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.   

Today I was ready for anything…

I was ready, the big fish were not…

I have been having some issues with the line on my Wishing Pole which I keep on the ocean’s bottom hoping to lure in a big fish.  The line on my new reel was the 35-year-old line that I had on my old reel.  It was getting fragile and I did not have enough of it left to fight a big fish if necessary, nor could I find any of the 80-pound test Tuf Line Braided Dacron line I wanted locally so I had to order it from Amazon and it took two weeks to get to me.  Well it arrived yesterday so today I loaded up my Shakespeare ATS 350 reel with it, grabbed my Shimano Saguaro rod and went fishing which is rare for me on a Saturday.  I had also added 10-feet of rope to my pier gaff.  Nothing was going to get away today.

The action was slow at my home base, the Ventura Pier, but I did manage to catch 2 Mackerel, 1 Smelt and 1 six-inch Croaker.  My now totally new Wishing Pole outfit only got a few small tugs on it, but I did catch one fish—the six-inch Croaker which swallowed a chunk of bait almost as big as it was.

I will be hitting the road for my next few outings.  On Monday, I fish Santa Barbara. 

Stay tuned.

Innovation? Yeah, I can do that!

When I fish on the Ventura Pier, I have two parking options.  One is to pay $10 for a day permit (it is as low as $2 in some other city parks) or park on the other side of Highway 101 and take the pedestrian overpass to the pier.  I, and most other fisherman, choose the second option.  This walk from the parking area to the end of the pier is about 1/2 a mile which is not real long but if you are hauling rods, reels, bait, buckets, chairs, etc., it can seem very long.  Many of the fishermen have carts that they use for the trip. 

I don’t carry as much equipment as these people do, so I keep everything in my bucket.  However, I usually carry more bait of different varieties than they do because my grandpa thought it was good to have an assortment handy and he was right about that.  So, my bucket would get very heavy after a long trek even for someone as fit as I am.

I had to look for a solution to this problem without having to leave some bait at home in the refrigerator.  Since I didn’t want to go the cart route, I searched for bait bags that I could carry over my shoulder.  Finding none specifically for bait, I switched my search to waterproof bags.  That is how I found the arteesol Waterproof Dry Bag.  This bag is recommended for kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, and other aquatic activities.  So, I thought it would be perfect for carrying bait and it could be carried like a back pack.

I opted for the 20-liter bag which only cost $11.99 and it works great.  Not only can I carry more bait, I can carry it not caring if it leaks or not.  The bag is designed to keep water out so it will also keep water in. 

This is a great option for all fisherman regardless of the length of your walk.  I like it for all these reasons but also because I can take it home and hose it down to get rid of the bait smell. 

Look mom, I caught a Pigeon!

I took my sister-in-law, Barbara, out to fish in the Pacific Ocean yesterday and since this was her first experience of fishing in the Pacific, I told her that you never know what you are going to catch when you cast your line into the water.  We had a few exciting moments, but overall, it was a pretty routine day with the exception of her catching her first ocean fish.  If she had gone with me today, however, she’d have a better understanding of what I said.

Following is a list of today’s catches.  As I was leaving the pier, a California Fish & Game employee asked if I’d take a survey and even he had a hard time fathoming such a diverse selection of sea life:

  1. Two Smelt, both went back into the ocean
  2. One big Perch, which went to a nearby fisherman
  3. One big Rock Crab which went back into the ocean
  4. One small Sand Crab which went back into the ocean
  5. One small Skate Ray which went back into the ocean
  6. One Pigeon (more on this later)

What is more, there were as many changes in the weather as there were in the sea creatures that I caught.  While this is not too unusual on the Ventura Pier, today outdid most days.  One minute it was sunny with the wind blowing to the west, the next minute it was cold and overcast with the wind blowing to the east.  When I finally left for the day, the wind had dissipated, the ocean was in a dead calm, and the fog was so thick, it felt like a day in June (June Gloom). 

As for the Pigeon, it put up the biggest fight today.  I have “caught” Seagulls and Cormorants who went after my bait, but this was my first Pigeon.  They hang out on the pier all day looking for handouts while flying over it and under it.  Well my Pigeon was flying under the pier when it hit my line.  At first I thought it was just brushing it until I realized that it had caught its wing in my line.  It tried to fly under the pier but my line kept it from doing so.  I opened the bell on my Shakespeare Contender reel to let it, perhaps, settle down on a piling but when it didn’t do that, I tried reeling it in.  After a struggle, my 30 lb test, moss green, Spider Wire went slack.  I figured the bird had worked itself free.  That was until I found a feather entangled in the line.  I guess it can still fly while missing one feather, at least  I hope so.    

