The Return of the King

The Big Smelt continue to bite

In an unusual occurrence, my part of SoCal experienced King Tides in back-to-back months.

Last month I went out to the Ventura Pier to see if the fishing picked up despite the cold Pacific Ocean water and for the most part the catch was better although still below what it is like when the water heats up. So, this month, I thought I would try fishing on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA to gauge the King Tide’s effect in that part of the ocean. It didn’t take long to find out the answer.

As I headed north, the weather began to degrade as a heavy wet fog moved in. By the time I reached the wharf, everything was soaking wet and with the temperature was hovering around 40 degrees with a slight wind blowing that made it feel colder, I almost stayed in my warm car. Even though I was prepared for the weather, it was still a challenge to stay out in it. After an hour and half of no fish–or even nibbles–I decided to pack it in and head to the Ventura Pier. By the time I got there, the temperature was around 55 degrees and the sun was shining. For the next 2 and half hours, the fishing was slow, but better than it was up north and I ended up with several big Smelt which I gave to another fisherman. I have given him a number of Smelt in the past so this time, I asked him how he prepared this type of fish. He said he scaled them, filleted them, then marinated them in a mixture of vinegar and garlic powder. I may just try that the next time I get a bag full.

The ocean temperature should start rising in March and continue to warm up through September. I will still being going out to see how they are biting but I won’t be posting about these trips unless something unusual occurs.

Of Kings and Legends

15-inch Smelt

As I promised in my last post, I went out to the Ventura Pier to fish during the first day of a King Tide event that is coming to our shores. Legend has it that fishing is always betters during these very high tide times so I thought I would check the veracity of this even though the fishing has been way off due to the cold Pacific water.

I fished from 7 AM to 10 AM which was 1 1/2 hours before high tide and 1 1/2 hours after it. I found that while the legend does seem to have some truth to it, I know I could have also been just lucky.

My total catch was four large Smelt each over a foot in length with the one pictured being the largest. While there are days I would call this a bad day, compared to my last few outings, this was a good day and since I caught all of the fish on my ultra-ultra light rig that weighs less than a pound, it was battle to land them. I also hooked two more that got away.

So, I am thinking about going out again tomorrow since that is the day the King Tides will be the highest but it will depend on the weather. Today I could not have dialed up a nicer day for fishing. It was 65 degrees, virtually no wind until the time I left, and the ocean was flat and calm. We had a squall blow through the area yesterday which cleaned the air as well.

What I am looking forward to now is the next King Tide which will occur next month when the water should be a few degrees warmer.

King Tides and Cold Water

Earth’s ocean tides rise and fall in relation to how strong the Moon’s gravitational pull effects the planet at any given time. When it is strong, tides rise, when it is weak, tides recede. This high and low tide change happens twice a day and since the Earth moves in the same orbit while the Moon and the Sun are stationary these movements are predictable and we can create Tide Charts which are a help to mariners and fishermen alike.

A few times each year, the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon creates a stronger than usual gravitational force and this force in turn causes what are known as King Tides. A King Tide coupled with high winds can cause severe flooding in low lying areas, they can damage boats, marinas, piers, and anything else along the ocean shore. The picture above is an actual shot of King Tide waves being pushed by high winds (note the American flag sticking straight out) that hit the Ventura Pier a few years ago. The damage to the structure was so bad that it had to be closed for months in order for repairs to be made.

This coming Friday, January 10, 2020, a three day King Tide event will start and I will be out on the pier fishing as it comes in. Winds are predicted to be light and variable so I don’t expect any real issues because of the event but you never know with the ever changing conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

The reason I will be out there braving the elements is because I have always heard that the fishing during a King Tide event is exceptional no matter how cold the ocean is at the time. There is no real scientific data to back this claim up so it may just be wishful thinking on the part of us fishermen but the tides have been shown to effect the movements of sea creatures so there may be some truth in this.

