Sunday, February 9, 2020

Kayak deep dropping Carlsbad Canyon

Yesterday Emerson and I decided to try Carlsbad Canyon for deep dropping. On nautical charts it looks like the younger sibling of La Jolla Canyon, and it's head is equally close to shore. We chose Tamarack Beach to launch. It was quite a bit steeper than La Jolla Shores, but we made it work.

We followed my usual deep drop routine by paddling out to the furthest and deepest spot first and then working our way back towards shore. We dropped in 970 feet, our hooks baited with fresh strips of squid, and my rig had a green strobe light. The 16 oz sinkers we used were heavy enough to hold bottom, so drifting was not an issue. In hindsight though, I wonder if the lack of drifting was actually the reason why we didn't get any bites.

We also tried dropping in 650 feet, 500 feet, and 400 feet, but no one wanted our tasty strips of squid. I added a chum cage to the top of my rig, filled with more pieces of cut squid, but it didn't change the results. Eventually the wind began to pick up, and we let it push us off the canyon into less than 300 feet of water. Finally we started getting bites! We started off with a mix of longfin sanddab, Pacific sanddab, and halfbanded rockfish.

Longfin Sanddab (Citharichthys xanthostigma)

Longfin sanddab was by far the most common catch of the day, and it was nice to get some more photos of them. If you look on the blind side you can see a streak of bright yellow at the bottom of the operculum. Breeding colors perhaps?

Sanddabs are not large fish, but one of the longfins was considerably large compared to all the others. I'll definitely be swapping this photo out with my old one on my lifelist.

We continued drifting into shallower water, and at 140 ft I had a good hit and pulled up an even more exciting flatfish, a fantail sole! I've only caught one of these, and it was several years ago. It was nice to see another one, and definitely a special one to get from the kayak.

Fantail Sole (Xystreurys liolepis)

A few minutes after the sole I heard Emerson yell "Ben!". I looked over to see his rod bent over, and then he said "Oh sh$%..... I'm going for a ride!". Sure enough, his kayak took off in the direction of the open Pacific. I had to paddle hard to catch up. He was hooked into something big, and after it's initial run it was mostly a vertical battle.

We debated what was on the other end of his line. A halibut wouldn't have made that initial run, so it likely wasn't that. Emerson insisted that it felt like a giant sea bass, but we weren't anywhere near structure so I had my doubts. When he finally got the fish to color he yelled "white seabass!", but as it got closer to the surface we finally saw the bright yellow tail. Emerson's first kayak yellowtail!

California Yellowtail (Seriola lalandi)

The wind was progressively getting stronger and stronger, so we didn't fish for much longer. My last catch was another fantail sole, smaller than the first one, but it was right-eyed instead of the usual left-eyed. There are only a few flatfish that can be both orientations, with California halibut being the other one that I can think of.

We had a long paddle back in the wind. Usually I can comfortably do between 3.5 and 4.0 mph, but heading north into the wind we were barely able to maintain 2.5 mph. To make the end of the day more interesting, when we got close to Tamarack Beach we realized it would be impossible to make a landing on. The outflow from Agua Hedionda lagoon combined with the swell and tidal flow and wind made for some terrifying conditions. However, the beach to the south of the lagoon entrance didn't look as bad, so we landed there and hiked over to get our vehicles.

Miles: 9.39
Hours: 6:15

To sum up: deep dropping continued to disappoint, I've established myself as a professional sanddab fisherman, and Emerson's kayak yellowtail was by far the highlight of the day.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Oceanside shiner perch and cheekspot goby

This past weekend I made another attempt at white seaperch in Oceanside Harbor. I wasn't in the mood for kayking, so I fished from the harbor pier instead. I also didn't have mussels (their bait of choice), so I used small pieces of shrimp instead.

The first hour was slow, but after a bit of chumming I was able to get a school of shiner perch to show up. They weren't the perch species I was looking for, but I felt encouraged that other perch might be in the mix.

Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata)

After I caught a dozen shiners, the bite died off. Emerson had joined me, and we agree it was time to move on to something else. We headed south to a saltwater lagoon near Oceanside. It looked like a good place to find gobies and other micros.

Emerson spotted some small fish in the shade of the bridge, which turned out to be juvenile bay blennies. They were easy to catch on microfishing gear.

Bay Blenny (Hypsoblennius gentilis)

I brought a small plastic tub to take underwater photos of our catches, but I had difficulty getting the lighting and focus to work with my camera. Here's a shot of one of the blennies with a hand-caught shrimp in the background.

Out in the open we found some gobies sitting on the bottom near ghost shrimp burrows. They looked bigger than the ones I've pumped up from burrows in Mission Bay, and they happily chomped bits of shrimp on Tanago hooks. A new species for the list!

Cheekspot Goby (Ilypnus gilberti) - new hook & line species #658

These cheekspots are REALLY tiny fish. They flare out their operculums to make their heads look bigger, but even then they're incredibly small.

Here's an underwater shot of two of the gobies in the plastic tub. We released them back into the lagoon before we left.

Emerson wandered off while I was looking for more fish in the rocks, and when he came back he showed me this tiny juvenile flatfish. We didn't have any ideas what it could be, but my contact from Scripps identified it as a diamond turbot.

Diamond Turbot (Hypsopsetta guttulata)

The next day I wrote up a short report on sdfish's fishing forum, and one of the other users replied back that he also fished the harbor pier over the weekend, but he did catch a white seaperch!

White Seaperch (Phanerodon furcatus)

Photo courtesy of Bird334 from

As I write this I already have the itch to do some more kayak fishing, so my next report will probably be from somewhere off the San Diego or La Jolla coast. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Gerry visits San Diego - January 2020 edition

My friend Gerry was in town for a visit this past weekend, and we did a tour of San Diego to add a few species to his list. On Friday we went to the Ocean Beach tidepools to collect mussels for bait and look for rockpool blennies. Gerry already had the other usual suspects (opaleye, zebra perch, woolly sculpin, and spotted kelpfish). I knew of one small pool in particular that was likely to have blennies, and sure enough Gerry caught one out of it almost immediately.

Photo courtesy of Gerry Hansell.

I fished a few of the pools as well and caught woolly sculpin and rockpool blenny. One of the sculpin was especially large with nice spawning colors.

Woolly Sculpin (Clinocottus analis)

The mouth and throat of these big spawning sculpin are pretty cool. Big turquoise mouths must be sexy in the sculpin world.

We moved over to Mission Bay to pump ghost shrimp and look for cheekspot gobies with the hour or two of remaining daylight. One of the local fishing legends from the sdfish message board, Coach (Werfless), happened to be there as well. We swapped fishing stories for a bit before he headed over to the Mission Bay jetty to fish.

Gerry was the first to find a few gobies out in the open, and despite their small size they were savage biters. Gerry caught one first and then left me some room to find one for myself. At first I tried dropping my bait down into ghost shrimp burrows, and I actually did have success pulling a small goby out of one of them, but he wasn't actually hooked. When I switched to the gobies out in the open I was able to get one right away. We assumed they were cheekspot gobies, but back at home we checked my fish books and came up with shadow goby instead. Either way it was a new species!

American Shadow Goby (Quietula y-cauda) - new hook & line species #657

On Saturday we headed back down to Mission Bay, this time with kayaks. My friend Kam lent us his old Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro, and I put Gerry in my Ocean Kayak Trident 13. Gerry gifted me his old fish finder a few years ago, so I was happy to give him a chance to use it again.

Our plan was to duplicate my success fishing the wreck of the HMCS Yukon, so we made the long haul out to its GPS pin. It was an odd day with high swell but not too much wind, and despite being a little unnerved by the swell we made it out without issue. The bites came right away, and Gerry added ocean whitefish to his list, and I caught a few as well.

