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

Online sources — weather and water conditions
One of the major advantages of our modern mass communication system through the internet is the availability to access all kinds of oceanographic info. These are things like sea surface temperature maps, water color images, weather models, high resolution bathymetry, even real-time ship locations. Here I'm going to run through some of my favorite freebies, their addresses, what they show best and how to run them.

Most avid anglers are well familiar with catch reporting websites like 976-tuna.com and Sportfishingreport.com These are great for seeing daily catches from the sport landings. But there's a heck of a lot more available that's all no charge.

Starting with weather models, my fav. is windy.com. They have both a website (computer) and an app (phone and tablet). This powerful map based weather forecast model display offers access to see the very stuff TV weathermen use to base their own broadcasts on.

You can select from the NAM (North American Mesoscale Forecast System), the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) and the GFS (Global Forecast System). Each has its own strengths, weaknesses and personality.

The NAM's strength is its much higher resolution and ability to capture the localized effects of the topography — islands, mountain ranges, etc. Its weaknesses are it's only run forward 72 hours or so and it only includes North America, offshore to maybe 300 miles or so. Running out only 3 days at most, its personality is lackluster as at that point all models tend to agree anyway.

The U.S. counterpart to our high-resolution close range model is the GFS. Covering the entire globe, it has both the lowest spatial resolution and largest time steps. It's run forward as far as 9 days.

Its personality is safe and sane. As you look farther forward in time it's much more likely to show much closer to what the usual weather for the season and date and less likely to let wild model outcomes push the forecast into the realm of the bizarre.

The ECM is also a global model, covering the entire earth. Higher resolution than the GFS, it also is run forward 9 days.

But the ECM is the wild child. If the whims of physics and math project the mildly incredible 8 days from now, that's what it tends to show.

Your news weathergirl tends to do three things with this info. First, she won't stand behind any forecast past 3-days forward, and only so long as all models are saying the same thing. Second, most of the time she'll leave out anything that has to do with wind direction or weather out at sea. Third, all she cares about is rain, red flag warnings, temperature and cloud cover. So if you're wondering whether you'll get smooth seas or the tar beat out of you crossing to San Nicolas Island tonight, you're out of luck.

Once you get to the site, the lower right side shows the model choices. Across the bottom you'll see the time line, and you can let it auto advance like a movie or step it forward on your own.

Along the upper right side there are options including the all-important wind forecast. Down at the bottom of this control bar is "more layers..." Clicking this accesses a full range of observation layers and allows you to customize what you want on that control bar.

Just below that bar is a secondary bar. Here you can select what altitude level you want your forecast map to show, from the surface on up into the atmosphere above the jet stream — fun stuff — but I always keep the forecast clamped to the surface.

There's a login option but you don't have to have an account to use this website and I don't.

Finally, if you click on a spot on the map, it will show you a flag with the value at that point, as in the wind speed forecast for that point at the time you have showing on the time slider along the bottom.

There is a tricky bit. Just above the model selector is a selection bar that allows you to see current observations like wind speed at each of the islands and weather buoys. However, this is actual current data and does not reflect the forecast. Those numbers remain as they actually are right now, even if you slide the time slider to a week from now, unlike the model reader flag.

As for sea surface temperature or SST, my two freebie favorites are tempbreak.com and State of the Ocean (podaac-tools.jpl.nasa.gov/soto). Tempbreak is totally sportfishing oriented and localized for our area, while SOTO is totally science nerd and global.

When it comes to ocean observations it's important to remember those data are totally dependant on clear skies, and it may take several satellite passes before you get a clear shot of the SST or water color.

Tempbreak is broken up into regions. "Southern California BITE ZONE!" and "Morro Bay – Channel Islands" are the two covering our zone. You select these at the top of the page. Because cloud cover regularly wipes out a portion of the map, there are composite views built that use the information gathered over several passes — sometimes more than a week's worth — to build a complete coverage.

Of course that means some of it can be considerably older than others. But you also have a choice of flipping back pass by pass through the more recent images and check them out for yourself.

Water color data are gathered as the amount of green light observed, chlorophyll a to be exact. So you'll see it as Chl-a.

Here the data are illustrated on a "log scale." That's like the Richter Scale for earthquake magnitude. Each number higher relates to ten times as much as the previous number.

The important aspect is the difference in blueness in actual water color at the lowest levels shown is subtle (shown in blues and greens on the map), while the differences at the higher end (yellows and reds on the map) are huge.

