Memories of a very, very cold and windy night in Catalina...

Ken Jones

Staff member
Date: March 11, 2010
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Ken Jones

Subject: A cold windy night at Avalon

It seemed fairly simple, why not spend a couple of days at Catalina following the Fred Hall Fishing Show in Long Beach? Hashem had been making some trips over to Catalina during the winter in pursuit of Panulirus interruptus aka bugs or California spiny lobster. It was going to be a very long and tiring weekend but why not? In many ways it could be a precursor to the Catalina Get Together in April; you know, kind of getting the blood ready for the big event... The plan was to head over early Monday morning, spend mid-day fishing at the Green Pleasure Pier, and then move over to the Mole for an all-night fish and lobster fest.

Upon arrival we moved to the Green Pleasure Pier where we found the fish off their feed. The normally over-abundant kelp bass were virtually absent from the pier and many of the normal species were not biting. In fact, the water looked empty of fish, a rare sight at the pier. The one exception was Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) that would flock to the top of the water when peas where thrown out. The only thing they seemed to want was peas. Not worms, not pieces of shrimp, not strips of baitfish or squid, not lures or Sabikis; the preference was peas—and carrots. Hashem had brought a package of frozen peas and carrots and surprisingly the fish were hitting on both. They peas were attacked first but then the fish moved to the carrots. Luckily we had picked up some ghost shrimp and they were attracting some sheephead. Four and a half hours of desultory action brought me 25 fish: 10 jack mackerel, 5 sheephead, 3 jacksmelt, 3 rock wrasse, 2 senorita, 1 opaleye and 1 garibaldi.

At 3:15 we moved to the Mole where, as expected, the fishing was slower than the GPP though with a slightly more diverse group of fish. The fishing was also scheduled to slow at sundown when many of the island’s species go to sleep for the night (i.e., rock wrasse, senorita and sheephead). But there are some fish to be had even after the Sun is swallowed up by Mother Ocean (including rockfish and the big-eyed salema). While Hashem was setting up his lobster traps I continued to do some fishing though the temperature was dropping and I was getting just a little chilly. It was interesting to see what worked best at night and strips of squid, and pieces of market shrimp, proved best.

Hashem had said it could be cold. His instructions: bring layers of clothing, bring Long John’s, bring gloves, and bring a woolen cap. Easy for him to say; I had brought gloves but mistakenly left them back in my car on the mainland; I did not own a pair of Long John’s and figured it wasn’t worth spending the money on a new pair (do I hear the word cheap? I’ve got Welsh heritage instead of Scotch, but still am a penny pincher at times). But the temperature was dropping into the low ‘50s, the wind continued to pick up (and would reach a rate of over 30 mph), and the wind chill factor dropped into the ‘20s. In addition, the doctor had just given me some new medicine AND I had absolutely NO energy.

At 10 p.m. I stopped fishing; I was just too cold and tired. Five hours at the Mole and all it had produced was 26 fish: 8 salema, 7 kelp bass, 2 kelp rockfish, 2 sheephead, 2 opaleye, 2 jack mackerel, 1 halfmoon, 1 senorita and 1 blacksmith. Not bad but not great and the majority were caught before the Sun took its nap.

Hashem had said be prepared but I was the one who did not follow the 7 P’s and I paid the price. When the wind really picked up (double red flags were blowing) we moved over behind the buildings for a little protection from the wind. Or, I should say I did because Hashem kept busy checking his traps every twenty minutes or so. I finally decided to sit down and Hashem suggested taking a nap. I tried! But on the bench I was freezing cold, I was shaking uncontrollably and cold to the bone, tendons, and capillaries. I was dreaming of the homeless and my sympathy changed to empathy. Worse, I was thinking what the doctor would say if I ran into any problems. It was a night for Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking. It might have been a good night for those thoughts but my body and brain just wouldn’t cooperate.

I finally fell asleep and somehow stretched together enough 20-minute naps to total about four hours of sleep. Evidently it was a sleep that was worrisome to Hashem. He said when I way laying on my left side I was quiet as a mouse (pier rat?) and he wasn’t sure that I was breathing. However, when I turned over to get my face to the building I was as quiet as a baby (a baby walrus that is). Bellowing like one of those gnarled old bull sea lions that control a huge harem. Last time I looked I didn’t have a harem.

Finally at about 2 a.m., I awoke, and I actually felt somewhat refreshed, even if still very cold. Luckily Hashem had brought some coffee and a pot and soon we had some hot Joe (which helped me break the doctor’s prohibition against caffeine) and some hot soup. Those items were winners at 3:30 a.m. and felt oh so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you Hashem! I decided to give fishing a try again at 4:30 but after the wind blew my hat into the Pacific I decided to let the wind calm a little, or at least I hoped it would. No more fishing that night but some good company and anticipation for the coming dawn. As for Hashem, his lobster quest had started out slow but the windiest time and roughest seas actually produced a plethora of the creepy crawlers. He caught about 30 of the achelate crustaceans, although “only” six were keeper-size bugs (and they were BIG keepers). He said it was his best night ever.

