Pacific Update

Even during the current pandemic, fishing in the Pacific goes on.

With the ocean water warming up over the past few weeks, the fishing has improved as well. The temperature today is a toasty 64 degrees.

As you can see in the pictures above, the fish have been plentiful and varied no matter what pier I have tried. Of the Ventura Pier, Stearns Wharf, or Goleta Pier, the best has been the Ventura Pier although I think Stearns Wharf will soon catch up. It takes a while for the warmer water to get up the coast. Goleta, which is north of Santa Barbara will be the last to benefit from the warm water of these three although on my last trip up there, I managed to catch two keeper Calico Bass.

I am happy to report that the majority of the fishermen and women are wearing masks like mine even though we are outside in the sun, fog, and wind. We are all in this together and the fishing community in my part of the world has responded to the call.

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.

Shark Bait: It’s Good to be Home

Call me Captain Ahab.  I have been in search of the white whale since last week when one got away due to old equipment that has now been replaced and though I didn’t catch a whale, the 42”, 30 to 40-pound Shovelhead shark pictured above would have defeated my efforts if I had not upgraded as I did. 

My trip to the Goleta Pier was such a disappointment, that instead of going to try Stearn’s Wharf or the Port Hueneme Pier today, I decided to stay on my home pier in Ventura.  I only caught four fish but each one was different and each one was larger than the last. 

Here they are listed in order of appearance:

  1. 6” Croaker
  2. 12” Mackerel
  3. 14” Sand Shark
  4. 42” Shovelhead Shark

Yes I did “catch” two sharks today but the first one ticked me off so much, it was all I could do to keep calm as I, hopefully, saved the little guy’s life.  More on that later.

I had been fishing off the end of the pier while I hunted sharks using squid as bait.  After a few hours, though, all I had to show for my efforts was the Croaker, the Mackerel, and the Sand Shark.  So I decided to move landward and fish in the exact same place where the shark got away last week.  Another hour passed, the wind started blowing ferociously, so my drift lining had to end, nothing was coming of it anyway except for Smelt nibbles.  Then I heard the sound that I had been longing for all week: the screeching of my drag.  Today, though, I didn’t race to my Wishing Pole since I knew I had adequate line in both length and quality to deal with what ever was taking my squid to the deeper end of the ocean. 

I picked up my outfit, looked at the line as it shot off the reel and when the fish hesitated for a moment, I pulled back to make sure the hook was set.  After that, I knew that whatever it was had no choice except to either bite through my 40-pound test leader or come to the pier. 

Once I had the fish to the surface, I knew that I would have to gaff it to get it on the pier, so I called to a neighboring fisherman for help, and as all fishermen will do, he gladly came over and took my gaff out of my bucket.  Then he held my pole as I lowered it into the ocean.  Once I had it in the shark’s tail, he reeled in my line as I lifted the shark over the railing. 

After taking a few pictures, I put the shark back into the ocean, not much worse for wear.  He would survive and hopefully my first shark would do so as well.

The little 14” d Shark that I “caught” was a lucky little thing.  I didn’t really “catch” it, though, what I caught was the line on the jig that was wrapped around it.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the red and green beads on this jig.  The line on the jig was anchored by a 2-ounce inverted pyramid weight.  Apparently this little guy somehow became entangled in the jig and broke the line it was attached to then managed to swim away.  I don’t know if it could have fed since several of the 6 hooks on the jig were embedded in it.  If it had been able to feed and grow, the line, anchored in its skin by the hooks and weight, may have eventually killed it due to the inability of it to eat as needed or tearing its skin so it would bleed then get devoured by other sea creatures.  Crazy as it may sound, I think the little guy knew that was trying to help it as I worked the hooks out of it then wrapped it in my fishing towel.  The look in its cold, reptilian eyes seemed to soften just before I put it back in the ocean where it slowly swum away into its future. 

In my opinion, people who jig like this do it because they are too stupid and lazy to fish.  The practice needs to be outlawed because of incidents like this and the fact that so many of those who do this keep what they catch, like this little guy, undersized Perch, Smelt, Mackerel, etc.  Every time I see a someone jigging, I have to resist the temptation to cut their lines and throw them into the ocean.  I mean, if we kill all the little fish, there will be no big fish.    

