|Fishing By Torchlight
Editor Sentinel.—I hardly know how to do justice to one of the most merry excursions that it has ever been my pleasure to participate in. But, to start in the beginning, it has been known for some eight or ten days that at a point some eight miles from here, on the sea beach near Aptos Landing, there has been innumerable fish taken without net, seine or hook, and that the people in the neighborhood were going there in great numbers, and invariably went away with their wagons well filled with fine large fish, (a kind of pike or pickerel, commonly known as “Horse Mackerel,” average weight about two pounds.
I could resist no longer, so making up a small and merry party, we left Santa Cruz at 6 P.M. under very favorable circumstances. One of the party, investing in three spy-glasses, (taper-jointed) it being necessary to have such, as these fish are only taken at night; we also invested in three bomb lances (narrow-necked). Those bomb lances are a great invention, they have a cork nicely fitted to them, so that should you miss your aim you recover your lance, but very often in a damaged condition. So you see we were prepared to take game fish, both great and small.
We had a fast team, jolly driver, (caused in a great measure by his personal inspection of our arms). We passed through the enterprising villages of Soquel and Aptos, crying “Fresh Fish!” The road was littered with different vehicles, all bound for the fisheries; the cry in passing was “Fresh Fish!” We were all after fish, and made it known as we went along.
We reached the fishing grounds about twilight—here the pen fails to do justice to the scene. It was low tide, the sea here forms a continuous, almost level beach, five or six miles long, and an average width of 150 yards at low tide, with a hard, smooth bottom, and not a pebble nor a seaweed visible the whole distance; probably there is no nicer or finer drive in the State for the same distance. The ever changeable bluff, some 100 feet in height, all the estuaries filled in with driftwood, accumulating for years.
Now imagine some 400 people arriving, between twilight and dark, the fine carriages, the omnibuses, two-horse teams, four-horse teams, six-horse teams, ox teams, carts, and California go-carts, all filled with persons who have the highest expectation of making a big haul.
The high piles of dry drift-wood, set ablaze for the distance of five miles, the moon shining his brightest rays on the silver sand and phosphorescent water. Men, women and children taking their position at equal distances, awaiting the comming of the fish, which occurs when the tide is on the point of coming in.
The theory of the fish coming ashore I imagine is something like this: The bay, at present, is full of a small fish similar to anchovies, the natural food of the mackerel, which, being a very voracious fish, follows the anchovy into the breakers, when the incoming tide, being stronger than the fish is used to, it deposits him through the breakers, often casting great numbers of them high and dry, but most generally depositing them just through the breakers, into from three to six inches of water, which causes them to flounder and squirm to regain their element
Then the real sport commences, men and boys roll up their trousers as far as they can get them, ladies tie their dresses around their waists, and also pitch in to secure the prizes, when the fish flounders he is both seen and heard, as he makes a great commotion; the cry is given “there he goes,” when all those in the immediate neighborhood make for the hapless wight; then look out for collisions, but here woman gets her rights; she has as good a right to the fish as her would be superior, especially if she catches the fish herself.
But, to cut a long story short, five of us caught over 500 weight, and got home by six o’clock in the morning. Horse Mackerel is considered a very game and edible fish. Yours &c., Fresh Fish
—Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, July 1, 1871
Not sure what "small" fish were in the surf but possibly they were grunion. "Horse Mackerel" was usually the name given to jack mackerel back in those days.
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