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


California cow bluefin, the new dynamic
The gist of this story is: cow-class bluefin tuna are regulars. And those that target, catch. It was midweek when I first saw the photos. Capt. Markus Medak and crew had risen to the task, boating 7 tuna on a 1.5-day California U.S. waters trip, ranging from 170 to 208 pounds. Three of those were over the 200-pound mark, making them "cows."


bringanothergaff
BRING ANOTHER GAFF! — Two deckhands hang onto Josh Anguillano’s 205 after one gaff broke.


Not only that, but a closer look at the photos revealed three of those lucky anglers were Santa Barbara locals I knew, and two were SEA Landing crew. There was Martin Carbajal, Josh Anguillano and Randy Graham's son Sage, each straining to prop up bluefin whose tails towered over their heads.


When I showed up to run relief aboard the Coral Sea for Capt. Sal Silva Friday morning, there were the two of them, Martin and Josh, were getting the rig ready for the run. I would get the full low-down on the bite for sure! In fact, Josh had made bluefin poke for lunch, and I got to taste the fish too.


At first all I got was the short version. Then Capt. Markus Medak called Saturday afternoon as we were running down the line and the boys were cutting cod limits for our 25 ang­lers. He filled in a few skipped details, like, they were anchor fishing when a number of those fish were hooked.


Hmmmm, after our anglers had left, I grilled them a bit more. Ultimately, Martine-mailed over a full minute-by-minute on the bite. Most importantly, I have to say, it was a story of gearing for, baiting for and fishing for 150 to 300 pounders. It wasn't at all about just having them come through while targeting a smaller grade of fish.


It was rail rods, 100-pound and 2-speeds. Martin brought a Ken's Custom Reels blueprinted Accurate ATD30 loaded with 130-pound braid with a 100-pound Izor XXX topshot on a 208 United Composites 7-foot rail rod. Josh had a similarly blueprinted ATD30 loaded with 100-pound, 100-pound First String on a Calstar 6465 XH. Young Sage had the "light" rod, a United Composites Predator with a Talica 16 II, loaded with 80-pound Izor braid with a topshot of 60-pound First String and a 3-foot leader of Seaguar 80-pound fluoro.


At the bait receiver, they spent the time to jig plenty of mackerel, stocking the tank with the bigger live baits.


Martin said, "We got to the fishing grounds at 3 a.m. sitting on the anchor (on the 43) and slowly tossing out sardines." Some fished live bait with rubber banded 8-ounce torpedoes while others fished the Flat-Fall iron. There were 17 anglers aboard.


Martin continued, "First fish was hooked at 5 a.m. on the Flat-Fall — was lost within 4 seconds due to a bad knot. Second fish was hooked at 5:15 on a mackerel on the long soak with torpedo. That fish was caught after a 1-hour battle, handing it off back and forth with the deckhands who did an amazing job."


It was a few minutes past 6 when fish began launching clear out of the water around the boat — 6:20 lightning and thunder and a monsoonal downpour drenches everyone. It was 6:35 when the big behemoths erupted right behind the boat, just 40 feet off the stern.


Martin said, "I start cranking as fast as I can on the mackerel I had shoulder hooked on the fly-line and my bait starts to skip the surface as it approaches the tuna feeding frenzy. Right before I get to the tuna jumping, it happens. A tuna comes out of the water engulfing my bait. My line comes tight and my reel starts screaming line out."


At that moment, Sage tosses out and is bit instantly on the big mack and 80 fluoro. Ultimately 5 of the monsters were on at once! It was 45 minutes later when gaffs sunk into Martin's 208, his first-ever tuna it would seem — a cow!


Sage, at 110 pounds, is outweighed by his 182 he would land a half-hour later on the lighter line.


Things simmer down on the 43 and they are off in-search-of — dragging the Yummee Flyer below a kite. "We must have seen 6 fish blow up on it before we even hooked one," said Martin, and it was a young man in the 3rd grade, out with his dad, who was up on rotation. He and his dad worked on that fish to exhaustion, then crew took turns finishing it off.


