Monday, August 31, 2020

Southern California micros

Aug 22, 2020

It turns out I'm not invincible. My wrist decided to call it quits after that 31 mile paddle, and as a result I haven't kayaked or fished in the past 4 weeks. Eventually I realized I could still go fishing without using a kayak or my left hand, so I dusted off my Tenkara rod and drove down to South Bay to check out a spot where people had seen sailfin mollies.

I arrived at low tide and saw a huge school of topsmelt out in the open and smaller schools of mollies cruising close to shore. Finding your target is the first challenge, so at least I had that out of the way. The next thing I noticed was that there were small chameleon gobies coating the bottom. I couldn't believe how many there were.

I baited my Tanago hook with a small piece of worm and set to work targeting the mollies. It wasn't a surprise that they wouldn't bite, but I figured if I tried for a few hours maybe one would break character and go for my bait. Every now and then I'd get bored though, so I'd catch one of the other species I saw: chameleon goby, California killifish, and topsmelt.

Chameleon Goby (Tridentiger trigonocephalus)

California Killifish (Fundulus parvipinnis)

Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis)

The mollies refused to eat anything other than microscopic bits of nothing, so finally I dunked my camera under water and took some photos of them pecking at the rocks.

Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna)

I meant to bring bread to chum with and try for bait, but I forgot, so that will have to be something I try next time. Maybe if I chum with enough different baits I can find one that interests them. Honestly, it's kind of nice having a new nemesis, especially one that's easy to find.

Aug 29, 2020

The following weekend I continued my microfishing adventures, this time combining fishing with a road trip. I kept seeing online that Big Bear Lake has a booming population of introduced prickly sculpin, and Lake Gregory, 45 minutes to the west, has a population of introduced tule perch.

Both species seemed like easy targets, and I was in need of a lifelist confidence boost. First stop was Big Bear, which according to the signs has actual bears. I parked near the dam and scrambled down the rocks to the water. It took a minute to tie on a hook, but once my bait was in the water it took around 5 seconds to catch my first sculpin. They were under every rock!

Prickly Sculpin (Cottus asper) - new hook & line species #673

Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

After catching about 20 sculpin and a bonus green sunfish, I hit the road again and headed west to Lake Gregory. The drive through the mountains was scenic. Big Bear is at an elevation of 6750 ft, and Gregory is 4550 ft, so the air temperature was noticeably lower than Los Angeles.

Again I parked near the dam and set up in a corner where there was some submerged tree branches. My first tule perch took a little longer than my first sculpin, but it was an easy catch as well. They're small fish with small mouths, but they would come out of heavy cover to investigate my bait. Tule perch are the only freshwater surfperch, and their reproduction and life history is fascinating if you want something to read about online.

Tule Perch (Hysterocarpus traskii) - new hook & line species #674

I had some extra time before I needed to head home, so I stopped by the Santa Ana River in Riverside to check out a spot where I had caught arroyo chubs a few years ago. It's a pretty sketchy area with a number of homeless camps, so I bushwacked into a more isolated stretch of the river to avoid the bridges and areas where I thought people might be. I still came across a few people hanging out by the river, but it was mostly families who had driven in (how I don't know) and parked their trucks by the water to let their kids play. Considering that the Santa Ana River is 100% fed by a waste water treatment plant about a mile upstream, this didn't seem like a great idea.

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find arroyo chubs this time, but there were plenty of largemouth bass, green sunfish, and black bullheads. Hopefully the chubs are surviving somewhere else in the river. They're one of the few native freshwater fish in southern California, so it would be nice if they stuck around.

Fishing takes you to some crazy places.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

It's a bonito summer in San Diego

July 11, 2020

Summer is here, and that means warm water and big hungry fish. I just haven't found those big hungry fish yet (unless that pelagic stingray from my last session counts). What I'd really like now is a big yellowtail, small thresher, or small mako. I've been trying to kill two birds with one stone by combining long distance paddling with fishing, but I think I need to finally separate the two. People are catching the fish I'm interested in two miles from the La Jolla launch. I still want to do long distance kayaking to get ready for a Catalina crossing this fall, but those days can be separate from fishing trips from now on.

On Saturday Anthony and I met up at La Jolla again. We agreed to put in some miles, heading north from La Jolla Shores towards Del Mar and back. We hoped to find surface action along the way, but as backup I marked a few rocky spots where we could drop for rockfish and lingcod. We trolled for the first 5 miles without any bites and then stopped and caught some fish off the bottom. I caught vermilion, flag, calico, starry, and greenstriped rockfish. The bigger ones went in the cooler, and the smaller ones were sent back down. Anthony caught a nice legal California halibut.