Do sharks get indigestion?

My sister-in-law’s first ocean catch; a 6″ Jack Smelt

If so, the one that ate my hook, line, and 4-ounce sinker must have a whale (pun intended) of an upset stomach right now. 

My sister-in-law of 40 years, Barbara, has been visiting us for the past week and today was the day I told her that I would take her fishing with me.  She has lived most of her life in Phoenix, AZ and had never fished in the ocean before.  On the way to the pier I told her that you never know what to expect to catch when you toss your line into the Pacific, there are so many species of fish our their you could catch anything.  Well, we were on the pier for about 45 minutes when a shark hit my ocean bottom line.  I knew it was a shark because of the screaming sound of my drag as line shot out of my reel.  It was steady screech unlike the rhythmic one you hear when a ray is on your line or the short tugs of most any other fish.  As soon as I heard the noise,  I immediately knew that I was in trouble and that I needed to act fast.  

I almost didn’t take my Shakespeare ATS350 reel / Shimano Saguaro rod outfit with me today because of the lack of line on my reel; I knew I didn’t have enough on the spool to let a big fish run.  I haven’t been able to find the Tuf Line Dacron 80-pound test line that I want in my town and the spool I ordered from Amazon is taking a ridiculously long time to get here (10 days and counting).  So, I had to grab my pole before my line hit bottom and the fish pulled it into the ocean.  At that point, all I could do was tug on it and hope it would turn.  It didn’t and when I reeled in, there was nothing but part of my rigging left.  Oddly enough, the fish ate my 4-ounce sinker and my hook, leaving half of the weight’s swivel and a small part of the hook’s leader.  It must have swallowed all the rigging at once and when I pulled back on it, that was all that came out of the fish.

The rest of the day was pretty quiet with me catching three Mackerel, one of which went back into the ocean, and Barbara catching her very first ocean fish:  A six-inch Smelt

I was just happy we were not shut out.

Memory: Encanto Park, Phoenix, AZ

The massive lagoon in Encanto Park (Phoenix)

I was born in Flint, Michigan.  It was there that my grandfather taught me how to fish, but when I was seven years old, my father decided to move the family to Phoenix, AZ.  I don’t really know why because he fled the scene, his wife, and three young kids shortly after the move.  I never saw him again.

So, I was two thousand miles away from grandpa and a seven-hour drive away from the Pacific Ocean which I could only dream of seeing some day. 

My family was dirt poor, we had no car, we moved often, and sometimes we didn’t know if there was going to be a next meal or not.  Most of time, I only had one pair of shoes and most of the time they had holes in them.  Knowing that my unskilled mother would have to work all she could just to make ends meet, I rarely asked for anything that was not essential like a bicycle or a fishing pole.  So, I had to be resourceful. 

I found an abandoned bike and with the help of a friend’s father, we made it rideable.  Then, the same friend, gave me an old Zebco spin cast rod and reel in payment for helping him with his homework.  All I needed now was a can of corn because I knew where I was going to go fishing: Encanto Park, a large inner-city park that had a huge lagoon with branching waterways that were filled with Carp, Bass, Perch, and Sunfish.    

Some of my happiest pre-adolescent memories revolved around the mornings when I would get up, open a can of corn, grab my fishing rod, then jump on my bike and ride the 2 or 3 miles to the park.  I would stalk submarine size Carp and snag small Perch and Sunfish.  The latter two often went home to be a dinner for me and my mom who loved pan-fried fish.  The Carp I gave to our landlady who knew just how to cook them. 

So for many years, my time at Encanto Park kept my love for fishing alive when I didn’t have much else. 

The same park later became a meeting place for the “turned on” generation of which I became part of as I looked to meet young ladies while worrying about being shipped off to Viet Nam.  On many warm summer nights while my new friends and I sat around on the hill above the bandstand, I would tell them about all the times I’d been fishing in the lagoon.  They were surprised to learn that there was fish in it.

As I grew up, got a job, and a car, my fishing venues grew, but those stories are for other memories yet to be told.