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September 11

It’s a big tournament week and there’s little to report, so you know what that means – a report heavy on editorials and jokes. Since you’ve all heard most of my jokes, prepare for the editorials. If you like that sort of thing, stick around; if not, suck it up – Monday will be here soon enough …

(cue theme music)

I wondered how the fleet would react with the money tournaments a thing of the past – would they still go into stealth mode even though there were only club tournaments to be entered. Well, we got our answer this week, as you’d think the whole bunch had been abducted by aliens. My weekly Info Ping usually gets a dozen or so replies, more if the fishing is hot. This week? Zero … zip … nada.

Chilly SBI

So what exactly do we know? Well, we know the marlin fishing was hot west of Catalina as late as Sunday, and with Norbert swinging east of us through the Valley of the Sun, he had no real effect on the conditions. HOOKER released one marlin this morning on the Osborn Bank, and AGITATOR got one Tuesday and and a pair Wednesday, so there are clearly still fish there. I will say this, however – the water appears to have cooled significantly to the north (if you can call 72.5 cool) while remaining much warmer on the inside. See that lonely dot amongst all the blue? That’s Santa Barbara Island. Now, its still sitting in 71-degree water, plenty warm for marlin, and we know there are still at least some fish there. But with all that warmth inshore, don’t be shocked if the fleet ends up working inner banks – 267, 209, 181, 182

The edible pelagics seem to go on forever, and even all the fishing pressure being brought to bear can’t seem to dent the numbers. Yellowfin tuna, yellowtail and dorado remain the catch of the day. Interestingly, I’ve heard of several catches of hammerhead shark at some of the banks outside of San Diego – one more warm water species making an appearance.

When I first started this website, I was hard core about dead marlin. I was willing to fight for every fish, and if you hung one, you were an asshole – period. With age, a little wisdom and the opportunity to speak to fellow conservationists around the world, my stance has softened considerably. I still don’t like dead marlin, will never celebrate them here, and will never kill one myself, but I recognize that it is the angler’s right to disposition their fish, and a single marlin taken for the table or to win a big tournament isn’t the end of the world.

One area where I haven’t softened is in the proper treatment of the fish by the angler. If you choose to interfere with a marlin’s life by hooking it, and you do not intend to kill it, you have a obligation to return that fish after the battle in as close as possible condition to how you found it. If you are unwilling to do that, you do not have the right to catch the fish; moreover, you and I are going to have a problem.

Once upon a time, we killed marlin without much thought, stacking them on deck like cordwood; eventually, conservation took hold and we started to release some of them. In those early days, there were release practices developed that we later recognized as flawed and discontinued. Unfortunately, I’m starting to see a rise in some of those old, inappropriate behaviors, and believe we need to stop them now before they get a foothold.

Wrong way …

In the picture at left, we see three anglers celebrating their marlin catch. One of them has caught a nice marlin and they’ve pulled it out of the water for a picture to celebrate the moment. Their goal is to release the fish after their moment of glory, and I’m sure their intentions are sincere – but what they’ve most likely done is killed it. This idea of pulling a billfish out of the water for a picture is a behavior that I’m seeing more often, often in places like the media that would lead you to believe that it is acceptable – and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As the ultimate alpha species on our planet, we’ve done a very effective job of emptying the seas of fish. I have every confidence that we won’t stop until the last fish is dead, and that’s a shame. But at least sport fishermen realized at some point that killing everything you catch makes no sense – and thus was born the concept of “Catch and Release”.

Now, C & R is a great idea – you get all the angling challenge you’d normally get, and if you take the time to properly revive and release your fish, the amount of skill required by the angler and crew is equal to – possibly even greater than – that required to gaff and land the fish. But there’s a fundamental problem with C & R that the angling community continues to wrestle with – anglers have egos, and egos demand satisfaction.

Most of us who catch big fish don’t pay to have them stuffed, so the only real souvenir we have of the experience are the pictures taken of the fish. If you kill the fish, that’s pretty easy to do – you hang the dead fish on a hook, surround it with the victorious crew, and voilĂ  – instant souvenir. That same challenge becomes more complicated, however, if you choose to release.

