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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Captain Merit McCrea is our Saltwater Editor. He covers the Southern California beat for Western Outdoor News.McCrea has been an active USCG licensed captain since 1978. For more than two decades he owned and operated partyboats. He served as a Sportfishing Association of California Board Member and is well-connected within the industry.


In 2000 he transitioned into academia, earned several academic honors and now concurrently works as a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute with the Milton Love Lab. His skills include: ecology, fisheries, marine management, technical mapping (GIS), statistical analysis, oceanographic processes, ichthyology, technical writing, modern technological application, data management, small business management, experimental design, mathematical modeling, research diving and journalism.


A resident of Santa Barbara, McCrea is also a skilled boat operator including trailer boats, larger single screw, twin screw and water-jet driven vessels. He can find fish, run a rod and reel and is the current IGFA all-tackle world record holder for catch and release calico bass. Recreationally he has a passion for fishing and hunting.


It is his desire as your Saltwater Editor to assure that we support our advertisers that support us. He can be reached by voice or text at (805) 687-3474 or via email at merit@wonews.com


Told you so!
It was mid-April when my offshore report came out, and in it I made a few predictions of what would come, based on what was happening in our waters mid-Winter. And although the prediction was not all that different than what we'd seen the season previous, I'd guessed the north to south gradient would be even farther outside the realm of normal extremes.

From what I could tell it seemed like we'd see a perverse coupling of warm waters, and strong cold water upwelling with persistent west winds along the Central Coast and extending down the Bight's outer edge at the same time.


Warmer than average waters would suck up into the inner Bight and meet the cold at the Northern Channel Islands along a crazy extreme — double digits temperature break.


sstanomalyepng
THE SST ANOMALY shows the entire northeast Pacific much warmer than normal. Yet, unlike an El Niño event, there is upwelling along the coastal areas where it normally appears in spring and early summer, only lasting into the fall in La Niña years. This suggests the hot water is a thin layer on top, at least along the coast. In comparison to an average year, by September the upwelling plume of cool water has already dissipated. Deep red is 5 degrees above average for the date and location. Gray to light green is average, while deep purple is 5 degrees below average. NASA IMAGE

The El Niño warm waters science says turn coastal waters blue all the way up into the western Channel Islands. West winds fade, upwelling ceases, kelp dies, bait fish suffer, sea lions suffer, rockfish babies suffer due to a lack of primary production — food, plankton.


But my call was surface warm water layers were thin, so yes on the hot water deep in the Bight, but strong cold water upwelling along the usual line along the Bight's western edge. We'd again see those big bluefin, and there would again be a split decision between fishing them in U.S. waters and much more catchable yellowfin to the south.


Now, warm waters usually kill off the seabass bite early in the season, yet I went out on a limb and predicted a prolonged and strong seabass season with extended cool green water at San Miguel, Santa Rosa and San Nicolas islands. It happened.


At the same time, I also thought we'd end up seeing some surprisingly close to the coast tuna opportunity pop up for the southern sector — in the same season as waters favorable for salmon in the spring in our northern sector — Morro Bay and Port San Luis.


Well, it actually happened. The salmon bite in our northern corner was the best in years, with cool waters and biting fish even into July. This past week we saw the jumbo bluefin pop up in waters right along the coast from Dana Point south. The north 9-Mile has already seen some hot tuna snaps.


Of course, Cow Town out near San Clemente Island was ever tempting as those specialist anglers continue to haul in fish over 300 pounds and hook fish with an average weight in the high 100s. Yet, when it came to putting lots of anglers into the success sector, the yellowfin bite from just outside the Coronado Islands — south to the lower 500 was the target. That came to pass too.


There was so much anchovy micro-bait in the waters, there were times when it was tough to draw a tuna's attention off of it, even with the best bait possible in the tank. Warmer than average waters filled the inner Bight. They extended on up to Santa Cruz Island, where the southern heat clashed somewhere along the island chain with the cold stuff.


