California Barracuda

Barracudas—Family Sphyraenidae

A nice barracuda caught at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon by SteveO

Species: Sphyraena argentea (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sphyraena (an ancient name meaning hammer fish) and the Latin word argenteum  (silvery).

Alternate Names: Pacific barracuda, barry, gar, fire hose, stove pipe, skinny, scooter, scoot, snake, slime, slimestick, pencil (small fish), barelycuda (small or short fish), or log (big fish). In Mexico called barracuda plateada.

Identification: Barracuda are long and slender with a sharp-pointed head and a mouth full of very sharp fang-like teeth. They have two widely separated dorsal fins. They have a distinct look from most other fish, although the young look a little like lizardfish.

Another Catalina barracuda caught by Baitfish (Adam Cassidy)

Size: Reported to 5 feet but recorded to 4 feet and 18 pounds; most caught from piers are under 30 inches.  Almost all large barracuda are females. The California record fish weighed 15 lb 15 oz and was caught near San Onofre in 1957.

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska. Uncommon north of Morro Bay.

A barracuda caught at Capitola during 1997,  a warm-water year

Habitat: Pelagic, but young are often found inshore and in bays.

Piers: Only common at piers north to Point Conception although fish will sometimes be caught as far north as Pismo Beach and Avila in the late summer and fall months. Best Bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Venice Pier, and (by far the best) the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon on Catalina Island.

A barracuda caught from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon by Redfish (Robert Gardner)

Shoreline: Young barracuda are a frequent catch in southern California bays, especially from jetty areas.

Boats: One of the main southern California boat species.

A mess of Catalina barracuda caught by Ken Jones

Bait and Tackle: Live anchovies, when available, are by far the best bait. If using live anchovies, try a size 4 hook and a sliding leader or use a float/bobber to keep the leader at mid-depth. Small smelt can also be used for live bait although they are not as good as anchovies. Gold spoons—Krocodiles and Kastmasters—as well as Rebel Fast Tracks, have proven to be reliable artificials for the scooters.

Food Value: Keeper fish are good to excellent eating. Barracuda will tend to soften quickly if left in the hot sun so clean soon after capture and then keep the fillets in a cooler.

Comments: Although barracuda today are considered somewhat of a bonus fish by most pier fisherman, there was a time, in the not too distant past, when they were common to piers; however, the numbers that frequent piers seem to decrease each year. When I first moved from Newport Beach to San Diego, I was surprised at the number of barracuda caught from piers inside San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. Since then I have come to learn that bays are often the best areas for the young barracuda—small fish up to around two feet in length. In those days it was sometimes common to catch a fish on nearly every cast using a live anchovy or a small lure, especially gold or silver spoons. Today these small fish are illegal and it is best to simply not fish for them; hooks, in particular the treble hooks common to spoons, will tear up the mouths of the under-sized fish. Strange but true, the only time I ever caught a fish with my line OUT of the water was when I was fishing for barracuda one day near the Dana Marina in Mission Bay. A friend and I had rented a rowboat early one morning, and then proceeded to tie gold spoons onto our lines before heading out to the small bait barge in the cove. I left my pole at the back of the boat with the spoon dangling at least 8-10 inches away from the water. Imagine my surprise when a small barracuda jumped out of the water and grabbed the lure as we were rowing out to our spot. And yes, I did land the fish. It happened in August of 1964 on a trip where I caught 21 barracuda, 16 queenfish and 2 halibut. The “out of water” fish was the highlight.

A nice Catalina barracuda caught by Ken Jones

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A Trip to California’s North Coast and its Piers, Oct. 3, 2015 (Day 3)

A plethora of interesting sites and pretty sights, and what goes up must come down—right? If you head north from Trinidad to Crescent City on Friday, but are going to have a fishing derby in Trinidad on Sunday morning, then that means a return trip south on Saturday. The main purpose of Friday’s trip to Crescent was to fish Citizens Dock and the “B” Street Pier. However, 40-50 mph winds accompanied by the occasional gusts topping 60 mph had ended Friday night’s visit to “B” Street and meant no fishing. Nevertheless, after the long trip north the pier had to be visited—and fished

