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


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.


•   •   •   •   •

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.


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.


hillayardsmarlinHILLYARD'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

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.


•   •   •   •   •

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.


Plastiqa
Silver Jet had a briefly popular song called Plastiqa —“Collagen, plastic, silicone... soon they’ll be making girls out of Styrofoam.”

The gist was a jab at popular culture as “plastic” and “fake.” When it comes to plastic in the marine environment, it’s a real problem. We see those Mylar balloons scattered about the ocean in surprising abundance.


But is our response to plastic pollution real or fake? While much of coastal California has acted to ban single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, that same demographic seems to consist of the very individuals who have most embraced the now ubiquitous “K-cup.”


Those little plastic packs of one cup’s worth of coffee grounds are at least as litter producing as plastic straws. Yet, they’re somehow exempt from criticism on account of their cool factor.


While we’ve taken the position the problem is industry and our single-use society, the real problem with plastic bag and straw pollution is actually littering.


Worst of all, it seems we’ve been gaining that good green feeling by simply turfing the dirty work off on others in foreign lands — others who lack our worker protections — our environmental protections.


While we’ve been stuffing our blue bins and feeling oh so noble in our environmental consciousness, fake recycling has been making the system work by cashing in on the CRV, then shipping all the stuff overseas.


There it’s auctioned. Buyers employ the impoverished, paying pennies per day for them to scavenge the good and clean from the rest. It’s acres of picked-over piles of trash with no plan for disposal — no landfill, no effective laws against leaving it lay to blow away, into the river and out to sea.


“E-waste” is scavenged for lead and such using the most rudimentary technology as its vapors poison their air instead of ours. The trash piles have accreted to such a degree that now China has said, “no more!”


Here we are now seeing the results of this as PSAs and posters saying, “plastic bags are trash.” Basically, Asian nations won’t take our mixed dirty plastic garbage any more. Here in the U.S., the economics of re­cycling are much, much different of course, and so mixed plastic is mostly trash.


Here at home, people have better things to do than wash and sort their trash. Workers and safe handling measures cost more than the resulting materials are worth.


But the solutions are simple. We’ve just been a bit too green and righteous to embrace them. Don’t litter. It’s not plastic straws or plastic bags as much as it’s letting them blow away in the breeze.


Our plastic trash is simply fossil fuel chemically linked in novel ways. You can see it in the names — polyethylene, polypropylene. That floating line on your hoop nets is essentially the same stuff as the propane that fires your backyard barbecue, linked end to middle in chains.


Instead of recovering the plastic, recover the energy and substitute it back into the system. “Waste-to-energy” works. If coal and fuel oil exhaust can be scrubbed... Burn the contents of the blue bins and use that heat to generate power. Leave a little extra oil and coal in the ground by it.


Drain off the aluminum. Aluminum is all about energy also — electrical energy. The raw ore is hyper-abundant but the power to convert it is not.


Iceland has an over abundance of geothermal and hydro-electric power. But exporting the excess across the Atlantic is impractical. However, what they do is import bauxite — aluminum ore — and make aluminum instead.


That’s how they export their green electrical energy. It reduces the use of fossil fuels elsewhere. Recycling aluminum works and is actually all about saving the tremendous amount of energy it takes to produce it new.


Plastic products — yes, even the single-use kind — have been instrumental in improving sanitation, keeping filth-based diseases at bay. The degree to which plastics facilitate safe food storage and transportation cannot be underestimated.


While photos of dead charismatic marine mega fauna stuffed with and entangled by plastic trash have driven public sentiments to the extreme, our most popular solutions may not be very realistic, cost effective, sanitary or necessary.


Here we need to own our own trash, not close our eyes as we ship it off to the third world where crooks promise good green handling, then process or dump our waste in ways that are strictly illegal here.


What we’ve been doing is handing off our trash to anyone who will tell us a happy lie, as they litter the earth with it. We need to suck it up and own our environmental costs, adopt ways other than this recycling boondoggle.


Reducing wasteful use works. Packing pounds of coffee into individual two tablespoon plastic cups is an elitist waste.


Re-use works, giving plastic products a second or third life in other duties, from making scoops and funnels from bleach bottles, to re-using those plastic bags until they fall apart, to refilling gallon water bottles — you name it.


Discards don’t have to be biodegradable to be green to bury. In fact, inert may be much better in the long run.


Getting all teary-eyed about some trash item lasting forever in the dirt once buried is ridiculous. It’s actually better than burying a rotting mess that will off-gas for decades, settling and compacting and making that land unstable and unusable.


Own it. Old arrowheads and waste piles of chipped chert and flint lasting for multiple millennia have not been a problem. Neither have entire cities buried in the jungle. Heck, there are entire cities buried under cities.


Unless you’re intent on recovering phosphates and nitrates for the next season’s crops, the inherent goodness of the biodegradable does not apply. As sinful as it sounds, burying plastic sequesters its carbon, while biodegrading, or what they used to call rotting, releases it back into the biosphere.


But in the end, it’s simply all about littering. Don’t leave stuff where it is unsightly. Don’t dispose of it where it can become dangerous for wildlife or people. Letting your balloons float off after a party is littering.


Don’t turf your responsibility onto others you should know better than to trust — especially if you’re running a waste management system for an entire city. Don’t make laws that require unrealistic results and simply displace our environmental cost onto foreign nations and peoples who lack any environmental or worker protections at all.


* * *


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.


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