Aboard the Mirage Dec. 29
SUNSET OFF SANTA CRUZ ISLAND at the conclusion of a great fishing day on the Mirage. PHOTOS BY ROBERT WELLS
BY ROBERT S. WELLS
OXNARD — Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is said to have been buried there, the cold Pacific and warm Mexico currents overlap near its western tip, and on the last week of 2011 the Oxnard-based fishing boat Mirage had arrived at this most western spot of the Channel Islands.
Windswept and mysterious, San Miguel Island and its surrounding waters now appeared before us after an eigh-hour uphill run from Channel Islands Harbor. The ragged Point Bennett presented a shipwreck-like quality against the raging waves and hidden reefs as the first full rays of sunshine allowed the island’s brownish sand to be reflected outward.
The Mirage’s Captain Tucker McCombs, deckhands Ryan and Dan and galley cook Lindsay began the ritual preparation necessary for a morning arrival at this special place. All 23 anglers were now up and anticipatory.
Two tanks of live squid, harvested under the Mirage’s light system during a stopover at Anacapa Island just after midnight, calmly awaited their fate.
Individual poles with two hook drop rigs and one pound of weight were at the rail as Capt. McCombs announced a good showing on the meter and asked everyone to take their places on the port side of the boat for the first drift.
Winds of five to 10 knots pressed against our faces and an occasional 5- to 8-foot swell produced an upsurge of water through the scuppers freshened the boats deck with a morning baptism of saltwater.
With each angler steadied, the first drop over the side occurred at half past seven. The 30 fathom drop with live squid would take about three minutes and the possibilities of the fishing day ahead took hold for all on board during the next three minutes.
Bent rods, hooks set a steady retrieve and smiles upon smile on every face became the picture of the morning. on every hook a red snapper and a ling cod….or a rockfish variety ranging from an olive rockfish (johnny bass), boccaccio (salmon grouper) or a copper rockfish (chucklehead)….with a lingcod.
Or two lings on each hook, averaging 22-24 inches. came aboard.
Up forward and along the stern, larger boccaccio and an occasional ling cod to 10 pounds emerged. After five or six drifts, the sacks along the bait tank perimeter began to brim with the quality of fish that San Miguel Island is known for.
After a little over two hours, Capt. McCombs announced that the Mirage had limited out on lingcod (2 per person) and we were close to limits on rockfish (10 per person)
I had limited on both varieties and changed strategy in an attempt to catch a larger ling cod. Recalling the possibilities of a single 4/O hook on a 24-inch long leader made popular by my late father “Santa Monica Harve.” I watched the new set-up sink to the bottom and began a slow retrieve.
My .70s era Lami-glass pole, with its Legacy Penn 500 reel, was now in action. The fish peeled off about 10 feet of line against a moderate drag. After playing the fish for about five minutes, deckhand Ryan looked below into the milky green water and exclaimed “It’s a big sheephead! Look at that Goat.” There was no time for me to look down as I continued to play the fish.
Ryan pushed the gaff just below the fish and brought it aboard with a sub-surface strike.
“He’ll go over 12 pounds…a beautiful fish.”
I had added some red, white and black color to all of the blue, red, green and orange now in full sacks.
Two more “goat” sheephead of the same size would come aboard on the final drift.
Our time at San Miguel concluded just three hours into the morning with full limits. The wind was now picking up and McCombs brought the Mirage to starboard for a transit along the island for a long look at the seal rookeries and windswept terrain en route for one more fishing spot at Santa Rosa Island to catch a few whitefish and sheephead that would provide the passengers a total sack limit of 20 fish.
The Santa Rosa spot achieved just that, and after another 30 minutes it was time to head home to Oxnard. The sheephead were the stars of the jackpot, mine took a close second a mere three-ounce separation at 12.2 pounds.
We now began a ride home with fair winds and a following sea.
Time did stop.
The beauty of the Channel Islands alongside and a very satisfied group of fishermen were all complimentary of a very professional effort by the crew, the quality of the catch and the continued good fortune to have been able to experience a fishing destination of the best sort.
The proof of experience was before us and our time on the water this final week of the year produced an enduring memory worthy of the boats namesake-a “Mirage” to be pursued by the memories of our fishing future.
A ONE-TWO JACKPOT FINAL with Daniel O’Connor, left, and Robert Wells hoisting two San Miguel sheepshead at the end of a great day of fishing off Bennett Point on the Mirage. O’Connor’s fish weighed in at 12.5 pounds and narrowly beat out Wells’ fish by three ounces