Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fish on Wednesday

The past week has been pretty eventful, in terms of my kayak fishing experience. Fish, fish, and more fish, along with a drysuit and a huli.

First, fish fish.

Last Wednesday I headed out to Pacific City/Cape Kiwanda to try my hand at ocean fishing once again. Now that I have been out and about on the water (the first trip being the uneventful one with Wali), I decided to give it another go. I was hoping for some company in the form of other kayakers, but no one was up for a Wednesday morning jaunt. So I went out alone. Which sounds ominous, but I made sure that I left a float plan and a specific check in time at home, and PC is dory city – there seems to always be a dory in the water near by. The added security of a VHF radio and knowing that I wasn’t going out farther than the haystack rock just offshore made it that much safer, in my mind.

I managed to get down to PC at about 7:30. I had packed most of the necessary gear in the car the night before, and so I just had to grab a few things on the way out the door. It is amazing how smooth a launch can go when things are in place. I actually did not forget anything – which is amazing given how distracted I can get.

I parked the car at the north end of the beach, next to a bunch of trucks with dory trailers. Tide was on the way out, and so I would have a nice outbound current to help with the launch. The car almost got bogged down in the sand, and I realized that my rear wheels were just at the high tide mark.

I geared up, turned the radio on, and poured water into the sonar transducer cup inside the hull. The fishfinder that I use, a Lowrance/Eagle 350, has a small sonar transducer that either needs to be firmly in contact with the hull of the boat, in the water, or, as many kayakers before me have found, will work if in a foam “puck” with water at the bottom. I used marine Goop to attach the foam to the inside of my kayak, and unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at making it hold water. Oh well, no worries, fish finders are not a necessary thing.

I dragged the kayak down to the water’s edge, and then walked it out to knee deep – the outgoing tide and small swell size made for an easy, smooth launch. I paddled out a bit, dropped the drive in, and headed towards the haystack. About 300 yards out I stopped to set all of the gear up. I had brought along a level wind reel and casting rod combo that I used for the first time on the trip out with Wali, and realized as I was threading the line through the eyelets that there was something wrong with the reel. It would freespool fine, but clicking off the freespool into retrieve showed me two things. One, the drag wasn’t working, and two, the retrieve wasn’t working correctly. For those of you who are keeping track, 1=0. I had brought along a second rod to rig up alternate gear like a Sabiki herring jig or larger single jigs. It turns out that it would be the only rod I would use, so it got the triple – two shrimpflies on dropper loops with a 3oz jig head at the end. I decided to use a dark brown/blue colored 6” swimbait , as the morning was overcast. Dark lures on dark days.

I settled into a spot, drifting between the haystack rock and the buoy just north of it. After a bit, I felt a bump on the line. Fish on! I reeled in, and had a minor fight with the fish, but nothing amazing. Turns out it was an “underling,” a Ling Cod that was too small to retain. The minimum retention size for a ling cod in Oregon waters is 22”. This one was probably 18”. But it was my first ling cod, and the second fish that I have caught on the boat. Off the hook, back into the water you go.

I kept drifting, and hooked up again. I brought the fish all the way to the boat, and saw that it was another underling. Away with thee, small fish!

I moved a bit closer to the buoy, and realized there was a sea lion in the water close by, as well as one up on the buoy. The one in the water was spyhopping me – popping up from the surface about 30 yards away, eyeballing me. Neat, and a little unnerving. Sea lions are known to get aggressive/playful with kayaks, and I really was hoping that it wouldn’t with me.

Another bump, and fish on! This one was bigger, and pulled harder. I reeled it up to the surface, and brought a toad of a Cabezone onboard. It was a good 22 inches, and heavy. Definite keeper. Onto the stringer, and stringer into the rear tankwell. The first keeper fish on the kayak. Hooray!

Drifitng back and forth between the buoy and the haystack, I snagged up a few times, and then dragged up a black rockfish. Nice. Second fish on the stringer, and in the first hour or so of fishing.

I sort of just sat around for the next 30 or so minutes, and watched as a dory came in and passed by. I had the line out and rod in a holder, just sort of sitting around. Right as I turn to wave at the passing dory, I here the reel on going crazy, spitting out line. Grab the rod out of the holder and start pumping and reeling. Big fish. Strong fish. Strong enough to strip line while I am reeling, and strong enough to move the kayak. I pump and reel, and bring a 30+ inch Ling to the surface. OMG. Awesome. Now I need to get it in the boat. I try netting it. Net is too small. I have a gaff. I’ll use the gaff.

Now, a little bit about conservation of resources and fishing. While I am not a fan of Catch and Release (CNR) for sportfishing, I understand it. If you catch something too small to keep, throw it back gently and hope it survives to get bigger. I don’t practice CNR for fun – I don’t think that putting a fish through the trauma of being hooked is necessary. With conservation in mind, let us consider the Ling Cod. Minimum size for retention of a Ling Cod is 22”. Which means that all of the small juveniles get tossed back. Lings can get in upwards of 60”. Most of the fish/marine biologists/ fish nerds that I have talked to about lings say that the ones that get that big tend to be females. Over 36”, most likely a female. Bigger fish tend to be older fish, and also tend to be wormier fish (you know, parasitic worms). So retaining a large female will potentially impact the overall breeding stock.

So there I am sitting with the fish on the hook, and a gaff in hand. If I knew that I was going to retain the fish, I would have slipped the gaff up under its gillplate. Which can be pretty damaging to the fish. Since I wasn’t sure I was going to keep the fish to start with, I hesitated, and put the gaff hook through the upper lip. Much less damage to the fish. Also much harder to retain.

