Saturday, December 12, 2020

Newport Beach kayak fishing

This tumultuous year is almost over. I honestly wasn't sure if I'd get to kayak again before it ended, but my friend Anthony invited me to join him and a few other guys up in Newport Beach for a session on Saturday. It meant setting the alarm extra early in order to get up there by 6am, but Anthony has done it plenty of times to drive down to La Jolla, so I had no excuse why I couldn't do the same.

I unloaded in the dark and met Mike, who was taking his new bright green Stealth Fusion 480 out for the first time. He got on the water to meet his friend Quang, and then Fernando and Anthony arrived and started unloading when I was launching. The group assembled out past the jetty where we caught mackerel for bait.

It was a breezy morning. I wanted to fish around 400 feet deep for hake, and I thought the wind would die down as the sun came out. Anthony agreed to paddle the 2.7 miles to the furthest pin I had marked to the north. The paddle wasn't too bad, but by the time we arrived the wind was really picking up. I was able to get my 8 oz jig to the bottom, but drifting at around 1.5 mph meant we couldn't stay on top of structure. I tipped the jig and the circle hook above it with pieces of mackerel and caught a variety of small bottom species. Birds and dolphins were feeding on bait fish in the distance, but they were always too far away to be worth paddling to.

Calico Rockfish (Sebastes dallii)

California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata)

Longfin Sanddab (Citharichthys xanthostigma)

The wind kept getting stronger, and the sky was getting darker to the west, so we decided to do the prudent thing and start paddling back to the jetty. I felt bad that I had talked Anthony into going on my wild goose chase, but he was a good sport about it. We gritted our teeth and paddled into the wind. At times we were only able to manage about 1.5 mph.

Once we passed Balboa Pier the wind started to finally lay down a bit. It was still blowing, but conditions looked fishable again. We paddled back out towards deeper water, but this time we kept the jetty within sight. Anthony wanted to fish a shallower spot that had good structure with the other guys, but I stubbornly wanted to try 400 feet a bit more for the hake, so we parted ways. I dropped some smaller hooks and quickly felt a few small nibbles. I pulled up two rockfish, one of which was definitely a halfbanded, but the other one looked like something new!

Stripetail Rockfish (Sebastes saxicola) - new hook & line species #702

It takes quite a bit to make me seasick, but the swell and chop were starting to get to me. Every time I looked down to deal with gear my stomach sent signals that it might do something unpleasant. I did what every fisherman does when it's time to head in, which is to declare one more cast (or drop in this case). I sent my rig to the bottom, felt small taps again, and this time when I reeled up I saw two slender silvery fish that could only be one thing. Hake!

North Pacific Hake (Merluccius productus) - new hook & line species #703

One of my goals for the year was to catch a new non-rockfish, non-sanddab species from the deep. I envisioned it happening at 1000+ feet, but I think a pair of hake from 400 feet certainly should qualify. Thanks goes to Mike for posting a hake a while back that inspired me to try for them!

Back at the launch Mike and Anthony were loading up their vehicles. Everyone was pretty beat from battling the wind all morning, but we were happy to get to spend the day on the water. Mike was happy with his Stealth. His only complaint was that it was a "wet ride" with water coming through the scuppers at his feet and in the seat.

Below is the screenshot from my Garmin watch. You can see by the lack of squiggles that we only stopped to fish a few spots. Most of the day was paddling and fighting the wind.

Miles: 12.2
Hours: 7:11
Water Temp: 58 F

Thanks again to Anthony and Mike for the invite. I'm glad we got to meet up!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Georgia Florida part 1 - mostly micros

Towards the end of November I spent a week in Athens, Georgia visiting my brother and sister-in-law. Late fall isn't the best time to go microfishing, but since I was in the area I decided to check out Trail Creek in one the public parks it flows through.