For the SOTO there are a great many things to choose from and a great many options for displaying them, in true science geek fashion.

I look at SST, ocean color and Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly — SSTA. The controls are on the upper left, time slider across the bottom. This display runs SST differently than the Tempbreak map. It uses the real data where it has it and fills in the places where it doesn't on the basis of modeling and the most recent data for that spot.

You always see a full map coverage for SST in SOTO for each day, but it loses definition and sharpness where it has to fill in the blanks. As for Ocean Color, that's data only and you'll see holes in the map where clouds covered the water on any given day.

One of the things you can do on this site is called "Squash pallet" and it allows you to make the full color gradient be covered over a small temperature range, giving you very high resolution between temps. Click the 3 vertical dots to see this option.

Finally, SSTA — it's the difference between the observed SST and the average SST for the given day and place. It allows you to see if the water is warmer or cooler than normal and by how much.

There's so much more available online too, swell forecast, past wind obs., real time vessel locations too — but that will have to do for 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.

It was this spring at the Long Beach Fred Hall Show when I was talking with Capt. Chuck Taft about his latest rebuild project, the boat Excalibur. Built by Roger and Kenny Hess, the Excalibur was launched as the dive boat Charisma. Later renamed to the Great Escape, the vessel ultimately fell on hard times. Enter Capt. Chuck.

This is exactly where Taft’s skills shine. He’s spent a lifetime rescuing sportboats on their way to obscurity, making them shine again — breathing the breath of life back into them. He finds them when their polish has faded, resulting in their cost being far below their true value.

Then he tears out the bad and replaces with new. And the toughest task is being able to see exactly where to stop demo and start reconstruction — a skill few have mastered as Taft has. Today the Excalibur shines, a big, beamy 80 footer with an expansive interior and 6 feet of space between house and rail designed for fully geared divers to fit easily past one another.

In the wheelhouse is the most extensive electronics package one can imagine, top of the line side scanning sonar, side sweep and up and down meters, FLIR thermal imaging for night ops.

THE SPACIOUS INTERIOR of the Excalibur galley.

Boarding the boat for the first time, I go to rack my rods and discover the 10 footers fit anywhere, no overhang to squash under. And that bow, amazing space up there for jig tossing.

At 8 p.m. we head out to the Everingham bait receivers. While Capt. Joel Ralston briefs the 15 anglers participating, 2nd Capt. Jason Fain, Deck Boss Chris Vollrath, and crewmen Matt Acer and Gary Glockzin carefully pass a fresh batch of sardines into the 5, 50-scoop deck tanks.

We would fish close to home, and that’s where the fleet was focused. With an otherworldly volume of feed pulling tuna for hundreds of miles, even the long range fleet fishes close, amongst the full-day, overnight, 1.5-day and 2.5-day fleet.

Although schools had strayed north into U.S. waters, windy weather had laid claim there. Yet to the south, just over the line winds remained fair.

Our first morning arrived with little showing but endless bait spots on the meter, no bird schools, breezers or sonar marks to stop on — an endless supply of kelp paddies and other fishless scraps to drag by.

Finally, Carter Bonnoufour breaks the ice with a yellowtail. Then there’s an actual jig strike — a yellowfin. It was Carter again!

For fishing kelps and breezing yellows, I fish bait on 40-pound, Penn Fathom 25 with a 9-foot Cousins stick. There are plenty of spots to try for. It’s strange to slide in on breezing yellows only to have hundreds of fish simply swim off.

It’s about 1300 when the ocean roars to life, spots of bluefin show here and there, then yellowfin too.

It’s sketchy deciding what to go in with — bait on kelps, but it takes a good gander to size up jumpers. It’s pointless to toss at 100 pounders with 40 and a Megabait or Coltsniper.

No sniper in my gear, I’m tossing a slightly too large Mega on 40-pound at the under 80-pound grade schools. Backing a short leader of fluoro — Yo-Zuri H.D.Carbon, is 50-pound braid. It’s whatever Roger Eckhardt had on the Daiwa Lexa 400 XS-P. The levelwind “bass reel” is paired with Daiwa’s Proteus WIN 810 HF, and absolutely launches the small chrome.

As we motor close to breaking fish I’m waiting for either our speed to slow nearly to a stop, or at least until the school slides past the 10 or 2 o’clock position off the bow. Still, the Lexa’s 43-inch-per-turn retrieve proves invaluable for getting the iron up to bite speed as the distance between the boat and splash down closes on the slide.

