Thursday, December 24, 2015

San Diego Bat Rays

During my San Diego trip I met up with a few guys from to fish for bat rays. It was incredibly generous of them to take us to one of their spots, share their bait, teach us how to fish for big rays, and let me reel in a couple of fish on their gear. I arrived at the fishing spot about 45 minutes before anyone else. I fished a few lures and soaked some squid while we waited, but there wasn't anything biting at low tide. Tom and Steve arrived and got to work setting up their rods. They use heavy conventional gear with braided line around 40 lbs. After they cast out their baits (cut mackerel), they set their rods in PVC tubes and turned the reel clickers on. As the tide came in we waited for bites.

Steve was the first to hook up with a nice bat ray on his surf rod. Tom I missed most of the fight because one of his rods went off, but when the fish that took Tom's bait came off we hurried back to help Steve land his ray. It looked to be the start of a good night!

Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)

Tom's rod went off again. He was closer, so he grabbed the rod, set the hook, and then insisted that I reel it in. It was a fun fight, and we landed the ray, but I didn't set the hook so I didn't want to count it for my lifelist.

By this time the sun had set, and it quickly became dark. Steve had another nice bite, and this time he reeled in a butterfly ray. It was a big one too! We were all very excited to see this less common species.

California Butterfly Ray (Gymnura marmorata)

A few other people showed up and set up their rods as well. I had pieces of squid cast out with my small travel rods. One rod had 10 lb line and a #4 octopus circle hook, and the other had 4 lb line and a #8 octopus hook. My 10 lb rod went off, and to my dismay I had a fairly decent bat ray on the end. It would have been awesome to catch my official lifer on my own gear, so I kept my drag loose and fought it as carefully as possible.

I was fortunate that the ray didn't wrap my line around anything, and after a long and slow fight I had it up in the shallow water less than 10 feet from shore. You can see its tail in the photo below. However, once its belly began scraping the sand bottom, I had to tighten the drag to bring it in further. As soon as I did that, my line snapped. Bummer!

Next my 4 lb rod went off, and I pulled something tiny in, more or less dragging it along the surface of the water. It was a salema, a small fish in the grunt family. Tom was surprised to see it this far in the bay. I was happy to have my first lifer of the night.

California Salema (Xenistius californiensis) - new hook & line species #315

Tom let me grab his rod when it went off again, and this time I set the hook and reeled it in so I could count it on my lifelist. It wasn't a big one, but I was excited to have the monkey off my back.

Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica) - new hook & line species #316

My 4 lb rod went off again. This time is was an adorable round stingray. You can't tell the size from this photo, but I assure you that it was VERY small. It would have been more sporting if I had used 2 lb line!

Round Stingray (Urobatis halleri) - new hook & line species #317

Tom caught a few fish on his gear, and then he let me have another turn. This time it was a much larger fish! The fight was fun, but the ray was no match for the heavy gear. Still, by the time we landed it my arms were pretty sore. I can't imagine what a really big shark or ray would feel like. This one measured 43 inches across its wings.

Tom caught the biggest ray of the night with a wingspan of 50 inches. Their bodies get really thick at this size! Tom also caught one with two stingers, which was pretty cool and freaky at the same time.

I received the honors of catching the smallest bat ray. It had an adorable wingspan of 15.5 inches. It was a good fish to end the night with.

California once again left me both humbled and impressed. Humbled at how generous the fishing community is and impressed with how productive and varied the fishing opportunities are. Tuna fishing with Eli last October was without a doubt my best boat fishing experience, and bat ray fishing with the gang in December was easily my best shore fishing experience. Check out their website and online forum. They're a great bunch of folks.

Thanks again everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Intro to SoCal pier fishing

Ruoxi and I spent the holiday break in southern California, and during my stay we made three short trips to Oceanside Pier, and one trip to Shelter Island Pier.

12/22/2015 - Oceanside Pier

Ruoxi and I stopped by to check out the pier, but we didn't bring bait, and the shop on the pier was closed.  It was mid-morning, the tide was low, and it was windy.  I threw a krocodile spoon on a fish finder rig from about three quarters of the way to the end of the pier.  I hadn't used a lure with a fish finder rig before, but I felt it was necessary to keep my lure below the surface of the water with how strong the wind was .  I caught a few clumps of seaweed and then got a nice hit by this barracuda.

Pacific Barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) - new hook & line species #314

12/25/2015 - Oceanside Pier

The time of day, tide, and wind were the same as above.  I know rising and high tides are better for fishing, but I worked with what I was given.  This time I was armed with squid left over from bat ray fishing.  I set up one line with a dropper loop and small baitholder hook and the other with a fish finder rig and circle hook.  This time I fished about half way to the end of the pier.  Each rig caught one yellowfin croaker.  We didn't get any other bites.

Yellowfin Croaker (Umbrina roncador) - new hook & line species #318

12/27/2015 - Oceanside Pier

For my third trip, I checked the tide charts the night before and drove to the pier early to catch the rising tide.  Ruoxi wanted to sleep in, so I was on my own.  I set up at the end of the pier with a fish finder rig with a circle hook and a big chunk of squid as bait.  It didn't get touched all day, and I swapped the squid out every half hour.

With my other rod I fished a sabiki rig, sometimes straight down close to the pilings, and sometimes out as far as I could underhand cast.  On a slow retrieve, I got some quick taps and reeled in five chub mackerel.  Two flopped off, but I landed the other three!

Pacific Chub Mackerel (Scomber japonicus) - new hook & line species #319

I swapped out the squid on the fish finder rig with fresh cut mackerel, but it still didn't get any bites. It was a nice sunny day though, and I enjoyed myself a lot more than my previous trips.  Pods of dolphins cruised by every so often.

12/29/2015 - Shelter Island

For our last fishing adventure of the trip, Ruoxi and I drove to downtown San Diego to fish the Shelter Island Pier.  We set up as the sun was setting over Point Loma, and the tide was moving out.

I tied two dropper loops in one of the lines and tossed it out as far as I could.  It got hit pretty quickly, and both Ruoxi and I landed some nice barred sand bass.

Barred Sand Bass (Paralabrax nebulifer) - new hook & line species #320

I put out a fish finder rig as well, but it did not get touched.  While we waited, I rigged up my micro rod with a small hook and a piece of squid tentacle.  I dropped it as close to the pilings as I could and right away got small taps.  After a few juvenile barred sand bass and kelp bass, I caught a tiny California scorpionfish (the locals call them sculpin).

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata) - new hook & line species #321

Conditions weren't the best on this trip, partially because it was December, but also because of poor timing on my part with respect to the tide, wind, and time of day.  Nonetheless, it was fun to experiment and catch a few fish, learning a little more about southern California fishing each time we went out.  I'm definitely looking forward to spring and summer when I come out again!