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. 

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.

Drift Lining

My time to get out to the pier, the wharf, the shore, and a planned boat excursion, is going to be limited for a while due to prior commitments so I thought I’d explain what I mean when I mentioned in many of my posts that I fish with a drift line.  The concept is simple but actually fishing this way can be a challenge.

As I mentioned in an early blog post, my grandpa always advised me to take a fishing pole and what he called a “wishing pole” with me when I had a chance to do so.  The wishing pole is one that I would weight down, bait up, and cast out to the deepest part of the lake, ocean, or river that I could reach.  Then I’d set my drag so it would alert me when a fish is on the line.  This pole would be used to fish for all the bottom feeding fish that tended to be larger and put up a better fight than fish who do not feed this way.  Submarine size Carp and Catfish are examples of freshwater bottom feeders while Rays and Sharks are examples of saltwater bottom feeders.    

Going after bottom feeders with your wishing pole is simple and easy to do and I think it is the way most people fish even when they use live bait.  However, going after the rest of the fish out there with your fishing pole rigged as a drift line takes more effort than simply setting your drag.  For one thing, you should never set your fishing pole when practicing this method especially when there are hard hitting fish like Mackerel and Bass in the water. 

A drift line is simply a line with no weights or bobber on it.  You can have multiple hooks if you want a greater challenge like catching three Mackerel at a time, which I have done many times.  Your fishing pole should be as light weight as you dare use and the lighter the better, I say, since I like a good fight and I like to give the fish a chance.  I always use my old ultra-light rig when I drift line so there is a 50-50 chance that I will either haul in my catch or it will get away.  Since I only fish for sport, this doesn’t matter to me.   

Whatever you use, it should be easy to cast with only the weight of the bait on it since no lead weights are used in this method.  Using a bobber is close to drift lining but it is not the same since your bait is being held in place in the water, at one level.  Though your line can drift anyway it wants, it cannot drift down which is key element in drift lining.

Drift lining is used to fish for all the rest of the fish out there besides bottom feeders though you can occasionally hook one.  In drift lining, you cast your bait into the water and let it drift where ever it may go.  As it sinks to the bottom, your bait can attract any fish at an water level.  In the ocean, you often have Smelt sitting just below the surface, with Mackerel beneath or mixed in with them.  As your bait drifts lower, it can attract Perch and Bass.  If it hits bottom and you are content to let it sit there for a while, you can pick up a bottom feeder but since you are using light tackle, you have to hope it is not too big.

One day while I was fishing at Stearns Wharf, the Smelt that are usually around had moved off to another area which allowed me to catch 33 Mackerel in a few hours.  One time, my bait made it through the horde of Mackerel that were lurking about and my line drifted closed to the pilings just beneath my feet.  Suddenly, I got a hit that I knew was not that of a Mackerel, it was stronger, but slower and after a pretty fierce battle, I reeled in a nice size Calico Bass.  Until that time, I didn’t know there were bass under the wharf.  So I started fishing for them.  Six more times my bait made it through the school of Mackerel and I ended up with 7 Calico Bass on the day.  A total of 40 fish in about 3 ½ hours.  I was very busy and I owe it all to the drift lining method.

As I said at the start, though, fishing this way can be a real challenge due to the following reasons:

  • First, you have to be aware of where your line is at all times, especially if fishing in a area where others are also fishing since you do not want to cross their lines.  This means paying close attention to what you are doing. 
  • Second, since you should be using the lightest tackle you dare use, you will feel every little nibble and the temptation will be to yank your line up on each one but as I wrote about in a previous blog, grandpa always said that patience is the best bait.  This is what he was referring to.  If you are an experienced fisherman, you most likely know a hit from a nibble but when drift lining, the nibbles can multiply greatly so you have to be patient.  When a real hit occurs you’ll know.  The same is even truer for beginning fisherman and it is something you will learn over time so don’t give up on the method.
  • Third, I always recommend that you keep your pole in your hands at all times when drift lining and you have bait in the water.  The reason is that since you are using light tackle, it would not be that much of a challenge for a good-sized Calico Bass or speeding Mackerel to pull your rig into the water and since you are looking for hits as soon as they happen, you need to be ready to set your hook at any time which you can’t do if you are not holding your pole in your hands.
  • Fourth, since your bait starts at the surface and drifts downward, it will eventually hit bottom where you can leave it if you wish, but since you may have another pole baited for bottom feeders it is a good idea to keep your drift line moving which means a full day of reeling in and casting out.  I like this because it keeps me busy and because I like to have bait in the water at all levels of water as much as possible.
  • Fifth, wind can really affect fishing this way.  When the wind is blowing so hard that you are having trouble keeping your bait in the water, you can add a small weight to compensate for it.  If you choose not to use one, you have to be just that much more vigilant about watching where your line is at any given time.

So, that is the drift lining method.  I have caught thousands of fish this way even when others around me were being shut out.  Though I have told and shown many fishermen this method, I have not seen that many actually use it because of the attention needed to be successful when using this method.

Memory: Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake, Arizona

As I mentioned in my last Memory posting (Encanto Park) after I found a good job, bought a car, and could afford to travel, I began to fish in many of the lakes around and outside of the Phoenix area. 

Lake Pleasant was one of the newer lakes and the closest to where I lived.  While I caught many nice Striped Bass, Crappie, and Perch in the lake, it was altogether uninspiring as far as looks go.  It is essentially a big man-made puddle of water. 