It takes a few attempts before I hook my first. It’s chaos in the stern, as all other lines are swept back. Quickly my fish is alongside the bow and the coast is clear, no one nearby as the crew hustles to tame the chaos down the rail. I throw the fish on, about a 12 pounder. There you have it. A double digit tuna can be bounced on “bass gear.”

With spots popping all around us now, we’re literally heading from spot to spot, chasing down foamers, mostly yellowfin. The bigger bluefin never bite anyway.

A slide or two later, you can see a brown spot of 3-inch anchovies in the middle of the whitewater. I pick off a second. Capt. Joel sticks it in the noggin and quickly puts it aboard.

At one point a spot sinks under the bow before we get there, but pops back up right in the trolling feathers. A feather gets bit but the guy doesn’t call, just starts winding. So we slide forever, and hook 2 more!

THESE TWO TUNA fishers traveled from Nevada.

But we just can’t seem to get a school to stick with the boat. Very few bite the live bait. It’s all quick stops — run and gun.

Again we’re sliding in on another breezer, dead on the bow as we try to get the critters close where they see the chum before sinking out. Then a second patch of whitewater erupts — 3-oclock — dead abeam on the starboard. I fire, grind into it. I can feel the frothing horde hitting the line as it pulls through the maelstrom. I’m on!

With that one decked, I’m looking up the rail expecting to set the stick down and get ready to go again. Instead a few puddlers erupt into solid foam across the bow. Fire! On!

A couple more attempts follow, but the spots are starting to sink out before we get to them. Finally we get into range again. We’re sliding straight at them.

Launching anyway, I’m grinding as fast as I can. A fish turns broadside ahead. I’m on! The fish headshakes violently. I continue to pick up line as quickly as I can. Then it all goes slack — tore off. Phooey!

A couple of first-timers from Nevada are trying their hand with the iron now. Casting first for them I hand back their rental rod as their iron splashes down. H&M Landing has really nice rental gear, Avet 2-speeds, impressive.

The spots continue to become more boat shy and farther between. I get one more that first afternoon, completing a limit of yellowfin. Moving south and east gets us to an area of mostly bluefin tuna.

When it’s the big boys I’m tossing 80-pound Izor on an Accurate 600 paired with a Phenix 10-footer. A tooth-marked fluorescent pink on white Yo-Zuri Bull Pop is tied on. If smaller grade I toss the Mega, yet knowing full-well if I do get bit chances are good I’ll get tooled and spooled. We get no takers and soon it’s steak time — yum nom, nom.

After dark a few of us dip the Flat-Falls for a bit. I’m just too beat and my Flat-Fall fishing doesn’t last nearly as long as I’d thought. Plus the plan is to fire up around midnight and look for a sonar school to set up.

Midnight motoring starts, but apparently we never find what we’re looking for. Grey light and we’re back in the water with the trolling gear. The water’s nearly flat now but there are no biters, only blues flipping us the fin as they go on gorging themselves on tiny anchovies.

Finally a couple of kelps yield a few yellowtail. I hook one and hand it off. A couple of kelps later and a second bites, but it works me over. Apparently a much larger model, Mr. Mossback pulls a pile of line, working it’s way toward the weeds. I’m not having it — sunset the drag. Still pulling line.

Now it’s right next to the weed ball, not yet in it though — low gear. Then the hook tears out. Dang! They should make fish faces a bit stronger.

We keep trying through the afternoon — never get a bluefin to bite. But a couple of spots of big bonito chew up the trolling jigs along the way.

I set a couple of Flat-Falls down at depth as darkness settles and they’re the only lines out.

By dark on day 2 we have a 2-day total of maybe 17 yellowfin, 7 bonito, and 4 yellows in the hold. It’s not a huge score, but nevertheless there was lots of action and plenty of opportunity. Everyone goes home with fish.

* * *

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat 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.

500 giant seabass
So... it turns out, if one snoops around much trying to find out how many giant, or black seabass there are you'll find out "scientists have discovered there are only about 500 of the critically endangered giant sea bass, total." Now, if you've been out much at all fishing in SoCal, or diving much, this claim is absolutely unbelievable. In fact, it seems it simply adds evidence to the theory marine scientists are simply out of touch. Or worse yet, they're pursuing agendas, saying what gets them funding and fame and "peer reviewed science" is a bunch of bull. But the truth almost always turns out to be, some advocacy group has misrepresented real results and the scientific community is above taking issue with it.