Saturday morning was still windy, probably 20-30 mph, and still too windy for most, but I would give it a try. You couldn’t really cast into the wind and you pretty much HAD to hold your rod if you wanted to detect a bite versus the pulling of the wind, but it was doable. Still, that didn’t mean you would catch fish. The bottom by the “B” Street Pier is primarily mud with a lack of rocks; the main fish on the bottom are flatfish (flounder, sole and sand dabs), rays and skates (caught mainly at night), and several species of perch. Fishing the mid-water to top-water depths can produce pelagic species such as jacksmelt, herring, and jack mackerel (and possibly even Pacific mackerel) when they are present. It can also mean anchovies (and huge schools of the  small baitfish were in the bay). I had seen them the prior afternoon at Citizens Dock and now could pretty much tell where they were by the rippled water and the movement of the birds who were following the schools.

Due to the wind, day three would see a little less fishing time than planned, but the fishing time would be replaced by additional time for picture taking, Luckily that’s not a problem because the north coast is full of interesting sites and subjects.

The B Street Pier with the Battery Point Lighthouse in the background

Upon arrival at the pier I found a lone angler and his Mrs. who were visiting from southern California. Big Rich who had accompanied me to Crescent City soon joined our trio of anglers.

The B Street Pier is always a beautiful setting

The SoCal visitors had quite a bit of food, and crab nets out, but had seen little action and were quickly finding the chilly winds more than a little uncomfortable. We had a nice talk and discussed fishing in SoCal but then the Mrs. headed to their car and a short time later she was joined by her husband. That left Rich and myself to discuss the important things in life—our fishing adventures. Unfortunately talking about fishing was about all we had to occupy our attention since the actual catching of fish was not yielding fish. There didn’t seem to be anything biting on the bottom except crabs and though a few Dungeness crabs were brought in on the fishing lines they were illegal (too small, out of season, and landed on a fishing line) and had to be returned to the water.

Baitfish disturbing the surface of the water with the new small boat harbor in the background

I had however noticed those baitfish ruffling the surface of the bay. It wasn’t clear what the fish actually were, perhaps anchovies, perhaps herring, perhaps mackerel, but something was there. By this time Rich and I had been joined by another angler who was casting out a Sabiki-type live bait rig for jacksmelt. He wasn’t getting any smelt but I decided to  put on a Sabiki rig myself, one with smaller hooks. I would try to acquire some fresh bait.

The pier and lighthouse

Casts with the Sabiki rig began to yield anchovies. The anchovies were quickly placed on ice in the bait cooler for later use. I kept some and  gave some to Big Rich but about that time he received a call saying that he needed to head over to the mountains to Redding. Adios to Big Rich and I was alone on the pier with the one other lone angler. By this time the wind was again picking up and I too was thinking of leaving but decided to see if anything would hit on a live anchovy.  Although most of the anchovies were injured from the Sabiki, some were lively and those were sent back to the water on a hook. Casts out on the bottom continued to be attacked by gnarly crustaceans — the crabs. Next up was to try the mid-suface waters to avoid the crabs.

A short cast out from the pier soon had a hard strike and I knew a decent fish had selected my bait for food. But what was it? I took my time since I was using my light rod and reel with 12-pound line and lo and behold when I got it to the top it was a salmon. Luckily, my new fishing buddy was willing to grab my net and soon we had the fish up to the surface of the pier.

The fish was removed from the net, quickly measured at 22 7/8-inches, a photo was snapped, and it was quickly returned to the water. The salmon had proved to be a silver salmon which, in California, is no longer a legal species. Still, it provided the largest fish of the trip and something to remember.

Silver salmon

At this point I decided to call it a day at the pier. I had a long ride south to Trinidad and my motel in Arcata and wanted to stop and take some pictures along the way. However, before leaving Crescent City I did decide to drive over to the fish cleaning station in the harbor.

A fish cleaning building sits next to the launch facilities in the harbor

On a recent trip to the area I had seen some large Pacific halibut (50-80 pounds) that had been brought in by boats and wanted to see if any more of the large fish were present. Anglers were cleaning fish but not halibut. Instead they had a number of good-sized albacore that they had gotten far offshore. Nice fish but I would never have been able to stand the rough seas they had encountered.

Albacore

Interesting (and good eating) fish but it was the time to head south.

The view leaving the harbor (looking south)

As always the trip through the redwoods was beautiful and demanded a few pictures.

I decided to stop at Klamath for a soft drink before heading over the Klamath River.

