“Ok, boat, boat, boat, ‘oh, that guy?’ boat, boat, ‘is that a boat?’ yeah there’s another boat, ‘just turn on at least a stern light, it’s no secret.'”
It was though it was yesterday, but it was really late July when I was trying to set up on this squid bed off Del Mar that was hosting a pretty fun bite on seabass in the dark and a little shot on the yellows in the morning and even a halibut or two, if lucky. There were no light boats, no seiners, just fun local fishing on a spot that gave up a 57-pound white seabass the trip before and would give up a 62 the trip to follow.
On this trip it was my buddy John Frizzell, and my favorite little dude older than 5 months to have on the boat, his 8-year-old son, Ben.
The having to slide in pre grey and being courteous to the line up — sitting in a little line right where we had the 57 — meant that there’d be no setting up on the little dip in the sand marked “Kevin’s” on the GPS.
Let the mind games begin.
The anchor went down, and all it took was a little bit of grey to make the hamster in the head wake up and start running fast enough to power the racetrack into the east.
A bare idle, big huge loop around the mini fleet brought us to another little dip in the sand with a mound of squid doming over it. At least Ben could keep busy jigging squid.
The trip was planned around the tide, and if anything was going to bite, now was the time.
Ever spend half your summer staring at rod tips coming out of holders? It can be eye-gougingly boring, but there are also those times where the jolt of adrenaline is enough to combust the hamster.
The tip of a Harnell just barely ticked, and Ben was hurdled over. In gear, wind, wind, wind, in holder. Say “Come get this only” instructions to the brain got so far as “Come ge ….” before John’s dropper loop went bendo.
All it took was a sick double to lead to one exploded hamster and hoping for a triple.
Words that will never be forgotten: “Oh my god dad, oh my god dad” as a huge local seabass came charging the boat, mouth open, gills flaring and the purple stripes looking like they’d harnessed up some of the electricity the hamster had spun up on the cerebral cortex.
“Ben, keep winding.”
“John, fight your fish.”
“Wow, this is what it’s like to fish the coast for huge fish with your son? I hope Noah likes fishing…”
Dad kept looking back, while Ben was looking down at the reel and putting the last few winds on the little Talica 8.
The gaff was grabbed, the voice kept at a hushed tone to not wind the kid up even more; it was time to harvest a magnificent fish that has done its thing plenty of times in its many years going from 20 something inches to what looks like its current 50 plus pounds.
“Ben, you did it!”
The seabass was almost as long as him, and as it slid over the rail the “yeah, yeah, yeahs” from the kid continued until it hit the deck and then the “oh my gods” took over again. The men on the other boats to the way outside didn't quite share the enthusiasm of watching this go down pretty in-the-face from the most recent boat on the scene.
There wasn’t too much—actually any—time to celebrate as John’s, what was fighting like a big yellowtail, got closer.
Thirty-plus pounds of yellowtail hit the deck and the high fives—and young Ben directing us on how and where to take the pictures—took over. If there were only two beers and Nestle carton with a cow on it iced down.
But there wasn’t much time to celebrate. A few more doubles took over, first on the big yellows of North County that were letting their guard down, then on the black seabass that always seem to find the squid before even the savviest.
Nobody else was getting bit, aside from one boat on the other side of the nest that picked a yellow.
“You can come and get closer and set up off my bow, if you want,” got yelled to the closest skiff.
No thanks. No small talk. Just an envious “I’m on plenty of squid” snarl from the 30-something on closest boat that was pretty far away, so far as fishing squid zones go.
He came over, set up, didn’t say thanks and then was nice enough to pull his anchor—after watching Ben get the fish that this story is really about—and drive right at me and hit my numbers into his GPS. (That night he was set up there on the inside with two buddies; no, he didn’t wave back, and yes, my anchor went down as close as seemed fit; there was no room for the courtesy of the trip before.)
So after the fish were iced and bled, the pics taken and the boat cleaned up as the trickle of incoming tide backed off despite it getting closer to the high, John asked a simple enough question: “How do we catch a halibut?”
“You’re asking the wrong guy, the big joke with my little group is how halibut never come on this boat,” almost came from the lips in some variation.
But instead the morning’s success brought some positivity: “well, we can try tying up a reverse dropper loop and Ben can drag it across the bottom?”
He wasn’t dragging it, but he was watching the rod tip as instructed, and what started as a tick and vibration turned into a 24-pound, 8-ounce halibut back in Oceanside at the scale at Ken’s Custom Reel. Along the way the guys on the other boats really looked unhappy watching all this go down. No stoke. Strange. But whatever. It has to get pretty old watching...
And now it's all a little sweeter memory, as the halibut was announced as a new IGFA Small Fry Record for California halibut for Ben.
The seabass would have been a Small Fry Record had the hurdler not touched the rod, and Ben’s 30-something-pound yellow was just 9 ounces short of the IGFA Small Fry Record. Ben was fine with it, after all, he really just wanted a picture of him laying down next to his slam with a thumbs up.
At least there’s something to try for next time, be it this weekend or the seasons until Ben becomes a Junior. He’s got a pretty good shot of setting all three (bigger halibut, yellowtail, white seabass) if he keeps coming out. It's certainly an open invitation anytime.
The only other small fry buddy I’ve got to take out is only 5 months old. But I like his chances for 2014.