A little more searching, blow-ups on the kite bait for nada, stops on crashing fish, all around the boat, then a bit longer move on radio fish puts them in the new area just before 6 p.m. They slide in. Medak sees a big mark on the meter and calls out to drop in.


Josh grabs his Flat-Fall rod, running forward, dumps the sardine Flat-Fall over the rail and free-spools down, down, down... Following his line down the rail as the boat coasts to a stop. It goes slack. He winds down hard and fast. Then his line screams off the spool. The battle lasts for 45 minutes, with a Navy bombing exercise booming in the background and sending the big fish into paroxysms each time.


His fish comes up hot, breaks a gaff, leaving just two crewmen hanging over the rail stuck into the thrashing cow as another is brought, then a fourth. Josh's 205 was the final fish for the day.


Martin had great things to say about the crew, their skillful negotiation of the various hazards involved in handling these brutish fish on heavy tackle, their handling of the catch and of course, Chef Larry's fine cuisine. The total tally was 7 tuna from 170 to 208 pounds with only 2 fish lost.


Tuna times have indeed changed here in SoCal. It's a whole new world, more like Islas Tres Marias than what we were previously accustomed to out on our local offshore waters. Zane Grey had it right, over 100 years ago. His big bluefin big tackle stories have come to life once again.


* * *


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


• • • • •

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.


Secrets of the San Diego scene for first-timers
We’re now into the San Diego offshore season primetime. The first of the yellowfin tuna are now joining forces with those wily bluefin tuna, coming into 1-day range. Yellowtail are full bore biting at the Coronado Islands. And San Diego landing’s full fleets, including the seasonal southern and northern mi­grants are there now.

You’ve heard about it. You’ve read about it. Yet some of you still have yet to do it. Perhaps your trepidation of the big-time dominates. Maybe you’ve heard something of passport and visa needs, but haven’t yet undertaken the effort to find out how to do it.


The first thing to know is there are 4 primary landings with fleets fishing these trans-border pelagics — big fish that pull line and require a gaff to land. The second thing to know is these operations handle all the complexity for you. All you have to do is make a resi and show up.


The only remaining wrinkle, is some trips require you to have a passport with you and the ticket price can include a few extra costs the landings forward to the Mexican government agencies on your behalf. But more on this later — with a nod to what it takes to do it all on your own, as a private boater.


First, there are two basic harbors in the San Diego area. One is Mission Bay. The other is San Diego Bay.


In Mission Bay is Seaforth Sportfishing, very near to Sea World. At this landing one of the primary attractions is its ample, easy free parking. In recent years Seaforth Sportfishing has transitioned from a mostly 1/2- to overnight fishing venue, to now include open party offerings out to 2.5 dayers commonly, plus one can charter 3.5 dayers at least.


It’s ever so slightly farther from Mexican waters than the San Diego Bay landings are, so the shortest trip south of the border offered is an extended 3/4-day.


Then, in the very northernmost bow of San Diego Bay, along Scott Street in San Diego are thee more landings, all next door to one another, sharing a common parking area. From west to east, they are H&M Landing, Point Loma Sport­fishing and Fisherman’s Land­ing. During prime time this lot can be a tight fit at certain times of day.


Associated with H&M is Lee Palm Sportfishers, which operates the long ranger, Red Rooster III.


All three landings have a long range fleet of larger vessels that offer open party openings on sponsored trips, from summertime 1.5 to 5.5 dayers to wintertime 8- to 21-day drips. More usual open party offerings are 1/2- and 3/4-day trips and overnight to 3.5-day open party trips.