I'm embarrassed to report that the first fish I caught was a new species, but I didn't get a photo of it. After a decade of fishing you wouldn't think I would make a rookie mistake like that! Here's what happened - I caught a Westfalls darter (a split from blackbanded darter), but my camera was about 20 yards away. Just then a dad and his three kids stopped on the trail above me, and the dad proceeded to yell at the kids about something they were doing. It felt like an awkward time to come scrambling up the boulders and surprise them, so I figured I'd wait for them to leave. The Tanago hook was still in the mouth of the darter, so I put it back in the water so it could breathe while I waited. The dad and kids left, I lifted up my rod, and the fish was gone. Yes, I am an idiot.

This chain of events didn't bother me too much, because I figured it would be easy to catch another Westfalls darter. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I caught five more fish, four of which were spottail shiners, and one bluehead chub. Ah well, I'm sure I'll be back someday.

Spottail Shiner (Notropis hudsonius)

Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus)

After my stay in Georgia I headed down to Florida to visit a few of my fishing friends, starting with Ally. She had a spot for platies that sounded like a sure thing, so we headed there as soon as I arrived. It was a nice little urban park with a ditch full of nonnative fish. Many of them were platies, but it took a while to get one to commit to taking the bait before a convict cichlid or mosquitofish got to it. We figured them out though, and we also caught a few female swordtails before calling it a day.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)

Variable Platy (Xiphophorus variatus) - new hook & line species #680

Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii)

Next we went to Sebastian Inlet thinking we might snorkel the sheltered area off the main channel. The cold water and poor visibility quickly changed our minds, but we could still fish the rocks for hairy blennies.

We didn't bring bait, and it turned out to be rather difficult to find something local to use. Eventually I was able to scrounge up a few snails and crabs, and we were in business. Fishing isn't always easy, and in this case the blennies were guarded by an army of militant damselfish. After battling the ranks of night sergeants and sergeant majors, we eventually got our baits to the blennies, and I was able to add the species to my list.

Night Sergeant (Abudefduf taurus)

Sergeant Major (Abudefduf saxatilis)

Hairy Blenny (Labrisomus nuchipinnis) - new hook & line species #681

The species hunt continued at a quiet pond along a local hiking trail. There wasn't much daylight left, so the pressure was on. Ally had previously caught blackchin tilapia here, so I hoped to pick up another easy one.

I only had my micro rod at this spot, so I was limited to juvenile fish hiding in the vegetation near shore. There were plenty of them, and in a few minutes I had caught several blackchin tilapia and jewel cichlids. It was nice to catch some colorful examples of the latter, because my only one from years ago wasn't very photogenic.

Blackchin Tilapia (Sarotherodon melanotheron) - new hook & line species #682

African Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis bimaculatus)

The next day we did some urban ditch fishing, which is a right of passage for species fishing in Florida. We were armed with oats and bread so we could chum for mullet. The tilapia turned out to be equally excited by the chum, and when I dropped a single oat on a #14 hook into the canal, a big blue tilapia rushed over and grabbed it. This is definitely an upgrade over ones I've caught in the past!

Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus)

The tilapia were the most aggressive fish, but little by little we were able to get the school of mullet interested in feeding on the chum. Pretty soon we had a steady supply of hungry fish. I was able to catch an adult blackchin tilapia, and after that I got my lifer striped mullet. Other catches included Mayan cichlid, striped mojarra, and crested goby, and there were a few other species that we saw but didn't catch. I am very excited that I don't have to worry about catching a mullet in San Diego now, since they are the same species!

Blackchin Tilapia (Sarotherodon melanotheron)

Striped Mullet (Mugil cephalus) - new hook & line species #683

Mayan Cichlid (Mayaheros urophthalmus)

Striped Mojarra (Eugerres plumieri) - new hook & line species #684

Crested Goby (Lophogobius cyprinoides)

I never knew that crested gobies had translucent crests on their heads until I was editing the photos for this post. Who knew! Florida fishing was off to a good start.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Solo San Diego species hunting

Snorkel fishing the La Jolla tidepools was a lot of fun, so I was eager to get out and try it again. My nemesis the reef finspot was still out there, and I had another spot to try for them. The water was getting cold, so I figured this would be my last snorkel session of the season. I drove down to Mission Bay in my much too thin two piece wetsuit and jumped in the water. My first catch was a male bay blenny.

