“Back” to home

One of two 17″ Smelt caught today

I have not been out to the Ventura Pier, my home base, for three weeks due to a vacation at the Grand Canyon, fishing with my son in Santa Barbara, CA, a big slow down in the fishing action at my home base, and a chronic back issue that flared up the last time I was there.

My back, which I injured on the job about seven years ago, is still bothering me but I can do most things if I can deal with the aches and pains. When I go the the Ventura Pier to fish, there is a long walk involved and I have to carry all of my equipment so I have been staying away until I felt I could make the trek. Today I felt pretty good so I went out to see what was going on.

There were only a few fishermen to be seen, so I didn’t expect much action but to my surprise, after I cast my ocean bottom line (my Wishing Pole) out and then cast my over the side line (my Fishing Pole) I started getting hits on both almost immediately. I had not been fishing for more than 15 minutes when I caught the biggest Smelt that I have ever seen. It measured 17 inches in length and must have weighed around 3 pounds. Then I caught 4 medium sized Mackerel in the next 30 minutes. By that time, I knew why the fishing was so good: there was a huge school of Anchovies under the pier. Having a school of Anchovies swimming around can be good, bad, or both for a fisherman. Today, it was both.

It can be good because big fish follow them around looking for a meal and as witnessed by the big Smelt pictured above, these fish tend to be bigger than what you would normally catch because they most likely followed the school from a greater depth of the ocean. It can be bad, though, because these same fish tend to ignore your dead bait, preferring to have a live, fresh, meal instead. Still, it can be both if you get a fish who just wants to eat something, dead or alive, so they go after your bait. If there are enough of these kinds of fish around, you can be very busy for some time. Today, I stayed busy for about an hour, then the school moved on and the action died out. In the meantime, my bottom line was getting a lot of attention though all I managed to haul in was a #$*#$ bait stealer which was the biggest one of them that I have ever caught. These guys tend to be about 4 or 5 inches in length but because of their large mouths, can still swallow a chunk of bait that is almost as big as they are. The one I reeled in today, though, was nearly 8 inches in length.

I was ready to go in early after a few more hours, when I caught my second 17 inch Smelt. There was a large school class outing walking by as I was fighting the fish who hit on my ultra light rig, so after I landed it, I had the opportunity to tell the kids about the fish, the Anchovies, and how the birds that were hanging around can tell you when the fishing is going to be good.

Their teacher appreciated the time I took to talk to the kids.

One other thing about today’s outing that was unusual is that I caught all of my fish on the west side of the pier, a side I rarely fish on due to the normally prevailing winds, but with my back aching and a still wind, I wanted my back to be facing east so it could be warmed by the rising sun. If it had not been for that, I may have missed the school of Anchovies and all of the fish that I caught.

Touching Home

Prior commitments, some delays in work being done on the homestead, and an appointment to a city advisory group has kept me away from fishing most of the last few weeks but when a day opened up yesterday, I decided to go over to the Ventura Pier, my home base, for a few hours because I know I have another delay coming up. 

Since Labor Day, when the pier was rail to rail fishermen for three days, the fishing has dropped off dramatically at the pier.  I can only speculate that the area has been temporarily fished out.  Unlike Stearns Wharf up Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, CA which extends it full length straight out into the channel between the shore and the Channel Islands (see left photo above),  the Ventura Pier is in a very large bay-like area (see right photo above) and I just feel like this keeps the “restocking” of the area slow whereas there never seems to a shortage of fish around Stearns Wharf.  I have no scientific data to base this on so just call it a fisherman’s hunch, which is often more accurate than science. 

For this trip, I decided to go to the end of the pier and see if anything was happening out there.  It was a quiet day with only five fishermen (or groups of fishermen) when I arrived but the weather was perfect.  For a drift liner like me it could not have been better.  At 7:30 AM, it was already 68 degrees and did not get much warmer by the time I left 3 ½ hours later.  The wind was non-existent, and the ocean was flat and calm. 

So, I had high hopes—which did not totally pan out.  After a few hours, I had caught 5 Mackerel.  Two went into my bait bag, one went to another fisherman, and the other two went back in to grow up.  My ocean bottom line was getting a lot of attention but nothing hooked on to it.  I suspect that the fish who were stealing my bait were too small but it could also have been crabs doing the job. 

Either way, after two hours, I move half way down the pier where I caught the biggest Mackerel of the day, which I kept, and a very fat Perch, which I gave to another fisherman.  And that was it. 

But, I can’t complain, the weather was perfect.

Later that day…

Dungeness Crab

After ending my latest quest to catch something while surf fishing, I needed to stay on the Emma Wood State Beach side of town for a few hours so I could run an errand in the afternoon.  Instead of just prowling around all the interesting shops in Downtown Ventura while I waited for the time to pass, I went over to the Ventura Pier during the interim.

The weather could not have been better for the way I fish and there were surprisingly few anglers around.  I didn’t have my ultralight with me since I had not planned to use it, so I put the line on my Shakespeare ATS 350 reel & Shimano Saguaro rod outfit on the ocean bottom looking for sharks, rays, or a stray Halibut and fished over the side with my Shakespeare Contender reel & 8-foot Shimano FX 2803 rod.  It is a pretty big outfit, big enough to haul in a 5-foot Tiger Shark, but it is not really suited for drift lining.  Still, I had to use what I had on hand.

When it was time to go, my catch for the few hours I fished was 3 Mackerel, 1 Smelt, 1 Croaker, and the guy pictured above.  I am not a crab expert but apparently a passerby was, he was also a lover of crab meat. 

He told me that this is a Dungeness Crab which are very good to eat; he had eaten hundreds in his lifetime.  He also asked me if he could have this one.  I told him that I was going to let the guy go back into the ocean after I took his picture for my blog.  As if he knew what was going to happen, once the crab finished posing for the picture, he scuttled sideways to the edge of the pier and jumped in which gave all of us observers a good laugh.   

The now crab-less passerby stayed and we talked fishing.  He is from Atlanta, GA, maybe a 75-mile drive from where my sister lives.  He told me of a great place to fish which is about 4 hours from Atlanta but worth the trip. 

So, I am thinking that maybe its time to pack up my gear and pay sis a visit…  

Stearns Wharf III: Big Mac Attack!

Plenty of Big Macs today

After my amazing day yesterday, I decided to visit Stearns Wharf again to see if the fishing is really is as good as it has been the last two times I was there.  I can now say that it is since this time I caught 33 Mackerel in 4 hours. 

When I arrived at the wharf just before 7 AM, the wind was howling, and a low fog lay on the water which drenched the wharf.  Because of the wind, and the way I fish, I had to cast my line in on one side of the wharf that I had not fished off before.  At the Ventura Pier, that is the “bad” side of the pier (as I see it) but it made no difference at the wharf.  Though I didn’t catch anything on my ocean bottom pole, I had plenty of BIG Mackerel to keep me busy.  In fact, after a few hours, I stopped bottom fishing and rigged my Shakespeare Contender reel & Shimano FX 2803 rod so the line would drift since by that time the wind had abated, and the sun was shining.  I put on a larger hook and used larger chunks of salted Mackerel for bait and sure enough, I started getting even bigger fish.  They were not as large as the “submarine” Mackerel that I used to catch off the Goleta Pier, those were all 24 inches or longer, but most of the Mackerel I caught today were around 15 inches each.  I wound up keeping 14 of them for bait and threw 19 back in with instructions telling them to send me a Halibut.

They must have ignored my orders since no flat fish were seen by me today. 

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.