Maintenance is a must…

My grandfather lived his entire life in cold weather states. He was born in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 often frozen lakes, then moved to Michigan, the Great Often Frozen Lakes State. Yet in all his years, he never went ice fishing.

He just never cared for the sport, he’d tell me the fish would still be there when the weather warmed up. So, when I would visit him and grandma on their farm during the snowy months, we never went fishing, but that didn’t mean we didn’t do things related to the sport.

We would often go out to his work room where he’d fire up the propane gas heater then pull out all his rods and reels so we could clean and oil them. He taught me that reels can often seize up when left sitting without proper maintenance. This could be caused by a build up of corrosion or just plain dirt. Maintaining his tackle was something he did when the weather grew too cold to fish.

Flash forward 60 years and I am now living in Southern California where the seasons usually run together unnoticed. In a climate like this where you can fish all year round, it is easy to forget this lesson and that is just what I did. I had not been out for about two months since the Pacific Ocean is pretty cold now, which puts off the fishing, so a few days ago when the air temperature was in the mid-seventies (in February no less), I decided to head out to the Ventura Pier just to get out of the house. Which is good because I didn’t get much fishing done while I was there.

The spool release lever on my Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel was frozen in place even though I knew it was fine the last time I went out. Nothing I could do while on the pier would make it work, so I had to set it aside which meant no bottom fishing that day. So, I baited up my Shakespeare Contender Spinning Reel to do some fishing over the side but the bell stop lever was not working. I could still fish with it and watch to make sure the line didn’t snag up into a tangled mess while reeling in but after a half hour of this, I decided to go in for the day. When I got home, I immediately took both reels apart on my work bench. A liberal dose of Liquid Wrench Super Lubricant freed the balky release lever on my Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel after it sat for an hour to let the oil do its work. While it was apart, every part of it got oiled as well.

The problem with the Shakespeare Contender Spinning Reel was a little more difficult to diagnose but what it came down to was a build up of dirt and corrosion that kept the bell stop lever from seating properly. A little work with an ice pick, that once belonged to grandpa, dug the build up out of the way so the reel would work as designed. It also got a liberal dose of Liquid Wrench.

When the work on these two rigs was completed, it took my other two rigs apart and cleaned and oiled them, too.

I didn’t want to get stuck again.

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.

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. 

Stearns Wharf II: Shark, bass, and mackerel, oh my!

After my last fishing adventure at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA where I caught 40 fish in 4 hours, I just had to go back to see if that was the norm or if I had just caught the area on a good day.  So, I went back today and though I only caught 14 fish in about 3 ½ hours, the Tiger Shark’s size and weight made up for a lot of that time.

Because of the wharf’s restriction on overhead casting, I took my Shakespeare Contender reel & 8-foot Shimano FX 2803 rod since I knew I could cast some distance with it even underhanded.  It is equipped with moss green 30lb test Spider Wire line so essentially the rig is better suited for freshwater but then I like to fish with light gear, so the fish have a chance.  That is why, in my mind, it is called sport fishing. 

I arrived at the wharf around 7 AM and was surprised that there were no other fishermen out there.  After about ½ hour of fishing as the Shakespeare’s line sat on the ocean floor with a large hook baited with a big chunk of Mackerel, I started catching fish on my ultra-light rig.  I didn’t have the continuous action like I had last week, but I stayed busy, eventually catching 7 Mackerel and 3 Calico Bass; but more on them later.

A local resident, with his kids and mother and father, saw me catch my biggest Mackerel and, as I do with all kids, I showed them the fish and told them about it. That is when the father told me that I had a fish on my other line.  I turned to see my Shimano FX 2803 bent nearly in half while the drag on my Shakespeare Contender reel hummed as it let out line.  Once more I thanked my grandfather for telling me repeatedly to always secure my pole.  If I had not done that, my rig would have been lost.  So, I put the Mackerel down and took my rig out of its holder.  That is when I knew I had a VERY big fish. 

The way that the fish was fighting, I knew it was a shark as opposed to a Bat Ray or Halibut, the only question was what kind of shark did I have on the line?  It pulled me down from one side of wharf to another which was good for me since that side was in open water away from the wharf’s pilings.  As I battled it, a large group of tourists gathered and several people asked me what I had caught, I could only tell them that I thought it was a shark and that if my line held, we would know what kind it was.  At first, I thought it might be a Shovel nose shark but the more I fought it, the more I thought that is was some other species.  When the Tiger Shark finally broke the surface, people got real excited, including me.  One lady was recording the battle, and everyone was taking pictures of the fish.  Fortunately, the local man had a boat in the harbor and was an experienced fisherman, so I asked him to get my gaff out of my bucket.  He had never used a pier gaff before, so he took the pole while I manned the gaff.  He was amazed at how strong the shark was.  We both figured it to be well over 5-foot-long and in the 150+ pound weight range. 

After a few tries, I managed to hook the shark’s tail and at that point, the beast was played out.  I fully intended to bring the shark on to the wharf but once it left the buoyancy of the ocean water, I realized just how much it must have weighed.  Even with the help of the local fisherman, we could barely budge it and since I was going to put it back in the ocean anyway, I decided to just cut my line and let it go after I took a few pictures.  I managed to work the gaff free then took out my knife while looking at the great fish that I had fought for the last 20 minutes or so, it looked totally exhausted as was I.  I told all the tourists to take their pictures and when they had finished, I cut my line to much applause from the audience who watched it swim away. 

Meanwhile, a Seagull ate the large Mackerel I caught and put down while I was fighting the Tiger Shark which I thought was tacky.  For the rest of the morning, when it came near me, I scared the hell out of it by yelling “Thanksgiving” at it which made the tourists think I was insane and got a few laughs.

My last catch of the day was a Calico Bass which I was sure would be my dinner today but it measured 13 inches long, one-inch shy of the legal limit. 

Still, it put up a hell of a fight on my ultra-light just like the shark did on my heavier gear.