Here the advantages of car pooling are a bit greater than at Seaforth. First, it cuts down on the number of vehicles needing parking, an $8/day cost. Secondly, one person can be dropped off at the base of the dock with the gear while the driver deals with finding a parking spot. This task may require exiting the main lot and looking along nearby streets, or utilizing the overflow lot across the street between the N. Harbor Drive hotels. With three bodies one person can watch for a departing anglers in the lot and hold their parking spot as the other two deal with unloading gear and the truck.


The unique thing about these access points to open ocean fishing is their big game focus. Except for 1/2-day it’s all about yellowtail, dorado and tuna. There’s no “couple of hours in the morning for big game, then bottom biters” strategy. Any summer or fall season overnight or longer trip and many 3/4- and full-day trips it’s big game or bust!


In SoCal, only these 4 San Diego landings see big game opportunities solid enough to pull off a day in and day out, week in and week out, all day every day big game or nothing approach and make it work. The key is their access to Southern Bight and Northern Baja open ocean waters.


However, a lot of this fishing happens below the U.S. Mexican border. If you fish from these landings they’ll tell you which trips require you to bring your passport, and it’s only a small fraction of them. A little larger fraction require you to ante in for a Mexican fishing license.


Landing staff almost automatically assume all anglers need one. All you ever see is the cost they pay for it. Fishing Mexico from the landings is easy.


As a point of curiosity about the details you really don’t need to know if you fish from these landings, because they handle it all — like our waters, the territorial waters of Mexico extend 12 miles from land, including offshore rocks and islands. When you fish these waters you’re required to have a Mexican fishing license, a passport, and in lieu of a visa, a form called an FMM filled out, paid for and submitted.


On boats the FMM used has a full vessel manifest with each person’s passport info, and is submitted with a payment receipt from banjercito.com boat registration showing 500 pesos per person paid to Mexico, to INAMI, the responsible Mexican agency, which then emails back an authorization statement.


The landing staff also purchases a fishing license for each angler, the stack of which is kept by the captain aboard ship. If you have your own annual license for Mexico instead, you’ll need to submit this to the stack and get it back at the end of the trip.


Waters south of the border outside 12 miles yet within 200 miles are part of Mexico’s Exclusive Economic Zone, just as we reserve the same 200 miles off the U.S. coast. To fish here, you’ll only need a valid Mexican fishing license. A prime example of where the difference applies is between fishing Coronado Islands yellowtail, which requires the whole shebang, and fishing offshore Mexican waters, as the majority of San Diego party-boat trips do, which only requires the fishing license.


If you end up fishing in U.S. waters you’ll save the cost of the Mexican fishing license, but you can’t forget to bring your California license, required for you to possess your Federal waters catch while in state waters and land it in a California port. Bag limits are written as possession laws so California size and possession limits apply. Mexican limits apply for fish caught south of the border of course, and there is lots of nuance to know when working between the nations’ fishing laws.


As you might imagine, there’s a steep learning curve for private boaters fishing Mexican waters as the sport fleet does. PBers need to know and do all that stuff on their own, and in addition, deal with obtaining a Temporary Importation Permit for the boat.


Finally, all S.D. area anglers should be aware, U.S.-Mexico relations have steadily gotten better over the many years. California anglers are very fortunate to have the opportunity to fish both sides of the line, something the Sportfishing Association of California has worked long and hard to maintain.


As Californians fishing Mexico from a U.S. port, we’re guests. It’s helpful to keep in mind, all of California’s natural riches, along with Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona were Mexican before 1848 — Texas (Tejas) too actually. Today, on average, people of Mexican ancestry are 40 percent native American by blood. The “Mexican” people, culture and foods were those of all this land and sea long ago. Please be respectful and understanding.


 * * *


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


•   •   •   •   •

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.


Fish science
Back in the day, we would be rolling home on the Condor from the outer banks at Miguel. Bags would be stuffed with giant reds and grouper, sometimes chilies too. The 4-hour we called it. It didn't have a lot of high relief, but there were clouds of fish on it. A little more than an hour from the dock, we'd cross the coastal 50-fathom curve, a sharp edge between the shallower flats and the steep coastal drop off into deep water.