I was mildly curious about the ridiculous 500 fish thing and so did some snooping. I found that was exactly what was being claimed. L.A. Times reporter Louis Sahagun wrote, "The breeding population of the giant sea bass — which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — is believed to be only about 500 individuals."

The Long Beach Post quoted Dr. Douglas McCauley (UCSB, MSI) as having said, "One study using genetics estimated the effective population size (number of mature breeding adults) of giant sea bass in the wild at 500, according to McCauley, although that number is very imprecise."

McCauley said it right while the Post author interpreted it wrong. It's not the "number of mature breeding adults." It can be close, or way under it.

Futurity.org said, "A recent genetic study suggests that fewer than 500 breeding giant sea bass may exist in California." The Wikipedia article on GSBs says, "The total breeding population in 2018 is estimated to be around 500 individuals, of which 40 to 50 return to spawn around Catalina Island each year."

Animaldiversity.org was right down the line following the actual science, without bias. In fact it turned out most online sources of population info tended to follow a realistic "We don't know, but it seems like there are more of them finally," perspective.

As for the DFW, they say "Anecdotal information suggests there has been a gradual increase in giant sea bass numbers over the past few years... No scientific research has been conducted on giant sea bass population trends. To date there is still relatively little known of this apex predatory fish."

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary also refrained from claiming the GSB population as just 500 reproductive fish, instead following the obvious trend for increasing observations.

Most said the population had reached a very low but unknown level by the 1960s and '70s. Although they've been off limits for sport anglers and from directed commercial take since 1982, it wasn't until the banning of gill nets from coastal state waters and within 1 mile of offshore islands in 1994 via the 1990 passage of proposition 132, that their population began to show an apparent, slow but increasing recovery.

Current regulations still allow gill netters to retain and sell one per trip. Sport angers fishing Mexican waters are allowed to bring up to 2 per trip into California. Mexico has no restriction other than regular limits.

So, what prompted certain, mostly non-scientific sources to cite a population of just 500 fish, total, while a majority of sources spanning agencies, fishing and diving sources and marine science seemed to maintain a more believable perspective?

The source of this bad info seems to stem from a deliberate misinterpretation of the results of a genetic diversity study published in the journal Fisheries Research, December 2015: "Low contemporary effective population size detected in the critically endangered giant sea bass, Stereolepis gigas, due to fisheries overexploitation" (Chris L. Chabot et al.).

The paper's finding is the "effective population" of GSBs is about 500. However, effective population is a genetics term relating to genetic diversity, not population size. And its primary implication is that at one time in the past hundred generations or so, there were very few of the species.

When a population size stays the same for thousands of generations is when the effective population size comes nearest to the actual population number. Examples seem to point to it being, at most, about 70 percent of the true population size, and averaging just 34 percent of it. This, incidentally, not only varies by which part of the genome is used for analysis, but can be in the context of only one sex.

If a population has recently been very small, then rebounds to huge numbers, the resulting population can be so closely related to one another it retains the genetic effective population of whatever it was during the low population time.

Within the DNA's code is lots of stuff that rarely comes out — gathered over eons of evolution and saved for a rainy day when a species needs it. Changes to genes happen very, very slowly, but changes in their expression or use can happen in just a few generations.

Rarely used code can be selected for use by a change in the environment or deliberate breeding. The few individuals born that happen to employ it become the survivors and breeders.

Think of it as all dog breeds having all the genes required to be any breed. But from breed to breed the difference is which plan is used — short legs or long, big or small, grumpy or sweet, mean or caring.

But the big eco-worry is when a population hits a bottleneck or becomes really small, some of the code that was present in the species becomes lost. The species isn't able to adapt as well as it once was. That's why "effective population" size is a concern worthy of doing the genetic analyses required to estimate it.

Ecologically it says, recovering a species is great, but it's not the same as avoiding such bottlenecks in the first place. Some damage has been done. This study points to GSBs having come close enough in the '60s and '70s for conjecture.

Bottom line? It's mostly biased non scientists who omit important details, take science and deliberately misinterpret it — in this case lying to the public by implying only 500 black sea bass remain in the wild. And they do it to create evidence supporting an agenda, e.g. "fishermen are not conservationists." The fishing public's resulting distrust of marine science is collateral damage. "Scientists estimate there are just 500 black sea bass total including Mexico and SoCal! Really?! Ha!"