But beyond San Clemente Island, waters were back at seasonal averages, and yet a couple hundred miles west of that were waters fully 5 degrees above normal, a thousand or more miles of it.


They're calling it the Blob II. But unless you're looking at the map of the difference from normal, you can't tell it exists. It's as if the entire Eastern Pacific temperature gradient has simply shifted north by hundreds of miles.


At the same time, normal to stronger than normal La Niña style oceanographic dynamics persist along our coast — strong northwest wind flow, upwelling waters — big plankton blooms in the usual places like along the Central Coast, the Santa Barbara Channel — extending south through the waters immediately west of San Nicolas Island — down to the Cortes Bank.


North of Newport, green waters along the beach have been persistent late into the season — even as inner Bight SSTs hit 70-plus degrees.


In the yellowfin tuna area, it's been dark-water fishing for tuna. Even now, the really blue water in the Bight is confined to transient small sections. Currently, the area around Santa Barbara Island has it.


Even now, in fall, there's no big expanse of crystal blue water north of the Cortes anywhere, nor east of the 60-Mile Bank. Yet the tuna are on tap in the grey and green stuff just a few miles off the coast.


In fact, at the latitude of the Cortes one would have to run another 200-plus miles west to see aqua blue water. That's how wide the upwelling plume of plankton water extending south from the Central Coast is still.


It's cool too — 64 degrees, while waters inshore of there are closer to 72. Those pelagics are tucked up into the Bight behind that cool plume.


Honestly, looking at the oceanographic dynamics alone suggests a typical — even a cold water year, but with the actual temperatures involved ramped up by several degrees across the board.


Here's something to ponder. Back in the late '70s what we looked for while fishing albacore from San Diego, was 62 and blue. When it hit 66 degrees, that was crazy-hot water. I can't even imagine 62-degree water being any color but green now.


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Land vs. water
The question here is which produces the most food, both when left in their natural state and when modified by agriculture/aquaculture. Then, how does wild and natural water do when compared to agriculture.

So what do plants do for a living? Some are single celled and float in water. Others are immense, with root systems reaching deep under ground and tops towering over 300 feet in the air with trunks as big around as a garden shed.


But all do one primary thing. They bust apart water and carbon dioxide with the sun's energy and make sugar — glucose. And those glucose molecules are then strung together to make either amylose, which is starch, aka food, or if linked a little differently, making cellulose, which is what wood is.


Now, starches and all the different stuff living things make by reprocessing sugars and starches are easy to process as food.


As for cellulose, it's a challenge. And those linkages are so difficult to bust apart — take so much extra energy that few animals can digest it — usually only with the help of specialized bacteria in their digestive tracts. And when they do the process is painfully slow and they don't get nearly as much food value back out of the deal.


First, the land. Plants are all about air, water and sunlight. That's really just about it, but for a little nitrate and phosphate. But on land, the competition for sunlight is fierce and plants are ruthless. Almost every green plant on earth isn't satisfied to have just the light that hits the dirt where they sprouted. They have to reach out and up — take all they can get — beat their neighbors to it, shading others out as they race for the sky.


Some grow fast for a year, or maybe just for a few months while the ground remains wet from winter rains. Others invest hugely in supporting structures that dig deep for water and high over all others, allowing them to last from year to year. Some cheat and climb other plants to get to the treetops without building a trunk.


But all of them are hell-bent to use all they produce to grow woody stems and support structures that are all about fighting gravity into the sunlight. They only grudgingly give up primary production to produce anything really worth eating.


Sugars and starches and proteins have to be available in their seeds and some in leaves. Some make fruit to induce animals to cart their seeds off with the fruit and distribute their progeny far and wide. Others sacrifice extra seeds for the same purpose.


Those that do the best job of making food rather than simply stems are the ones agriculture cultivates, and yet these plants still make far more leaf fiber, stems and trunks than food. Ranching cattle and such that eat grass allows the conversion of some of that cellulose back into food. And though their presence changes the natural ecosystem to grassland dotted with bigger trees, a great variety of wild animals share such range land, unlike the land under the plow.