A King Tide event is not something that just happens one day and is gone the next. Tides start building days before peak tides as you can see in this Tide Chart. Today, January 7, 2020, the peak tide will be 5.6 feet, four days ago it was 4.2 feet and by Friday, it will be at 6.5 feet. That is a rise of 2.3 feet in one week. That may not sound like much, but scientists have shown that even the few inches the oceans have risen due to the melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers, which is caused by Climate Change, has caused major changes to seashores all over the planet.

Locally, the Surfrider Foundation will taking before and after pictures of event to illustrate what the long term affect of Climate Change will have on Earth.

After my adventure I will report what fishing was like during this event–unless I get swept up in it, that is.

Baby it is cold outside…

Pacific Ocean temperatures off the Ventura shoreline

When we who live along the southern and central California coast start griping about the “cold” weather, we are usually referring to temperatures in the lower 40’s and, God forbid, the 30’s. We know that inland temperatures in the desert can get bitterly cold but we don’t live there for a variety of reasons of which that is one.

To a fisherman, though, weather is not usually an issue since you can fish in a driving rainstorm or fish on the ice in sub-zero temperatures, but if you fish the Pacific in the area I do, ocean temperatures can make all the difference in the world. As you can see in the chart above, the Pacific Ocean temperatures have fallen steadily since its highs in September and October and I can testify first hand that the fishing activity has fallen off along with the temperature.

In 1997, we had a Major El Nino event that brought very warm water to our coast and a lot of rain as well. It also brought fish, lots of fish, to our coast. Some of the fish were species normally seen around Baja California so this was a real bonanza for the fishing boat business.

While we can always use rain here and I’d love to see a spike in the fishing activity, there are no El Nino events in the forecast so I will have to just tough it out until the ocean temperatures rise. In the meantime, I have a backlog of memories to write and more advice from my beloved grandfather, so don’t go away even if it seems like I have stopped adding to my blog.

I do plan to fish at least once a week and I am even toying with the idea of doing some freshwater fishing. If anything extraordinary happens during these trips, I will post updates here.

Until then, stay warm and keep fishing.

Diary of a Gypsy Fisherman

The title of this post was originally going to be the title of my blog but while searching available URL’s, I just could not find one that was suitable—or memorable—so I looked for my secondary choice and discovered that theoldmanandtheseas.com was available.  Subsequently I registered it and have fished happily ever after even though when people see my t-shirts, hats, and hoodies, they ask me if there is a typo on them. 

At least the name is getting their attention and affords me the opportunity to tell them about my blog.

The reason I wanted the original name was due to the fact that I would be wandering up and down the California coast fishing at a variety of places like I did today when I combined three of my interests into one outing. 

I love to fish, write, and ride my old Schwinn Ranger bike so I had an idea of how I could do all of them in one day.  As you can see by the pictures, I attached my ultra-light rig to my bike, loaded my backpack with a hat, tackle, a filet knife, and bait, then headed over to Marina Park Beach for the first stop in my wandering.  I rode my bike to this park last week and scouted the area since I was told that it was a good place to go surf-fishing and though I have been to this park many times in the past, I have never fished on the beach there and I totally forgot that there was a little fishing dock located behind its massive breakwater.  When I visited the park last week, I talked to a couple of people who were fishing on the dock and they told me that while they don’t catch a lot of fish there, you can catch some pretty big Perch if you are lucky.  I guess I wasn’t lucky today because I didn’t even get a nibble and the area seemed pretty dead.  The water was still and crystal clear but there were no fish to be seen much less caught but I still enjoyed trying out the new area.  The next time I go to the park, I will drive and take my surf fishing rig with me. 

So, I packed up and headed for the Ventura Pier which is about two miles up the road from Marina Park Beach.  Along the way, I stopped briefly at a breakwater to try my luck but after dodging waves for 20 minutes, I decided to move on before the Pacific plucked me off of it.

When I got to the pier, the wind was calm and the ocean was flat as a billiard table.  I unpacked and fished for about an hour right around the middle of the pier but when my efforts didn’t yield any catches, I moved out to near the very end of it and was rewarded with a mid-sized Mackerel within the first 10 minutes.  Over the next hour, I caught another Mackerel and two huge Smelt that were both bigger than the Mackerels.  The first three fish went back into the Pacific but I gave the last Smelt to a neighboring fisherman who asked for it. 