* * *

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the 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.

Big bluefin bite!
As I look at my week ahead I see I can pull off a fishing day for a Wednesday evening departure and Friday morning return. As the week had progressed, a passable offshore forecast morphed into a glass calm one. Checking the boat schedules reveals a very light trip aboard the Condor with a definite go tag. It's just past the new moon too – game on!

On board are captains Jimmy Merrill, Curtis Vanderhoef and night driver Mike Feiberg, crewmen Corey Crumbel and Greg Fell. We visit the Everingham bait receivers and load up both tanks and slammer with nice sardine with some small mackie mixed in. It's there that young angler Kiyan Moein hammers 4 grumpy sandbass on swimbaits.

GAVIN QUIN'S 140-pound bluefin aboard the Condor was the first and biggest of the bunch. Crewman Max Kerr steadies the fish.

At dawn, we're still looking for a spot of fish to stop on. The weather is glass calm, paddies and scraps are everywhere. Not a fish in sight, so we keep looking, along with the Constitution, Pacific Queen, New Lo-An, and Tomahawk.

We stop several times on various sign for nothing, but mostly we keep on moving.

Just past 11 a.m. and finally a spot of fish stays up until we get to it, rather than sinking out. As we slide toward the cavorting fish, all looking a bit on the too big side, anglers fire off irons and poppers. The middle sinks out as we slide toward it.

Then a chunk pops back up along the starboard. Young Kihan's dad Hamid's popper gets blown up on in the midst, but remains floating on top.

Two more splash simultaneously on the port side. Kiyan's Coltsniper gets a lick but is instantly undone. His friend Gavin Quinn is bit on bait right next to him.

He's fishing bait on a leader of Blackwater 50 on 65-pound Izor Brutally Strong braid and a small circle hook. Ultimately he and his Penn Fathom 30II paired with an old school Kennedy Fisher stick win the battle with the squirrely and tough bluefin. We're on the board in a big way. Quinn's big fish tapes out to 140 pounds!

However, it's discovered that his rather small circle hook is all opened up, just barely hung in there.

The crew gills and guts the fish before it goes into the hold. Its stomach is found to be jammed full of stuff, mostly red crabs, with a minor amount of micro fin-bait and some odds 'n ends.

FIRST FISH! — Sandbass at the bait receivers for Kiyan Moein.

Fellow angler "Custom Bob" is aboard and discusses the risk one takes, fishing those smaller hooks. Morning has become afternoon, and it's pretty darned slow, but as the afternoon ages the area steadily comes to life. First an occasional breezer now and then becomes breezers and spots of breaking fish in every direction. The bulk of it is small tuna, and it looks tiny — many splashes just barely bigger than decent bass might make.

Some spots show accessory big boys mixed in — some show as 60s while others have much bigger fish. We throw everything at it, spot after spot for no takers at all. The fish won't stick under the boat and quickly disappear soon after we arrive.

After a couple hours of this, all for not a sniff, finally someone hangs a fish — then another, then nothing more.

The two fish turn out to be 3 – a nice yellowtail, a second smaller one and a solid bonito. We're about 50 miles from the dock and 25 offshore.

But with spots of the small tuna everywhere around the boat, including a large spot which hangs just outside casting range, finally a layer of tuna stick under the boat. However, they remain in a sleepy looking flat layer down at 40 fathoms.

We sit for 45 minutes for nothing, watching the minutes tick by as breezers breeze near and far around us. Some are anxious to move on.

But the meter shows those bigger blues under the boat starting to move up and down through the water column. They appear to be waking up. Then there's a splash as one hits the surface, a big one.

A few minutes later, fresh one! Someone finally hooks a fish. Then another hangs on a Flat-Fall. The Flat-Fall one would prove to be snagged by the breast and our only fish on the iron. A few minutes later, another hookup!

It's about 5 p.m. when things get started, finally. We go with a steady 1 to 4 fish hooked at all times. When the first hits the deck finally, the grade is 90 pounds.

Those getting bit are fishing lively baits on 40 pound and super small circles. I go there for a couple of casts before I can't do it any longer. In this bite, there are fish commonly well over the 100-pound mark, some over twice that. I just can't be that guy fishing too light with several other fish going all around the boat, all likely personal bests for those who've hooked them.

