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.

Of Kings and Legends

15-inch Smelt

As I promised in my last post, I went out to the Ventura Pier to fish during the first day of a King Tide event that is coming to our shores. Legend has it that fishing is always betters during these very high tide times so I thought I would check the veracity of this even though the fishing has been way off due to the cold Pacific water.

I fished from 7 AM to 10 AM which was 1 1/2 hours before high tide and 1 1/2 hours after it. I found that while the legend does seem to have some truth to it, I know I could have also been just lucky.

My total catch was four large Smelt each over a foot in length with the one pictured being the largest. While there are days I would call this a bad day, compared to my last few outings, this was a good day and since I caught all of the fish on my ultra-ultra light rig that weighs less than a pound, it was battle to land them. I also hooked two more that got away.

So, I am thinking about going out again tomorrow since that is the day the King Tides will be the highest but it will depend on the weather. Today I could not have dialed up a nicer day for fishing. It was 65 degrees, virtually no wind until the time I left, and the ocean was flat and calm. We had a squall blow through the area yesterday which cleaned the air as well.

What I am looking forward to now is the next King Tide which will occur next month when the water should be a few degrees warmer.

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.

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.