A couple of years ago, a new spin on C & R appeared – C-P-R … Catch – Photograph – Release. Much like the backwoods edict “leave only footprints”, the idea was that you would catch your fish, get your photographs, and then carefully release them. Conceptually, that works out well if you’re catching brook trout, but the bigger the fish, the tougher it becomes to get your pictures without doing damage to the fish.

My hunch is that this “cockpit drag” behavior started in Mexico and migrated north. For years, American anglers have enjoyed the marlin-rich waters of Cabo San Lucas; beginners can get the experience of the catch, and experienced anglers can see what it is like to catch great numbers of fish in a day. As conservation grew north of the border, though, more and more anglers grew concerned with the wanton killing of billfish – often just for the free advertising that a stack of dead marlin on the dock might bring – and urged their local crews to release. But the captains still needed that advertising boost, and C-P-R seemed to be perfect – just drag the fish in the boat, snap a couple of shots of glowing fish and angler, and toss it back overboard!

I could quote dozens of scientific papers (and will, if you email me) that describe the catastrophic damage done to a billfish when you lift it out of the water. It should be obvious to anyone who studies the morphology of a billfish, but the elongated height of the bodies means they don’t have the same kind of protection a tuna or shark has for their internal organs – when you hold a billfish out of the water, you are literally crushing their organs with their own body weight. And I’m sure I don’t have to explain to any rational angler the kind of damage done when you drag a 150-lb fish up and over the gunnel.

… and the right way

Somehow, the same behavior that anglers recognized as flawed and worked with their Mexican capitans to eliminate has migrated north. It’s not just the occasional picture like this one – leading angling magazines are including shots like this claiming that the fish was later “released unharmed”. But that’s simply not the case, and this kind of behavior cannot be allowed to be considered acceptable by anyone.

In 2003, I got to release a marlin for the first time, and it was a spectacular experience. The picture of that moment, along with many others, are over in the MarlinNut Galleries. These Fishing News updates are peppered with shots of happy anglers and their releases. Clearly, pictures can be taken. Are they as professional as those of a fish in the cockpit? Usually not – they’re action shots, taken in the heat of the moment. But they insure that the moments you capture aren’t the final moments for the marlin you worked so hard to defeat. They represent the respect you have for your opponent, and your commitment to the resource.

Let me be clear on one thing – I have more respect for an angler who sinks a gaff in a marlin to put it on the table than I do for someone who drags it across the gunnel and crushes its guts for a glamour shot, only to “release” it as the mud dart it will inevitably become.

If you think that it is appropriate to drag a marlin into the cockpit for a picture, knowing the lethal damage it will do, you really need to ask if this is the right place for you. Your ego is clearly more important to you than the safety of the fish, and you need to move on to another sport

As an aside, I’m told it’s now illegal to pull a billfish out of the water for pics and such – $2000 fine!

Late marlin report – CHRISTINA LYNN released a pair today … on the 371. OK, maybe a little bit out of range …

Each year around this time I try to include some thoughts about the 9-11 attacks, particularly when the report comes out on September 11th, as it does today. I’ve written of anger and sorrow, of loss and even triumph. Today, however, I’m going to write about renewal.

I’ve been fortunate enough in the last two years to be able to visit both the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA and Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. Very different in style but linked by emotion, I highly recommend you see them if you can. For me, the National September 11 Memorial in New York was particularly powerful. As I wrote about in the MarlinBlog long ago, I collected pictures, videos and stories of the attack, thinking somehow if I could just catalog them it would all make sense. It never did, of course, but it gave me a strong sense of the neighborhood around the World Trade Center, even though I’d never been there. So to actually walk onto the site, and to see the iconic buildings that surround it – notably the World Financial Center and it’s Winter Garden Atrium – brought a strange sense of deja vu.

Gone, never forgotten …

But visiting the memorial does more than force you to look back, although the twin voids of “Reflecting Absence” spectacularly memorialize the loss. There is a real sense of growth, of moving forward present there. You see it in the new Fire Station 10 across the street from the site and in the renovated buildings that survived the disaster and today thrive. And of course, you see it in the new World Trade Center towers, notably the 1776-ft tall “Freedom Tower” which rises defiantly only a few feet away from the northern pool.