Nevertheless, we've wiped out nature on almost every patch of flat dirt where water can be obtained, to grow those special food producing plants. That's agriculture.


In the marine environment, there's no gravity to fight. By far the greatest bulk of marine plants are tiny phytoplankton. Almost no marine plants make cellulose, aka wood. The rare exceptions are the few coastal ones which are descendants of terrestrial plants, and they don't make much of it.


It's all easily digested food for marine critters. Very little of it hangs around uneaten the way land plants’ woody carcasses do ashore.


So primary production doesn't pile up as deadfall. It almost all gets eaten — eventually becoming part of an edible fish or other critter. Wild marine environments blow away wild terrestrial ecosystems for food production.


Wild oceans even beat most agriculture when it comes to producing high quality protein. And while fishing does change the marine ecosystem, this change is trivial by comparison to what agriculture does to once wild terrestrial ecosystems ashore.


When it comes to being eco-friendly, fishing is by far the winner over agricultural meat production. So what about aquaculture? Is it an eco-winner too?


The answer here is it depends. Growing seaweed is a winner. So is growing filter feeders that eat wild plankton, stuff like mussels and oysters.


Growing fish can be an economic winner, even though it might not be the least impactful on nature. Feeding and caring for fish can mean less fuel and work than going out and catching them.


But fairly often the deal is they're catching wild fish to feed aquaculture fish, or at least growing grain to feed fish like tilapia.


The top winners as far as protein production goes are wild-caught fish, aquacultured filter feeders like oysters and mussels, and range-fed animals that eat grass and bush. These are the major protein sources which require the least bulldozing and plowing to produce and allow the greatest level natural ecosystem function and diversity.


Hunting would count too, but for the fact wild terrestrial ecosystems could never produce enough wild game to feed the masses. Those ecosystems make mostly tree trunks, deadfall and brush piles that ultimately catch fire instead. Without agriculture and fishing we'd never be able to feed ourselves.


Nevertheless, seriously reducing the number of top predators to support excess production of game is a far cry from eliminating every living thing but feed corn, or garbanzos, or grapes, etc. the way big ag. does.


What's surprising is the crazy driver of the difference between wild land and wild sea, is simply terrestrial plants' need to defy gravity as they compete for sunlight.


It's darned hard to beat the natural food production of marine environments — even with agriculture which ploughs under all that was once wild.


Fisheries' impacts on wild marine ecosystems are absolutely trivial as compared to what we do with fence, plough and pesticides ashore. The price nature pays to feed us is far less at sea.


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Sorrow and grief
Friday morning, 6 a.m. walking down the path toward SEA Landing in Santa Barbara — kind people had woven flowers into the fence all along the walkway. There was a solid wall of tokens of sorrow and grief in honor of the victims of the tragic fire aboard the dive boat Conception, stretching for some 50 yards.

The sun remained just below the horizon to the east as the scene was lit by dawn's early glow. Here, that meant the brilliant superposition of sun behind both land and sea. Sol lights up, then peeks over the Santa Monica Mountains, low in the far distance — spilling across the Channel waters. Just to the left, the very tips of the tallest peaks in the towering Santa Ynez are afire with the chiaroscuro pattern of the sun's earliest rays — splayed across just the very highest ridges with shaded canyons between.


Along the path to the landing are several national news crews, gearing up for their morning broadcasts. The morning prior a similar scene had played out, but with fog shrouding the harbor and out to sea. Yet, over land and mountains had been clear and crisp.


Already, a few people had come early to place additional offerings to the spirits of those passed mariners and divers lost in the tragic events transpiring early Monday morning.


Down on the docks the Stardust had a few anglers already aboard, one of the lightest loads in recent weeks — understandably. It was the week following Labor Day at the home base of the Conception. We waited for a large party to arrive, which would represent 13 of the just 17 total anglers.


