Sunday, June 21, 2020

The kayak trolling continues

June 20, 2020

Finally, I have a rudder on the kayak! It isn't necessary on the calm days, but there have been a few trips where I've ended up pretty far from shore when the wind picked up. Even if the wind is at your back, it's usually not pointed exactly in the direction you want to go. This leads to weathercocking (it's a real term, Google it). There have been a few times when I've had to paddle several miles with only one arm to stay in a straight line. I'm happy those days are in the past. OEX San Diego did the rudder install for a good price. Definitely give them your business if you live in the area.

On Saturday I launched from Mission Point Park and paddled south along the length of Point Loma. I stubbornly wanted to troll lures again, even though I haven't had any luck with them outside the bays. It's been a few weeks since I've been out, and I've been seeing reports of barracuda, bonito, and yellowtail. I'd be happy with anything big enough to go for a Rapala Xrap Magnum 20 or 30, so those are what I trolled. I caught my first fish on the 30, a calico bass. I replace the trebles with singles on my trolling lures, but unfortunately the front hook tore up its belly during the fight. I wonder how often that hook is the one the fish gets hooked on?

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

There were bait schools all along the outside of the kelp. I fished a small jig to see what they were, and they turned out to be jack mackerel. Strangely enough, I haven't caught one of these since before I moved to California when Eli and I rented a boat and fished out of Redondo Beach. I should take a break from trolling and fish some of these as live bait next time.

Pacific Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus)

The calicos were out in force. I ended up catching two of them on the Rapalas and seven of them on the jig. Hot pink was definitely working with the overcast conditions. I caught four of the jack mackerel on it as well.

That's it for the fishing report, because around 10 am the wind began to blow. I snagged the Rapala on kelp, and I wasn't able to break it off, so eventually I had to cut the line. In that short amount of time the wind really picked up. I was about 8 miles south of Mission Bay, so I stashed the fishing gear and focused on getting back safely. It was slow going, and the rudder absolutely saved the day. It would have been brutal without it. This was my first time having multiple waves crash over my side while I was paddling, and one of them nearly tipped me over. I made it back around 2 pm in one piece, happy to be off the water.

Miles: 16.53
Hours: 7:44
Water Temp: 69 F

Looking on the bright side, I got the chance to really test out the rudder. I checked the wind history, and while I was paddling back the wind was 14 mph with 16 mph gusts. It was a little more than I was comfortable with, so I think I need to do a better job of checking the forecast the morning of and even checking for an update once I'm out on the water.

June 27, 2020

I'll keep adding to this post since last week's report was short. On Saturday I took the kayak out again, this time launching from La Jolla. I met up with Anthony and his friend Fernando, and we agreed to focus on yellowtail. I had one rod for bait, one rod with an iron, and one rod with a trolling lure. All we had to do was find the fish!

We paddled out of the MLPA and spent some time catching mackerel. There were schools of them everywhere, and they were easy to catch. Then something crazy happened. As I was pulling a mackerel out of the water, a big stingray came right up to the kayak, stopped, and just sat there looking at me! After a few seconds it realized I wasn't going to feed it, so it slowly dropped down out of view. My good judgement went out the window, and I quickly cut up a mackerel, put a chunk on the iron I had ready for yellowtail, and let it sink about 15 feet below the kayak. I waited about 20 seconds, and then the clicker started going. That was the easy part, now I had to figure out how to safely handle the thing! (Thanks to Anthony for taking these pictures.)

The stingray had plenty of energy when I got it to the side of the kayak, and even though it was hooked in the mouth it insisted on coming at me tail first. I must have tried a dozen times to turn it around, but each time that tail with its 3 inch barb came swinging at me. Anthony suggested I let it run for a bit, so I gave that a try. I brought it back to the side of the kayak, kept the head pointed up, and got my hand in its mouth. It wasn't going anywhere, and its tail couldn't reach me. Anthony took about 20 photos, and then I let it go. I'll be perfectly happy if this is the one and only time I catch this species!

