The 2012 White Seabass Smackdown

13 Mar

Well at least it’s my first white seabass of the year…

About this time we usually get an uneasy feeling. You start twitching and daydreaming and hear whispers about big fish shot here or there. Psst so and so got a white yesterday.  Big white seabass up at such and such.  Oh yessss White seabass, my precious, yessss my precious….We spend hours scouring the kelp beds in hopes of a glimpse.  We also start talking a lot of trash to each other.  Me and some of my buddies  started talking trash early, then we came up with a contest that we originally coined “the white seabass smackdown tournament”.  It’s a  jackpot tournament between friends where the winner gets to donate half or all the winnings to the charity of their choice.  The battle would be epic, some of the biggest trash talking seabass hunters around jumped in at the chance to ridicule their friends.

I dreaded the start of the actual season, pretty much smaller white seabass can be found anytime during the year but the biggest ones come during the spring usually.  This year it started a bit earlier, it was  tortuous for me hearing about my buddy Nates big fish and then my other buddies picking a few here and there. Mainly because I hate hunting seabass because it’s so freaking boring.  March 1st came and our contest started and  Rick immediately threw down a big fish of about 33 pounds.  Dammit I was determined to get on the board. Originally I had planned to spend my friday chasing lobsters,  but the bad swell across the channel to Catalina scared me away.  Instead I hooked up with my friends Bill and Dam, we headed either north or south, perhaps it was east or west.  I don’t know, the details are not important, all I know is we all anxiously watched the swell/wind models and with small craft warnings the day before and when the day arrived we still were stupid enough to head out.  The next morning, I found myself cruising on Bills warm boat into a nice kelp area, we dropped the anchor and geared up for torture.Torture indeed. Vis was great, 15-20 foot hazy with a ton of bait around. I saw mackeral, sardines, smelt, all kinds of stuff that seabass like to eat. We hunted the first spot for an hour or so, I was okay for the first 15 minutes and then the chill set in. It started in my booties and gloves and slowly crawled into my core.  Even the constant stream of urine pulsing through my suit didn’t help much.  When I glanced at my d4 watch I knew why, the screen screamed out 55 degree water. We scampered back to the boat and immediately turned on the hot water.  I was amazed that it didn’t erupt into a fistfight over how long each of us stuffed the nozzle in our suits. The worst of it was, we knew we’d have to get in again and that thought was just depressing.  I don’t think I’ve been that cold in a long time, I was pissing in my suit every three minutes.There wasn’t much current at this spot but the conditions were epic, it was that hazy vis that I really like to hunt in. About my 4th drop down I noticed a very large white seabass investigating a kelp frond. It looked enormous underwater which was scary because every single seabass I’ve shot was bigger than it looked. Glancing at it, I could see the triangular shaped head and thick body and guessed it to be better than 40 pounds. I quietly slipped near it, as I drifted to the side of it, I tried not to make eye contact because I’ve spooked big seabass like that before. Slowly I extended my custom 59″ so cal tracker gun and braced the back for the shot.   I was pretty much expecting the fish to bolt and I tried to remain calm as possible. The fish had not moved although it turned slightly and gave me a perfect broadside, I was probably ten feet away and I had my choice of shots which was amazing because you usually don’t have that option. The decision: shoot it in the head or try for the stone shot just behind the gill plate. I chose the latter because I was afraid the fish would flinch at the last second and deflect the shot off the hard gill surface (their gill plate is like armor).   I squeezed off the shot and heard the “thunk” and quickly my floatline started shooting through my hands. As I kicked up to the surface I saw Dam hauling ass towards me, camera in hand.  I gave the fish a lot of line but when I reached my 10′ bungee on the end I leaned back, the bungee stretched and rebounded and finally the fish tied up. I love that floatline, I made it myself.  It’s 100′ long with a 10′ bungee on the end that stretches an additional 30′. I got the idea from Mark Mcnavas and Dave Ploessel, the bungee works like a fishing rod and tires the fish out.  It’s worked out great on big yellowtail and white seabass, I had given up on reels after getting spooled on big fish.

I clipped off my gun and inflated my carter float to mark it and snaked down the line. The fish had tied up shallow, maybe 30′ or so and the shot had taken a lot of life out of it. I was amazed because I thought this fish had to be a female based on it’s size, but it was croaking up a storm (white seabass are in the “croaker” family and emit a loud “braaaappp” sound when croaking to communicate) and I thought that was odd because only the males are said to croak. Later when we put our hands on the sides you could feel the short croaks and clearly hear it resonating. I got to it on the second drop and dispatched it with my knife, Dam took pictures and videos the whole time so I’m hoping to have a new avatar soon Smile. The shot was solid, I had nicked the backbone and had not stoned it, but the shot did major damage to a lot of vital organs.

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I lugged the fish back to Bills boat and threw it on the swim step. I was pretty sure Bill was going to shoot me with his wong hybrid for stealing his fish so I kept an eye on him at all times Smile. We had a bouncing scale going but waited until we got back to the docks, it went 51.4 pounds, that was after bleeding out and losing organs when I pulled the slip tip out.  I got a gutted weight (46.3 pounds, we are only using gutted weight in this tournament so we can make sure none of the meat is tainted) and then fileted it and shared most of the fish with my family and friends.

The biggest surprise was when I gutted the fish on the table at home. As I cut through the ventral side and the guts spilled out I noticed a white sack. I looked closer, sure enough this fish was clearly a male, I confirmed it when I saw the muscle around the side walls of the ribs. I’ve enclosed a picture of the gut cavity and you can see the milt sac on the bottom (that orange triangle to the left is part of the fishes liver, the white stringy stuff above the milt sack is probably fat, this seabass had what appeared to be a large fat reserve). That sure explained the croaking after the shot! It is by far the biggest male I’ve shot although I took a 40 pound male last year as well. If the males are this big that means the females must be gigantic.
The fish brought me to the current first place spot, although I am absolutely sure I’m going to be bounced out of the spot within a few days.  Ever since the gill net nearshore ban occurred the seabass have been growing every year.  I’d bet the biggest we’ll see this year is over 60 pounds and more like in the 70’s.  The world record will probably even fall within the next decade.
Still I’m glad to have got a nice fish so early in the season. I’m even happier that I’ve been able to talk a lot of smack to my spearfishing buddies the last few days :).
I want to especially thank Dam for the fantastic pictures, I’m only posting a few because he is hoping to submit them to a magazine. I also want to thank Bill for being nice enough to take me out, I hope I can return the favor soon!

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