“Golden Bears” sit on both sides of the bridge over the Klamath River

The coastline along this route is always beautiful

The next stop was at Orick to see some elk!

The elk were taking an afternoon nap which made for good picture taking

Big Lagoon

Next stop would be Trinidad where I hoped to take a few pictures before fishing.

The beach at Trinidad and some flotsam and jetsom on the beach

Unfortunately upon arrival at Trinidad I was once again greeted by wind that had a more than fleeting resemblance to a small hurricane. Here, even more than Crescent City, high winds can make fishing from the pier a near impossible task. But, there would be more time for pictures so I hiked up the hill overlooking the pier and took a few (and it’s a good thing we no longer use film).

Steps lead up the hill that overlooks the pier and harbor

Trinidad Pier

At the beach south of the pier I found some dogs playing in the water (and apparently having a great time). They didn’t seem to mind the wind nor the cold water.

I walked out on the pier and contemplated giving fishing a try but it was just too windy.

Leaving the pier I drove up the hill that leads out of town but made a short stop at the old lighthouse.

Down below was the Trinidad Pier and it was time to say good by — until the next morning and the Kids Fishing Derby. I just hoped that the wind would die down before the derby!

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Cayucos Pier Reopens

When I heard that the Cayucos Pier would have a reopening celebration on Halloween, October 31, 2015, my reaction was simple—I have to be there. After all, in 1977 when I was living in San Francisco’s East Bay, I attended the opening of the Point Pinole Pier. Later, in 1987, when I was living in the redwoods of Mendocino County, I had attended the reopening of the Point Arena Pier. Now, living in Fresno, a trip to the Central Coast’s Cayucos Pier almost demanded attendance.

The view from the bluffs just north of the pier

I would not be alone! A large number of residents and visitors combined with the normal number of movers and shakers insured the opening would be an event. Hundreds flocked to the pier, to the ceremonies, and to the songs and attractions that lined the beach-side street. Given that it was Halloween, it was a festive group with many dressed in costumes, more than a few drinks were imbibed, and a good time was enjoyed by all. Some, like myself, even fished.

A few anglers were already fishing from the pier before the opening as well as few strollers checking out the pier and the fishing action.

As it turned out the fishing was slow (which I found a little unusual). But the pier is beautiful and the crowd was filled with good will. Families roamed the pier checking out the new pilings, new lights, new railings (basically new everything), and the plaques lining the pier memorializing those who gave support for the pier. The plaques honored many who had spent their lives visiting the pier, those who saw Cayucos and its beaches as a favored seaside destination, and some who saw the pier as their favored destination for wetting a fishing line. One plaque even honored a family dog. It was a happy time for all.

The “Grand Opening” and ribbon cutting ceremony was scheduled for 12 Noon but I arrived early wanting to take a few pictures of the pier before the opening.

Even though it was almost November, it was a short-sleeve shirt and shorts kind of day with a bright sun (where’s my suntan lotion?) and a mostly light breeze. You couldn’t have hoped for better weather and it provided the perfect conditions for what I think most would say was a great day.

It’s a little different perspective under the pier

What a beautiful day!

Time for the ceremonies!

Greg Bettencourt was the main man who led the local efforts to rebuild the pier

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson spearheaded efforts by San Luis Obispo County to obtain funding for the project

Vicki Jansen, an aide to California Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, spoke a few words for the assemblyman

Nick Franco, the Director of San Luis Obispo County Parks Department had a long list of people who had contributed to the funding and rebuilding of the pier

Makana, a singer from Hawaii who was scheduled to provide music for the festivities sang a new song he had written about the Cayucos Pier

It was finally time for the official ribbon cutting signifying the opening of the pier

Once the festivities were over it was time to load up my pier cart and head out to the pier to catch some fish. The pier was crowded but there was still ample railing space to give it a try.

The end section already had a few anglers so I set up about three quarters down the pier.

I have never seen so many people dressed up on a pier nor so many dogs on a pier.

A couple of guys came loaded with equipment for sharks although I didn’t see them catch anything. The pier has traditionally been a great pier for sharks although most are caught at night.

I enjoyed watching this man introduce his son to surfing!

