July 29, 2012

2012 California Road Trip (Day 4)

At 5am, the alarm sounded off. I rolled out of bed, looked out the window to see darkness still, and went back to bed. At 6am, I finally got out of bed and headed to the nearest McDonald’s. It is possible to have a half decent breakfast at McD’s!

It was cloudy at Redwood City where I stayed. As I drove toward Half Moon Bay, it was downright foggy! Traffic was much lighter this morning than the afternoon before and I could take it easy navigating through the twists and turns. At last, I arrived at Half Moon Bay Sportfishing where I purchased a few more 3/4oz jigheads, a bag of Gulp! Shrimp, and a 1lb of frozen squid. I hoped that it was all I’ll need for the day of fishing.

The morning was cool and moist. Everywhere was drab except for these yellow flowers.

Along the way to a jetty in the area, I passed by this interesting rock maze.

I was a little apprehensive about hiking the jetty that day. Firstly, all the rocks were wet from the misty rain. Secondly, I had a backpack with probably 25lbs of gear that could easily shift weight and cause me to lose balance. Thirdly, I was hiking out on my own with only a few people walking their dogs at the beach. As if it wasn’t bad enough, the swells and wind was up on the ocean side of the jetty. This hike could turn out really bad!

I was determined to find my lingcod. That desire seemed to suppress the caution and drove myself to take risk. Truth be told, I re-evaluate my decision to hike out multiple times along the way, often stopping and turning back to see the slow progress I was making. When I reached halfway out, I finally told myself that I had gone too far to turn back now.

It was just maybe 5 minutes after the halfway point that I stepped on a rock with some wet, slippery bird droppings that made me fall. Luckily, I had stuck to the harbour side of the jetty where the rocks seemed less jumbled. My heavy backpack was actually a blessing in this case as I was pulled by gravity backwards instead of forward. The backpack also cushioned my fall against the rock and protected my spine. I did, however, scraped up my right arm pretty nicely. I was trying hard to protect my rods against the rocks that my arm smashed against the rocks.

After falling, my progress slowed even further. At the middle of the jetty, the rocks were terribly covered by bird droppings and it was extremely difficult to navigate. My hands had no choice but to land on wet droppings to brace against falls. Man, did it ever stink out there!

At long last, I made it to a spot that Teng had suggested. The waves were crashing much too high, and the rocks much too slippery, for me to fish the ocean side where the lingcod could be found in the deep water. Instead, I fished on the harbour side where the water was at least calm. I found a spot where I could wedge myself against two rocks in case my footing slips. If I did fall, I would just drop deeper into the crevice instead of into the water.

The areas next to the jetty had a healthy growth of kelp. It created habitat for fish, but also presented a challenge to my fishing. I made a few casts straight out of the jetty and jigged the lure back. After a while without any action, I questioned whether it was better to cast parallel to the jetty and work the lures back. Most of the rockfish and lingcod are found hiding to ambush within the cracks between boulders. Since I can’t really move and cover water, this was really my only choice.

I placed a few of casts to work along the jetty. On one cast, I felt my jig being picked up and set the hook on a fish determined to run back to its hole. I had my drag locked down and simply pull back with my rod. Using a short pumping technique, I managed to get to fish to shore quickly. At first, I thought the fish was a lingcod at deep colour. However, it soon revealed itself to be either a Olive Rockfish or a Yellowtail Rockfish. I had no way of getting down to water level, so lifting the fish straight up was my only option. Once at hand, I counted the 9 soft anal fin rays to find it was an Olive Rockfish. I was happy that the long, difficult hike was reward by at least a new species!

Olive Rockfish (Sebastes serranoides) – new species #9.

A few casts later along the same area parallel to the jetty, I hooked another rockfish. This one was a Brown Rockfish that unfortunately flopped off the hook into a crevice. It was way too deep for me to reach. I tried for 10 minutes trying to snag it with a large hook so I could get it back into the water, but all the attempts failed. Eventually, with a stroke of luck, the fish somehow flopped into another crevice that opened to the water below. I heard a splash and hoped that it will eventually find open water again.