Around a quarter to six the Sun starts to peak over the mainland hills and I was never so glad to see Mr. Sol and his warming rays. Although the wind had abated somewhat, it was still fairly strong. It was going to be hard fishing unless we found a spot with better cover. Luckily the shore end of the Mole is behind buildings and the more I studied the very far end, the area by the shore, the more I became convinced that it might yield a moray eel, the fish I’ve been seeking out this past year. That small cove at the end of the Mole looked promising—an area abutting a rocky shoreline with numerous holes.

However, first light often means bonito out on the Mole and a good opaleye bite out at the corner. The opaleye did show up and produced some excellent fishing for part of an hour but the bonito never did show. I caught a half dozen opaleye and a variety of other fish but finally we both decided for some cover from the wind. Although the wind had shown a slight reduction in intensity early in the morning, the fury returned and we moved the equipment down behind the buildings near the cove I wanted to check out.

Soon I was dropping a single bait down into a rocky area filled with holes and crevices and soon had a few taps that gave promise. Like other piers that extend over rocks in inshore areas, the hard thing to do is avoid tangling sinker or hooks in the crevices that contain the fish. At low tide you can see the holes and promising areas and get an idea what you want to do. But given the waves and surge it isn’t easy to keep your rigs from being lost. What you have to do is feel the rocks, the difference between kelp-grabs and fish, when to pull and when to let the let the rig be free. You want the sinker lightly resting on the bottom and you have to be prepared for every strike.

As I was fishing I thought over how many times I have done this and how easy it would be to lose some rigs (and you almost always lose some). But I could feel what was happening to the sinker. I wondered what would happen if you shut your eyes and forced yourself to feel the bottom; I tried it and I even seemed to feel the bottom better. I’m not suggesting you always close your eyes when fishing but it may not be a bad idea to practice closing the eyes at times and seeing if you can better feel and visualize the bottom? Just a thought!

No matter my success in keeping the sinker out of a crevice, the area did not produce a moray. I did manage a few fish including a large 16 1/8-inch giant kelpfish that was a good size for the species. The nets had been put away by this time and Hashem had joined in the fishing. We continued to fish through the morning but the bite was fairly slow and surprisingly the wind had started to increase.

Hashem wandered over to the Ferry office to confirm our reservations and when he returned he said, “do you want the good news first or the bad news?” The bad news was that all ferries were cancelled for the day and we were stuck on the island. The good news was that we were stuck in Catalina. We would have to get a motel, figure out a way to keep our fish and lobsters on ice, and be forced to spend an additional day fishing at Catalina—oh no! Once more we moved to the Green Pleasure Pier and its fish but now we were both really tired and stopped early.

The next morning seemed to be a beautiful morning. There was slight breeze, a big cruise ship was sitting just out from the Mole, and it appeared we would have an easy ride back to the mainland. It was beautiful at 7 a.m., but by 8:30 conditions were starting to change. The wind was picking up and the single red flag of the early morning was changed into another new two-flag warning. We had skipped the 8 a.m. boat opting instead for an 11:30 departure. Turned out it would be the last boat back to San Pedro for the day.

As for the fishing, we opted out that last morning. Although I normally would have been up early to fish, everything was packed away and I simply felt no need to add another hour of fishing to the itinerary. Although the fishing was fairly slow, I had caught an even 100 fish and most were decent-size fish. It was time to relax and go home.

Date: March 11, 2010
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Mahigeer

Subject: An Epic Fishing Marathon at Catalina With The Skipper

Skipper Jones was going to be in Los Angeles for the Fred Hall Show on Saturday and Sunday, so I suggested he join me for one more marathon fishing/hooping at Catalina. This was my last opportunity to go one more time before March 17th, when the lobster season for the law-obeying anglers came to an end. It was accepted. I loaded and did all of the packing before and after the sessions of the FHS.

Come Monday morning we made one stop at the Paul’s Bait and Tackle in San Pedro for some ghost shrimp and then we were at the terminal by 7:30 a.m., carts loaded and waiting for the ticket office to open. Due to a dredging operation at the Long Beach terminal, we had to go from and come back to the San Pedro Terminal. It was OK, since I had not seen that place yet.

Upon arriving at the island around 10:00 am, Skipper noticed that the big floating dock in front of the Green Pleasure Pier was gone along with the bunch of ropes. There was lots of fishing space and no one fishing. We saw three other fishermen at the pier the whole time we were there and each maybe fished for ½ hr. or so. Talk about elbow room at the railing! We had decided to fish the GPP first and then setup camp, if you will, at the Mole for hooping and fishing later.