This feature runs all along the SoCal coastline, even around the islands — the shelf break being in slightly deeper waters where it is most exposed to oceanic rollers. It's along this edge and just above it where one finds most of the cod spots along our coastline.


gorgeousgaviotaGORGEOUS GAVIOTA COASTAL reds like these caught this past Wednesday are the primary target when fishing the deeps west of Santa Barbara.


Reds rule the low relief rocky bottoms, sharing with a variety of other rockfish and bottom biters. Most of the SoCal coast is comprised of soft bottom habitat, but it's at that depth where much of our relatively few SoCal coastal hard bottom areas can be found.


One of the larger sections runs from roughly Refugio, east to offshore of Naples, out between the mid 40s and the edge. It's here that we'd cross that edge. I would watch the little ridges roll under on the meter and wonder why that habitat never held like the much similar 4-hour.


I'd tried it numerous times after fishing bass at Naples and mostly all we got were a few very small rockfish, some "scrubs" and stuff. Occasionally, along the inner margin — where the rock really thinned out, I'd find a tiny stone that would be loaded with nice reds, along with numbers of huge coppers. But these bonanzas were rare and short lived.


It was baffling. Never heard it was ever any different.


Fast forward to 2014. It's been more than a decade since the first of the big boom baby rockfish years starting in 1999.


When the west wind's hoot'n out at the islands, mornings here remain calm – protected by our wind blocking coastal range, a 3- to 4-thousand foot wall of rock just 8 miles north. These mountains, the Transverse Ranges as they're called, in fact turn the wind and waves away from the entire SoCal Bight. They define the difference between Central and Southern California.


During these windy days the Santa Barbara SEA Landing based Stardust runs west, fishing these calmer coastal waters. But the big surprise is, unlike the days of old, now these spots are holding – big time. First it was medium reds by the millions, then over time they've grown.


Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise. I'd seen the demise of the 4-hour by then. We'd picked off the gravy as we worked west, and behind us a new gillnet rockfish fleet came. After that, not only was the gravy gone, but the meat, potatoes — and the biscuit too. Only a few crumbs were left and it was a rare day on the 4-hour when more than a few small boscos bit. That was more than 3 decades ago now.


The Gaviota Coast was actually terrific habitat all along. It's just that, long before I ever hit the scene, it had been cleared out, being an easy target with relatively few snags. And now the bite is back.


During this spring's windy weeks out at Santa Rosa Island, the Stardust and Coral Sea fished here in the lee. And those days the catch increased.


It's mostly reds and coppers, low relief reefs at ideal depths. The ling numbers here are less than at the island's craggy ridges but rockfish limits on 3/4-day are the rule.


Wednesday our first drop produces steady nice sized coppers, mostly 2 to 4 pounds. Then we went spot to spot, picking just a few fish off each, occasionally finding a mother load of future season's chilies.


The day before, Capt. Sal had found a huge school of 4- and 5-pound reds, finishing limits late in the trip in a few minutes of wide-open fishing. The bags were brim full with red tails showing out of their tops.


We worked our way west. Along the way we passed over several sweet looking spots, but we were on a mission. When we got to Capt. Sal's zone, a few nice reds, bocaccio and coppers came up. But it wasn't wide open. Getting late, it was time to think about wrapping it up.


But we kept the gear ready to drop one last time. Retracing our tracks, we rolled back to one of the spots passed up previously.


A quick last drop turned into two, as the big redfish and chuckleheads rained aboard. In the end every angler had a full limit, even a few who had hardly fished.


Between nature's return to rockfish production and fisheries management enforced forbearance, these coastal spots are now better than most can remember. Fishing produces the most food for the least alteration of natural systems of any other food production – no clearing, plowing, planting, spraying, canal digging or fertilizing required.


* * *


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.


•   •   •   •   •

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.