As the tide dropped the current slowed and the bite seemed to die off. It was getting toward 12pm and I needed to get off the jetty. By now, the fog had lifted and a little bit of sunlight actually peaked through. The rocks were drying quickly and I was making relatively quick progress back toward shore. Halfway back to shore, I saw a man poke poling. I had squid with me and I was planning to poke pole on one jetty. Seeing his activity, I went down to chat with him to see if he had any success. He had a Kelp Rockfish in the bucket and he said he caught a couple of smaller rockfish.

I set up my 7’ musky rod with 30lb mono and a #8 hook. I pinched a splitshot on the line about 6” from the hook. Using a 2” strip of squid, I dropped this bait down to the larger holes between boulders. The length of line was only 12” from the rod tip to the hook. While poke poling, you would point the rod straight down toward the hole and dangle the baited line in the water to wash in the surge.

At the beginning, I was not having any success. When I saw the man caught a Monkeyface Prickleback, I walked over to compare his rig with mine and asked if I was doing anything wrong. Apparently, the fish are found in much smaller holes than I had thought possible. He was checking holes that were about the diameter of a soda can! Sometimes he would even drop his bait into even small cracks.

I started to look for small holes. After what felt like 10 or so empty holes, I finally had a small bite at last! I missed the hookset and the bait was torn off the hook. With a new baited line, the current washed the bait seductively in the surge but the fish seemed to have ventured off.

About another dozen holes later, I felt a tap and pulled up quickly. I saw a small fish came to the surface but fell off the hook the moment it was in the air! Darn! I tried with a fresh piece of squid but this fish swam off too.

About another half dozen holes later, I found another small tap on the line. This time, I let the bait sit there to be swallowed before setting the hook. At long last, I finally landed a small fish. At first, I thought it was a small Cabezon but a friend corrected me.

Woolly Sculpin (Clinocottus analis) – new species #10.

I was really hoping to find a Monkeyface Prickleback. Poke poling the rock crevices was the best method to find them. I was running out of time as I had to leave Half Moon Bay by 3pm. It was already 2pm and I still had half the jetty to hike. As I worked my way hole by hole slowly back toward shore, I caught another Woolly Sculpin about the same size.

With about 15 minutes left before my 2:30pm deadline, I finally found a fish inside a hole that bit a little different. The bites felt more determined and aggressive. I lost my squid on the first bite and on the second bite. With a third baited hook, I let the fish grab the bait and waited a little more before setting the hook. I thought I had set the hook well and felt the fish on the line, but the fish again stripped my hook bare. I didn’t know if the fish would bite again, but I dipped the squid into the hole and left a lot of slack in the line. I was about to soak the bait for at least 30 seconds before setting the hook. However, as the bait sat there for 15 seconds, I could see the line tightening as the fish swam back to the hole. I immediately pulled back and I could feel a lot of resistance against the line. The fish was most determined to back into its hole. I had an idea what this fish might be, and my guess was correct!

Monkeyface Prickleback (Cebidichthys violaceus) – new species #11.

Most people find them f-ugly…I find them pretty neat actually. Most of its reddish colour wasn’t captured in the photograph, but they had a nice rusty red on the margins of the fins.

With the target species captured, and time seriously dwindling, I had to end the session. I got back to the car at 3:30pm. I had about an hour drive ahead of me toward Rohnert Park where I would meet with Eric at his house. The one hour drive turned into a 2 hour nightmare as rush hour traffic clogged city streets and the Golden Gate bridge which I had to cross. I felt terribly bad that I had arrived so late at Eric’s house, but he assured me that it was okay, and the fish would be waiting.

From Eric’s house, he drove about an hour to reach Tomales Bay. I don’t really know where exactly it was that we fished…but I don’t share location information on the public forum anyways. Wherever this spot was, it was as predictable as clockwork.