I was going to stay longer but the wind started to pick up which made drift lining difficult and reminded me that the weather service stated that there was a slight chance of a recurrence of the Santa Ana winds that blew through the area over the last few days.  The last thing you want to do is be out biking and get caught in sustained winds of 20 to 30 MPH with gusts up to 65 MPH. 

When I got home, my odometer read 14.03 miles for the trip, which is about mid-range for me, so I got in a decent ride, visited two new places, caught some fish, and now I have written about it all which makes it a very good day all around. 

Pier fishing is for the birds

In the 60 years since my grandfather taught me how to fish, I have fished in almost every way that you can fish (the exception being fly fishing). 

I have fished freshwater in boats, on the shore, and from fishing docks.  I have fished saltwater in boats, on the shore, and from piers.  In all of these venues I never encountered the “problems” with birds like you have when pier fishing in whatever ocean you happen to be near.  Freshwater fishing never has a problem with birds and ocean fishing never has a problem with them either unless you are on a “party boat” that is releasing offal to attract fish.  This also attracts Sea Gulls but in that arena, they usually don’t bother the fishermen, they want the offal, not your bait.   

Don’t get me wrong, in most instances I love having seabirds around because if they are out over the water, they tell you that there are fish in the area and where you can find them.  Pelicans are especially good at this which is why I love them.  When people come up and talk to me about fishing while I am on the pier, I often mention the birds and how they can tell you if the day will be a good one or a bad one for fishing.  Most people, especially fishermen, don’t think this way. 

Following is a short list of birdlife I see most often on piers followed by their pluses and minuses.  Keep in mind that I love them all though some can be very pesky and one species can totally ruin a day of fishing.

  • Pelicans – As I said above, I love Pelicans.  They are an unwieldy looking bird whose beaks are almost as long as their bodies yet when in flight they look in perfect symmetry, everything about them is as it should be.  When a flock of them come in flying just above water as they hunt for schools of fish, you wonder how such a ponderous looking creature can fly with such precision.  When they spot their prey and begin striking the water one after another, you have to cheer for them.  You also know exactly where the fish are.
  • Sea Gulls…  – …are always a nuisance.  When they are not trying to steal your catch, they are sneaking up behind you trying to steal your bait.  They don’t have much luck with me because I always keep my bait in sealed containers and I always secure my catch (unless distracted by the landing of a 5-foot Tiger Shark).  Still, you have to watch for them because they are fearless and may try to pull the cover off of your bait (I have seen this happen).  They can really distract you from fishing.  Still, when they are acting like real seabirds, they can hunt for fish like Pelicans do, so they tell you where the fish are located. 
  • Pigeons While not a seabird they are usually the most abundant of feathered friends on piers.  Though they will snatch up an unattended piece of bait, they are not aggressive about it and most of the time they just get underfoot.  The problem with them is they also get under the pier, in flight.  With so many of them around, it is not unusual to see one of them accidentally strike a line.  In an earlier blog post I detail how I “caught” one.
  • Western Jackdaws I am not an ornithologist so I am guessing what this species is.  They look like shrunken crows and I found out that they are related to crows; they can also be as pesky as a Sea Gull.  They are cute little things and you almost want to feed them but feeding wild animals is never a good idea because you don’t want any of them to become dependent on a human provided food supply.  Unlike pigeons who stroll about and get underfoot, these little birds hop all over the pier looking for anything they can steal for a meal.  I usually have a small supply of cut bait ready to go so I can get my line in the water right away after losing a piece of it to nibblers.  I have taken to putting a cloth over these bits of bait just because of these birds.  Unlike Sea Gulls they are so small and quick and there is no way you can monitor your bait to keep them from stealing it.    
  • Cormorants These simply amazing birds “fly” underwater just a easily as they do while in the air.  When they are around, you know there are fish around too.  They can also very easily ruin a day of fishing.  Unlike all the previous birds, you rarely see a Cormorant on the pier, they are birds of the water and that is where they prefer to be.  The problem with them is they not only will try to steal your catch as you are reeling it in, they ALSO will go after your bait and if you use a drift line like I do, that can be a huge problem because the last thing you want to do is catch one of these birds.  What’s more is that you don’t always see them when you cast out even if you are looking for them.  They can be submerged, see your bait hit the water and be after it with astonishing speed.  Last week there were several of them lurking about the pier I was on and no matter what I did, I could not dodge them.  I finally gave up and went in early.    

