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. 

The Pacific and the Pandemic

One who did no practice social distancing…

I haven’t been out to the Ventura Pier since all hell broke loose because of the current worldwide pandemic even though I know fishing out there is not prohibited under California’s Marshall Law. The fishing has been way off due to the cold Pacific water anyway, but I had been checking in now and again. Today I decided to go once more since at least the weather is warming up.

Sadly, the fish must be practicing social distancing since nothing came within 6-feet of my bait and for the first time in my memory, I was totally shut out.

Nothing living being came within 6-feet me either except for this Egret with its foot-long very sharp looking beak. I tossed him a fat salted anchovy as a bribe to leave me alone. He seemed to enjoy it then flew away.

Most of the state parks in California are shut down which includes most of the coastline so surf fishing is out for me. Also, all the party boats are in dry dock for those who like to go on them. So, right now, pier fishing is my only option and since it is prohibited to travel from one county to the other except under certain circumstances, Stearns Wharf and the Goleta Pier in Santa Barbara County are off limits to me. That only leaves my home pier and as it warms up, I plan to go out at least once a week.

Even though fishing is usually thought of a singular endeavor, people do go out and fish together but these are usually friends you can trust and not strangers so we all need to get out either with buddies or on you own since one day this will all pass and keeping some semblance of normalcy now will make it easier to put things back together later.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a day in light of all that is going on than fishing in the bright sunshine because sunlight is nature’s best antiseptic.

So, fish when you can and when you know it is safe to do so. If it is not safe, then stay home, the fish, the water, and the Earth will still be there when it is safe to go out again.

“Catching” Up…

It has been a while since my last blog post but that doesn’t mean that I have not been out to my home pier in Ventura to check on fishing conditions, it just means that there is still little to report due to the continued cold water in the Pacific Ocean.

The weather in Ventura was dry and warm last week so I went out a few times since this week’s forecast calls for a lot of rain, which we need, accompanied by colder temperatures. Most likely, I won’t be out at all this week.

I can’t say that the fishing has really picked up even though I did haul in a dozen Smelt on Thursday, but the variety of fish I have been catching is more diverse than it has been.

That is an indication that change is on the way.

On Tuesday, I caught seven fish. One was the fat 10″ Wall Eyed Perch pictured above, one was a large Smelt, and five were White Croakers. Two of these White Croakers were caught on my bottom trolling line and three were caught as I fished over the side with my ultra-light rig. Catching Croakers at all depth levels shows me that the fish are coming back. The variety shows me that as well.

I will “catch” you later with another update in a week or so. For now, we are enjoying the rain.

The Return of the King

The Big Smelt continue to bite

In an unusual occurrence, my part of SoCal experienced King Tides in back-to-back months.

Last month I went out to the Ventura Pier to see if the fishing picked up despite the cold Pacific Ocean water and for the most part the catch was better although still below what it is like when the water heats up. So, this month, I thought I would try fishing on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA to gauge the King Tide’s effect in that part of the ocean. It didn’t take long to find out the answer.

As I headed north, the weather began to degrade as a heavy wet fog moved in. By the time I reached the wharf, everything was soaking wet and with the temperature was hovering around 40 degrees with a slight wind blowing that made it feel colder, I almost stayed in my warm car. Even though I was prepared for the weather, it was still a challenge to stay out in it. After an hour and half of no fish–or even nibbles–I decided to pack it in and head to the Ventura Pier. By the time I got there, the temperature was around 55 degrees and the sun was shining. For the next 2 and half hours, the fishing was slow, but better than it was up north and I ended up with several big Smelt which I gave to another fisherman. I have given him a number of Smelt in the past so this time, I asked him how he prepared this type of fish. He said he scaled them, filleted them, then marinated them in a mixture of vinegar and garlic powder. I may just try that the next time I get a bag full.

The ocean temperature should start rising in March and continue to warm up through September. I will still being going out to see how they are biting but I won’t be posting about these trips unless something unusual occurs.

Of Kings and Legends

15-inch Smelt

As I promised in my last post, I went out to the Ventura Pier to fish during the first day of a King Tide event that is coming to our shores. Legend has it that fishing is always betters during these very high tide times so I thought I would check the veracity of this even though the fishing has been way off due to the cold Pacific water.

I fished from 7 AM to 10 AM which was 1 1/2 hours before high tide and 1 1/2 hours after it. I found that while the legend does seem to have some truth to it, I know I could have also been just lucky.

My total catch was four large Smelt each over a foot in length with the one pictured being the largest. While there are days I would call this a bad day, compared to my last few outings, this was a good day and since I caught all of the fish on my ultra-ultra light rig that weighs less than a pound, it was battle to land them. I also hooked two more that got away.

