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.

The ultra ultra-lite

Abu Garcia Silver Max 10 – 6.4 oz.

First, I have stated many times in my blog that I like to give the fish I catch a fighting chance and if I lose one then the fish wins. This doesn’t bother me unless it is due to faulty or worn out equipment because that is on me, not the fish.

Second, when I take someone along with me on a fishing outing, like my son or sister-in-law, and they do not have their own gear I let them use my old ultra-lite rig (Quantum Lite Long Stroke reel & Quantum Lite Graphite rod) because it only has a 6-foot pole and the reel is easy to use even for inexperienced fishermen. It is also very dependable with a strong retrieve. I rarely lose a fish while using it.

Third, when I let a guest use my ultra-lite, I use an old mid-sized Penn 990 SS reel & St. Croix rod rig. I don’t have any data on this rig because it is at least 30 years old and I bought it used. The reel has always had issues.

So, when my son and I went fishing on Black Friday (who needs a crowded mall when you have the Pacific Ocean?) I used the Penn and though we didn’t catch a lot of fish, I lost two because of a faulty drag that would not tighten all the way down. This was a new problem and the one that convinced me to retire the outfit.

I considered replacing it with another mid-sized rig but my Shakespeare Contender reel & Shimano FX 2803 rod pretty much fills the role of a mid-sized out fit so I decided to go with an new ultra-lite instead. That meant heading down to my favorite tackle store–the local mini-WalMart. This store, which is about a mile from my home, has tons of fishing equipment which may be due to the fact that our city sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and that there are two large freshwater lakes, Piru and Casitas, which are each about a 10-mile drive from the store. Everything is also “WalMart priced” which is usually the best price anywhere.

After looking over what they had, I found a rod and reel combo that made my old ultra-lite rig look like a heavy ocean bottom pole.

The rod I chose is a 6-foot Shakespeare Durango rod which is Walmart priced at $9.44. I couldn’t find any specs on the rod, but according to my kitchen scale, it weighs in at 4.3 oz. It’s maroon/red in color so I looks pretty hot too.

The reel I chose is an Abu Garcia Silver Max 10 which is pictured above. According the the company’s website, the reel weighs in at 6.4 oz. The reel is WalMart priced at $29.99. So I paid less than $40 for my new ultra ultra-lite.

After I got home and assembled the rig, complete with 30lb test Spider Wire Stealth moss green line I was amazed at how well they went together even though I picked them out. The balance is perfect. I can put my finger under the rubberized section of the handle just above the reel and it balances with no effort. Naturally, I wanted to get out and try the new outfit as soon as possible, which I did so yesterday.

I drove up to Stearns Wharf where the action is usually good if not great. The weather was partly cloudy with a little wind and a high temperature of 57 (it was 39 when I arrived) but the next rain storm would be holding off for another day or so. The tide had turned by the time my wishing pole’s line hit the water so the tide would be coming in for another 4 hours until it turned again. Everything was perfect except no one told the fish. In the first 3 hours I was there, all I caught was a small Smelt no more than 5-inches long. This was hardly the test I was looking for so I stayed on and was continually amazed at the ease of casting my new ultra ultra-lite. Even with only a piece of bait, I could get it out far enough to be away from all the tiny smelt that usually hands out under the wharf.

I was getting ready to pack up and leave but since I had two pieces of bait already cut, I thought I would use them up instead of feeding them to the birds. On my first cast, I got a huge hit as something started running out my line. It was a struggle, which I like, but after a few minutes, I landed a 16″ Smelt which I estimated weighed a little over 2-pounds.

Not bad work for an ultra ultra-like that weighs a total of 10.3 oz. After our next storm passes, I will be taking it out again.

“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.

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. 

RESPECT your catches…

Show RESPECT for all living beings

This note, this moment, is an adjunct to my last post about my fantastic morning of fishing at Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA.  Even if you don’t fish, like the majority of the tourists who observed it, you may like it because it shows how I respect all living things, even those that I “hunt” with my rod and reel.  I can only hope that you feel the same way.

When I arrived at the wharf, there was already a man fishing off of it.  I said hello, etc. then I went about my business of catching fish.  After 20 minutes or so of him seeing me catch one fish after another, he came over and asked if I had any bait he could have.  I looked at the SEVEN lines he had out in the ocean and wondered what he was fishing with if he had no bait but I didn’t ask him why he needed any, I just gave him one of the Mackerels I had caught.  A few minutes later, after he watched me catch more  Mackerels and Calico Bass he asked me if I had a smaller hook that he could use to catch them.  I had a Mackerel in hand so I showed him the size of the fish’s mouth compared to the hook he was using while telling him  that the hook, the bait, and the fishing outfit had nothing to do with my catching fish.  His blank look told me what I had suspected from the first, the man was seemingly Developmentally Disabled.  He was high functioning but still at a loss about what I was trying to tell him.  I have a degree in Psychology and I worked in the field for over 6 years, so I know of what I speak.

Still, I gave him a pack of hooks since I have hundreds of them.  Over the next few hours, I threw a few Mackerel in his bucket so he didn’t have to ask for more bait.  Then he caught the Shovelnose Shark I mentioned in my previous post.

After a few moments of hollering about his catch, I went over to see if he needed any help, only to find a TOURIST trying to haul in  the fish.  The “fisherman” was blathering on about his “bad arm” and asking anyone around to get the crab net he had so they could land the shark.  When no one wanted to do anything and the tourist, surely out of his league, was looking stressed  I fetched my pier gaff and hauled the fish in. 

Before I brought it over the railing, I told the horde of spectators to back off, when they didn’t move, I got ticked off and told them that the fish was harmless but the gaff I was using would go right through their shoes—and foot—if they stepped on it.  That got me a lot of space.

After I brought the 20 to 30-pound shark over the railing, I had to work the gaff out of one of the fleshy parts of its head.  I have gaffed a lot of these fish, who are properly named Guitar Fish and I knew that I could get it out and that the fish would survive if I did it right, so I took my fishing towel out of my back pocket and put it over the beast while rubbing on it and telling the shark that it would be okay once I got the gaff out.  No one said a word except the “fisherman” who was carrying on about his “catch”.  I finally told him to shut the hell up and let me do what needed to be done.  The crowd concurred and he quieted down. 

It took a few minutes, but I got the gaff out with a minimal amount of blood which I sopped up with the towel.  Then I picked up the shark and made a mistake.

Instead of just putting it back in the ocean, I asked the “fisherman” what he wanted to do with it.  Was he going to keep it and eat it (they are edible) or should I throw it back?  This decision clearly confused the “fisherman” and he started talking about having to ask someone before he could decide.  I don’t know who this person was but I assumed it was his attendant who was nowhere to be seen.  So, I put the fish over the rail with the intent of returning it to the sea.  This led to a loud protestation by the “fisherman”, almost to the point of crying.  So I handed him the fish and told him he only had about 5 minutes to decide or find whoever it was he needed to ask before the fish died.  Then I went back to fishing, followed by most of the tourist who applauded me for my gentleness and respect for the shark, so I said a few words then went back to fishing, angry at myself for not putting the fish back in the ocean.   

Later, I saw the “fisherman” carrying around the clearly dead shark with seemingly no idea what to do with it.  I never did see who he was going to ask, which was probably a good thing, because he and maybe the “fisherman” would have gone over the rail with my steel-tipped shoes as propulsion.