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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.