Monday, July 31, 2023

Rockin' The Rockfish

After days of planning and weeks of watching local fish counts, Jakes, my uncle Shlome, and I woke up today at 2 AM to prepare for our annual south California fishing trip. We were weighing our options, looking at landings all over the SoCal coast, before deciding to return to Ventura Harbor in pursuit of bottom Rockfish and whatever else would bite by the Channel Islands. Bottom fishing is Jakes' favorite type of fishing, so he was especially partial towards this boat. We had success the last time we went out of Ventura Harbor, catching a variety of species that we aren't used to catching in Florida. As we talked with the deckhands before leaving and renting/buying our gear, we became more and more eager to see what the day would hold for us. It's always fun talking about fishing in new places, exchanging stories and info about our different fisheries. There are so many similarities and differences to fishing in places all over the world, and I'm thankful to have had as many different fishing experiences as I've had so far. I'm always on the lookout for more.

The deckhands and captain were very helpful on the way out, helping set up our gear with the preferred rigs at each stop based on the depth of the water and the species we were after. Our first stop was not yetin sight of the islands. That being said, however, the fog and clouds were extremely thick; it felt as though we were fishing in the middle of the sea, miles from shore. However, there were certainly a ton of fish living a few dozen feet under us. As the boat slowed down and finally anchored up at the first Rockfish spot, Shlome and Jakes took the port side near the hull using dropper loops while I freelined a bait on the starboard side due to the direction of the current. For a while, it seemed as if very few fish were being caught on the boat. However, I was toward the back, where all the fish bags were for each angler. I did see a few fish coming in from the other side but didn't think much of it. That was until Shlome came to rebait his hook with another live sardine and told me to join him up front as he had already caught 3 fish. Little did I know, they were the only ones catching fish on the boat. Shlome said that his trick was to play with the line shortly after it hit the bottom, sort of jigging the hook. Sure enough, it seemed like every time he dropped and jigged the bait, a fish would bite immediately. We called it "the method." I rerigged my setup to have a dropper loop, and sure enough, the three of us were all hooking up consistently. It was so consistent to the point that we were laughing in disbelief every time we would hook up. Especially when everyone else on the boat wasn't having any such luck. We did have some envious looks, but it was definitely a fun time. I can't say I remember having any fishing experience quite like that on a party boat. We were pulling in Vermillion and Brown Rockfish along with a few Barred Sand Bass. After a while, we moved spots, already more than satisfied with our trip despite it only being around 9:30 AM. We were doubling up and catching virtually once the baits hit the bottom and were already becoming notorious on the boat for our tremendous catches. We had a great day of fishing ahead of us.

As we kept going, we stopped off at another Rockfish spot that worked in the same way for us. We just kept loading the boat with fish, disproportionately more than the rest of the boat. It felt like we had some kind of magic touch. It's really hard to explain how we had such luck with the Rockfish, but it was a welcome surprise. Soon after we made our way to the islands to try a different type of fishing. As we got closer, the sky really cleared up for a bit, and we were able to see the Channel Islands in all their beauty. Arguably my favorite part of fishing out of Ventura Harbor is the chance we get to fish right next to these majestic islands, which were uplifted about 5 million years ago.

We were still bottom fishing, but most of our attention this close to the southern coast of Santa Cruz island was to cast and retrieve surface jigs (these are a certain type of lure that is extremely common in California but not so much elsewhere, much to the surprise of the SoCal anglers with whom I was talking). I have a feeling that we had a jig that was slightly too large, as while I could get the Barracudas to chase my lure, they just wouldn't bite. They were caught by other anglers on the boat though. It was disappointing to not catch Barracuda despite them being so close, but it was fun to fish for them. I am sure that I will have more opportunities to catch them in the future. The bottom fishing was not good this close to the island today, so we eventually decided to move on to the north side of the island. It was a really nice ride in perfect weather, sunny with a nice breeze, as we were able to sit and admire the rock formations on the island's coast during our ride to the next spot.

The captain suggested that we move to a double dropper loop with a heavier weight for our next spot. We moved a bit further offshore, still in view of the islands, but in a deeper location. On top of that, the cloud cover and fog came right back, and it felt like the first Rockfish spot again. The fishing was similar too. To put into context how well this spot worked out for us, after the trip, my brother said that I was stat padding at this spot. I can't say I disagree. We went from 6 oz to 8-12+ oz sinkers and dropped a combination of live sardines and cut squid to the bottom. It was much deeper, and the current had more of a pull on our bait at this spot, which made fishing tougher. It was also much more tiring to reelin the bait, especially when a fish was fighting. But, of course, it was worth it. Once again, we were catching fish on almost every drop. While many fishermen on the boat were catching, we were once again clearly out fishing everyone. This time, we brought in lots of different species of Rockfish too. The long, hard fights from the deep were even more worth the effort when we would finally see color and discover that we had a new species added to our catches. It was really fun to do this type of fishing, only imagining what could be on the other end of your line. We were bringing in different varieties of Boccacio (or Salmon Grouper/Rockfish), Copper Rockfish, Gopher Rockfish, Rosy Rockfish, Bronzespotted Rockfish, Starry Rockfish, Halfbanded Rockfish, Greenblotched Rockfish, and Yelloweye Rockfish. On top of that we also had a few Sand Dabs and even what I thought were small California Halibut based on the patterns and coloring of the spots on it, which were different than the mostly solid brown back of the Sand Dabs. These were especially small, and given the depth and current, we felt bites but often weren't sure whether a fish was on, only to reel in to check on the bait and find a small flatfish on the line. They were all really cool catches to see. Many of them were new species, about which I was ecstatic. It was awesome to see the variety of colorful Rockfish in these California waters so close and in person.

When it came time to fillet the fish, we counted out our totals. Shlome had about 18 (11 keepers), Jakes had about 15 (8 keepers), and I caught about 25 (18 keepers). Especially with the double dropper loop at the last few stops, I was reeling in fish after fish. Sometimes I'd get lucky and have 2 on one line, which happened multiple times. I followed the advice of a fisherman next to me, who suggested to wait a little bit even after getting a bite, so that another fish could get hooked on the second hook. Like Jakes said, it was stat padding. We all maxed out on our limits and gave the extras to other fishermen on the boat. We really killed it today on the boat. Looking back at this blog, I confirmed what I thought: I set a personal record today with most fish I've caught in a day at 25. Today the fishing was both quantity and quality, which was especially great for a multispecies fisherman like me. It was definitely unforgettable.

Afterwards, we went home and fried most of the fillets in a beer batter and used them for some bomb fish tacos, as per our tradition when fishing with Shlome. It was a great way to top off an amazing day.