All of this thought process probably took a second.

And then I had a 30+” angry Ling cod in my lap. I know it was at least 30 inches, as it was at least ¾ the length of my outstretched leg. It had managed to spit the hook right as it got into my lap, and in the frenzy of trying to keep the shrimp flies and jig head from stabbing me, I let up on the gaff a little bit. And the Ling took advantage of that, slipping off of the gaff, and giving me a couple of good whacks with its tail before flipping out of the boat.

The biggest one is always the one that got away. It was a brief, exhilarating feeling. A tiny bit frustrating, as I did not have a chance to measure the fish, but I have a feeling I would have tossed it back. Next time, Lingzilla.

Shortly there after I scooted around to the west face of the haystack, and managed to bring in another largish cabezon and another black rockfish. And then I drifted back over to the haystack. At about 1pm I decided to call it quits. I dropped the line in one more time, and reeled up a nice fat black rock. And headed in. My approach was easy, the landing was easy, and I was satisfied.

More to come soon, as I went out this past Sunday.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not from a kayak, downtime

I haven’t been able to take my kayak out at all over the past two weeks. Between what I do for work, 100+ degree weather and an uncooperative ocean on the days when I am free, fishing from the kayak hasn’t been happening.

Of course, before the heatwave rolled in last week and before I went off on a work related retreat, I went out on an albacore tuna charter with the F.V. Siamez through Depot Bay Tradewinds.

So the seas were kinda bumpy on the way out, and there wasn't much to see - ocean, clouds, the sky. I didn't have the camera out during any of the action, or for most of the trip - between trying to hang on, fishing, having my hands coated in saltwater and tuna gore, I really didn't think handling either my phone or my camera was all that great of an idea.

We had to go about 40 miles offshore to get to where the water was the correct temperature, and that took about four hours. Once we were out there, as soon as the lines were in, we were basically on fish. Most of the action was one at a time, but there were several points where we had doubles and triple hookups. Then things got exciting, as we had eight lines in the water at any given moment.

There were six customers fishing, and we brought in 35 fish. We would have brought in 36, but miscounted. I think the miscount was due to the shark that we reeled in - small 3 foot Blue that got tossed back.

In addition to the tuna, we got to see a few whales (Gray or Humpack - skipper said they were Humpbacks), a small pod of Orcas, a dolphin or so, and loads of different seabirds.

We finished fishing around 2pm, and started heading back in. We got back around 650pm, exhausted. I got home around 11pm that night.

Schooling Albacore are juveniles, and the biggest we brought on the boat was probably a hair under 40lbs, most were in the 15-20lb range. Depoe Bay Tradewinds has a couple of guys working their filet station that know how to get the most out of the tuna, as far as the more desirable white meat. A 15 lb fish dressed out to about 5 lbs of loin and belly meat. The rest is guts, head and spine. Like any good Asian kid, I convinced the guys to let me have a few of the heads as well. I probably could have taken all of them, but I don't have a chest freezer yet. Next time I go out, I'll make sure I have access to one.

10 lbs of meat is at the smokeshop right now - gonna can most of that, another 20 went in cans without smoke, and the remainder got frozen or grilled the next evening.

So here are the pics.

Step one, put your fish in a box.

Step two, make the deck hand open that box.

That's my fish in a Box!

Here is what 35 albacore look like lined up on a dock

Albacore are some of the most beautiful fish that I have seen. Right out of the water their backs are this amazingly vibrant blue/green. Such streamlined footballs. There is a passage right at the end of The Old Man and the Sea where Hemingway describes the amazing colors of a billfish, and then how quickly it fades. You can't put that in a can, and I doubt I have the camera skills to show that off.

FWIW, I picked up on a few things while heading out and coming back that helped me understand a little more about fishing from a kayak on the ocean. Going out on a boat bigger than 11', where I was standing up, gave me the opportunity to really watch the interaction between swell size and period, wind waves, and interacting currents. Crossing over the bar out of Depoe Bay was interesting - the bay opening is basically a big funnel, and so there were breakers that rolled in right up to under the bridge. I can see why this is potentially the most hazardous part of a trip out of Depoe Bay - it looked like you would want to time it like a surf launch to get out of the funnel in between sets.

And then once out on the ocean, just offshore, I was watching the whitecaps and swell/period. It was choppy and the period was pretty short - it all started coming together. And then we got about 10 miles out, and I could really watch the swell and period, as well as experiencing it as the boat crashed through. All the way out, at the height of fishing, the skipper had the boat riding the swell - we could watch the wave come up to use, ride the up the face (stern facing the wave), and then the wave would pass under us. There were a couple of points where we could actually watch the tuna hit the lures - a flash of blue and silver, and then the rod would go bendo.

On the way back in it was interesting to observe the speed of the swell. The boat was holding 9kts, and we would get overtaken be the swell. Again, we would ride up the face of the wave, and then it would pass under us. The speed at which it happened means that the swell itself was probably moving around 20+ knots. I had to watch carefully to see it happen, otherwise it would just feel like we were on rough oceans.

Now that I have a kayak, I can’t really see going out on a charter boat off the Oregon coast for anything less than Tuna or possibly deep water Halibut – and if I start catching nearshore halibut, then the only Charters will be for Albacore. Which means if I save my pennies, I can probably fit in two or so trips in a summer.

The weather/ocean forecast for tomorrow looks just about ideal for my skill level – similar if not calmer than the first time I went out. Hopefully I will have an awesome fishing report tomorrow afternoon.