Pelagic Stingray (Pteroplatytrygon violacea) - new hook & line species #672

We spent the rest of the day looking for yellowtail inside the kelp, just outside the kelp, and out in open water. There were a lot of bait schools on our fish finders, and we saw a few marks that looked like bigger fish, but we didn't connect with any of them. Anthony pulled a piece of kelp up from about 90 feet, so at least he got to practice reeling something heavy in.

I didn't want to stay out too long, so around noon I turned around and trolled my way back around the point. The calico bass were biting, and I ended up getting 7 or 8 of them. Most of them were on an X-Rap 15, one was on an X-Rap 20, and one was on the iron. The heaviest one of the day was 3.25 lbs.

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

The wind was much lighter than last weekend, which I was thankful for. I was surprised though at how much the current going past the point slowed me down. Between trolling the two lures and fighting the current I was only able to go 2 mph. Once I reached La Jolla Cove though I was able to maintain 4 mph without any problem.

Miles: 10.61
Hours: 6:41
Water Temp: 70 F

I'll take the next weekend off, but after that I'll be out there again!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The big Arizona summer road trip

It's been a tough year for those of us who enjoy traveling. I had to cancel trips to Puerto Penasco and Fort Lauderdale this spring, but the big Arizona road trip on my calendar in June still felt doable. Chris and his boys have scouted out a ton of fishing spots around the state, and we worked together to make an itinerary that would put me on as many new species as possible. In particular I wanted to catch Gila trout and Apache trout, so they became the anchor points that we planned the rest of the trip around.

The fishing started at the same urban ponds where I caught common carp in December. My targets were Nile tilapia, koi, and inland silverside. If we somehow knocked all three out with time to spare, then we could head down the road to the Lower Salt River and try for a pleco. Chris met me at one of the ponds, and we got out the micro gear to fish for silversides.

I have no idea where the silversides go in winter, but in summer they're easy to find. Most of them were small, but we walked around the ponds until we found some large ones. A little piece of bread in the water would get them feeding, and then a tiny piece of bread on a Tanago hook would catch them. I had my first new species of the trip!

Inland Silverside (Menidia beryllina) - new hook & line species #662

We saw quite a few individual koi as we walked around the ponds but not any big groups. After quite a bit of walking we decided that chumming a spot with corn was a better strategy than trying to sight fish individuals. It took some time, but eventually four or five koi showed up and started feeding on the corn. I got a few bites, or maybe the fish just bumped my line, but I couldn't connect with one. Chris wandered off to check a few other spots. He gave me a call and said he had a koi in front of him that was feeding on algae on the surface. I was torn on whether or not I should abandon my spot, but finally I decided to catch up to Chris and try for the one he saw. It was still feeding on the surface when I got there, so I put a ball of bread on my hook and set it on the algae next to where it was feeding. When it's lips touched the bread, it swung it's head over and sucked it in! I set the hook, and after a short fight Chris had the koi in the net!

Amur Carp / Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) - new hook & line species #663

Chris said if the the tilapia were biting we should be able to see them from shore. We didn't see any, and by the time I caught the koi the sun was setting, so we called it a day. The next morning I hit the road early and visited a stream where Chris and his boys all caught Gila trout. The Arizona Game and Fish Dept stocks them frequently, so it wasn't hard to find them or catch them. Walk upstream from the road crossing and fish the first deep pool you find, and the trout will be there.

I had the pool all to myself, and it was a nice cool morning. I put a small white plastic worm on my size #8 hook and flipped it up towards the head of the pool. It sank out of sight and almost immediately my line went tight, and I caught my first Gila trout! I repeated this process and ended up catching ten of them in about an hour. A few of them had body sores from the hatchery, but most of them looked good. The biggest one I caught posed perfectly for my lifelist photo.

Gila Trout (Oncorhynchus gilae) - new hook & line species #664

Chris suggested I check out another access point just up the road because he saw micros there in the past, including juvenile suckers. I didn't want to spend too much time there, but I walked the bank for bit, and sure enough there were speckled dace and juvenile desert suckers cruising around the rocks. It took a bit of patience to get past the dace and entice a sucker to chase down my bait, but eventually one of them went for it!