Mostly I fish 50 and a heavy wire 1/0, knowing how fish can suddenly get stupid now and again during a stop, especially as the sun sets. I'm hoping as its angle lowers so will the big bluefins’ standards.

Now and again a big fish flashes by the stern. Steadily fish start to make it on deck and the grade's solid — 80 to 100 pounders. The crew is on top of it and despite a couple hairy tangles, the salvage rate is phenomenal, given the light gear and large size.

Each fish takes about an hour to finish, some considerably longer. Every additional minute on the line adds additional risk of something going wrong.

As it grows dark, ultimately a dozen of these big fish are put on deck, far more than half of those hooked. Perhaps only six or eight end up earning their freedom, so 40-pound and tiny circle hooks basically worked.

They never do bite heftier hooks for the likes of Bob and I.

Under the lights the night freaks start to rise from the depths to lurk in their halo — wads of micro-bait, red crabs, salps and comb jellies — other weird little critters too. We transition to the glow iron and sinker rigs but no Flat-Fall or sinker bite develops after dark.

Would I recommend going to the gear that worked? Absolutely! Given the same scenario again, would I do it myself? If I were you, absolutely — but me, I'm hard headed so probably not. It's likely the same for Custom Bob.

We'll both be right back out there for sure.

* * *

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

SMALL HOOKS WORKED but barely. The left one got a 140 pounder to gaff. However the one on the right is a new one from the same pack.

BIG BLUEFIN PILING up on the Condor's deck. The grade was 80 to 100 pounds on this stop. They took almost an hour to coax into eating a few sardines instead of just the small stuff they were full of — red crabs, tiny fin-bait.

* * *

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.

Coastal Conservation Association event — Texas style
Having fished the Aransas Bay Chapter of CCA Texas’ Babes on the Bay tournament with locals back in 2016, Izorline’s Wendy Tochihara went to work organizing California’s very first team to fish what is the largest 1-day fishing tournament in the US. It’s an all woman angler event held annually out of Rockport, Texas. This year it hosted 1,400 anglers, ranging from “Babe-ettes” — young ladies 16 and under, to tournament veterans, having fished the event since its inception 20 years ago.

The contest consisted of 5 divisions teams elected to participate in. There was pro guided and non-guided, crossed with any bait or artificial only, plus a separate fly fishing division. Babe-ettes could participate in any of the above as a team member and also compete in the individual Babe-ette only contest.

THE VENUE — 1,400 women competed and were accompanied by their male staff (friends and family), Fulton Park, Rockport Texas.

Our first ever all California team, the SoCal Anglerettes, consisted of Wendy Tochihara (Izorline, Big Hammer, SKB, Rod and Reel Radio), Lori Mueller (Seeker, Izorline), Lori Heath (Anglerettes, Fishing Syndicate) and Sophia Huynh (Seeker, Blackwater). The SoCal Anglerettes’ team sponsors were AFTCO, Anglerettes, Xtratuf and Costa, providing the team with matching outfits and wade gear.

While the teams were all women, guides and skippers generally were guys, but banned from fishing. Guides were chartered professionals while skippers were most often husbands and boy friends.

There in Texas red drum and spotted weakfish — AKA spotted trout, seatrout, spotties, trout, were the targets. The state’s slot limits made the game a bit more interesting.

Trout have fangs and keepers range from 15 to 25 inches — with a 5-fish bag. The redfish slot limit is 20 to 28 inches with a 3-fish bag. But anglers get a tag with their annual license to keep one “bull” larger than 28 inches. Also on the table are flounder, tasty but not counted in the tournament.

For the tournament, teams were limited to 3 keeper trout and 1 keeper (20-28-inch) redfish at the weigh in. While a 25-inch trout is unusual, the top redfish contenders tended to be 28 inchers, so what was needed was a fat one. And there were side pots holding the big money in this primarily fun over glory tournament.

Tournament day was windy, southerly winds from high teens to twenties, 85 degrees, 100-percent humidity. Us landlocked guys accompanying our SoCal Anglerettes watched as we waded out to our elbows and flayed the brown water white while fishing hard baits to spoons to Gulp! Powerbait Ribshads.

Along as team support crew were Rob Tressler, Kevin Boyle, Jay Krist and Gary Quan from Tady Lures. We’d found a spot just east of the Aransas County Airport. Along the trail was posted “WARNING ALLIGATOR ZONE.”