Vermilion Rockfish (Sebastes miniatus)

Flag Rockfish (Sebastes rubrivinctus)

We reached a good fishing spot a few miles out from Torrey Pines State Beach, but the wind was picking up, so we didn't stay long. I could see bait schools throughout the water column on my fish finder, and on my first drop I caught a big barred sand bass, but I released it without a photo. I'm sure there were plenty more fish to be had, but the wind was pushing hard towards shore, and we decided it wasn't worth fighting against.

When we were fighting the wind we could barely maintain 2 mph, but as we headed towards shore we were doing close to 5 mph! Even when we turned south and no longer had the wind directly on our backs, we still had no problem maintaining 4 mph. As we cruised past Black's Beach the fish finder screen filled up with a big school of jumbo sized mackerel. I caught about 8 of them to give to one of my shark fishing friends. I also had a small bonito hit my jig, and I was happy to add it to the cooler. It's been a while since I've caught one!

Pacific Bonito (Sarda lineolata)

We weren't ready to call it a day, so we decided to fight the wind again and head back out to one of the morning spots. It was a slow grind, and once we were there we caught a few more rockfish, but we were drifting back towards shore too quickly to make it worthwhile.

Miles: 19.38
Hours: 9:51
Water Temp: 73 F

Back at the launch I was definitely more sore than Anthony. I love my paddle kayak, but I can see why almost everyone else chooses pedals. It'll be nice to do the next few sessions closer to the launch.

July 18, 2020

The next weekend I fished La Jolla again, and this time I did a good job of keeping my mileage low. Mackerel and small bonito were easy to find, but I didn't have any luck with yellowtail. As a proof of concept I also brought a bait container and chopped up some frozen mackerel and sanddabs to use as chum. I paddled north between the kelp and the canyon so I'd have more room to drift. It didn't take long for a pelagic ray to show up. After I put my camera away he tried to climb on top of the bait container and came part way out of the water!

Pelagic Stingray (Pteroplatytrygon violacea)

I'll try chumming for makos again later this summer. When I do, I'll paddle up north of the canyon so I can have several miles of uninterrupted drifting, and I'll make sure to have a good supply of mackerel to keep adding to the container.

Miles: 7.43
Hours: 5:14
Water Temp: 74 F

Next up will be a high mileage day to train for Catalina. I'll bring one rod just in case I come across some surface action, but the plan will be to focus on paddling rather than fishing.

July 25, 2020

The wind and current forecasts looked great this weekend for my first 30+ mile paddle. I launched from La Jolla Shores at 5:15 am and headed northwest, following the contour of La Jolla Canyon. Sunrise wasn't until 6 am, but there was a little bit of light in the sky.

I had several waypoints stored in the fish finder to keep me on track. Around 10 miles in I passed a wave buoy anchored to the bottom. I must have been in over 2000 ft of water by that point, so the cable to the bottom was really long! 

As I went past the buoy, I put my camera below the surface of the water and snapped a few photos looking down. There was a huge school of bait fish beneath me! I had brought one rod with me in case I came across any fish during my paddle. The jig I had on was about the same size as the bait, so I spent a few minutes jigging the first 100 ft of water, but I didn't see anything follow it up.

I had to fight the wind and current on the way out. As I was approaching the turnaround point, the wind finally died down, making the surface smooth as glass. It was a strange feeling knowing I was 15 miles from shore. I wouldn't say I was nervous, but I had a healthy respect for how far I was from other people.

The wind picked back up during the paddle back. It was blowing due east, and the current was moving to the south. The combination of the two meant that when I stopped paddling, I would drift almost exactly towards La Jolla Shores at 1 mph. That wasn't by accident!

The paddle back was pretty uneventful. Once I passed mile 25 muscle soreness finally kicked in, and I started taking a break after each mile. Sea sickness also started to creep in, and I had to force myself to keep drinking water. These sort of things are likely to happen when I cross the Catalina channel, so its good that I experience them during my training paddles.

Miles: 31.13
Hours: 10:32
Water Temp: 69 F

The day was a resounding success. I didn't catch any fish, but I paddled farther than I ever have before. Honestly that might be the longest paddle I ever do!

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!