Lead Masters lives on
The Lead Master may be gone, but Jim Pearce's legacy lives on. He's willed the business to his employees, and in many ways you could see, even as he ran it, a primary goal was to provide his people good jobs, good benefits and a good life. When times were tough he'd done what he had to, to keep his people employed rather than downsizing away those jobs.

You may not have noticed the name, Lead Masters, but if you're a SoCal salt angler there is no doubt you have at least a few of its products in your tackle box. In addition to sinkers, egg weights, jigs and such, there are rods, rod holders, pier gaffs, squid getters, mini jigs, stretch wrap, wahoo bombs and leadheads.


theleadmasters
THE LEAD MASTERS lineup proves to be a lot more than rent rod sinkers, and the basics — from flying fish to crying towels. When folks complained their wahoo bombs got torn up too easily, it simply validated the copy not only cost less but got bit better than the competition.


If you think back to your most recent trip to the tackle store, you might recall a section where all the item tags were distinctive yellow, often non-glossy construction paper, sometimes with bright red and green writing. Most of it consists of the basics, torpedo sinkers, egg weights, cannon balls — but wherever there was an item some producer included too high a profit margin in their price structure, say a $20 jig Lead Master could bring to market at half that price, a Lead Master version would soon be on tackle store shelves.


He used to claim, as a sinker maker, he was the "armpit of the fishing industry."


He kept his people working and the terminal tackle industry honest. Sometimes the Lead Master version would be merely a less spendy substitute sans cachet, but others his crew would, in their designing-building-testing, redesigning and retesting, make massive improvements on.


One outstanding example was their weedless lead-head. The story was, Doug the mold maker ran the prototypes through a swimming pool endlessly, and ultimately came up with an eye forward head shape that swam and landed hook up every time. It did as well as the ever snagging eye-on-top designs. But being eye forward, it shed kelp without catching.


It is, at half the price, perhaps the most effective weedless lead-head on the market. We tossed it over the kelp, up onto the breakwater in the dark and bounced it back down into the water, over the kelp and down the face for hours between snags. It got bit, and it stuck the fish.


Those heavy enamel glow egg sinkers everyone wants — all Lead Master.


In addition to tackle, Lead Master ended up with an embroidery arm and silkscreen shop. Perhaps you've noticed those beautifully embroidered polos and jackets around the show hall — big bright leaping tuna and billfish, bass and barracuda, yellows too, all woven thread. Yep, that's Lead Master too.


Uniquely, Jim Pearce never claimed to be much of an angler, but he loved the fishing industry and fishing. One year, on his 60th birthday in fact, he won the Friends of Rollo boat — a beautiful Harold Davis custom sport fisher based on a speedy, tough commercial class hull design! He named it the Jetty Jumper, of all things, but that's another story. He never claimed to be much of a navigator either.


Still, he had outstanding fishing tackle, mostly because, everyone in the industry loved him, and made sure he did. You might have seen him tending Sal Valone's booth in the Fred Hall Long Beach Show -- Bob Sands Fishing Tackle, where he had a full selection of Lead Master products out and sold them for Bob Sands. It would have been him, his sales rep. Allen, Emilio Rebolar and Sal there, maybe his friend and neighbor David Rehres too.


As a boss and dad he was hard driving, pushed people to their limits, made them work hard to do the best job they could. But, once they had succeeded, he gave the fruits of their labor right back, as if to show them what they could accomplish.


One evening during the Del Mar Fred Hall Show, we exhibitors had wrapped it up for the evening and several of us were headed for a swanky pizza place, as swanky as pizza gets. All warned me Pierce almost made the waitress cry last time, demanding this and that, complaining stuff was not right and generally harassing her to do more.


I didn't know him well at the time and was incredulous. It was all true! And he did a repeat performance of being the worst customer possible. Our waitress kept her cool nonetheless. When the meal was done though, Jim thanked her nicely and left her a tip of perhaps 4 times the norm, as if to say, thank you for putting up with customers like me so gracefully.


