A tale of Lobsters, Halibut and Kelp Bass. One of the last great trips of 2011. Now closed down to the MPA’s of 2012

16 Jan
With the approaching closing MPA’s of 2012 a few of my buddies and I decided to check out some spots before the new year hit.  As usual I anxiously watched the swell models and when I figured it was a good time we met up and hit it.  It wouldn’t be as easy at it seemed.
It wasn’t the swell that scared me, it wasn’t even the wind because there was none. It was something even more menacing. As I backed my truck down the launch ramp I could barely make out the pavement below. Freaking Great, the fog had rolled in after those long days after all that heat followed by cold.
If you’ve never been in thick fog on a small boat, you are in for a treat brother. It’s absolutely terrifying without having any radar. I’ve got a great little chartplotter and that works out well for identifying landmarks and jettys but it doesn’t help out on bouys, logs, or even boats that are in the harbors.  Nothing is as eery as when you are cruising through fog and then all of a sudden there’s something in front of you.I reminded myself of this as we cruised out to an area that was soon to be closed off. I was extra careful and had my head on a swivel, you would think that I was hunting white seabass . We saw a few boats in the thick mist and never had any close encounters but man was I happy to drop anchor once we reached our spot.   As they anchor spiraled downward I was amazed at how great the visibilty was. You could see that anchor clearly forty feet below. In the cold wet mist we had a hard time getting our spirits up enough to put on those cold wetsuits.  You never heard so much bitching and crying.  It was like suddenly some of us had turned into whiny schoolgirls.I grabbed my 55″ wong hybrid and dropped in. In a few moments I was making my first dives, there were a few fish out but nothing like the spring or summer. Mostly garibaldi were the ones making noise, not a croak was heard although I cruised the kelp beds with my ears on alert. As I worked my way through the outer edge of the kelp I started seeing a few nice calicos bolting from the safety of the kelp. I took a breath, inverted and dropped down and kicked towards a kelp room. On the edge just under a kelp blade was one of the biggest calicos I’ve seen in a while. Luckily there was a smaller two pound fish in front of it and it kind of hid the eye of the big one. I braced the gun for the shot and clicked the trigger.I wish I could have said I stoned it but the truth is the shot was low and I saw the fish spinning around and heading towards the rocks, my floatline in tow. I headed towards the surface, took a breath and went down after it. The fish was still spinning as I grabbed the shaft and then the fish by the gills. Almost by instinct I passed a sharp knife into it and dispatched it and swam to the surface. The calico was so big my buddy peered into my fish bag later and thought I shot a white seabass because the tail was so huge and fat  . It would later weigh a bit over 8lbs and verified on two digital scales, the fish was 25″ long and probably would have been 10 pounds if it had anything in it’s gut, but during the winter it was pretty thin.I dropped my friends off on a reef while I hit a deeper spot in the sand. I was hoping for some halibut but figured conditions were too cold to really have a shot at any. As I creeped along the bottom I clearly saw the tail of a fish in the sand but before I could make out it’s head BOOM it threw sand up in my face and took off. Disgusted I came back to the surface and swore at myself for being a lameo.  Damn that was a legal fish too!

Still I knew that at least one was around so I continued my search. As i dropped around a bend I saw a nice one with it’s head fully exposed. The distance between the eyes told me instantly it was a nice one and again the hybrid twitched and then rang true. I dispatched this fish and threw it on my belt. There couldn’t be another one right? I made a few more drops and saw another pair of eyes. Bang. This one was stoned and merely formed a tight c around my shaft, I dispatched it anyways and headed back towards the boat with two 12 lb bookend halibut in tow.

As soon as I had got there I saw a gray RIB sneaking up towards us. It was still far away but I told my buddies to make sure their lobster cards were filled out because we had a lobster on board. Sure enough I could eventually make out the shapes of two DFG wardens with one of them having binoculars trained on us the entire time. They pulled up next to us and I offered to tie them onto my boat. Knock on wood I’ve never had problems with wardens and they asked to come aboard and check our catch, I’ve got nothing to hide so I said of course and showed them the halibut. When they saw my calico they laughed and said “no need to check that one!”, we chatted a bit,  and then they wished us luck and took off.

That luck must have paid off, we stopped at a few different reefs and I was amazed at the skills of my partners. One of them was absolutely on target, each spot produced a few bugs for him and he was always the first one on the grab. I watched in amazement as he pulled himself into caves where I’d only see his feet hanging out.  At one stop I saw my buddies laughing and hollaring, “he got a 5 lb bug!”.  I saw it and told them, that lobster isn’t 5 pounds it looks more like 3.5 lbs and laughed.  “WTF, why you hating on my lobster bro”, he laughed back.  We threw that bad boy on the scale and when the readout read 3.5 lbs they yelled out in disgust, “Oak called it!” and then cursed at me, I of course laughed my head off.

I lagged behind as I was hunting reef fish for my wife’s family.  There was still a lot of life out if you knew where to look and I’d carefully sneak up on bass and line up the wong and then click off shots.  We kept on going and then as darkness closed we took a hot shower (thank god for instant hot water systems) and started heading back towards home port. The problem was the fog had again set upon us and this time it was even thicker, so thick I had to back down the engine and by the time we got back to the breakwater the visibility had dropped to about 100 feet. It was so bad we had to cover up the stern light because it was reflecting against the fog so bad I couldn’t even see the end of my boat.  I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally made it back to the docks safely.

By the time we pulled all the game out we ended up with a nice assortment of reef fish as well as 17 bugs, the amazing part was all the bugs came from spots we hit during the daytime!

I only included a couple of pix to insure the anonymity of my buddies who may not want to be seen.  The fish look small in the picture because I didn’t pick them up off the ground and they are bent, but when you see the calico next to the lobsters in the close up it makes the bugs look like parasites .  I’ll never forget that day and it would be a great end to a great year but I’ll miss those spots forever…

A nice pile of bugs. Next stop, lobster bisque and stir fry lobster!
At days end, halibut, lobsters and kelp bass
However stay tuned for an upcoming blog because I just came back from an even more epic trip from a better spot :).
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