Sometimes those big denizens of the deep that pull your drag and strain your arms get away from you. Sometimes they don’t.
Part I: The Plan
Like any addiction, once the feverish desire grows within you, there is little you can do to stop it. Last week’s amazing perch fishing session was on my mind through the entire week, from morning until night. Even then, my subconscious would not let me rest, conjuring up visions of feisty little yellow striped perch dashing in and out of the surf to tease me in my dreams.
So you see, there really was no choice for me. I had to make sure that no matter how difficult it would be, I would find a way to put aside a few hours to take to the water and toss around a soft plastic lure in the noble name of education (of marine ecology of course). Sure, this might mean sleeping 4 hours a night during the entire week, but I suppose that will be a luxury for me anyways once I start doing my residency.
I knew the bites had been really hit or miss this week, so I prepared myself for a difficult day. Nonetheless, I had some confidence from advice that fellow anglers had given to me since my last post, and of course from my last positive surf fishing experience.
While the Barred surfperch was solidly checked off on my species list, there were a variety of other species in the surf that I had not managed to check off, and many of those could be taken on the same type of gear so I figured it was worth a shot. More importantly, if I could emulate the success that I had last time in the surf, it would be a testament to my growing ability to read the surf.
Since when has anything gone as planned?
Part II: Getting a stripe
I have been missing my dear norcal cliff fishing and was eager to find any type of environment that might mimic those familiar surroundings. So, seeing as the only really good set of shore accessible rocks in socal were located in PV, I decided to fish the sandy beach in PV in the morning and then afterwards, do some scouting for some fishy rocks to fish in the future.
I arrived at the beach about 1 hour past daybreak because of an accident on the hwy. Gotta love socal traffic at 6am on a Saturday. This beach was quite unique: the water was a beautiful transparent teal that let me glimpse a network of deep holes and long troughs scattered everywhere. Unfortunately, the tide was dropping rapidly, and the holes just happened to be right at the shallow shore break. Also, though the swell was predicted at 1.5-2 ft, the small waves were just brutally pounding the shore. As the sun slowly began to climb higher, I fished near, and I fished far. I fished the holes that I could see, and I fished past the outer break. I fished with crack, grubs, JDM alternatives, hardbaits and even baited up a sandcrab when I stumbled upon a huge bed of sand crabs. I walked and walked and walked…
3 hours and 2 miles later, the “striped kitty” was happily resting on my shoulder as I remained fishless for the session. However, the sun was shining, the water was warm, and the sand was soft on my toes. I even managed to run into a PFIC member enjoying the beautiful day with his family. So the day would not be a waste, regardless of whether I caught a fish.
Nonetheless, that striped skunk did weigh heavily on me. In fact, as I trudged back to my car, I was simply not in the spirit to do any rock exploring, and turned the car to head back towards home.
Part III: Meet Joshua
However, as I drove back east, I took an exit almost instinctually. A reflex, perhaps, to preserve the day without being skunked. I realized that I was heading towards an old haunt of mine, the place where I had seen my first corbina sliding around in the shallows last year. The water was not very clear, the sand was almost mud, and there were usually throngs of people playing in the water. However, I have had some type of success fishing there just about every single time I have fished there, so my skunk-busting safety net it had become.
When I arrived, the tide had dropped to almost slack low. As I had expected, the sand had basically turned to mud, and an enormous number of kids were frolicking in the shallow surf. I put in a few quarters into the meter, and gave myself 2 hrs to bust my skunk before giving up and succumbing to my academic responsibilities.
I had a JDM jerkbait that I had never used before and was eager to try it out. Given the dismal conditions, I actually was more interested in fine tuning the action of the lure, and also trying to see what kinds of fish I could spot in the water, rather than actually expecting to catch something (imagine that!).
I walked out past the muddy shallow surf and into waist deep water, and began tossing out my lure. I worked it in slowly and methodically covered the shoreline quickly, while being quite impressed with the action of the plug.
A young boy saw me in the surf and ran up to me.
“Hey mister, are you fishing?”
“You should fish down there, I saw a fish jump!”
I think to myself that it’s probably a mullet or smelt. Nonetheless, it might have been leaping away from predatory maws.
“Was it small and silver?”
“No, it was BIIIIIG. And flat.”
Now my curiousity is piqued. Leaping halibut isn’t anything particularly new, just rare… But was it really what the boy had seen? I thank the boy for his help and jokingly assured him that if I caught a fish, I would name it after him.
Parallel to the beach I waded along, casting out between every few sets. Half an hour later, I am about ready to start heading back after spotting a third plastic bag float by. For a second, I swore I saw a corbina approach my feet, but it either vanished into the depths or existed only as a trick of refracted light undulating at the seafloor.
I rear back to make a strong cast into the deeper water. I lean forward hard and bring my shoulder forward as I watch my lure arc in a satisfactory trajectory through the air. When I lean forward, I momentarily drop my eyes to the water in front of me. POOOOF! An explosion of muddy sand the size of a coffee table is kicked up in front of my eyes. I watch as something big arcs into deeper water. Butterfly ray? Shovelnose guitarfish? Halibut? As I begin to retrieve my lure, my mind is racing. If there is one big fish, there should be more, right? Do I have time to fish longer? Why oh why did I lean forward so far when I casted?
No time to think. My rod tip dips down as my retrieve is stopped abruptly. I instinctively set the hook into a brick wall. I reel in, but whatever is on the line is not budging. Kelp? Clam bed? Mass of mussels?
Headshakes rock my rod tip and the fish makes a powerful run. Fish on! I work the fish in carefully, feeling it’s hefty weight and it’s angry headshakes periodically. I backpedal through the surf back into the muddy shallows. I can see the line sharply cutting through the water as the fish refuses to come to color. He dives hard with the receding waves and pulls me back in. Patiently, I maintain tension and ease him up with the next set. Again it shakes it’s head and I see the flash of white jaws as it attempts to spit my lure.
When I finally get the fish up near the shore break, I can finally see what it is. California halibut: my personal best by far. I am used to flapjacks and dinner plates. This is a hefty beast that lies angrily chomping on the tail of my plug. As if to remind me of his strength, he explodes into a thrashing fit spraying me, and a few people who have gathered, with wet pack sand.
Meet Joshua, my new PB halibut. Look at that beautiful perfect tail! Didn’t have a tape measure with me, but I marked my rod butt with some lengths, and he was just a couple of inches below the 24” mark. Legal? Perhaps, but I think he was just short, probably in the vicinity of 21”
The nature of fishing is just so intriguing, with unexpected and perpetually changing mixtures of success and failures, of luck and skill, of excitement and monotony. Without a doubt a mysterious concoction that I will enjoy for the rest of my life.
Will I be sleeping 4 hrs every night again this week? Probably.