So, I am thinking about going out again tomorrow since that is the day the King Tides will be the highest but it will depend on the weather. Today I could not have dialed up a nicer day for fishing. It was 65 degrees, virtually no wind until the time I left, and the ocean was flat and calm. We had a squall blow through the area yesterday which cleaned the air as well.

What I am looking forward to now is the next King Tide which will occur next month when the water should be a few degrees warmer.

King Tides and Cold Water

Earth’s ocean tides rise and fall in relation to how strong the Moon’s gravitational pull effects the planet at any given time. When it is strong, tides rise, when it is weak, tides recede. This high and low tide change happens twice a day and since the Earth moves in the same orbit while the Moon and the Sun are stationary these movements are predictable and we can create Tide Charts which are a help to mariners and fishermen alike.

A few times each year, the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon creates a stronger than usual gravitational force and this force in turn causes what are known as King Tides. A King Tide coupled with high winds can cause severe flooding in low lying areas, they can damage boats, marinas, piers, and anything else along the ocean shore. The picture above is an actual shot of King Tide waves being pushed by high winds (note the American flag sticking straight out) that hit the Ventura Pier a few years ago. The damage to the structure was so bad that it had to be closed for months in order for repairs to be made.

This coming Friday, January 10, 2020, a three day King Tide event will start and I will be out on the pier fishing as it comes in. Winds are predicted to be light and variable so I don’t expect any real issues because of the event but you never know with the ever changing conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

The reason I will be out there braving the elements is because I have always heard that the fishing during a King Tide event is exceptional no matter how cold the ocean is at the time. There is no real scientific data to back this claim up so it may just be wishful thinking on the part of us fishermen but the tides have been shown to effect the movements of sea creatures so there may be some truth in this.

A King Tide event is not something that just happens one day and is gone the next. Tides start building days before peak tides as you can see in this Tide Chart. Today, January 7, 2020, the peak tide will be 5.6 feet, four days ago it was 4.2 feet and by Friday, it will be at 6.5 feet. That is a rise of 2.3 feet in one week. That may not sound like much, but scientists have shown that even the few inches the oceans have risen due to the melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers, which is caused by Climate Change, has caused major changes to seashores all over the planet.

Locally, the Surfrider Foundation will taking before and after pictures of event to illustrate what the long term affect of Climate Change will have on Earth.

After my adventure I will report what fishing was like during this event–unless I get swept up in it, that is.

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.

“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…

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.

Fishing on the edge of the world…

When I surf fish in the Pacific Ocean , I always say that I am fishing on the edge of the world. If you lake fish, you know the boundaries of the lake and most likely you know the depth of it as well. When you river or creek fish, you know the boundaries of those waterways and you know that their water will eventually end up somewhere, maybe even in the Pacific Ocean .

Surf fishing in a ocean is different. Though you can look at a map or a globe and see where all the water is located on the planet, you don’t really understand the enormity of the oceans until you stand at their edges while watching the endless waves come rushing at you. It is a humbling feeling for a man as you hold your rod and reel in hand hoping that the water will give up some of its bounty while you dance with the waves trying to decide if you are getting a bite or if the expanse is just playing tricks on you.

That was how I felt this morning while fishing at Emma Wood State Beach in Ventura, CA. This was only my fourth attempt as surf fishing and, including today, I have yet to catch anything while fishing this way even though I always catch something any other way be it in a boat, on a pier, or at lakeside or riverside.

If the past few attempts at this sport, I went out trying to snare some Surfperch or Corbina even though I usually don’t angle for that type of fish. Both times I gave up after a few hours of trying to get the trick of fishing in the constantly moving sea which is not the same a river fishing where you stand on the banks and watch the water go by.

Today, though, I wanted to try a new tack, I decided to try to fish on the ocean side of the surf and not directly in it. So, I took my Shakespeare ATS 350 reel & 9-foot Shimano Saguaro rod with me and cast over the incoming surf. My line was baited with a 4-ounce weight, a large hook, and a big chunk of either Squid or Mackerel and still the ocean tossed it all about as if it were nothing. My bait was often missing or torn up when I reeled in but if a fish was after it or not, I could not say. So, again, I left after a few hours with nothing to show for my efforts.

This does not mean that I am giving up on surf fishing, I am just going to try another new tack the next time. Today, the tide was coming in for the hours I was on the beach but since I am not really interested in fish that come and go with the tide, I will go out on a day when the tide is going out and see how that works.

I will keep you posted.