Desert Sucker (Catostomus clarkii) - new hook & line species #665

And of course I'll include the obligatory sucker lips photo. Remember folks, if you catch a sucker, you have to take a shot of its lips before you let it go. Desert suckers are interesting in that their upper lip develops into an algae scraper as they mature. They look downright weird as adults, and I'd love to catch one someday.

From there I headed northeast where I would eventually meet Chris and his boys in Show Low. I took the scenic route, driving a good part of the way on fire access roads. It's been a long time since I've done a good road trip in the Subaru, and I think it was happy to get dirty.

I stopped at one creek along the way but didn't get out fishing gear. It had speckled dace, fathead minnows, red shiners, and western mosquitofish, and unfortunately only one of those is native. There were probably other fish in the deeper pools, but I didn't stick around to find out what they were.

The plan didn't have us trying for Apache trout until the next day, but Chris said there was a stream just outside of town that had them stocked. We had about an hour to fish before the sun set, so it was worth a try.

It took a bit of walking and quite a few casts to find fish, but eventually I ended up with two rainbow trout. Chris caught a big speckled dace, and all of us caught crayfish. I don't know how they managed to grab on, but I caught several crayfish on my plastic worm while it was being actively retrieved.

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

While we were fishing I spotted a pronghorn grazing in the field behind us. I saw my first pronghorns in Idaho a few years ago when I was visiting Matt Miller, but I didn't realize that their range extends down into Arizona. They're strange looking mammals!

The next morning the four of us drove our two vehicles to a stream that has both wild and stocked Apache trout. The elevation here was nearly 9000 feet, and the water was cold! It took us a while to find fish, and it was Chris and his boys who finally found a hole with several trout. I was the only person in the group who hadn't caught one, so they were very generous to call me over and let me have the first cast.

I didn't bother with anything fancy, just a worm on a small gold jighead. It took me several tries to get the jig to land in just the right spot, but with three people looking over my shoulder I finally got it right and hooked the trout that grabbed it. Success! In two days I was able to catch Arizona's two native species of trout. They were stocked fish, but I'm happy knowing that my fishing license is going towards keeping their populations intact.

Apache Trout (Oncorhynchus apache) - new hook & line species #667

Chris and his boys each caught Apache trout as well, which they wanted for photo upgrades. After they were finished I leaned out on a dead tree trunk and stuck my camera in the water to try to photograph the trout in the pool. This shot below turned out pretty well.

Next we headed south to Lee Valley Reservoir, which is stocked with Apache trout and arctic grayling. We walked the shoreline and fished artificials, but it was getting windier and windier, and we didn't get any bites. We chatted with an AZGFD officer who was checking fishing licenses, and she suggested Aker Lake for grayling. Aker Lake was actually going to be my next stop, but I was happy to hear that people had been catching grayling over the past few days. We got a group photo before we parted ways, since Chris needed to get back to Phoenix.

When I arrived at Aker Lake I had it all to myself for the first half hour. It's tucked away high in the mountains and definitely a special place. The surrounding hills and pine trees did a good job of blocking the wind.

Grayling were actively feeding on insects on the surface. I had a small box of flies but no fly rod, and even if I did I wouldn't know how to use it. I tried casting a fly with spinning gear using a bobber as weight, and it got two half-hearted swipes. I also spent some time with a small gold Kastmaster, and it got hit twice. I hooked one of the fish and had it on for a few seconds, but it was able to throw the hook. I was running out of time, so finally I got out the Tenkara rod, put a tiny plastic grub on the Tanago hook, and sight fished a small grayling near shore.

Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) - new hook & line species #668

As I was releasing the fish, a big grayling around 13 inches casually cruised past right next to shore. I was ok not catching one like that, because I think it was the universe telling me that I should learn how to fly fish. I headed out and unfortunately had to backtrack to the north to avoid wildfires that had closed the highway to the south. My detour took me east into New Mexico, and it was a long drive to make it down to the town of Willcox where I had a motel booked for the night. New Mexico was beautiful though, and I enjoyed stopping to take in the views.