SOCAL ANGLERETTES FISHED the CCA’s Aransas Bay Chapter’s Babes on the Bay, all women’s fishing tournament. Here Wendy Tochihara shows a red drum or redfish, Lori Heath has a Gulf flounder and Sophia Hyunh and Lori Mueller have a spotted/speckled seatrout or speck dockside at the house.

So, not to be dissuaded, out we waded. I was wondering if that would be the last time I’d see my feet as they disappeared into the murky waters. As a matter of practice, standard Gulf Coast wading gear includes a 10- or 12-foot-long stringer with a float at the end, keeping the catch well away from the angler — just in case a bull shark, alligator or gar should take notice.

Boats loaded with all matched teams of ladies skated up and down our lee shore, stopping here and there. What we saw was just a tiny fraction of the fleet — scattered up and down through hundreds of square miles of neck to ankle deep inland waters tucked in behind the Texas Gulf Coast’s barrier islands.

By the time we were to wind up and meet the SoCal Anglerettes back at the house, we guys had amassed one keeper trout at about 18 inches, caught by yours truly. But our arms were sore and faces sun burnt.

Tressler had released a pair of smaller trout and had a nice flounder flip off right at the stringer. Early on Jay had been bit hard and fought in a nicer red with similar unfortunate results right at the stringer.

The Anglerettes had seen a tough day of wade fishing with their guide in the artificials only division as well. Tochihara landed a keeper red and 4 others under the mark. Heath had iced a flounder.

At the awards the crowd was immense, wall to wall women and their families. The vendor tents and trailers stretched for blocks. The main canopy covered 50 yards at Fulton Beach Park.

The teams all sported matching team shirts with their team names emblazoned across the back. With a best-dressed category, style points counted. And team names bespoke the fun, light-hearted spirit of the event.

HEFTY STRINGER OF reds, a saltwater catfish and a sheepshead, (not our sheephead) fishing crab and shrimp at the end of the Port Aransas Jetty one morning.

There were the Reel Captains’ Wives of Rockport, Vitamin Sea and the Casting Cuties among the tamer titles. However, from there it got pretty cute with monikers like the Reel Ladies Hookin,’ the Shelfish Hookers, Reel Cranky, Beer Bait and Boobs, Tackle My Box, Trout Ticklers, Hookin Aint’ Easy, Salty Lips, Screamin Seaman, P.M.S. Packing Monster Stringers, Reel Filthy Oars, Dirty Oars, Reel Nauti Hookers, Bitches Wit Da Fishes, Goin’ Coastal Gals, Drunk Wives Matter, Reel Nauti Beaches, Boobs and Bobbers, The Salty Seastars, Heels and Reels, Saltwater Snacks, Tiaras and Tackle, Trophy Wives, Pink Snappers, Titty Deep, Ladies in Wading — and more.

Here’s a bit more on tackle. First, the beach fishing is crazy as to what one might hook. Mostly it was fish under 5 pounds on tap, yet we watched 50-pound jacks flash and slash through knee deep water one afternoon. Real bait — live shrimp, pinfish, croaker, or fresh crab is absolutely an advantage, while tossing artificials is hard to resist.

Most fished these waters with basically calico bass gear when boating or wading. Popular patterns in plastics are shrimp replicas, swimbaits, either white or copper with chartreuse paddle tails, gold spoons, heavy chrome as spoons or iron, jerk and crankbaits with pinks, white, red and metallic gold in the pattern.

High visibility bobbers over bait or shrimp replicas are key in the shallow brackish waters, with popping corks or clackers like the Cajun Thunder at the top of the list. Leaders are kept short, only a couple of feet, which is often half the water depth and sometimes puts the bait right on the bottom. A good long cast out away from your own wake is helpful.

I packed a single rod and reel inside my checked baggage for the trip, an 11-foot 4-piece travel surf rod paired with a fairly large spinning reel. The rod was Daiwa’s Ardito and the reel a Penn Spinfisher VI 5500 spooled with 50-pound braid.

For a single setup the easy packing system was perfect. Though I’m generally not a spinning gear guy, the outfit allowed for a wide range of effective casting and catching, from 16-ounce jigheads to 5-ounce irons. The 11-foot length launched it all, while providing enough backing to handle anything on up to those big jacks or the thigh diameter bull reds we occasionally saw roll on top in the muddy water.

* * *

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

BRAVING THE ELEMENTS — The author with a keeper speckled trout.

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