Ocean Whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps)

Unfortunately, from then on it was blacksmith, blacksmith, and more blacksmith. I was really hoping we'd find some perch - sharpnose seaperch for Gerry and pile or rubberlip perch for either of us. However, there was an army of blacksmith ready to intercept our offerings.

Blacksmith (Chromis punctipinnis)

At one point I thought I had a nice fish on, but it turned out to be six blacksmith on the six hooks of my sabiki, most of which had been unbaited. I found it funny that I had to work pretty hard to catch my first blacksmith two years ago, and now they were lining up to jump on my hook.

The paddle back got a little scary as we entered the Mission Bay channel. The swell had picked up, with some of the waves going straight down the channel and others reflecting off the jetty walls at various angles. We gritted our teeth and kept paddling with short fast strokes to prevent any of the waves from turning or rolling us. To make the situation more bizarre, there was an outrigger race going on at the same time. Once we were finally in the clear I hung back to get a photo of Gerry surrounded by the racers (they were significantly faster than us).

Our route looked pretty similar to my previous trip to the Yukon.

Miles: 8.83
Hours: 5:08

On Sunday we took the kayaks down to Mission Bay again, but this time we stayed inside the bay. We had plenty of good bait - ghost shrimp and live mussels - and we hoped to find a mixed bag of species like croakers, wrasse, and maybe those elusive perch. Unsurprisingly we caught mostly juvenile sand bass, but Gerry was able to add a couple new ones including rock wrasse and garibaldi.

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Barred Sand Bass (Paralabrax nebulifer)

Rock Wrasse (Halichoeres semicinctus)

We also paddled over to check out the bait barge to see if there were any predators hanging around, but there was nothing going on. The sea lions were majestic as usual, surrounded by their court of birds.

Overall, kayaking didn't end up being as productive as we had hoped, but we had to remind ourselves that it was January, and fishing does tend to slow down in winter.

Miles: 3.04
Hours: 3:06

I'd heard a few rumors that there might be midshipman and staghorn sculpin in the San Diego River channel, so we headed over to check it out once the kayak gear was stowed. We ran into another sdfish member, Brandon (Cyborgstarfish), who was there looking for bass. He said the midshipmans might be there, but we'd have to go through a lot of bass to find one.

We got our baits in the water right around high tide. We did catch a few bass, but the most common fish ended up being diamond turbot, and all of them were good sized. We caught four of them in about an hour of fishing.

Diamond Turbot (Hypsopsetta guttulata)

Flatfish are bizarre. I usually forget to get a photo of the blind side of sanddabs, but for some reason with turbots I always remember.

Spotted Sand Bass (Paralabrax maculatofasciatus)

We had hoped to fish one more spot for longjaw mudsucker, yellowfin goby, California killifish, and diamond stringray, but by the time we got there the tide had already dropped too far. Feeding really only goes on there when the estuary is connected to the bay, and we arrived too late.

Despite quite a few missed targets, Gerry was still able to add ten new species to his list, which is pretty darn good by any species fisherman's standards.

  1. Pacific sardine
  2. chameleon goby
  3. bay blenny
  4. rockpool blenny
  5. American shadow goby
  6. ocean whitefish
  7. blacksmith
  8. garibaldi (incidental catch)
  9. rock wrasse
  10. diamond turbot

Thanks again Kam for loaning us your kayak, thanks Gerry for treating us to dinners, and it was good to meet both of you, Coach and Brandon! I'm looking forward to what February has in store for us!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Kayak deep dropping for sanddabs

On Sunday I gave deep dropping in La Jolla Canyon another try. My primary goal was to catch something new and interesting from the deep, and my secondary goal was to break my record for deepest fish caught from the kayak. My official targets were sanddabs, which are always in-season at any depth, and I had a descending device ready in case I caught any incidental rockfish, which are closed in January and February. As an extra precaution I tried my best to avoid any spots that looked rocky on the bottom.

