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Fishing News


July 29

Well, I’ve delayed the inevitable for as long as I could. Who cares if they forgot to invite the fish – it’s time to feed another quarter into the horsey ride of my creativity and fire up a new year of the SCMO Fishing News!

(cue theme music)

Arr! Let’s get this season started … and someone needs to check my poop deck.

Every year, it’s a tricky dance as I try to determine when to begin publishing the Fishing News. I don’t want to get caught with my pants down when the first striped marlin of the season is caught, of course, but I also don’t want to spend three months telling the same bad jokes and talking about the latest unfounded rumors of fish sightings.

This year, I’ve been swamped with a pending system rollout for my real job as a software developer, so I haven’t paid as close attention to where exactly the fish were until the days got so long and warm that I just couldn’t help but check. Imagine my surprise when I found they were MIA!

You know, for the last few years we’ve seen Al Gore go on about global warming and the impact it could have on the oceans. We’ve watched the longliners net tuna and marlin by the thousand off Cabo San Lucas. We’ve read about – or perhaps participated in – the scoping process for the potential closures driven by marine scientists and politicians in the name of the MLPA. Through it all, we’ve thought – or hoped – that they were all wrong.

What if they were right?

It’s not just that it’s late for the first marlin – we’ve had later ones. It’s that the whole season is late. There’s a predictable rhythm to the offshore season in SoCal. There’s the cold-water tuna and the sharks, then the warmer tunas, yellowtail and swordfish, and finally the marlin arrive with the 68-degree water. Sure, the marlin are late – but so is everything else! Where’s the albacore? So far, they haven’t made it north of the border. There’s been a couple of swordfish stuck, but the commercial fishermen are crying. Marlin? By this time in the season we might not have the first flags gone, but we’d certainly be seeing them. Not this year. Why?

Before you start listing your trolling gear on eBay, step away from the edge – I don’t think it’s that bad. Yes, we’re screwing the environment as quickly as humanly possible, and it’s very likely that all those doomsday scenarios just might come true one day. But it’s not today, and it’s not why we aren’t seeing fish right now. It’s all about the conditions.

The offshore species we covet are all pelagic, meaning they travel with the seas staying in conditions they favor as those conditions move around. Striped marlin, for example, prefer a specific temperature range of water. The 68-degree isobar remains the most accurate predictor of where stripeys can be found – if it doesn’t make it to SoCal waters, neither do the marlin. So far, the conditions just don’t favor the pelagics – it’s still several degrees too cool for them, and there’s no consistency to the temperatures – more on why that matters in a minute.

What lurks under yon clouds?

Right now, I’d say it all comes down to two simple questions: “Should I be out there this weekend?” and “Where should I go?” If your goal is to catch the first marlin of the season, you have no choice – you gotta be out there. This season has been so unpredictable, with so few of the normal signs, that someone could catch that first one at any time and pretty much in any place. The fishing itself gives no clues where to expect that first one to be found. But that doesn’t mean that some spots aren’t better than others …

In my experience, there are two things that are guaranteed to generate clouds over water – land masses, and pockets of warm water. The satellite can’t see what’s under those clouds off La Jolla, but it sure as hell isn’t colder water. If it was me, I’d be right on the edge of those clouds, pounding the area between the 181 and 312. But that’s me … you’re welcome to burn your fuel wherever you like … :-)

There’s a turd floating in that punchbowl, however, and it’s lurking off the coast of Ensenada. See all that purple? That’s a pool of 61-degree water, and it might as well be a Bearing Sea ice floe for all the damage it does. Every year, the warm water slides up the coastline until it is pushed offshore by land near San Diego. We liken it to a “warm water freeway,” bringing with it the pelagic species we all love. That bolus of cold water is the equivalent to a Sigalert – the freeway is shut down, and traffic is being diverted onto side streets. It doesn’t matter how warm the water becomes in the Catalina Bight – if you cut off the route for the fish to get from Mexico to here, you cut off the fishing.

The fish will arrive at some point, of course, and when they do we’ll be out there chasing them. But when we all head out for the first big day as a fleet, we’ll be down two good people and great anglers.

You know that “Degrees of Separation” game that says we’re all connected to each other by six or fewer people? Well, you may not have known Ross Stotesbury, but I’ll bet you were connected to him by two or less. You bought your fishing gear from his son Greg or fished against his son Mike. Maybe you sat in an audience and clapped as his daughter-in-law Dara or grandson Zane collected more hardware at a tournament banquet. Or maybe you just saw that little aluminum boat, far offshore and out of range of help and thought, “that guy must be crazy”. Perhaps, but it was crazy with a passion – and that passion was fishing. I’m convinced Ross could catch a trophy fish in the gutter, and the records he set prove it. Ross may be gone, but his legacy will live on in his family for generations.

