About John Darling - Author

Since the 1970’s John Darling has written and published numerous short stories, poems, and magazine articles. His lone play, Stage Directions, has been produced in the United States, Canada, and most recently at the Soho Theatre in London, England. He has several books available on Amazon and Smashwords. Go to his author website for full details: www.johndarlingauthor.com

Baby it is cold outside…

Pacific Ocean temperatures off the Ventura shoreline

When we who live along the southern and central California coast start griping about the “cold” weather, we are usually referring to temperatures in the lower 40’s and, God forbid, the 30’s. We know that inland temperatures in the desert can get bitterly cold but we don’t live there for a variety of reasons of which that is one.

To a fisherman, though, weather is not usually an issue since you can fish in a driving rainstorm or fish on the ice in sub-zero temperatures, but if you fish the Pacific in the area I do, ocean temperatures can make all the difference in the world. As you can see in the chart above, the Pacific Ocean temperatures have fallen steadily since its highs in September and October and I can testify first hand that the fishing activity has fallen off along with the temperature.

In 1997, we had a Major El Nino event that brought very warm water to our coast and a lot of rain as well. It also brought fish, lots of fish, to our coast. Some of the fish were species normally seen around Baja California so this was a real bonanza for the fishing boat business.

While we can always use rain here and I’d love to see a spike in the fishing activity, there are no El Nino events in the forecast so I will have to just tough it out until the ocean temperatures rise. In the meantime, I have a backlog of memories to write and more advice from my beloved grandfather, so don’t go away even if it seems like I have stopped adding to my blog.

I do plan to fish at least once a week and I am even toying with the idea of doing some freshwater fishing. If anything extraordinary happens during these trips, I will post updates here.

Until then, stay warm and keep fishing.

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…

“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.

Fishing with my kid

My “kid”, James

Anyone who has grown children knows that no matter how old you all get to be, they will always be your kid(s). I my case, my kid is James who is 35 years old and a budding singer, actor, and musician who lives in California’s San Fernando Valley. Here is his performance website: http://jamesdarling.net/

Anyway, I went fishing with him on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara today for the first time in at least 25 years. During that time, he has not gone fishing, so he made up for the lost time by catching 13 Mackerel and 1 Smelt in about 3 1/2 hours. I caught 12 Mackerel and 2 Smelt in the same time frame so we had a lot of fun even though the wind came up and pretty much put a damper on the fishing halfway through. Pictured is his second Mackerel , a nice sized one that went back in the Pacific along with all of the rest we caught.

He enjoyed his experience so much, that we are going again the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) since he will be staying with me a few days during the long holiday weekend.

So take your kids fishing no matter what their ages, you won’t regret it.

Fishing Old School…

A month or so past, my 83 year old father in law came to California (from Phoenix, AZ) for a 2-week visit. During that time, he learned all about my fishing ventures and he went with me to the Ventura Pier one day to relax in the cooler Ventura climate while I fished.

It was on that day that he told me that he had some old fishing gear and that I could take all of it the next time I was in Phoenix. At that time, I had not been in that town for over 10 years but my wife and I were planning a visit there before heading to the Grand Canyon, so we arranged a lunch meeting after we picked him up at his place. While we were there, I looked at the gear he had. Then he told me that some of it had belonged to his FATHER.

Half of the lures are made of wood and I have been able to date some back to the 1940’s. The Kalamazoo Tackle Company’s Sportsman Reel, Model E, which was housed in a custom leather case, is nearly new. It may have never been used since there were two other Sportsman reels that definitely have been used; one was attached to the 54″ square STEEL Bristol rod that he also gave me. All of the equipment is for freshwater use, especially the Jitterbug “Bass killer” so I am not sure what I am going to do with this haul. I may go up to my local lake and try out some of the lures even though the fishing is way off in that lake due to drought, fire, and then floods. For sure, I am going to attach the Kalamazoo reel to the Bristol rod and take it out to a pier for a day if nothing else.

That would be real old school fishing at its best.

The Grand Canyon

The Colorado River: View from the rim

I have not been fishing for about two weeks because I have been hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon. That is a big hole in the ground around Williams, Arizona in case you haven’t heard of it.

At one point, I asked about fishing in Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon which began forming the canyon millions of years ago. A Park Ranger informed me that I could do this if I wanted to add four days to my trip.

Two days down and two days up.

I think I might look at fishing in it at some other location.

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.

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.