At his Memorial two weeks back, stories were being told, and his eldest daughter, Kristina, got up and told how when she was growing up, her dad wouldn't be satisfied with any report card less than straight "A"s. If there was a "B" on it, she told, she was in for a stern talking too. Her academic success propelled her far, and you could tell she was life-long proud to tell the tale.


But that's not the end of the story. A few weeks back she was tearfully going through her dad's old files and found HIS report cards – all "C"s and "D"s she said. He knew her strengths and had pushed her make the most of them.


So now, in passing, he's given the shop and business he and his crew had nurtured, to them, so they can carry the ball forward, continue to make tackle, keep us in sinkers, have jobs and earn a good living.


He leaves behind two highly successful daughters Kristina and Kimberly, sons-in-law Kevin and Christian, niece Esperanza, grand kids Kaden, Kennedy, Kinsley and Landyn Elena, and his 99-year-old mom Ria.


His last big project was turning his backyard into playland for the kids, complete with pool, trampoline, zip line and swings. He'd proclaimed it complete and got to revel in seeing each of them enjoy it for the first time just the week before was he called to the happy hunting ground.


* * *


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.


•   •   •   •   •

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.


Local flea cods and pocket whitefish on tap!
WON Central in San Clemente recently received a letter of dismay from a disappointed Arizona angler, Robert Huskey, who had recently fished a local boat. Just to boil down his concerns some, the ones that caught my eye were:

— Many small fish were tossed back to float away and be eaten by waiting birds. This is wasteful and "ILLEGAL."


— Fish and Wildlife data takers were there witnessing it and when asked, responded that what Husky was seeing was usual.

— Most of the fish being caught were small, most too small and a waste to fish for, ruining the potential of the fishery and the fishery should be shut down immediately to recover.

— "WON, as the primary information leader in the area, should immediately get out in front of this situation and lead the fight to sustain our cherished fishery."

dataonrockfish
DATA ON ROCKFISH catch rates. This graph compares fishing spot accessibility to the catch rate experienced there. It's clear the harder to get to stuff bites better and isn't fished nearly as hard as the easy spots. Here, "accessibility" is a function of distance from the dock, depth and how often bad weather took the spot off the menu. These data were gathered between 1979 and 2000, prior to the extensive federal fisheries closures (RCA and CCA) and state MPAs.

I'm pretty sure what Huskey witnessed was a unique example — just a bad day at Black Rock, but let's take a closer look at what he said. I'll start with #1.


1. Tossing back fish dead IS illegal. It's called "waste of game." Waste of game is one of the most egregious of resource violations. When it's big game shot and left without any attempt to retrieve, it is perhaps the only resource violation that's a felony on its face, regardless of the value involved.


This particular situation hits home hard, because it was my work, and the work of other scientists and industry leaders I worked closely with over the years, that convinced managers descending devices were effective for releasing rockfish caught in deep water. That's the principal reason we are allowed to fish as deep as 60 fathoms now.


Leaving a string of floaters for a disgruntled passenger to photograph and publish on social media is about the stupidest thing anglers and crews can do. It's illegal. It's bad for the resource. It's bad for our public image and it's bad for our continued access to fish deeper waters.


2.  Fish and Wildlife surveyors are mostly recent graduates and graduate students working for the Department and the CRFS (California Recreational Fisheries Survey) effort. They do not enforce the law. In fact, if they did, it would bias the data they so carefully collect.


Science works slowly. First data are gathered. Then they are analyzed and summarized. Then the work is reviewed for omissions and errors in fact and interpretation. Then it is published. Next it might be used by decision makers who promulgate regulatory changes. If proposed, regulatory changes are subject to their own review process. Finally a date is set for any regulatory changes' implementation.


When CRFS people see us doing it wrong, they're not there to police people. But you can bet, someday we will all pay the price, just not right away. The price might just be no fishing deep water because it's unreasonable to expect us to do it right. The simple fix is DO IT RIGHT!


