The Pacific and the Pandemic

One who did no practice social distancing…

I haven’t been out to the Ventura Pier since all hell broke loose because of the current worldwide pandemic even though I know fishing out there is not prohibited under California’s Marshall Law. The fishing has been way off due to the cold Pacific water anyway, but I had been checking in now and again. Today I decided to go once more since at least the weather is warming up.

Sadly, the fish must be practicing social distancing since nothing came within 6-feet of my bait and for the first time in my memory, I was totally shut out.

Nothing living being came within 6-feet me either except for this Egret with its foot-long very sharp looking beak. I tossed him a fat salted anchovy as a bribe to leave me alone. He seemed to enjoy it then flew away.

Most of the state parks in California are shut down which includes most of the coastline so surf fishing is out for me. Also, all the party boats are in dry dock for those who like to go on them. So, right now, pier fishing is my only option and since it is prohibited to travel from one county to the other except under certain circumstances, Stearns Wharf and the Goleta Pier in Santa Barbara County are off limits to me. That only leaves my home pier and as it warms up, I plan to go out at least once a week.

Even though fishing is usually thought of a singular endeavor, people do go out and fish together but these are usually friends you can trust and not strangers so we all need to get out either with buddies or on you own since one day this will all pass and keeping some semblance of normalcy now will make it easier to put things back together later.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a day in light of all that is going on than fishing in the bright sunshine because sunlight is nature’s best antiseptic.

So, fish when you can and when you know it is safe to do so. If it is not safe, then stay home, the fish, the water, and the Earth will still be there when it is safe to go out again.

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.

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.

“Are you a professional fisherman?”

Even before I started wearing my shirt, hat, and hoodie which advertise my blog, I have been asked this question. In response I always say, “More or less, I guess.” This non-response usually ends the inquiry, but if someone asks me to explain, I tell them that after 52 years of working, I have managed to set up a livable income stream which allows me to fish all that I want. I don’t mention the spare change I glean from the toe-nail fungus ads on this WordPress site.

Two days ago shortly after I started fishing on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA, a very pretty young lady asked me the question again. She had a severe accent and her English was broken but I knew what she wanted. This time, though, instead of giving her my pat response, I asked what prompted her to ask the question? This confused her at first, but through gestures, and what I could understand, she said her fiancee wanted to know but he didn’t speak any English since they were tourists from Israel. When she pointed him out, standing a few feet away, I waved him over.

Through more gestures, and between what little English they both spoke, she informed me that they had watched me get my gear ready. Both had been impressed how I went through each step in a fast, yet organised, manner; they pointed out how I had laid out all of my bait and tackle as well before starting to rig my gear. I told them that I had gone through this ritual so often that I didn’t have to think about it anymore but that didn’t seem to matter since they had watched a man, who clearly knew what he was doing set up and start doing his “job” with little wasted effort. They enjoyed seeing this. The man seemed to be unhappy about how people don’t do what they get paid for anymore and was more impressed when he realized that I am “retired”. After they watched me catch a few fish, they said their good-byes and went away happy.

It would have been too difficult to tell them that I fish in the same way I worked before being turned out by society because I am supposedly “too old” to work; I was always very organised at my job and I always worked quickly and efficiently.

For what it is worth society, I can still do this…

Neither wind, dense fog, churning seas, or screaming maniacs…

Skate Ray – Stearns Wharf

…will stay this fisherman from making his rounds.

And that is what I was up against yesterday when I paid a visit to Stearns Wharf.

I didn’t think I’d be able to get out to the ocean this week because of prior commitments but when a full day suddenly opened up yesterday, I decided to go up to the wharf, which is quickly becoming my favorite fishing venue.  There was a small craft advisory issued for the channel by the national weather service so I knew it would be wet and cold but when I finally arrived at the wharf just before 7 AM, I found a few more factors in play.

The wind was howling, the sea was churning wildly, and a screaming maniac was pacing around in one corner of the wharf apparently having a conversation with the mariner’s warning light which was not on at the time.  The wind and the wild sea is something you learn to deal with if you fish in the ocean but nut cases are not.  This person’s issue seemed to be with the light standard and nothing else but his constant howling was a distraction which I had to check on in case he decided he wanted some REAL trouble with me.  That never happened and as more and more fishermen, joggers, and tourists came around, I stopped paying attention to him since he was not bothering any of them.  I kept expecting the Harbor Patrol or the city police to show up and take the guy somewhere where he could get help but that never happened and after a few hours, I saw him wander away.

As he did, the sun broke through for a while and the fishing which had been slow until then suddenly picked up.  I caught 6 Smelts which was a surprise since I don’t fish for them but these fish were all larger than the usual ones that hang around the wharf.  The same was true about the 9 Mackerel I caught, all of which were over a foot long and all fierce fighters.  I kept 4 of the biggest for bait and released the rest.  Then, I caught something with my ocean bottom. 

It was a large Skate Ray and at 33” in length it was easily one of the biggest I have ever caught.  There were no other fishermen near me when I finally brought the ray to the surface but an Asian lady had come over when she saw me fighting the fish and clapped happily when she finally saw it.  So I asked her if she wanted to help land it.  Despite the language barrier between us, I managed, by pantomiming, to get her to understand my question.  She was thrilled when I handed her the pole and indicated that she needed to hold on tightly.  Then I got out my gaff, lowered it into the ocean, hooked the ray, and brought him onto the pier.  This got another round of clapping and dancing.  As I was unhooking the animal, a young man came over to us; he was the lady’s son who spoke better English than I do.  When I told him was happened he gave his mom a high-five, took some pictures of her and ray, and passed on my thanks for her help.

After that, I moved to the corner of the wharf where the screaming maniac had been holding court with his demons.  The wind had come up again and the ocean continued to churn but I kept catching a fish now and then and all were larger than usual. I began to wonder if the active ocean bottom had anything to do with the presence of these larger fish? I make a note of it if this happens again when I am out.

When it was time to go, I heard someone talking on his cell phone as I packed up.  Looking over at the guy, sitting not 10 feet from me, I saw that he had no phone and no one was near him.  He was talking to the wind.

You sure get a lot of odd balls on Stearns Wharf.

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.

The Old Man and the Seas hats and t-shirts are now available!

I saw a “Shut up and fish” t-shirt yesterday at the Stearns Wharf Bait and Tackle shop which I was going to buy but they were out of Mediums so I will get one the next time I fish on the wharf.

In the meantime, my blog’s hats and t-shirts are now available in all sizes and many colors.

Get yours today and go fishing!

The Old Man and the Seas T-shirts

The Old Man and the Seas Hats