Jacksmelt

The fishing was slow. I managed ten fish while fishing from 1 P.M. to 3:30 P.M. but all were smallish-sized fish with the exception of two fairly large jacksmelt. I tried cut mackerel, strips of squid, cut market shrimp and finally some night crawlers (which I had bought since I couldn’t find any pile worms or bloodworms). All of the fish were caught on either the night crawlers or the pieces of mackerel.

The results for two and a half hours of fishing: two jacksmelt, two white croaker, two walleye surfperch, two topsmelt, one barred surfperch and one staghorn sculpin. Pretty dismal results which represented pretty much what was normal before the pier was closed.

Even though the fishing was slow, it was a great day and I hope to return soon.

 

 

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A Trip to California’s North Coast and its Piers, Oct. 2, 2015 (Day 2)

Early morning at the Trinidad Pier

Although the main impetus for this trip, as well as most of the trips to the Humboldt-Del Norte coast, has been on fishing—i.e., fishing the piers or helping manage the Trinidad Youth Fishing Derby,  the number of sights along the trail inevitably call for stops to enjoy the nature of the area. This would prove true again this year as redwoods, coastal scenes, elk, and other attractions demanded a stop.

[Warning, this particular blog may be more of a travel log than a simple fishing blog.]

Day 2 — An early morning call came from “Big Rich” a former student and long-time Pier Fishing in California follower. “I’m in Eureka, I came up to help out at the derby.” We decided to meet for breakfast and then he said he would like to fish with me prior to the derby, even if that meant heading up to Crescent City.

Soon after, we were at Trinidad testing out the action. Unfortunately it was slow but I managed a few fish and, as always, I enjoyed the beauty of the pier and its natural environment.

“Big Rich”

It was chilly and a little windy so I brought the sweatshirt and a coat

The pier’s left side is close to a cliff and all rocky

This  rocky area usually produce some greenling, kelp greenling and rock greenling; this trip it produced a kelp greenling.

The tide was a little low

This rock is just out from the pier on the right side and one of my favorite places to fish

A bait dropped down by the rock produced this nice striped perch

After two and a half hours of fishing, and only three fish, two striped perch and the kelp greenling, I decided it was time to move on to Crescent City. We stopped fishing and headed north. I told Rich I would meet up with him at Klamath since I figured I would be stopping a few times  for some pictures.

I stopped in Orick near where there are typically some elk, but I didn’t see the large animals. However, who doesn’t like little old red school houses?

The old Stone Lagoon School House

The next stop was at Stone Lagoon

A beautiful area but Crescent City and its two piers were still beckoning

I met up with Rich at Klamath and he said, “did you see the elk” and I said no. He said they were bedded down left of the school house. Duh! Good thing I’m not a hunter.

At Crescent City we checked into a motel and then headed over to Citizen’s Dock where I almost always catch an interesting mix of fish. It would prove true again.

Looking across the harbor toward the “B” Street Pier and the lighthouse

The marina has been totally rebuilt following the tsunami (tidal wave) of 2011 that destroyed the docks and pilings in the harbor, sank 16 boats, and damaged the breakers around the banks of the basin. In response, it was decided to build the West Coast’s first harbor truly able to withstand severe tsunamis (those expected to hit once every 50 years). A $38.2 million dollar reconstruction ensued and it looks great today.

Another angler was fishing in the area I normally fish but he soon left and soon after, we began to  fish in the same spot.

Over the years this inner section of Citizens Dock has proven to be the best place on the pier for fish. Luckily that proved true once again since new signs indicated that anglers could no longer fish further out on the pier. In years past I had moved around the pier, always being careful to stay out of the way of workers, but apparently those days are over.

As usual there was a steady mix of small fish—different types of rockfish, small cabezon, and one lone greenling.

Brown rockfish

Kelp greenling

A baby cabezon

Interestingly, every few minutes the water would turn almost black and huge shoals of anchovies would barrel their way through the water. Eventually I decided to Sabiki-up a few for fresh bait (or live bait) and pulled in a few. Surprisingly, on the last cast I was intending to make, something looked a little different and it turned out to be a small Pacific mackerel. It was the first of the species I had caught north of San Francisco (though I had seen one the prior year at the Trinidad Kids Derby). I’ve caught them from California’s southernmost pier, the Imperial Beach Pier that sits almost next to the Mexican border, and now at Citizens Dock, roughly 20 miles from the Oregon border.