There was a descent sized pod of dolphins moving through as I paddled out.

My deepest kayak fish (a sanddab) was from 315 ft, so I started out in 400+ ft near the head of the canyon (making sure I was outside the marine reserve). I upped my PR to 410 ft with this little guy.

Pacific Sanddab (Citharichthys sordidus)

I moved deeper to 500+ ft. The fish finder was having trouble deciding on the depth because of how much the signal cone spreads out before returning to the transducer. It bounced around erratically from the low 500's to the high 500's.

The screen said 540 ft when I hooked into this guy, so that's going to be my new PR. I think for anything deeper I'll have to use charts to come up with an estimate.

It wasn't the weird fish of the deep I was looking for, but it was still pretty weird.

After that I tried dropping at 600+ ft, 800+ ft, 900+ ft, and 1000+ ft, going off GPS pins that I had pulled from a depth chart ahead of time. The wind was almost nonexistent, so I only needed 16 oz to hold bottom in 1000 ft. Most days aren't like that. Eventually I gave up with the super deep and came back up to the edge of the canyon to catch a few more sanddabs and call it a day. Between 350 ft and 400 ft I got into a few out-of-season rockfish. The vermilions I sent down immediately without a photo, but this one I took a quick picture of because I wasn't sure of the species. I looked it up when I got home and determined that it's a freckled rockfish. It was also sent back to the bottom with the descending device.

Freckled Rockfish (Sebastes lentiginosus) - new hook & line species #656

I moved spots to avoid the rockfish and succeeded in getting some more sanddabs. My record was three on one drop. After a few more I called it a day and paddled back in.

Here's the Garmin screenshot for the day and the distance and time stats:

Miles: 6.45
Hours: 6:58

As I've mentioned in other posts, anyone is welcome to join when I go kayaking. Just leave a comment, and we'll make plans.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Tidepools, mussels, and searching for perch

On Friday I stopped by a much frequented tidepool spot to get some mussels for perch bait. I've heard that white seaperch are starting to show up in Oceanside Harbor, and I wanted to try for them on Saturday with the best possible bait.

With bait secured I spent the remaining daylight microfishing the tidepools. I caught the three most commons species from this spot.

Opaleye (Girella nigricans)

Rockpool / Notchbrow Blenny (Hypsoblennius gilberti)

Woolly Sculpin (Clinocottus analis)

I also saw lots of medium sized zebra perch, but they were too busy freaking out to be interested in eating anything. Usually I encounter largemouth blenny and spotted kelpfish in this area, but I didn't see either of them this time.

On Saturday my friend Emerson met me at Oceanside Harbor to look for white seaperch. We launched our kayaks from a public dock. There were some fish in the mid water column on the fish finder that turned out to be topsmelt, but I didn't see any schools of fish near the bottom. We fished pieces of mussel on small hooks, and within the first 30 minutes Emerson caught a white seaperch in about 12 ft of water near the rocky shoreline.

White Seaperch (Phanerodon furcatus)
Photo courtesy of Emerson Sims.

Sadly though I spent the next 6 hours trying to duplicate his success, but I couldn't get a perch of my own, and he didn't catch any others. Bycatch included garibaldi, rock wrasse, topsmelt, and opaleye.

Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) - caught incidentally and quickly released

Rock Wrasse (Halichoeres semicinctus)

Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis)

Opaleye (Girella nigricans)

It was a very sunny day, so I'm wondering if the perch bite best in the early morning or when it's overcast. I think next time I try for them I'll show up before sunrise and just fish the harbor pier instead of using the kayak. It's nice to be out on the water, but it's also a lot of work dealing with all of the gear and cleanup.

Here's the Garmin screenshot and stats:

Miles: 6:02
Hours: 6:19

More blog posts to come soon!