Paying Dues

31 May

White seabass season always depresses me. Mainly because I know it means I’m going to have to dive cold, murkey ass, swell filled water for hours at end in the hopes of just a tiny sighting of a gray ghost. I have a love/hate realtionship with white seabass, and I’d have to say it leans more on the hate side because of the hours I spend chasing the damn things.

To be fair, I lucked out and shot a nice fish early in the season, mid fourties and a male at that. The fish are definitely getting bigger each year because I’ve never seen so many big males! After that it was a long dry spell. I probably did 10-15 dives from shore and boats with only a single sighting. Then to add insult to injury when I was away at a conferecne I found out that the season went into full swing, my buddies hammered them for a week, those bastards! As my jet touched down I checked conditions and saw that the wind and swell was up. Great timing.

On Monday I completed my normal work routine and then scrambled my gear together and headed out for a shore dive after work. As I stood over the cliffs and looked down I saw waves pounding the shore but there was a spot in the middle that looked like a decent entry. I told myself that I have dove in worse, and I kept telling myself that as I suited up and threw my gear over my shoulder. I guess I was partially right because when I got there I slid into the water easily and began the long kick out to the kelp beds.

When I got there I was disappointed, the swell and wind had turned the bed into a chocolate milk bath. I worked the beds the best as I could with limited five foot visibility, I didn’t even see any opaleye! After about an hour I started to feel a tiny bit seasick so I started my kick back. When I rounded the corner I immediately was concerned, I saw a big wave break on the outer reef and send up a twenty foot splash on the rocks. I paused and looked and my entire route was screwed up, any pinnicles were now boiling with with froth, there were waves breaking in the kelp bed as well. I had to kick all the way around everything and when I got close to shore I noticed that the swell had picked up to about 3-6 foot waves. Because it took me longer than anticipated it was also getting darker faster. This is not good.

I worked my way to about 20 feet from shore, right before the waves started breaking. I started timing the sets and when I figured it was time I kicked like mad towards shore. Or so I thought. The undertow was so strong it simply pulled me back to the ocean and dumped me in the worst possible place, right where the waves were breaking. I ducked them and kept pushing and every time got pulled back. I was thinking of going perpindicular to the undertow like you do in a rip current but that would mean that I’d have to face the breaking waves right on the bigger, sharper rocks on shore. I was stuck there for a good ten minutes and then my left leg cramped up. I tried to straighten the fin to un cramp it and then the right leg cramped up as well. Shit I was going to drown out here. I tried to uncramp both calves while I unbuckled my weights a bit because I thought I might have to ditch my gear, my gun had the floatline wrapped around it so I figured I could let it go and get it back later. I figured the only way in was to body surf one of the smaller waves in and hope I didn’t get dashed on the smaller rocks, I could ditch gear if I had to, you can always buy new gear.

My legs were still toast but uncramped momentarily, I kicked with a different method and rode a small wave in, took a few bumps but ended up lucky. I sat on the shore in darkness and watched the entire cove erupt with waves and swell. As I slunk back up the long hill in the darkness I made a silent promise to myself to never ever dive in those conditions again.

I had arranged to take four days off for the rest of the week so I could at least attempt to get another seabass. Yes sometimes freediving is more important than work although my boss would disagree.

A glutton for punishement, my buddy called me and invited me on his boat for Tuesday afternoon. Swell models predicted smaller swell and a bit of wind and as we came out of the harbor noticed that the swell was quite a bit bigger than that. At one of the first spots one of my buddies got a nice fish about 25 pounds. I still hadn’t seen any fish and we kept working spots until we got to the cove that I was out the evening before. Visibility was better, maybe 10 foot and I heard some croaking so I followed it to a small reef. I dropped down into the water and saw bait nevously twitching next to the kelp. At the end of my breath hold I saw a silver fish cruise through the kelp, I extended my gun, took careful aim and the squeezed the trigger and the shaft slammed it right in the face. Headshot! Then my line went slack and I thought, shit how did I miss that fish at such a close range? But I saw a glimpse of it’s silver body spirling around and finally felt the shootling line move. Although th fish wasn’t stoned it was definitely hurt and didn’t even gain any line, the shot was good so I pressured it and landed my first fish of the month at 32 pounds. Not a whopper but a decent fish by any standards.  I saved a chunk for dinner and then gave the rest to my family.  When I got home one of my other friends called me and we made plans for a trip Wednesday.

