travel the 42 miles up the coast last month to visit my old haunt, I was very excited.  On the day I went, though, the weather was cloudy, damp, and cold.  After getting soaked and chilled to the bone for two hours with only one Croaker to show for it, I called it a day and vowed to go back.  Today was that day and the weather could not have been any different.  Today, it was sunny with high clouds, a slight wind, and the temperature was a balmy 72 degrees.  Sadly, that is all the improved.

After three hours of basking in the sun, my catch totaled two fish and one of them was a handicapped Starfish that was missing one of its legs. 

Something else that was missing were all the fishermen who used to hang out on the pier.  On any given day, you’d find dozens of men, women, or groups out there looking to catch their next meal.  The Goleta Beach Pier is much thinner than the Ventura Pier, only measuring 15’ wide, so it could get crowded very fast.  Today, I had all the room in world.  At the most, there were seven people or groups fishing and three of those came and went while I was there! 

I hate to think that my old favorite fishing place has been fished out, but if I go one more time (as I plan to do) and the results are the same, then that is the only conclusion that I can come to.