Winds already building in the Channel promised gale force conditions the following day. We would fish the coastal areas, strike out in the deeper zones and have to break out the axiomatic rabbit-bearing hat — saved for desperate times. A tiny inshore spot surrounded by miles of mud was loaded with mixed rockfish that day.


Back at dock with limits early, the news crews had retired to their vehicles in the parking lot, or nearby hotels. A now steady stream of onlookers and contributors filed past, lingered over and added to the impromptu memorial along the walkway. A vigil was set for the coming evening, at Chase Palm Park, just a half-mile down the beach.


Some people came to share the grief and contemplate the lives lost. Others came to share the grief and get noticed — dressed to the nines and such. And mixed among those, almost indiscernible in the gathering were a few family members and close friends of those lost.


Down on the dock, mostly away from the public, was the tiny true memorial, attended only by those most familiar — a place of reverence, contemplation and sadness for landing crews, close friends and family of the lost. At the base of the Conception's empty berth was placed a heart shaped wreath of flowers. On the Conception's dock steps sat just 4 small bouquets.


From up above, there was no way to know it existed. But for families and close friends, it was clear there was no peace, no closure without seeing that dock space. In impromptu secrecy, her empty slip offered a moment of relative solitude, free of news crews and the public.


Those lost were members of one of Truth Aquatic's most long-time regular charter groups — since the company’s inception. For crews working that day, having known those lost as acquaintances at best, it somehow seemed our job to be as we ever were, part of the very fabric of the landing, just there, enduring as ever, a promise of eventual recovery.


And while there were unavoidable moments of silent contemplation of events, it seemed part of the job to be strong, to continue forward as if it were just another day at the dock.


The few who instinctively knew where to come, had suffered the loss of a family member or close friend. No matter how deeply affected we were, it paled by comparison and had little standing.


With outer waters already rough and gale force winds promised for the following day, the launch ramp docks hosted a small fleet of recovery vessels and post major marine incident craft — a couple of vessels with the initials FBI emblazoned across their cabins, sheriffs' dive team.


In the launch ramp lot a small cordoned-off tent city was still growing that afternoon, with additional agency tents/shelters being set up within. Several large team support vehicles, like the Governor's Office of Emergency Services converted RV, were behind additional screened sections of portable fencing.


While news crews had earlier seemed overly eager to paint the darkest picture possible of events as they had unfolded, the truth had finally hit the street, by now some 5 days later — as much as could be released. Virtually none of the sins major media had so eagerly earlier implied had proved correct at all.


In fact, a day or two earlier I'd received a call from a gentleman claiming to be a reporter for CNN, seemingly in search of dirty laundry with respect to the Conception's operation. When it became clear that I, as all others familiar he'd spoken with, considered Truth Aquatics as setting the bar within the dive boat industry on dive safety, vessel maintenance, crew experience, training and client care, he lost interest.


The fire had ultimately forced 5 of Conception's crew into the water after escaping the wheelhouse. The skipper risked life and limb to quickly get a mayday out with the vessel's location, nature of distress and total number of people aboard before the wheelhouse burned. They were forced back by the flames in every attempt to access the boat's interior spaces. Both bunkroom access points were blocked by fire.


Saturday's fishing charters re-scheduled for a later date — hopefully for calmer waters and a brighter day.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


By hook or by crook
Hook selection is one of those things that's become challenging to communicate. Nominative hook sizing and style varies widely by brand. The size and style may sound similar but the hooks they refer to are nowhere near. Thus a number 4 Owner is comparable in size to a 1/0 Mustad.

So, I tend to talk in terms of basic shapes, wire weight and use relative sizes most are familiar with. Back in the day, it was either a Mustad or an Eagle Claw, and in saltwater it was most often a Mustad (before Mr. Dan Fink came along), so I use their sizing for reference.