I put one net in the water to see if there are any day-crawling lobsters at that pier. There were none. Due to lack of space, I didn’t take my opaleye (20-foot-telescopic) setup and tackle. However, after seeing the huge opaleye swimming around, I setup a float rig and started with moss as bait. No takers. Then I switched to frozen peas. The fish would come to the bait and just turn around. Very frustrating. Then I started to modify the rig. First I switched to a Fluorocarbon leader, three times the length of the previous leader. Then I moved the spilt shot sinkers higher, so the bait would move more freely.

The first cast after rework produced a fat opaleye. Minutes later there was another one. Then the bite died on opaleye. They are very finicky fish. We did catch a lot of Spanish mackerel though. We released all. We should have kept them for lobster bait. I thought the large bonito from the previous trip would be sufficient bait but it was not. More on that later.

Around 4:00 p.m., we packed and moved to the Mole. I did not want to spend another trip living on submarine sandwiches but the Skipper somehow found out the Buffalo Nickel Restaurant delivers pizza. Hot pizza at the Mole sounded great and they had a two large meat lover’s special on sale. They only deliver after 5:00 pm. so when the time came we got the pizza and enjoyed freshly made hot pizza.

I was casting two different rigs for bonito: a torpedo sinker/bucktail and a cast-a-bubble and rubber band lure. The torpedo got a good hit and a hookup. Fish on! I did a give and take with the fish and suddenly it’s off. I am reasonably sure that it was the seal that was hanging around. A short time later, the #20 P-Line CXX leader, comes back in chewed. That was the only hook up with a possible bonito of the trip.

As the sun was going down, I set up my nets while Skipper was cutting the previously mentioned bonito for bait. The first hour or so it was no bugs. This was not good. Not even short ones. Last time out I had two legal bugs and one short one in a net about 20 min. after the net went into the water.

Eventually the short ones came up. Then a legal, then short, then legal in the mix throughout the night. Interesting enough, the worst the sea got the bigger the bugs became. One last pull before the sunrise, and there was a legal one.

I stayed awake and only took catnaps from time to time between pulls. Skipper got some sleep (I will let him post about his adventure), and around 2:00 a.m., he woke up. He was very cold, so I sat him next to my heater. The hot soup was ready for consumption and it tasted great. Later we shared hot coffee at our “Hobo” camp.

He later decided to go after his eel, but the wind started to pick up and it was not bearable beyond the protection of the building we were using as a wind block.

Around 4 am, the Harbor Patrol came and raised the second red warning flag.

I kept on pulling nets all night long till sunrise at which time I washed the nets and we put away the nets and packed the “Hobo” camp.

Toward the morning, due to the number of visitors to the net for sushi, I was running out of bait. If we had only kept the Spanish mackerel! Not as good as bonito, but better than nothing. I started to put sardine, squid, or whatever bait looking stuff I had in some small nets and in the bait boxes.

As the sun came up, once again I tried both bonito rigs. No takers. I switched between bait and lure fishing while Skipper kept pulling in opaleye after opaleye.

When I went to get a cup of coffee and breakfast from the small snack shop at the Mole, I was told that they might not open since no boats were coming in. SAY WHAT? I went to the Catalina Express ticket office across from the snack shop and sure enough they did not know if any boat were coming to take people back from the island. We were scheduled for the 7:30 p.m. departure.

I called the Hermosa Hotel, and Ms. Mindy, the manager, reserved a room for us. Later at check-in, due to our past loyalty, she gave us two rooms for the price of one. We got some much needed sleep. God bless her. She was looking forward to our April Get Together.

Now we were not in a hurry to pack, since we were staying overnight. We moved back to the GPP, and I went to get the room keys. I made a pit stop for some fish and chips and glass of brew. Skipper continued fishing and kept getting Spanish mackerel. Later we had a light dinner at the Antonio’s restaurant where we hang out during our trips.

If I am going to be stranded any place, what a better place than Avalon on Santa Catalina Island.

Next day (Wednesday) we packed, had our normal delicious breakfast at Jacks, and went to the head of the line for the 11:45 boat. No more Mr. nice guy. We were told that the 8:00 am boat had been crowded and that our boat was going to be the last one out for that day.

The trip going back was rough even though we were on a catamaran. The captain went parallel to the island as much as possible to use the island as a shield. We saw extremely beautiful rock formations and emerald blue water and some extremely good looking fishing spots on shore.

This one was one for the books. Windy, cold, getting stranded, staying up for 30 hours, lots of fish, productive hooping and more. Not something I can do often, but next season I will be doing it again, health permitting. The End.