July 27, 2012

2012 California Road Trip (Day 2)

I woke up today at 4:00am to arrive at Oxnard before 5:30am. With a bit of luck, I was notified a coupon to the 3/4-day fishing boat, the Gentlemen, out of Channel Island Sportfishing. I've seen many reports on scsurffing.com regarding the Channel Islands, a series of islands to the west of Oxnard, that have phenomenal bottom fishing for rockfish species and lingcod. Unfortunately, the fishing had slowed to a crawl just before my trip. Instead of fishing the Channel Islands, my captain decided to fish along the California coast. I was wondering how this would affect the variety of fish to be caught.

We had a full boat today since everyone was taking advantage of the coupon.

We took a 1-hour boat ride south along the coast. We slowed as the captain searched the 180’ depth for rocky bottom structures that could hold fish. After a few minutes of snaking along this area, the captain drove a circle around a spot and finally asked the deckhands to drop anchor.

During the ride, I had rigged up my 7’ UglyStik Tiger rod, Saltist BG 40 reel holding 300 yards of 65lb Sufix 832 braid with a 50’ top shot of 40lb Big Game mono. I tied a 150lb swivel to the end of the 40lb mono, then tied on a dropper loop rig of 30lb mono. We were fishing fairly deep water, so I used a 10oz torpedo sinker to make sure the line was kept as vertical as possible. If the lines are drifting at an angle, this would result in endless tangles with your fishing neighbours on either side of you, or even worst the fishing people on the other side of the boat.

Although we had live anchovies on the boat, we started fishing using squid. On the first drop, I detected some small bites and set the hook. Something small was struggling on the other end which I found to be a Calico Rockfish

Calico Rockfish (Sebastes dalli) - new species #1

The next drop, there was another little tap. I reeled up a Pacific Sanddab, a species I had already caught on the previous trips to California. Catching these Sanddabs indicated we were on a sandy bottom.

Nothing was really going on at this spot. I caught a few more Calico Rockfish and Pacific Sanddab. The captain asked everyone to reel up so we could try another area.

At the second spot, my dropper loop rig was hit on the first drop! This fish fought a little more.

Vermillion Rockfish (Sebastes miniatus) – new species #2

A couple of missed hits later, I set the hook on another fish. This fish looked a bit like a Vermillion Rockfish, but the white lateral line suggested it was a Canary Rockfish. A Canary Rockfish usually has a dark patch on the spiny dorsal that is missing in this fish. I really don’t know how to call this fish. I would catch a confirmed Canary Rockfish at a later date, so I wasn’t too hasty on calling this a new species caught just yet. Since I wasn't sure of the identity of this rockfish, and the fact that Canary Rockfish is a protected species, I released it promptly.

After we drifted off the spot, we readjusted anchor. The current was either really strong this day or we were just fishing on a relatively flat and sandy bottom. Whatever the case, the anchor was often slipping. A few drops later, I finally had a hit and yielded yet another new rockfish species. This was a Greenblotched Rockfish. This fish was especially difficult to identify. While many people on the forums suggest it was a Rosy Rockfish, I stood by my observation that there were green wavy markings on the back. A few of my pictures were examined by Dr. Milton Love and his associates (Thanks to Roy for forwarding them to Dr. Love!) Their consensus was juvenile Greenblotched Rockfish, especially these words by Dr. Love "...because the green on the back seems to form vermiculations rather than distinct spots." In this particular picture (and really only in the picture), you could attempt to count the pectoral ray of this fish. There were 17 pectoral ray, which identifies it as a Greenblotched Rockfish (typically 17) and distinguish it from a Pink Rockfish (typically 18). Anyways, a little bit of an ID challenge for the fish nerds.

Greenblotched Rockfish (Sebastes rosenblatti) – new species #3

Fishing was pretty fast and furious on this stop once we drifted over the rocky spot. The next stop was another new rockfish species.

Copper Rockfish (Sebastes caurinus) – new species #4

I caught a few more small Calico Rockfish and one more Vermillion Rockfish. The fishing then slowed to a stop and the captain decided to make a longer steam south of Point Mugu to fish the shallower kelp beds.

The current had now picked up a little more. I had novice anglers on the left and right of me. It was difficult to get a good drop down without having one of them tangle up multiple lines! During one drop, I hooked a fish and was reeling up to find 4 other lines tangled with mine! Luckily, I did catch a new species to make the trouble a little more bearable. The Kelp Rockfish is different from the Brown Rockfish by the lighter olive green/brown colouring and darker mottling.

Kelp Rockfish (Sebastes atrovirens) – new species #5

When the tangled lines were finally sorted out, I was hit and a stronger fighting fish was on the line. These Gopher Rockfish fought much more than other rockfish species I’ve encountered. They were a little more fun to reel in.

Gopher Rockfish (Sebastes carnatus) – new species #6

Another drop yielded a surprising catch. This species is usually rare south of Santa Barbara and this fish was well beyond its southern range. I was happy to have chanced into it since I had little expectation of catching one on this trip. This was an absolutely beautiful little creature!

Rainbow Seaperch (Hypsurus caryi) – new species #7

At long last, the trip came to an end. The slow fishing made the day dragged on and it felt much longer than the 6 hours we had on the water. My catch of the day was a half limit of 2 Vermillion, 1 Copper, 1 Gopher and 1 Greenblotched Rockfish. That was a decent count considering most people only had 1 or 2 keeper fish in their sacks. I usually do not keep many fish on my trips, but since I'm staying with my aunt and she likes to eat fish, it was nice to bring something home. I asked the deckhand to gut and gill my catch and we had steamed rockfish that night. The Gopher Rockfish tasted the best out of all of them, with the Vermillion coming a close second. I was early to bed again since I had a long driving day ahead.

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