First, circle hooks and tuna: Circle hooks enable one to use a very small hook by comparison to the line strength and fish size. The object of their design is to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth where even a small chunk of fish face is strong enough not to pull out. In fact, lots of times you can pull on a tiny hook hard enough that the wire starts to open instead, or you tear the whole maxilla out.


nominativehooksizeNOMINATIVE HOOK SIZE varies greatly from brand to brand today. So simply stating hook size is no longer definitive. Traditional Mustad sizing is not even similar to Owner's newer standard. Here Owner's no. 4, traditionally a tiny hook, similar to Mustad's 1/0 in size.

Another advantage is they're a lot less likely to hook elsewhere and cause mortal damage to fish you may want to, or have to, release. So, for some fisheries, like mooching salmon up north of Point Conception or billfish off Costa Rica, they're required by law.


Lastly, once a fish is hooked, it's a lot less likely to throw the hook when the line goes slack, or be hooked deeply such that the line crosses the sharp teeth of toothier critters. This is why they were invented for, and why they became so popular in the commercial long-line fisheries first.


But there are a couple of tricks to using them, and also a downside which dictates when not to use them. It all stems from the fact the fish has to bite, then swim off and hook itself. An angler can't set a circle hook because it will just pop out of the fish's mouth.


When you pin a live bait on one, it's easiest to push the bait into the tiny gap, then pull on the line. Otherwise you can fiddle for several minutes trying to work the tip to where it needs to be, especially if that's in a meaty part of the bait.


Most importantly, when it gets bit, you must let the fish swim off so the line lays down the side of the fish, then let the line come tight on it's own. Just throw the reel in gear and hang on or wind slack slowly.


Unfortunately, this means if the fish you're trying for has a tendency to sit still after biting or continue to swim toward you, a circle hook can be a poor choice. Thus, while they're ideal for tuna, especially toothy bluefin, they're perhaps not the best choice for yellowtail and dorado. Those two tend to hang out near the boat looking for a second bait after eating yours rather than swim out for clear water like a tuna.


Another thing to consider when fishing a smaller circle for a larger fish on heavier line is wire size. You'll want the "XXXH" version of that hook, not the little-fish, light wire version. And of course, the only good reason to fish a smaller hook, is because you can't get picky fish to go for a bait on a larger one.


When fishing for critters in situations where your target is less likely to swim off right after grabbing your bait, you'll want a hook you can swing on – one which's tip will bury into the first flesh it touches. That would be the standard J-hook.


I see the shank length as a critical consideration – one where choice varies with the fishing situation. For pelagic fish I prefer a shorter-shanked hook, shaped very much like an old fashioned salmon egg hook, for two primary reasons. These are u-shaped hooks where the tip of the hook is almost even with the base of the hook's eye.


The first reason is when you tension the line with the hook held where it naturally will adjust too, the tip of the hook points outward at a nearly 45-degree angle. It plows ever deeper into fish flesh, even if it's being pulled on so hard it's tearing through flesh. Such a hook will slide deep into the softer tissue until it hits a hard part, rather than ripping out.


A second reason is that the shorter shank provides less mechanical advantage to ripping out sideways if the line angle changes back and forth as you're fighting your fish.


I found such hooks to pull out far less often when rod and reeling tens of tuna per day in a commercial fishing setting. Often rod and reeling is what we ended up doing because the fish wouldn't eat the heavy commercial gear some days.


However, a longer-shanked hook holds more bait when cut bait of some sort or is being used. Fishing live squid works best with a longer-shanked hook you can thread through a couple of times – or even jam on several squid to give the appearance of spawners.


When it comes time to remove a hook, the longer shank makes it easier to unhook your catch quickly. You end up retying a lot less often when retying between each fish is not so critical for other reasons. It gets you back in the water quickly while the fish are biting.


Here are a couple of points that are important for all hooks.


Sharpness and strength count! It used to blow my mind that common pins could be produced so darned sharp for so little money, yet the strong fish hooks of the day were nearly "child-proof," while the sharp ones couldn't be trusted not to break or bend out.


In fact, a large reason we have so many hook brands competing with one another now is that back when it was a two-brand market, the door was left wide on for competitors to provide these critical improvements and grow their market share – even with prices more than twice that of the majors.