It was a juvenile mackerel, and pretty small, but it was still a mackerel

Two hours of fishing produced 12 northern anchovies, 6 cabezon, 5 copper rockfish, 3 blue rockfish, 2 brown rockfish, 1 kelp greenling and 1 Pacific mackerel but after two hours the wind had come up and made it nearly impossible to fish. We decided to call it quits, break for a rest, and then head over to the Chart House Restaurant for an early dinner. Hopefully the wind would die down and we could then proceed over to the “B” Street Pier for some night-time fishing. We wanted to see if there were any sharks, rays or skates. But it was not to be. Our dinner was delicious but upon exiting the restaurant we found the wind to be a howling and it obviously would be too windy to fish. Rich headed back to his motel room while I headed over to the pier to take a few late afternoon pictures.

Looking down the Crescent City beach near the restaurant

The “B” Street Pier

I decided to walk out on the jetty to take some pictures of the pier from different angles — but I was careful to watch the waves and where I was walking

The winds didn’t decrease. In fact, they increased to 40-50 miles per hour with occasional gusts topping 60 miles per hour. The Battery Point Lighthouse sits seaward near the entrance to the jetty and is accessible during low tide. This night the wind-churned waves attacked the shore and made access impossible. Then, while walking back on the jetty the winds grabbed and carried away my favorite hat. It was futile to even consider going fishing in such conditions. No, as the sun gently dove into the sea I knew it was time to head back to my motel.

The sharks and rays would have to wait for another night.

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A Trip to California’s North Coast and its Piers, Oct. 1, 2015 (Day 1)

Whenever I take a trip to the piers in California’s most northern coastal counties—Marin, Sonoma, Humboldt and Del Norte, I’m reminded of the diversity and beauty of the entire region. I’m also reminded of why it’s called the “Redwood Empire.” In Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the scene is mostly urban but with redwood covered hills off in the distance. Sonoma County is up next. The towns become more spread out, there’s an amazing juxtaposition with California’s golden hills contrasting with its vineyards and, off in the distance, the coastal hills and mountains capped with redwoods. Mendocino County, my old stomping ground, is next up in the journey and is much the same, but the towns are now few and far between while farms, orchards, and acre after acre of grapes dominate the scene. But again, looking west, one sees the hills covered in redwoods (notice a certain theme?). Humboldt and Del Norte counties are the apogee points when it comes to the redwoods with state and federal redwood parks dominating the drive. Humboldt Bay is huge, and Eureka may be the big city in Humboldt County, but people make the trip north to see the world’s tallest trees. Del Norte, the most northern county, is all about wild. A beautiful wild coast, wild rivers, and wild elk, a sportsman’s paradise! Every drive north reminds one how different and varied are California’s landscapes.

[Warning, this particular blog may be more of a travel log than a simple fishing blog.]

Day 1 saw a drive north to Eureka. From my Fresno home it’s basically a little over a nine-hour drive, give or take, depending upon traffic and road construction. Given my propensity to stop and take a few pictures, the drive became more of a ten-hour trip.

The sky was beautiful during the drive. This is an old barn near Geyserville.

A vineyard near Asti

Grapes everywhere

More grapes

A beautiful, cloud-filled sky and the Mendocino countryside

What a beautiful day!

Beautiful scenes behind every curve in the road

The Greeks might have thought the gods were having a little tiff

Some interesting-shaped clouds

Colors!

Simply beautiful, what more can you say?

The Founders Grove

One of the many redwood groves just off the highway

Who doesn’t like the redwoods?

The Dyerville Giant

Wherever you find redwoods you will normally find ferns

It was time to head back to the car and continue north

The road out of the grove

On a side road, outside the park, I found these redwoods seemingly covered with vines of poison oak showing their fall colors

Pretty to look at but don’t touch!

Time to continue the drive to Eureka

After arriving in Eureka, I quickly moved my bag into the motel room and then headed over to the Del Norte St. Pier to do some fishing. However, it was getting dark, there was a strong wind, and it appeared to be low tide.

Most interesting was a Coast Guard helicopter practicing rescue operations near the pier.

Unfortunately the helicopter would prove to be the highlight of the visit. The current was strong and the water was chock full of eelgrass making the fishing very, very difficult. An hour of fishing produced only three small sculpins but at least fifty pounds of salad and it seemed like I was spending all of my time removing the grass from my lines.  I decided to call it a day and headed back to the motel.

 

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