I was a long ways from San Diego, so most of my last day was spent driving. I had time to stop at one creek in the southeast part of the state. It had a mix of minnows and juvenile suckers, and I caught some longfin dace there and got a few photos.

Longfin Dace (Agosia chrysogaster)

Most of our time was spent in forests that you wouldn't typically think of when you think of Arizona, and I got to see a lot of wildlife. Mammals included pronghorn, deer, and jackrabbits, and Chris and his boys said they saw elk that I somehow missed. Birds included roadrunners, quail, and hummingbirds. As I was leaving the last spot I stopped to let a flock of turkeys cross the road.

Thank you Chris and everyone in your family for being so generous. I had a great trip, and my list of fishing targets in Arizona is considerably smaller now. I'll be back for the Nile tilapia and a few more native species in the future!

Monday, May 25, 2020

First attempt trolling La Jolla

At this point I can confidently say I have bottom fishing from the kayak figured out. It's been good for adding to the lifelist and filling the freezer, but it's time that I start challenging myself with other ways of fishing the ocean. There have been reports of yellowtail, bonito, and barracuda showing up, so I decided to spend a day trolling lures. I launched from La Jolla at sunrise and paddled west until I passed the kelp. For the rest of the day I trolled a Rapala Xrap Magnum 15 on one rod and a Magnum 20 on the other. The red tide has mostly cleared up, but the visibility was still very low, around two feet several miles offshore. I didn't notice any marks on the fish finder in the top 30 feet of water, so it wasn't surprising that I didn't get a bite all day. It's a good thing I enjoy the exercise! To avoid being skunked I fished the seamount west of La Jolla for a few minutes and caught some rockfish - squarespots, blues, and vermilions. This squarespot in particular was a huge improvement over the one on my lifelist.

Squarespot Rockfish (Sebastes hopkinsi)

Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus)

Other than the rockfish my only catch for the day was a mackerel. As I was paddling back to the kelp I ran into one of my neighbors. I've seen him driving past my house with his boat countless times, and we often chat about fishing, but this if the first time I've run into him on the water. Right as I showed up one of his rods bent over hard, and I hung around for a while to see what was on the end of his line. To their and my surprise it was a medium sized sevengill shark!

I added a deck mounted compass to my kayak, and this was my first time using it. You can see a few straight segments on my route where I maintained a heading for a few miles. I'll probably never actually need the compass, but it's a good backup in case my electronics fail on a day where I'm far from shore and dense fog rolls in. You never know!

Miles: 13.37
Hours: 6:39
Water Temp: 65 F

Next week I have a rudder kit arriving, so this was my last rudderless trip in the Trident. I'm feeling pretty confident with my long distance training, but I think the rudder will up my game even more for covering long distances in open water.

(5/31/20) Edit: Ok sorry, I lied. The rudder kit did come last week, but after looking over the instructions I decided it would be best if a kayak shop did the install. OEX will be open in June, so I'll have it on sometime in the coming month!

Yesterday I got out to La Jolla again, and I was able to meet up with Anthony, another kayak angler from We were on the fence as to whether or not we should go out with the wind and swell forecast, but on Friday we made the call that conditions were good enough and we'd make the most of it.

We both wanted to troll and jig for yellowtail, but I asked Anthony if we could load up on rockfish first. I've been giving away a lot of the vacuum sealed fillets in my freezer to friends, and I wanted to restock my supply. We dropped in the usual spot along the edge of the canyon and were quickly pulling up rockfish from the bottom.

Greenspotted Rockfish (Sebastes chlorostictus)

Between the two of us we tried a variety of different jigs. I used a 5.3 oz knife jig with a single assist hook at the top and an 8 oz glow jig with treble hook at the bottom. Anthony used a big flatfall with an assist hook at the bottom as well as a few others. They all produced fish, but I put a piece of shrimp on the hook for most of my drops, so I can't really conclude which jig style was the best.