The man fishing next to me felt the same.  As I worked on the little shark, he said more than once that jigging “ain’t fishin’” as he described just how he wanted to deal with these lazy fishermen.

I could only shake my head in agreement and know that grandpa would feel the same..

Goleta Pier Redux

The Goleta Beach Pier has been in existence, in one form or another, since the early 1930s. 

When I first moved to Santa Barbara, CA 40 years ago it quickly became my fishing hub.  Though, today it is 1450 feet in length, when I first started fishing off of it, it was only about a third of that length.  The extension that came years later made this the best fishing spot I have ever visited.  To date, it is where I caught the biggest fish of my lifetime; a giant Bat Ray which measured 48” from wing tip to wing tip and me and the three other men who finally hauled it out of the Pacific estimated it’s weight to be in excess of 150 pounds. 

So, when I finally decided to travel the 42 miles up the coast last month to visit my old haunt, I was very excited.  On the day I went, though, the weather was cloudy, damp, and cold.  After getting soaked and chilled to the bone for two hours with only one Croaker to show for it, I called it a day and vowed to go back.  Today was that day and the weather could not have been any different.  Today, it was sunny with high clouds, a slight wind, and the temperature was a balmy 72 degrees.  Sadly, that is all the improved.

After three hours of basking in the sun, my catch totaled two fish and one of them was a handicapped Starfish that was missing one of its legs. 

Something else that was missing were all the fishermen who used to hang out on the pier.  On any given day, you’d find dozens of men, women, or groups out there looking to catch their next meal.  The Goleta Beach Pier is much thinner than the Ventura Pier, only measuring 15’ wide, so it could get crowded very fast.  Today, I had all the room in world.  At the most, there were seven people or groups fishing and three of those came and went while I was there! 

I hate to think that my old favorite fishing place has been fished out, but if I go one more time (as I plan to do) and the results are the same, then that is the only conclusion that I can come to.   

Where I Fish

ventura pier
The Ventura Pier

Although I sometimes go to my local lake, Lake Casitas, and do a little freshwater fishing, most of my efforts are limited to the Pacific Ocean.  I grew up in Arizona where saltwater fishing is not an option so for 20 years I fished in lakes, lagoons, rivers, and streams where there were only a limited number of species to catch (Perch, Crappie, Sun Fish, Bass, Catfish, Carp, etc.).  Once I moved to California, took in the splendor of the ocean, and realized that there are unlimited types of fish to catch, I became “hooked” on saltwater fishing, so to speak…

Most of the time, I fish off what I consider my home base, the 1600 hundred-foot Ventura Pier in my hometown of Ventura, CA. I also fish in the surf and at other piers in the area such as the ones located in Goleta, CA and Port Hueneme, CA. I may even try Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, though I hear that it is not a very good fishing spot.  

The Ventura Pier was first built in 1872 when it was known as the Ventura Wharf.  It was mainly used as a commerce connection to accept imports of all types of goods and to export the area’s agricultural products and crude oil. 

Over the years, the pier has been destroyed or damaged by storms several times (twice since I have been here) and in 1916 it was destroyed in a collision with the freighter, the Coos Bay.  At one time, the pier was 1958 feet-long and was the longest pier in California. 

Today the pier is no longer used commercial purposes, it is strictly a fishing pier and one of the biggest tourist attractions in our area.  There are two restaurants on the land side of the pier as well.

I fish on the pier at least two or three times per week and people have come to know me as the “guy who catches all those fish” and as someone who is always willing to share fish, bait, and advice if I am asked for it.  I especially love helping the kids and whenever the chance arises, I tell them about the fish I catch and that they should respect them no matter what becomes of them.

I first began posting my fish stories on my personal Facebook page but I am going to migrate all of those tales to this blog and add to it as I go along. Check in daily or sign up for updates if you’d like to follow along as I go about my activities.  Even if you do not fish, I think you will enjoy the stories.