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.

The Pond and the Pacific

The Pond

I was invited to spend the night at a magnificent 200-acre property called Ranch Grande located about 20 miles north of Ojai, CA, so this week my wife and I took the owner up on his offer.  You can do a lot of things there like horseback riding, canoe, rowboat, or paddle boat around a pond, play with the 13 or 14 friendly dogs, go on the daily “goat walk” with 122 goats (can you say stampede?).  You can play games like pool, Scrabble, Monopoly, in the Rock Room and if you play there is a grand piano at your disposal.  You can also visit all the other animals which include pot bellied pigs, chickens, sheep, and llamas.  I did most of these things and I also went pond fishing.

When I was 5 years old while my grandpa was teaching me how to fish, we often went to a small pond where I learned his tricks and listened to his advice.  Standing on the little fishing dock at Rancho Grande brought back all the nostalgic memories I have of those times.

Though I didn’t catch any fish, I wouldn’t trade the few hours I spent trying to do so while thinking of grandpa for any amount of money.  Below are some pictures of the property. 

If you want to visit the property, you can find all the details here: http://www.ranchogrande.com

The Pacific

The California coast is slowly coming back to life even though the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging around the country.  Personally, I think it is a terrible idea to begin opening things up again and that the second wave of the disease will make the first one look like a ripple in a pond.  However, I never saw a reason to shut down fishing piers.  Fishing is usually a singular sport and if you do go fishing with a group, it is usually with family or trusted friends.  Fishing on a 1600-foot-long, 20-foot-wide pier like the Ventura Pier gives you a lot of space to practice social distancing as well.  The Sun is nature’s greatest disinfectant, too. 

Well, last Friday, the pier reopened and I have been out to it three times since then.  The Pacific Ocean is warming up, with a water temperature of 62 degrees today, and the fishing is getting better due to it.  I also think the closing of the pier for a few months allowed the fish population to rebuild because the first fish I caught was a Rock Fish, I have not seen any of them out there in years, and today I caught my first Mackerel of the season. 

I may just go lobby the city council and ask them to shut the pier down for a few months each year as a matter of course. 

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.

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.

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.

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.