Eric showed me his simple rig for Bat Rays. It consisted a dropper loop that had a hook loop about 3-4 feet from the sinker. To the hook loop Eric attached about 8” of wire leader and a #6 circle hook. Since the current was a bit strong, we put on a 5oz bank sinker to ensure our rig would stay on bottom.

We put a whole squid on the hook. Eric had some Spider Thread that we wrapped around the squid to secure the bait a little better on the hook. Eric said we really didn’t need to cast far as the tide was incoming. I placed my bait about 60 yards out and then wedged the stainless steel butt of my custom 12’ surf rod against a rocky spot that was Eric’s favourite rod holding spot. I had this 12’, 3-piece rod customized with reflective tape, a bell holder and a stainless steel rod by a friend in Hawaii to use as a dunking rod. I had never caught a fish on it. Most of the time this rod was used to fish an octopus leg or a live reef fish for bonefish or trevally in Hawaii. It had yet to be bit and yet to be tested.

It was maybe 5 minutes after my bait was soaking that my Shimano Baitrunner 4500 started a steady scream. I had noticed that a large mass of eel grass had bumped into my line a minute ago and I thought the mass might be dragging my line. However, it was very quickly realized that the line was actually moving away from the mass of grass. This was a fish!

I grabbed the rod and cranked on the handle to engage the reel. At that moment, the rod doubled over and we had a tough fish on our hands! The first run was nothing short of spectacular and I thought the fish would never stop until it reached the other side of the bay. About 150 yards of line dumped off my spool before the fish cuts back and I could regain some line. The fish then swam to our left on another long run. With each run, the distance decreased. However, when the fish stopped running, it felt like I was reeling in a large sea anchor! At long last, I saw the tips of the wings of this fish. From afar, it didn’t look too big, but Eric was certainly excited about this size of this fish. I had guessed the fish to be in the 30” class. Eric usually net his fish and nudge it toward shore. This fish barely fitted into the net and we barely pushed it up on shore.

What a wonderful specimen for my first ever Bat Ray! This fish had a 43” wing span and an estimated weight of 40-50lbs. I lifted it just high enough for a picture. You don't want to lift them too high by the "ears" since it could damage the fish.

(Myliobatis californica) – new species #12

This fish kicked my butt! My rod performed great, but the longer length and the parabolic nature meant I often had to squad down and “boost ‘em” to gain any leverage on the fish. It might work as an ulua rod…but this was certainly a little too parabolic for bat rays.

I sent out my rig again with a fresh squid. I had the next series of casts plagued by sea grass masses that were now washing toward shore on the incoming tide. When I finally had a good soak, I missed a good hit that pulled out some line then dropped the bait.

I decided to put down the rod and took a scenic shot.

Eric finally hooked up on his 9’ UglyStik and handed the rod over to me. He said I should tug on every bay ray we hooked LOL.

This fish ended up being a cute little baby that was subdubed very quickly. It was maybe 18” across. Cute and not a lot of work. I like it.

Eric’s next cast must have soaked for just a few minutes before it was picked up again. However, he missed this hit. I was next to get bit that was missed also.

About another 10 minutes later, Eric’s bait got picked up and he reared back to really hammer to hook home. The fish started charging out to deep water as Eric handed the rod to me. With the shorter rod, I had better leverage. Maybe this fish didn’t have the same stamina, or maybe it really was the leverage of the shorter rod, but this fish also came in with much more ease than my first fish. It still put up a long, determined fight but we landed the fish relatively quickly. As the tide was flooding the little bit of the rocky beach we had, we hoisted the fish up the steep slope to unhook the fish. This was a 41” Bat Ray that was thicker in body.

I decided to rub its melon. They are such cool fish!

After landing 3 bat rays, I had enough. Eric was right – these fish will kick your butt and three was about all I could handle. At 8pm, merely just one hour after we started fishing, we called it a night. Eric took me to a great little restaurant and I treated him to dinner. It was really a very small thank you for such a great fishing session.

That night, I got back to the motel at about 12am. I was completely exhausted. I had planned to fish the next morning, but my body was refusing to comply. I decided to go to sleep and decided the next morning.

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