Bay Blenny (Hypsoblennius gentilis)

The nice thing about snorkel fishing is that you don't have to deal with bycatch. I kept the baited hook pinched between my fingers while I looked for a finspot. There were a lot of fish around, but until I saw my target I wasn't going to bother fishing. The highlight of the day ended up being this octopus. I had recently watched My Octopus Teacher on Netflix (highly recommended), so I was inspired to reach out my hand in an offer of friendship. Sadly, my offer was rejected, because the octopus shot a jet of ink at me and swam away. Oh well.

I snorkeled for a few hours, but the cold water quickly wore me down. The reef finspots were outsmarting me, so I made the most of my time by practicing my underwater photography skills. Here's a selection of the fish I saw.

Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)

Spotted Kelpfish (Gibbonsia elegans)

Topsmelt or Jacksmelt (Atherinopsis sp.)

Opaleye (Girella nigricans) and Zebra Chub (Kyphosus azureus)

Notchbrow Blenny (Hypsoblennius gilberti)

Dwarf Surfperch (Micrometrus minimus)

The following weekend I was ready to kayak again. We shouldn't be limited to having just one nemesis, and cabezon was definitely my second one. I planned to split the day between the wrecks of the Ruby E and the Yukon, and I started out at the Ruby E. I expected the bites to come quickly, but it was actually surprisingly slow. After moving spots several times, I finally hooked up with my first fish, a sharpnose seaperch. The bite turned on then, and I caught some nice gopher rockfish, sheephead, and ocean whitefish to take home to eat.

Sharpnose Seaperch (Phanerodon atripes)

A dive boat arrived, so I politely began packing my gear up to leave. On my last drop I felt a few small bites, and I was delighted to pull up a small but boldly colored goby. I knew from dive videos that blackeye gobies were common, but I didn't expect to catch one from my kayak!

Blackeye Goby (Rhinogobiops nicholsii) - new hook & line species #677

I paddled over to the Yukon and put one of my rod handles through the loop at the end of a buoy rope, so I wouldn't drift away. When I've fished the Yukon in the past, I've always used a small hook size in hopes of catching a pile perch. This time, however, I used a larger circle hook on a dropper loop and fished a big piece of mackerel. I caught a variety of smaller fish - rock wrasse, blacksmith, and a very ambitious sharpnose seaperch, but then I felt the thump of a bigger fish. It was my cabezon!

Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) - new hook & line species #678

Not only was this my first, but it was a good sized one too! It was definitely big enough to keep, but I had to let it go. It was just too cool.

The afternoon wind was picking up, so I detached from the buoy rope and drifted back towards the jetty. I fished while I drifted and caught a bunch of sanddabs, a couple bass, and this olive rockfish, a species I haven't seen in a few years.

Olive Rockfish (Sebastes serranoides)

Pacific Sanddab (Citharichthys sordidus)

Back at the jetty I watched the crane pull up rocks from the bottom for a while, and then paddled past it back to the launch. They've been working on the jetty for quite a while.

Normally this route is about 7 miles, but I had to backtrack from the Ruby E to the Yukon, because there was a dive boat anchored there. The trip ended up being less than 10 miles, which is pretty reasonable for me.

Miles: 9.86
Hours: 8:07
Water Temp: 66 F

My only fishing session in November was a tidepooling trip to Sunset Cliffs. I had a few leads on reef finspot, and I wanted to look for them at low tide. The habitat looked good - tidepools with seagrass. It was an extremely low tide, so there was a lot of territory to cover.

The good news is that I found my target, two of them in fact! The bad news is that neither was caught by hook & line. The first one jumped clear out of the water as I was walking past a tidepool and got stuck in the seagrass on the surface. It was so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud. The second one I caught by hand by cupping my hands under an overhanging cut in the rock and getting the finspot to swim out into my palm.

Reef Finspot (Paraclinus integripinnis)

Even though the fishing has been good, 2020 has been a tough year. I followed the trail back up to my car and sat there and enjoyed the sunset. It felt good to be in the moment.

Next up I travel to Georgia and Florida to spend some much needed time with family and friends.