I caught my limit of 10 rockfish with 9 of them being sunsets. The two biggest ones were 3 lbs and 3.5 lbs. The freezer will once again be well stocked! I feel very fortunate given everything that's going on this year that I can get out and source my own food and share with friends.

Sunset Rockfish (Sebastes crocotulus)

While I was switching my gear over for trolling, Anthony hooked into something big. I stopped what I was doing to see what he pulled up. After several minutes of cranking, he got whatever it was to color. We saw something large and brown, but then his line went slack and the fish disappeared from view. The hook had come out! We were pretty sure it was a big halibut, and it's a bummer we didn't land it, because it would have been the fish of the day.

Anthony fell for the same temptation that I do on many of my trips, and that's to spend most of the time bottom fishing despite having other targets. While he finished rockfish hunting I spent a little time trolling a big lure around, but it didn't get any hits.

Miles: 9.29
Hours: 5:56
Water Temp: 64 F

Overall it was a good day. We agreed that the rough wind and swell conditions were good practice and a good reminder to take the forecast seriously. We didn't make any progress on yellowtail, but we got out there and caught some fish. Next time we'll leave the rockfish gear at home.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Red tide rockfishing in La Jolla

Red tides are gross. For the past few weeks southern California has been dealing with phytoplankton blooms all up and down the coast. The organisms that cause them are called dinoflagellates. They turn the water an opaque reddish brown, they stink, and they use up oxygen in the water, leading to fish kills in the lagoons. As far as I know they don't affect bottom fishing though, so I headed out to La Jolla yesterday to try for more deep canyon fish. I started out in the center of the canyon targeting anything but rockfish. I didn't feel any bites, but I did have one hook come up with its squid missing, so maybe there's something down there!

After a few hours of entertaining the fish at 1000 feet with my excellent jigging techniques, I made the call to come up to legal rockfish depths of 450 feet or less. I dropped at a few spots along the canyon's edge, but the only bites I got were from small halfbanded rockfish. Everything changed though when I swapped my squid out for shrimp. Instant bites!

Vermilion Rockfish (Sebastes miniatus)

Edit: The vermilions in this post are probably the closely related sunset rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus. From what I've read, adult fish in less than 328 feet are usually vermilions, and those in more than 328 feet are sunsets. Sunsets also tend to have a yellowish-orange hue to their sides, whereas vermilions are more of a brick red.

I switched to a 6 oz jig with a teaser circle hook about 12 inches above it and added shrimp to both of the hooks. The jig only caught one fish, the small vermilion in the picture below. All of the other fish caught were on the teaser hook.

After a few more vermilions I pulled up a small, bright red rockfish that I didn't recognize. I made a note of the depth (425 feet) and took lots of photos to make sure I could ID it when I got home. Eventually I settled on pinkrose rockfish, and just to be safe I had Milton Love confirm it.

Pinkrose Rockfish (Sebastes simulator) - new hook & line species #661

Shrimp on the teaser hook continued to get bites, and it only took two hours to catch my limit of 10 rockfish. Towards the end of my session there were a couple of bocaccio, and the rest of them were decent sized vermilions.

Bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis)

Many of the fish were puking up red crabs and small shrimps, which explains why they bit so quickly on shrimp. The bocaccio were the only ones spitting up anchovies. One of them had a few hanging out of his mouth and a few pushing out through his gills.

Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)

I caught my limit before 11:30, and after that I took my time paddling back. There were a lot of dolphins, including more juveniles than I've ever seen before.

I also came across a pair of harbor seals.

One of the bait boats was out working, which was good to see. Last week there was a line of them docked in San Diego Bay.

I landed on the beach shortly after noon. There were quite a few people out walking around, which wasn't surprising. I couldn't believe how many people were swimming and playing in the water though! I guess red tide isn't enough to stop people from getting in the water when they've been cooped up in their houses for the past two months.

It was nice to have a shorter session for a change. I've been getting a little crazy with those long paddles.

Miles: 7.76
Hours: 6:49
Water Temp: 70 F

Next time I'm going to see if those 1000 foot fish like shrimp!