Today, pretty much all the top brands compete strongly in both regards. Hooks are sticky-sharp right out of the package. Today, only a few off-brands of super cheap hooks have runs where the wire can be too brittle and breaks, or be too malleable and open up too easily.


But even amongst the best, there is a large variation in barb size from brand to brand. Myself and most boat crews prefer a larger barb. Fishing the tiny barb J-hooks can be frustrating and infuriating. A larger barb holds a lively bait onto a J-hook far better.


If you're fishing in the weeds, having a large barb is critical when a fish buries into the kelp. Without a hefty barb, when a stringer slides down the line and onto the hook, that fish is gone with its first flip – leaving you hooked to the stringer!


Also, I prefer now-uncommon silver hooks for fishing finbait. They don't show up as a black splotch against the silver bait – like a big, fat fly having landed on your prime rib.


Yet, if producing a silvery electroplated hook that's sticky sharp right out of the package is technically impossible, sharpness is far more important than silvery shininess.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Second day advantage pays off
I was aboard the Legend Izorline sponsored 2.5-day and this how it went down.

Thursday evening, we have 29 anglers aboard the Legend as we depart for the Everingham bait receivers. I've brought gear for any eventuality, from kelp paddy yellows, to micro-bait yellowfin foamers, to bluefin of any grade on out to 300 pounders on kite and flying fish. It's two armfuls of rods and reels, like I was headed out on a 16 dayer or something.

But it's almost instantly apparent that our best option for both days will be finding that magic kelp and loading up on yellowtail. Friday morning finds us down the Mexican coast some 25 miles or so offshore. It's a torturous morning for the crew, as our kelp spotter swings in the crows nest for hours straining to find a few shards and even fewer fish.


dreampaddy
THE DREAM PADDY had drifted 8 miles south overnight. Bagged and tagged with everything from a simple spar to a satellite beacon relaying its coordinates in real time, Saturday morning saw 4 boats having run over 100 miles to fish side-by-each, with a 5th nearby.


It's a full court press with 4 or 5 boats in sight all heading south on parallel courses spaced 3 or 4 miles apart, in-search-of...


Mid morning we pull up on a kelp, decent sized. Capt. Chuck Taft announces on the PA it's loaded but he thinks it's already been hit earlier in the day. We'll try it nevertheless — see if we get lucky. The crew drops a flag in it — Chris Vollrath and Dominic Spinuzza. Capt. Steve Taft, Chuck's son, Spike's grandson is aboard as well, a third generation SoCal Sportboat skipper. Ed is in the galley.


We pick a fish or two, couple of dorado, a yellowtail.


We try a few other scraps then come upon another decent kelp. It's all tagged up. A small buoy marks it already, as well as a GPS beacon. It's also loaded. But it's already been milked that morning too. So we get a fish or two.


From there we head south another almost 30 miles for nearly nothing, few kelps, even fewer fish. Working offshore and then back north finds no love for us and sunset finds us back at the second of the two kelps that were really holding. The Excalibur is nearby also as is one other bigger boat, the Red Rooster III I believe.


The crew had added a flag to the kelp on our first pass that morning, and now we add a strobe. The sea anchor is put out so we stay stuck in the flow tracking with the kelp as it makes more than a knot in the current.


To this point we have a grand total of 7 fish in the hold, including 2 dorado, a skipjack on the troll and 4 yellows. It's been a long tough day with Ed's meals and snacks as the day's highlights.


I'm up soaking glow iron until 11 p.m. before throwing in the towel, and setting the alarm for 0400.