And so, we move on. It’s been thirteen years since that dark day – long enough for widows to remarry and children to grow and parents to die. A friend who is a high school teacher remarked that his class of freshmen were only a year old when the towers fell. They don’t know a world before the so-called “War on Terror”.

I’d like to tell you that we’re further along than we are; that we understood why the attacks had happened and had made the changes to insure that they will never be repeated. I’d like to tell you that your children are safer today than in 2001.

But I can’t.

It’s clear that our government does not understand the Middle East, but will not let that stop them from trying to determine the direction of that part of the world. Even now, as we continue to celebrate the seeming downfall of Al-Qaida, we watch a new threat rise in the form of ISIS and their terror beheadings. Someone will one day say enough is enough and pull us out of the region, allowing it to ferment into whatever rotting soup it chooses. But it won’t be this President, and I doubt it will be the next.

OK, 3700 words later and I’m done. The MABT starts tomorrow; we should have results on Monday. We’ll also take one more look ahead at the Pesky and how it will survive the continuing changes in Avalon (like the Marlin Club losing it’s bathrooms to urban renewal … seriously). Until then, tight lines …

6 Years Ago …

September 11, 2008

Can you hear the silence?

Nothing quite as quiet as midweek during tourney season. The club guys are on the beach, shaking their piggy banks and hoping enough change falls out to fish another weekend. The big guns are pre-fishing the next event, and the last thing they’re gonna do is blow radio silence to tell you what they see – usually. More on that in a minute.

We’ve got another long tourney weekend coming up, with two of the big club events followed by a big money showdown. Friday and Saturday, we’ll see the Balboa Angling Club’s Master Angler Billfish Tournament, based out of Newport, and the San Diego Marlin Club’s Gene Grimes Memorial Invitational Light Tackle Tournament going head to head – and, most likely, fishing some of the same water. These two tend to bring out the best of the best of the private boater fleet, and with the number of marlin we’ve seen in our waters this season, should really rack up some big numbers.

By the time the club fishermen are back on the beach and digesting their tourney banquet feasts, the big boys will have rolled into Avalon for the next chapter in California Billfish Series, the Zane Grey Invitational. Limited to 40 boats, it’s the only the cream and the fishing should reflect that. Like the recently completed Avalon Billfish Classic, fishing days for the ZG will be Monday and Tuesday. After that, we get a couple of days before starting it all over on Friday with the Pesky … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the ABC, the bite was on the backside of Catalina, as it’s been for the last week or so. One statement made last weekend was that the fish had started near the west end of Catalina and were sliding SE at about 5 miles a day. I think that was true until they got around the Farnsworth Bank, but it seems to me that they’ve stalled somewhat and were stacking up between Catalina Canyon and Church Rock. The grid numbers given in the event don’t necessarily paint a real picture of the action, and I’ve heard several people who were working in the same fleet say that by the time it was over most of the action was closer to Church Rock than the actual grids being reported. Blame Pete Grey and his lack of a reporter’s diligence for that one, I guess. The bottom line is that if I was heading out this weekend, that’s probably where I’d start.

You call that SST data??

We all search for information that will help up find the fish, but there’s information and then there’s information. Steve Lassley paid a visit to the Marlin Club earlier today, and provided some amazing insight. He said that he currently knows of a half-dozen large areas of marlin – and if the skies would only clear enough to get a decent SST reading, he’d probably find a lot more. He also mentioned that BAD COMPANY had run out to the Tanner Bank yesterday and had released four marlin – including a real tanker.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Tanner run was precipitated by the report from the weekend of the party boat PACIFIC STAR, which anchored up on the high spot and had to beat away the marlin. What it should hammer home to all of us is this: when you have the information, can interpret it correctly, and have the resources and desire to make it happen, success is the inevitable result.

Information is a big part of what we do here at SCMO. I like to say that we provide three things for our visitors – news, education and entertainment – but at this time of year, news dominates. Unlike many parts of the world, we have a very limited billfish season – seldom more than three months – and knowing where to go to increase the chances of success is huge. That’s why I push so hard to get people to take advantage of the tools we offer to share information.

