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.   

Croaker Tsunami

From FB Post of August 8, 2019

Today’s fishing effort picked up right where it left off yesterday. I caught my first fish on my first cast. It was a Croaker, one of seventeen Croakers that I caught along with two Perch and two Smelt one of which was a foot long.

It was lucky for “Doc” and his wife who drove to Ventura all the way from Rancho Cucamonga, CA to fish on the Ventura Pier (that is a 118-mile, 3-hour trip) that I was having such a good day since the only fish they had in their buckets when I left was the fourteen that I gave them.

I threw seven fish back, so the day’s total catch was twenty-one fish which kept me busy all day.

No big fish today, though. The Smelt was the catch of the day.

Some days when I go fishing, I never want to go home

Sand Shark, not aggressive, but a great fighter.

From FB post of August 7, 2019

 Today was one of those days.

When I fish on the Ventura Pier, I only “target” two species even though I will catch anything. Those two are shark and Mackerel; today I caught both.

The day started off with a bang. I was there 20 minutes when something hit my wishing line like a ton of bricks. 20 minutes or so later, after a fierce battle, I knew what I had hooked. By that time two very experienced fishermen came over to help and as soon as my adversary hit the surface, they both yelled, “Sand Shark, a big one.” I agreed. We estimated its length to between to be about 5 feet (based on the space between the pier’s pilings) and since I had been fighting it, I figured it weighed about 75-100 pounds. Sadly, before we could get a gaff in it, it broke my 40-pound test and swam off trailing my hook and 4-ounce weight. I consider this a catch since I would have landed it if we could have put my gaff in it in time, but no matter what, it was a hell of a fight and I would have tossed it back in any way even though they are edible. Above is a picture of one of these denizens of shallow water.

After that, I caught everything, including a big and a little Skate and since I caught the little Skate on my Zebco QUANTUM XR-3 Long Stroke Fishing Reel and Quantum Lite Graphite rod (an old outfit I refer to as my “ultra-light”), it took almost as much skill to land it as the shark.

With the wind blowing like it was today, it was hard to keep my drift line in the water so I added another hook and bait to my ultra-light outfit. No sooner had it hit the water when I caught my lone Mackerel and a BIG Croaker at the SAME time. I wasn’t sure if I could land them either with that rig but I did. The Mackerel went into my bait box and I gave the Croaker to the folks who tried to help me land the shark. I caught 15 fish today..

My First Catch

Freshwater Perch

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”.