Stearns Wharf II: Shark, bass, and mackerel, oh my!

After my last fishing adventure at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA where I caught 40 fish in 4 hours, I just had to go back to see if that was the norm or if I had just caught the area on a good day.  So, I went back today and though I only caught 14 fish in about 3 ½ hours, the Tiger Shark’s size and weight made up for a lot of that time.

Because of the wharf’s restriction on overhead casting, I took my Shakespeare Contender reel & 8-foot Shimano FX 2803 rod since I knew I could cast some distance with it even underhanded.  It is equipped with moss green 30lb test Spider Wire line so essentially the rig is better suited for freshwater but then I like to fish with light gear, so the fish have a chance.  That is why, in my mind, it is called sport fishing. 

I arrived at the wharf around 7 AM and was surprised that there were no other fishermen out there.  After about ½ hour of fishing as the Shakespeare’s line sat on the ocean floor with a large hook baited with a big chunk of Mackerel, I started catching fish on my ultra-light rig.  I didn’t have the continuous action like I had last week, but I stayed busy, eventually catching 7 Mackerel and 3 Calico Bass; but more on them later.

A local resident, with his kids and mother and father, saw me catch my biggest Mackerel and, as I do with all kids, I showed them the fish and told them about it. That is when the father told me that I had a fish on my other line.  I turned to see my Shimano FX 2803 bent nearly in half while the drag on my Shakespeare Contender reel hummed as it let out line.  Once more I thanked my grandfather for telling me repeatedly to always secure my pole.  If I had not done that, my rig would have been lost.  So, I put the Mackerel down and took my rig out of its holder.  That is when I knew I had a VERY big fish. 

The way that the fish was fighting, I knew it was a shark as opposed to a Bat Ray or Halibut, the only question was what kind of shark did I have on the line?  It pulled me down from one side of wharf to another which was good for me since that side was in open water away from the wharf’s pilings.  As I battled it, a large group of tourists gathered and several people asked me what I had caught, I could only tell them that I thought it was a shark and that if my line held, we would know what kind it was.  At first, I thought it might be a Shovel nose shark but the more I fought it, the more I thought that is was some other species.  When the Tiger Shark finally broke the surface, people got real excited, including me.  One lady was recording the battle, and everyone was taking pictures of the fish.  Fortunately, the local man had a boat in the harbor and was an experienced fisherman, so I asked him to get my gaff out of my bucket.  He had never used a pier gaff before, so he took the pole while I manned the gaff.  He was amazed at how strong the shark was.  We both figured it to be well over 5-foot-long and in the 150+ pound weight range. 

After a few tries, I managed to hook the shark’s tail and at that point, the beast was played out.  I fully intended to bring the shark on to the wharf but once it left the buoyancy of the ocean water, I realized just how much it must have weighed.  Even with the help of the local fisherman, we could barely budge it and since I was going to put it back in the ocean anyway, I decided to just cut my line and let it go after I took a few pictures.  I managed to work the gaff free then took out my knife while looking at the great fish that I had fought for the last 20 minutes or so, it looked totally exhausted as was I.  I told all the tourists to take their pictures and when they had finished, I cut my line to much applause from the audience who watched it swim away. 

Meanwhile, a Seagull ate the large Mackerel I caught and put down while I was fighting the Tiger Shark which I thought was tacky.  For the rest of the morning, when it came near me, I scared the hell out of it by yelling “Thanksgiving” at it which made the tourists think I was insane and got a few laughs.

My last catch of the day was a Calico Bass which I was sure would be my dinner today but it measured 13 inches long, one-inch shy of the legal limit. 

Still, it put up a hell of a fight on my ultra-light just like the shark did on my heavier gear.