“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.

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. 

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. 

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.

Furled Flags? Forget Fishing!

Even the Seagull doesn’t like furled flags…

Having fished for most of the past 60 years, I know that fishermen are a superstitious lot, but I am not one of them since I don’t believe that fishing has anything to do with luck.  So, I don’t go through any particular ritual before I fish or when I am fishing.  I also do not believe in fishing “spots” in any body of water.   If the fish are out there, they can and will swim where ever they want.  However, when the flags are furled on the Ventura Pier, you may as well go home. 

Today was such a day and I almost think that all the other regulars on the pier agree.  Usually when I arrive there around 7 AM, there are already a dozen or so anglers ahead of me.  Today, there was only one.  And all the American flags were furled like the one in the picture above.

The reason I think that furled flags affect fishing on the pier has nothing to do with luck.  It has more to do with which side of the pier you have to fish on.  If the flags are furled, that means that the wind is blowing to the west and on the west side of a pier is bay, a very large one, but a bay nonetheless.  If the wind is blowing to the east, there is mostly open water as far as the eye can see.  This does not affect my Wishing Pole since that is baited, weighted, and on the bottom of the ocean, however, it can play havoc with my drift line.  Fishing into the wind is always challenging using this method since your line is blown back to the pier when facing east, since you constantly have to check it to make sure it doesn’t drift into the pilings.  So, I usually end up fishing on the bay side of the pier. 

I am not implying that fish are claustrophobic, maybe it just appears that way. Fish want to be free to roam, the larger the body of water the better. In this case, they may be just avoiding human contact. There is a large children’s playground on the west side of the pier which always attracts crowds of families and swimmers. Surfer’s Point, a well known and well used surfing location is also on the west side.

Whether my observation here is scientific, realistic, or just so much Kentucky windage, I don’t know but despite the weather conditions today, I stayed and fished hoping the wind would turn, which it did.  While facing the bay side of the pier, I caught one Mackerel.  When facing the ocean side of the pier, I caught three Mackerel.  It was a slow day, but I think this was only due to the way the flags were furled for the first few hours.

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..