3. Most of the fish were too small and fishing for them was a waste of the resource. Here it's clear that Mr. Huskey doesn't know what most of us do know. Most local rockfish caught in wind-sheltered waters are small. In SoCal you have to fish in favorable weather on a 3/4-day or longer trip to see quality cods consistently.


The truth is it takes a red of 2 or 3 pounds or more to be mature. I must point out that most of the rockfish caught in SoCal 1/2-day turf are indeed juvenile — babies. There are no two ways about it and it's been that way since at least the 1970s. Plus, as you swing the finger of blame across other fisheries and gear types, stand in front of a mirror. In SoCal almost nobody but us recreational anglers target those local reefs for their bottom biters. It's just not worthwhile commercially, given the options.


However, it's equally clear the 1/2-day flea cod fishery is basically sustainable. It's been a fishery for sub-adult rockfish for at least four decades already and rockfish populations have been growing for the last two. The local fishery replenishes its baby supply largely via fish larvae coming in from other areas.


Basically, most baby rockfish starve or get eaten before they find their first reef. Locally, whatever survivors there are live until the first time they see a hook they can get their mouth around. Yet, if you dive local reefs it's not uncommon to see a small contingent of "smart" adult rockfish lurking and waiting for someone to show them a live squid.


So Huskey is right. It's mostly juvenile rockfish on the 1/2- and many 3/4-day trips. And wrong — not having many adults caught aboard the local party boats isn't necessarily the harbinger of a fisheries disaster.


In addition, a few of the species that end up being the most abundant on hard hammered local cod spots are simply small species like square spots. They're mature at sabiki size, but probably wouldn't be top dog on the reef if there was much competition. Nevertheless, essentially it takes an "outer island grade" rockfish to be mature.


So let's take another look at those CRFS folks. It turns out the vast majority of the fishing they survey is local. That's because most launch ramp based private boaters don't take their trailer craft to the outer islands. And those few crazies that do, don't go there to deep dip for cods.


Plus, despite being required to, the outer island bound party boats almost always find an excuse not to have a CRFS data taker aboard. How do you think that might affect managers' view of the resource, having almost all their data reflect local cod fishing?


4. Game-On! The best and most important advice is to use those descending devices — no floaters! Use it or lose it! Anglers should tie a Shelton's descender (or other big barbless hook, set similarly upside down) in the line. Send small stuff back next drop.


Deckhands — don't play up flea cods and pocket whitefish as worthwhile. If it's not heftier than a keeper sculpin it's pretty darned small. While flea cods are what they are — sack 'em if they want 'em, you're a fool not to encourage folks to release those tiny pocket whitefish. They'll usually swim back down on their own and they grow really fast.


Anglers — refuse to fish for fish you don't want to catch. Nothing lights a fire under Cappy's ass like a stern full of bodies butt-to-rail, arms crossed during a stop.


If you're told your bottom biter hook is too big, assume that what you're really being told is, your expectations are too big for the boat you're on and the area you're fishing. Consider spending the big bucks on an all-day or overnight trip next time. Maybe the Groupon deal isn't your deal anymore.


Finally – if we ever want local cod spots to consistently have big rockfish, Huskey is correct, we'll have to fundamentally change the way we manage the local cod fishery. It's really not clear though. The way it's being done now might actually provide the best 1/2-day benefit. After all, big fish eat little fish, so having big local rockfish could require having a lot less local fishing allowed — even in the long run.


Along the Central Coast their grade-large local fishery is largely managed for bigger cods by their malevolent weather gods. They dictate a.m. fishing only, with 1/3 of all days spent tied up.


Having 4 or 5 times as much rocky reef within an hour of the dock helps their cause too of course, as did their recent increase in legally accessible area.


* * *


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.


•  •  •  •

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.


Page 1 of 46 First | Previous | Next | Last

IZORLINE
Buy a WON Tshirt
The Longfin Tackle Shop