Kicking it with the Giant Black Sea Bass

16 Jul

I’m sure I probably either published or have a journal entry about black sea bass but IDGAF, this one just happened this weekend.

I anxiously watched the chlorophyl models and the swell predictions over the last few days.  After what seemed like months of green charts I saw a field of blue around Catalina Island and called up my buddies.  Water temp was at least predicted to be 68 degrees.  “It’s on, get your shit together”.  Like  hitting a panic button, my buddies and I scrambled our gear together and hoped we didn’t forget anything, lest you get clowned on the boat and have to sit there while everyone else strings up fish.

Summertime is my absolute favorite freediving/spearfishing season.  The weather is usually warm, the water blue and the fish abundant.  We loaded up “C-level” and hitched it up to “the beast” my Tundra with the TRD tow package and hit the road.  It would be a quick 45 minutes until we stopped to launch the boat and load it up with ice and the hopes of several guys stringing up some yellowtail.

As we dropped the boat off in the harbor and got ready to take off I eased the throttle back and then BUMP, the mighty honda bf130 four stroke leaned out, sputtered and died.  WTF??? I had just changed out the fuel pump bulb and checked the wiring.  The bulb was completely deflated so I figured we had some sort of fuel blockage, maybe the filter, maybe the lines, maybe we weren’t going out after all…

After ten minutes of fiddling with the hoses and lines we turned off the fuel shut off switch and turned it on again and then hssssssssss heard the gas rapidly being pulled back into the primer bulb.  Somehow something had jammed up the switch but it was flowing free again so we fired it up and headed out to Catalina Island.  I’m making a mental note to change out that cut off switch this weekend dammit.

An hour or so later and we eased up to the first spot.  I metered the kelp line and my buddy dropped the hook and we quickly slid into our suits and dropped in the water.  The water was so warm I had to flush my suit out several times by pulling it away from my skin, the cool water was a welcome relief.  I made several drops and finally a  yellowtail showed up a little too close and I dropped 5/16″ of mori steel into his body and quickly dispatched him.  Fresh yellowtail sashimi coming up!  Unfortunately that would be the last yellowtail we’d bag today.  I did see several others at another spot including one that was probably over 40 pounds that made mine look like some scrawny piece of bait.

We pulled the anchor and headed out to spot after spot, there were tons of calicos available and many of them were too slow to take off and I bagged as many as I wanted.  It could have been easy limits but I still have some fish in the freezer from my previous trips.  If you haven’t had fresh calico bass (kelp bass) tacos or even grilled you don’t know what you are missing!  I was breaking in my new-to-me 55″ Darryl Wong carbon hybrid speargun and man was that thing accurate.  Super light weight with very little recoil and I stoned quite a few calico bass from a distance, it is going to be an amazing shore diving gun next season for white sea bass!

At one spot I made a drop checking the kelp line for some late season white seabass or maybe some yellowtail.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a mottled colored fish and immediately had hopes that it would be a huge white seabass.  As I dropped closer down to the bottom I could clearly make out yet a different shaped body, mottled coloring with some black spots, and a very stout muscular body with a thick tail and a sloped head.  Black sea bass.

Black sea bass are not related to white seabass (note the seabass vs. sea bass spelling), white seabass are croakers.  Black sea bass look entirely different and are protected under law in California with stiff fines and possible jail time.  This one was small, maybe 80 pounds or so but I followed it along the kelp line.  As we both turned the corner I saw movement and then suddenly the whole floor began to move.

There were probably seven to nine BIG black sea bass around me, the biggest looked to be over 400 pounds and absolutely prehistoric.  I wasn’t afraid of them at all since they are not aggressive unless they are trying to eat my fish (I’ll tell you a story about that later) and these ones were no exception.  The brushed against each other, played follow the leader and just kicked it in the current.  They all had parasitic copepods on their snouts that made them look like unshaven whiskers of an old man.  I kicked my fiberglass fins as quickly as I could back to the boat and asked my buddy to throw me my underwater camera while I gave him my unloaded speargun.  Figuring they’d be gone when I got back there I made a drop and saw them swimming the same way as when I left them.

I snapped pictures left and right knowing that I’d probably have to go thru tons before getting any good ones. I noticed that many of them had different markings, different black circles, old and new scars from hitting rocks or maybe each other, a different shaped snout or tail.  I was overwhelmed as they passed within a few feet of me and I could have easily reached out and petted them as they lumbered by.  Everytime I dropped close to them they’d tilt slightly to eyeball me with a giant moving eye as to say “so what are you going to do silly little man?”.  I stayed with them for probably thirty minutes, making drop after drop to about fifty feet and wishing I had a better breath hold.  It was absolutely amazing, everytime one or two of them passed me by I’d look above and see another and look below and see yet another one.  I thought it would be an isolated incident but it turns out I’d see yet another group of them at a different spot and I’ve probably seen a few on every single trip I’ve done in the last few weeks.  My guess is they are in some spawning aggregation of sorts.

We spent the day chasing yellowtail, taking a few fish, and exchanging good laughs.  We saw some gigantic bat rays rooting thru the mud and gracefully flapping their wings thru the water, skittish barracuda swam in huge schools and then disappeared with a flick of their tails, sea lions dive bombed us and blew bubbles in our faces.  All too soon it was 4:30 pm, time to fire up the hot water shower and clean up and enjoy the flat ride back home.  I was dreading fileting out all the fish we got because it was going to take quite a while dammit!

Along the way I spotted a huge spout of water shoot out of the ocean followed by a phooooohhh sound.  I slowed    C-level down a bit and we looked back.  A huge whale rolled its back up at us and disappeared.  “Whoa” we exclaimed.  We sat there in silence and watched it come up again and again, the bluish coloring and huge size could only mean that we were looking at a Blue Whale.  People pay a lot of money to go whale watching and we were sitting on a small boat just watching it blow by, what a great ending to a great day.  I backed away a bit because I was afraid the huge beast would come up under us and capsize the boat, it was that close!  We took pictures and shot some video and then fired up the engine and headed home.

People ask me why I spend so much time in the water and I have to just smile and lean back and think about all they are missing.  This place is my backyard, my food refrigerator and my playground all rolled up in one.  When I’m out of the water too long I get grumpy, ask any true freediver and they will tell you the same story…

At any rate here’s a video I put together of a couple of trips, if you watch carefully you’ll see one frame that has five individuals in it!

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