But sharing information is a real issue for some people. I am often approached by people whose basic thought is, "Share information? Are you out of your frakking mind?" While I don’t agree with their philosophy, I understand that it is what they believe. So let me talk a little about information, and why you should share it with us.

When you return from your offshore trip, successful or not, there are things that you know that would help the next guy heading out. For example, I was out a couple of weeks back and released a marlin on the back side of Catalina. I know exactly where I released it: 33° 23.08′ N, 118° 35.87′ W. You can plug it straight into your GPS and drive to very spot. But it won’t do you a damned bit of good, because it’s old data, and fish have fins. However, if I as the guy gathering information for this site know that a marlin was released yesterday at 23/35, that’s important because it helps me develop a larger picture of the scene. I know that fish isn’t sitting there waiting for me, but maybe that piece of data – along with many others – will help me predict where the marlin will go next. And that’s the whole idea – to help you have your best shot at success if you were going out tomorrow.

Let’s go back for a minute to your just-completed trip. Maybe you’re that guy who doesn’t want to share his information. To me, you probably fall into one of two categories. You may be that guy who just doesn’t want anyone else to succeed – the poker player who isn’t satisfied winning unless he also sees the other guys at the table lose. If you’re that guy, then there’s probably nothing I can do to reach you and, frankly, I feel sorry for you.

But let’s say your the other guy. You’re not philosophically opposed to sharing, but it doesn’t come natural. You’re OK with people fishing in the general area where you were, but maybe you don’t want them to know your exact spot. Or perhaps you’re OK with the information being out there, but you just don’t want to be identified the source.

No problem. Take a look again at the fish I released. Plot those numbers, and you’ll see they’re right on top of Catalina Canyon offshore from Little Harbor at the 300-fathom curve. I could write that "Stan Ecklund Jr. released a marlin yesterday over Catalina Canyon at 23/35. It was a jig fish that hit a Pakula Lumo Medium Sprocket on the stinger line." Or, I could say "Stan Ecklund Jr. released a jigfish off Cat Harbor." Or, I could say "We have a report that one was released yesterday on the backside of Catalina." How it’s reported is a reflection of the wishes of the reportee. All the time I get snippets of information sent to me with a request to keep some portion out of the report. "This last part is just for you – could you keep it off the site?" – I totally respect that, and will always follow those wishes.

Bottom line? Unless you’re Mr "I Only Win When You Lose", there’s no reason to not file that Trip Report, or submit that photo, or tell us about your released fish. And frankly, if you’re that other guy, you’re just here leaching off the generosity of others, and can leave now. Go on – git! Shoo!

Speaking of the Billfish Release Board, have you seen it lately? Nearly 150 releases – and that doesn’t even count the 28 from Day 2 of the ABC! Leave it to me to roll it out for the season of the decade … :-) On the positive side, we’ve added a custom Release Submission Form to facilitate sending in those releases. Anything we can do to take away your excuses …

They can fill the hole in the ground, but not the one in our hearts.

I know it’s been a long time, and we Americans have the collective attention span of a gnat, but I hope you took a moment to reflect on the meaning of the day. So much has happened in the last seven years, and at the same time so little progress have been made – at Ground Zero and elsewhere in the "Fight On Terror". All we as individuals can do is be supportive of those who put their lives on the line on our behalf – whether in the armed forces or as first responders stateside. May we never face another day like 9/11, and may we never forget the value of the freedoms those who took the planes sought to take from us all.

Based on the feedback we got, we did a pretty good job with our ABC coverage, so we’re going to try it again this weekend, starting with the events tomorrow. Like last time, though, it has to be a collaborative effort if we’re going to succeed – success, of course, being defined as doing a better job than that tackle store site. If you’re near a radio with Ch 65 going, you can email what you hear to stan@marlinnut.com – and don’t be afraid to overwhelm me. On Tuesday, I was getting updates about every 3 minutes from the different sources. If you’re on a boat in the fleet and have an email-equipped phone, you can do the same, or you can text updates to the Fishing News Submission Line at 13106830034. The method is up to you – what’s important is getting the information. We’ll provide periodic updates over in the Marlin Club, and the real-time (or nearly so) info will go out via the Twitter and be viewable at the MarlinTweet page. It should be fun …

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