I arrive back on deck to find 3 or 4 dozen flying fish on the calm side of the boat. There are also a pair of yellowtail cruising together around the rig. I put a glow iron back out on the big gear and stuff the rod but in the hawse pipe, leaving it to jig with the bob of the boat.


hillyardsmarlinHILLYARD'S MARLIN — With Steve, George and Stan Hillyard. This fish was the result of a lucky jig-strike and the Hillyards were well rewarded for their tenacity at the stern, keeping a line in when few others would. The fish was taken on a Mexican flag pattern trolling jig on Izor 80-pound on a Penn red 6/0 and a Calstar rod. PHOTO BY CAS PUIZ

Having spent an inordinate amount of time in past years on deckwatch, observing flying fish in the lights, I have a good idea what they're there for, the tiny red polychaete worms that jet around under the lights and the other littler planktonic weirdos that show up.


Although I've never heard of it before, I dig out the tiniest of the lucky Luras made, the ones with 6, no. 14 sized flies we use for nabbing anchovies, hook and line. It works.


Flyers come up to it and spread their wings as they look at the rig, then I'm bit. But of course the hooks are a bit small and so I flip them up, liftpole style, in hopes they don't tear off before clearing the rail. About half make it aboard and I put three on before the bite backs off as grey light approaches and those yellows get a little too lively for the pack of flyers.


This morning the trap has been set. We pull the parachute back in and stand by for better light. In the meantime one angler nabs 2 of the 4 yellows that were chasing the flyers around.


The previously empty deck comes alive with sleepy anglers. Just after the chute is in a herd of 150 or so yellows and a pair of dorado flash by in the light's glow but do not bite.


A half-hour goes by before it's fully light. A competitor's approaching bow grows larger to the north. We make our move, pulling in on the kelp. The Excalibur is not far behind, as they spent the night nearby drifting and running back up wind from time to time to stay close by.


As the lines go out, chaos erupts, "hook up, hook up, hook up." It's worked and although after a full day of building tension, all anglers are a little on the over excited side, tangling, busting off, sawing off, etc. we ultimately extract a deck box full of yellowtail and some dorado too.


The second pass... We're all a bit more dialed in. The bite is good, but not frantic, eating the 40 no problem. In the meantime there are now 4 boats on scene, including the Grande and Ocean Odyssey.


We're taking turns at the magic kelp and the bite, of course, peters out. As we work our way toward finding that other kelp we pass the Red Rooster III as they fish a small piece of weed.


catchthe
THE CATCH — The aftermath of battle with the carcasses of the defeated stacked like cordwood 'round Legend's rail.


We clearly get first crack at kelp no. 2 also. Wide open! It's kill time. At the end of it we have a grand total of 134 yellowtail, 14 dorado, the one skipjack — a dandy, by the way, and those 3 flyers, just in case. It's still early, but by then we know that's our day and we're extremely grateful for our good fortune.


Spirits are high. Meanwhile Dominic spends a second day in the tower searching the waves for every little shred of kelp we might try. There aren't many and those few only produce a couple more fish, mostly dorado.


By late afternoon we're pretty much pointed for the barn trying for first look in daylight at the upper area while making progress in the right direction, coming from way south. It's about here where we'd had a short strike Friday.


It happens again. I head across the stern toward the rod, just as I get there it's bit again! And it sticks this time. I unclip the rod. Line is pouring off the old Penn 6/0 now. George Hillyard, nephew of Steve Hillyard, who had put the line out is first to arrive. I hand him the rod and tell him it's something substantial, perhaps a marlin.


The line is headed back in the wake, slightly left — and watching far left I see the fish hit the surface for the first time — marlin! Five leaps later, the fish is up the starboard rail headed for the bow. Taft maneuvers the big boat to best advantage, keeping the line long and taught.


It's still on — hasn't thrown the hook. We're actually going to get it! Steve Hillyard takes up position on the bow flanked by the full crew complement. Fellow angler Cas Puiz captures the entire fight on video.


Steve passes the rod back to George, and now at much closer range, the big fish rockets out of the water several more times.


Now nearly exhausted the billfish is near gaff range but stays upright until its final moments. The 90 pounder ultimately comes aboard — a nice capper to a trip that easily might have been much less without the perseverance of all aboard. It's clear our success on day 2 is largely due to some good choices and set-up on day 1.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


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