Wednesday morning found us cutting through much smaller swell on the way to yet a different spot. Condtions had changed drastically, where we had ten foot visibiliy the day before we now had clean blue water, I could not believe it had cleaned up that quickly. We stopped at a kelp bed and I could clearly see the anchor line hitting the bottom of the sand patch 40 feet below. When I dipped into the water I was blown away, it was absolutely amazing. I saw schools of kelp perch zipping thru the top of the kelp. Bait was stacked up on the outer current, sargo were croaking their short croaks, and calico bass were everywhere. Monster opaleye boomed out of sight everytime they saw me. The only problem was I thought it might be a bit too clear and the white seabass might be extra sketchy and would see us before we saw them. I worked the outer bed first, this was where I’d sometimes see white seabass laying under the kelp in the currrent but I only saw big barracuda swimming around. It didn’t matter because I was having such a g reat time swimming thru my aquarium. I rounded the bed and started making dives in the corner. I had dropped down and was considering whether or not to take a big barracuda and suddenly saw a mosterous fish cruise right thru the edge of the bed. I held onto a kelp stock and waited, surely it could see me and would bolt at the last second. I slowly swung my gun towards it and as it turned I dropped the shaft right thru it’s head. This fish was hurt but not dead so it dragged me a bit but never got past my shooting line. I dispatched it and in doing so my knife blade snapped off right in the fishes skull, dammit! Luckily it wasn’t wrapped up too bad in the kelp so I unclipped the shooting line and untangled the mess. I clipped my carter float to the fish because my stinger was tangled up and I swam it back to my buddy’s boat. My buddy had not scored a fish yet, so I got my rail gun for some reef fish. As I was working the calicos I rounded a corner and ended up in a kelp room. On the bottom only ten feet from me was a monsterous female that appeared to be asleep. Too bad the limit is only one! I watched her for a while and then she woke up an flipped a u turn in a microseond, it was impressive to say the least! As it boomed away I went to the surface for air and as I was breathing up a 30 pound class male slid right under me. When we got back to the docks I unloaded the beast I shot, it looked much bigger but the fish went 50 pounds. Wow! My coworkers and family were estatic, the fish disappeared quickly as the first one the day before and once again I only kept a small portion for fresh sashimi myself.  By the way, never, ever eat the stomach portion of a fish as sashimi unless you check it thoroughly for worms!

Thursday I found myself on yet another boat trip, I was dead tired from the day before but with great conditions and limited time I wanted to make the best out of my remaining days before I get married at the end of the month! I have never shot three seabass on three trips so I figured I’d at least get some time in the water. Conditions were good but not as great as the day before. And the fish were sparse as well, we didn’t have any sightings at all until we arrived at yet another kelp bed towards the end of the day. This bed was very dark, somewhat murky, the kind that seabass love to hide in. Even the bait on the inside was limited, but whatever makeral I saw was skittish and made mad dashes away from me. I worked my way slowly to the inside, if anything being tired slowed me down and improved my breath holds. There were giant schools of sargo here, some of the fish were decent size and I thought about taking one for dinnner. As I pressed forward I saw a huge shape form, it was golden in color and definitely a croaker. But as I raised my gun the school broke up, it was about ten sargo in a line that made them look like one big fish! I had to laugh about that one, it was like something you’d see in a cartoon.

I was still smiling and I kicked towards another part of the bed where I’ve seen fish before. It was quite a distance away but I was enjoying myself and was trying to decide whether to shoot a sargo or calico. I took a deep breath and dropped downwards to about twenty feet and started slowly kicking into a kelp room. As I entered the room I was astounded to see a mammoth seabass resting on the bottom hiding in the shadows. This one woke up in a hurry and as I extended my gun it started to take off. I lined up the shot and pulled the trigger.

5/16” of stainless steel and one of Mori’s famous slip tips streaked out of my custom gun and pegged the fish right above the lateral line. I thought maybe I had stoned it but immediately the line streaked out and I already had my floatline zipping through my hands. I applied a bit of pressure but the fish was almost to the end of the line so I clipped my gun onto it and started following the fish through the kelp. The fish was going nuts, it zipped and wound its way thru ever possible piece of kelp in the thick, matted bed. I applied more pressure and was steadily taking a ride, this fish had a lot of muscle and wasn’t going down that easily. I finally found the fish tied up in 20 feet of water, thank god it was shallow! I saw it spinning around the kelp and it looked absolutely huge, I was out of breath so I tried to calm myself down and then I swam down and dispatched it. I was really glad that I had replaced my knife from the day before because otherwise I’d be in big trouble. The fish had wound itself all over the place, even in shallow water it took me a good fifteen minutes to cut it out and I was absolutely exhausted. My gun was tangled up in another part of the bed so I had to swim with the fish thru all of that mess and I worked my way back to the boat. Once again as I was on the surface I saw another 30 pound fish go right under me. I had to laugh to myself. When I got to the boat I saw one of my buddies with a fish on his belt, it was a nice fish about 30 pounds but being a smart ass I asked him why he was shooting the little ones and he laughed as well. I grunted and pulled the fish onto the boat and it hit the deck with a satisfying THUNK. We gathered around with silent satisfaction, the fish was so big it woudn’t fit in the bait well. That’s a nice fish! I leaned back on the seat and we fired up the boat and headed home in flat seas with a beautiful sunset at our heels. It was 12.30 am when I finally got home after cutting up fish. I had taken four days off this week from work and was originally planning on going out on Friday as well. But my suit is torn again, and it reeks of a disgusting mixed smell of fish slime, blood, and piss and my car doesn’t smell any better. I’ve had a phenominal three days and it’s time to clean up my tattered house and attend to real life responsibilities like a normal adult.

By the way the final fish went 55 pounds. I kept more of this fish and now my freezer is stocked so there’s no reason to go out again, and I keep reliving each of those shots. Those and other memories are what keeps me going every seabass season.

Yep I still hate white seabass…

btw, the pictures are of different fish, 32, 50, 55 lbs. The last two pictures are of the two biggest, I happened to shoot a 3lbish calico on both days . MMM calico bass!!



2 Responses to “Paying Dues”

  1. Chris June 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Chris, cool blog keep it up. Keep writing. More people than you think are following.

    • oakpwr June 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      Thanks Chris, I liked yours alot too, yummmy food!

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