RIP, bruddah …

A couple of years ago, I had to start the first Fishing News entry with the news of the passing of Jim Madden. At the time, I relayed the story of how I, as something of a social idiot, would seek out Jim at events and hang with him. The other person I sought out was Reed Miller, and now we’ve lost him, too. Reed was SCMO’s first rock star – a guy who went out and caught all those fish the rest of us dreamed of. How many of us have caught swordfish in SoCal? Reed had multiple swordies. Spearfish? You betcha – right off the coast. But he worked both ends of the spectrum and was just as happy casting a dry fly as a fat mackerel. Reed had been fighting his cancer for nearly a year when I saw him at the kickoff party for the Pesky last fall, and I was amazed at how good he looked. His hair had returned to its natural color, and he looked to be gaining weight. “Strong like bull,” I said as we bumped knuckles. But the hair color was from dye, and the weight gain a side effect of the drugs he was taking to try and stay alive. We didn’t know it then, but I’m sure he did – the end was near. Reed was too ill to fish the event, and soon was in the hospital for the last time.

We dedicate this season’s Fishing News to Ross Stotesbury and Reed Miller. As competitors they made us better fishermen, and as friends they made us better people.

7 Years Ago …

July 28, 2003

It’s deja vu all over again – doubly so, in fact …

Somehow, I just sense that the first marlin will go in the next few days.

That was me in this report last Thursday. You’ll recall that I successfully predicted … er, guessed … when the first marlin was caught off Ensenada.

Yesterday afternoon, Jim Kingsmill, fishing on the family boat WILD BILL, hooked a swordfish

That was from this report as well, albeit a week earlier. History has indeed repeated itself. I bravely predicted the first local striped marlin would go over the weekend, and Jim Kingsmill was good enough to make me look like I know what I’m talking about. Fishing Saturday afternoon on WILD BILL, Jim successfully hooked and released a tailer just inside the 267. It was a small one, in the 80-lb range, but they all count the same when you release them! After they caught their swordfish, I spoke about the work ethic of the WILD BILL crew, and this fish is just another example. It was a late afternoon fish, caught after a lot of other boats had called it a day. But, that’s why they’re the best, and can take credit for the first swordfish and striped marlin of the season. Thank God they don’t belong to a bunch of fishing clubs like the rest of us do – we’d never get to see any awards!

As should be obvious by now, this is the time to be on the water. As the Kingsmill fish demonstrated, the marlin are close to shore. This is good news for those based in Newport, Dana or San Diego, because you can (and should!) make those weekday sundowner trips to the 14-Mile Bank, 267 and 9-Mile Bank respectively. This is the time of the year when effort can be rewarded with success – and those first-fish flags!

I hate to admit it, but I think we’re basically screwed on the tuna. They’ve stalled south of the 238, save a small group that are milling around between the Cortes Bank and the 267 (the real one, not the 279). With the warm water continuing to pour into the basin, I see no reason to believe we’ll be seeing albacore any closer to the beach than that – their next stop is probably Pismo Beach …

I’ve talked before about how I consider the marlin to be the ultimate athlete. I would be remiss if I did not take time to recognize the achievement of another ultimate athlete. Hours before Jimmy got his marlin on Saturday, Lance Armstrong was padding his lead in the penultimate stage of the centennial Tour de France. This insured that he would ride into Paris the next afternoon wearing the maillot jaune signifying the winner – and doing so for the fifth consecutive year. For those of you who followed the race (or kept track via our discussion in the Stan’s Take forum), you know how difficult it was. Two crashes, one near miss, wicked heat and dehydration in one time trial and a driving rainstorm in the other. Even if you don’t follow cycling close enough to appreciate this achievement, consider this: 200 athletes pedaled 2000 miles in 20 days – and Lance beat them all for the fifth straight year. All I can say to those who he beat is that he’ll be back next year gunning for number 6 – and don’t bet against him.

I’m not sure what my weekend plans look like, but if I have any say in them, I’ll be on the water. I have some new toys I’m dying to try out, both for catching fish and for making reports back to you guys (and gals!). Look for my reports in the War Room – I’ll certainly be looking for yours!

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