I also fished in Apache Lake, Roosevelt Lake, and Saguaro Lake which are all nice lakes where you can catch your limit of whatever freshwater fish on any given day, but for pure, awesome beauty, plus fish, you cannot beat Canyon Lake .

Though I cannot swim a stroke (something about the rocks in my head pulling me down), as often as I could afford it, I’d rent a boat at the marina and go out just to explore the lake.  It is called Canyon Lake for a reason; the lake is in a canyon with waterways that branch off in all directions.  Many of these waterways lead to a dead end only accessible by small boats where you can sit in your craft and stare up at the soaring cliffs that tower hundreds of feet above the surface of the lake.  These spurs were usually very isolated, so I’d sometimes forget about fishing and just lay back in my boat and look up at the true magnificence of nature.  It was in these moments that I often wondered if there really was a god who made this place and put me there to observe his/her handiwork.  If so, I hope him/her knows that I was impressed.

During one of these lazy fishing trips, I heard the drag on my new Zebco reel (and rod) fiercely playing out.  Picking it up, I realized that my gear may just be over matched since I could not, at first, turn the fish that had taken my bait.  After 15 minutes or so of a back and forth struggle, the fish started to give in.  When I finally got the beast up to the side of my small skiff, I realized that it was a “Submarine” Carp and I knew that I could not get it in the boat and that I would eventually release it but, still, the massive size of the fish made me want others to see it and to get some idea of how big it was.  So, like Hemingway’s “Old Man And The Sea”, I hooked the fish up to my stringer and slowly, in deference to the Carp, made my way back to the marina. 

When I pulled up to the dock, I told the attendant what was up and that I’d like to weigh and measure the fish.  He took one look at it and agreed heartily.  So, after we tied up, we hauled the fish into the marina where there was a scale.  The Carp weighed 62 pounds and measured 44 inches in length, both statistics this attendant had never seen before. 

When we were finished, we carried the fish out to the dock and released it.  The attendant thought I was crazy, but I kept thinking about my grandpa and what he would do which was the same as I was doing.

Decades later, when I was a frustrated writer, ready to give up on the craft, I wrote a story about this incident called “Just Another Fish Story” which has never been published but did win a Blue Ribbon at the Ventura County Fair.  That ribbon, along with a few more, started me writing again after a decade or so of neglect of my craft.

So, fishing rebooted my desire to write and thus created this blog.

What goes around comes around…

Fishing on the edge of the world…

When I surf fish in the Pacific Ocean , I always say that I am fishing on the edge of the world. If you lake fish, you know the boundaries of the lake and most likely you know the depth of it as well. When you river or creek fish, you know the boundaries of those waterways and you know that their water will eventually end up somewhere, maybe even in the Pacific Ocean .

Surf fishing in a ocean is different. Though you can look at a map or a globe and see where all the water is located on the planet, you don’t really understand the enormity of the oceans until you stand at their edges while watching the endless waves come rushing at you. It is a humbling feeling for a man as you hold your rod and reel in hand hoping that the water will give up some of its bounty while you dance with the waves trying to decide if you are getting a bite or if the expanse is just playing tricks on you.

That was how I felt this morning while fishing at Emma Wood State Beach in Ventura, CA. This was only my fourth attempt as surf fishing and, including today, I have yet to catch anything while fishing this way even though I always catch something any other way be it in a boat, on a pier, or at lakeside or riverside.

If the past few attempts at this sport, I went out trying to snare some Surfperch or Corbina even though I usually don’t angle for that type of fish. Both times I gave up after a few hours of trying to get the trick of fishing in the constantly moving sea which is not the same a river fishing where you stand on the banks and watch the water go by.

Today, though, I wanted to try a new tack, I decided to try to fish on the ocean side of the surf and not directly in it. So, I took my Shakespeare ATS 350 reel & 9-foot Shimano Saguaro rod with me and cast over the incoming surf. My line was baited with a 4-ounce weight, a large hook, and a big chunk of either Squid or Mackerel and still the ocean tossed it all about as if it were nothing. My bait was often missing or torn up when I reeled in but if a fish was after it or not, I could not say. So, again, I left after a few hours with nothing to show for my efforts.

This does not mean that I am giving up on surf fishing, I am just going to try another new tack the next time. Today, the tide was coming in for the hours I was on the beach but since I am not really interested in fish that come and go with the tide, I will go out on a day when the tide is going out and see how that works.

I will keep you posted.

Some days you just don’t feel like…

One of the variety caught today

…fishing.

I am sure you didn’t expect to see that word next and you would have a hard time convincing my wife and friends that this statement can be attributed to me, yet it is nonetheless true. Today was one of those days.

I can’t explain why I felt this way today. Maybe it was because I had “stuff” to do but when you are retired, “stuff” can always be done later. Maybe it was because I didn’t like the wind forecast; blowing as it was predicted would make fishing difficult. Or maybe I realized that I won’t have a day like I did the last time I went out: 40 fish caught in 4 hours.

Still, I went fishing.

The wind was as bad as predicted. The flags were nearly straight out all day. at my home base, the Ventura Pier, and though I only stayed for half as long as usual. I still caught four fish, all different species, but all small so the Skate, Perch, Croaker, and Smelt all went back into the Pacific.

I am planning an outing which will be an experiment that will combine three of my loves: Fishing, writing, and biking. This will be a first time for me so I don’t know how it will work out or if I will catch any fish, so stay tuned for the results.

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.