13th Annual Catalina Pier Fishing Get Together

My observations of the 2014 Pier Fishing in California/United Pier and Shore Anglers of California Get Together in Avalon, Catalina

SteveO and a bonito

Rita and Kyle with a finescale triggerfish

Rita and a yellowtail

The capture of a long hoped for species, the catch of an unusual “Baja” species, and some interesting nighttime activity, both fishing and lobster hooping, highlighted the 13th annual PFIC-UPSAC Catalina Get Together. The long sought species was a yellowtail, the unusual species was a finescale triggerfish, and the nighttime excitement centered on runs of big mackerel and the capture of many, many lobsters.

As important if not of greater importance was the reunion with fellow PFIC board members and the first of what we hope is many “James Liu Memorial Fishing Derbies.”

Although the numbers of participants was relatively small, it exceeded our original 2002 numbers and the intimate gathering of (mostly) long-time friends was in some ways preferable to the larger crowds of some years. Attending this years event was yours truly (KJ), Dora, Warren, Amanda, and Elaine Liu, Mahigeer (Hashem), GordoGrande (Ross), SteveO (Steve), rita001 (Rita) and her son (man-child) Kyle, kelpangler (Eugene) and daughter Mina, Hans and Donna, redkorn (John), and a newly slimmed-down Burger (Jason). The Get Together would prove both exciting and frustrating (for some) but rarely dull.

The Catalina Express Landing in Long Beach

 Thursday, September 25 —

Thursday morning would see myself, Hashem, Steve and John arrive at the Long Beach Catalina Express Terminal in the dark and line up waiting for the 6:15 ferry that would take us to Catalina.

Ferries at the Catalina Express Landing

In one of his books, James Lee Burke wrote that the “sunrise was like a pink rose opening on the earth’s rim” and that perfectly described the sight that morning as we left the landing and Long Beach Harbor. As each petal opened we were greeted by a new sight and enjoyed a smooth sailing across the San Pedro Channel.

The Shoreline Village in Long Beach

One of the five “finger piers” located on the jetty protecting the Shoreline Village and marina

We followed a fishing boat out of the harbor

The Queen Mary

The view looking back at the harbor

Hashem and John on the ferry

Getting closer to Catalina Island and Avalon

Upon arrival at the Mole the group split up. Steve stayed at the Mole to try for some bonito. His hopes were high as several anglers had feet firmly planted at the Mole casting out for bonito, and a couple of the boneheads were already on the pier. The rest of us headed over to the Green Pleasure Pier (our typical Thursday venue).

The Green Pleasure Pier

Once reaching the Green Pleasure Pier it turned out another angler (John) had my favorite spot —the “skipper’s corner”— but luckily both end corners were open to fishing and space was available for all. Although we had hoped we might be able to check in early at the Hermosa Hotel, it turned out the hotel was full and our rooms would not be available until 2PM. So, bags were deposited on the pier’s deck, fishing equipment was broken out, and the fishing began.

As always, we immediately started to catch fish, the hit parade being led by smallish-sized, mostly 8-11-inch kelp bass (all of course returned to the water). Pretty much every cast would yield a fish unless bait-stealin’ fish like senorita stripped the bait off the hook and the numbers steadily rose. Some nice-sized opaleye were landed but surprisingly only one sheephead and no pelagics — Pacific mackerel,  jack mackerel or jacksmelt. We hoped to see a yellowtail but none visited the show while we were there.

Later in the afternoon, Hans and Donna arrived, and stopped at the pier, but that day was a non-fishing day for them.

A nice picture of Avalon and its harbor taken by Hans from the top of the hill — picture courtesy of Hans

But the rest of us continued to fish—Myself, Hashem, John (redkorn), our new friend John, and a lone heron perched up above the fray, one whose hideous screech was just a little rough on the ears.

Halfmoon from the Green Pleasure Pier

Opaleye from the Green Pleasure Pier

Female rock wrasse from the Green Pleasure Pier

Sheephead from the Green Pleasure Pier

 John, the guy who was at the “skipper’s corner” caught this Yellowtail after we left.

Thursday, September 25, Green Pleasure Pier: 8:20 AM – 3:20 PM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Rock Wrasse, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Sheephead, Garibaldi and Senorita

Finally, a little after 3 PM, we decided to head over to the hotel to check in and then headed back out to the Mole to give Steve some company.

The Casino

We were at the Mole by 4:30 and soon began to again catch fish. Surprisingly there were less opaleye than at the Green Pleasure Pier. There was also almost an entire absence of blacksmith, a small species that had seemed to saturate the water and grab almost every bait during the 2011 Get Together. However, the garibaldi had never seemed as numerous (both the brilliantly colored large adult garibaldi and the smaller blue-speckled juveniles). It was hard to keep the garibaldi from grabbing bait but all were carefully returned to the water. As usual a nice mix of fish was caught.

A young Garibaldi from the Mole that still has its blue spots

A Kelp (calico) Bass from the Mole

A male Rock Wrasse from the Mole

Dusk and the casino that sits across the watery inlet from the Mole

Thursday, September 25, Cabrillo Mole: 4:30-7:15 PM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Garibaldi, Halfmoon, Opaleye and Rock Wrasse

At 7:15, Hashem, Steve, John and myself headed to Antonio’s where we had our traditional opening night dinner (along with the peanuts). That night would see us return to our hotel rooms after dinner for some needed sleep since the next night would be the opener of the lobster season and Hashem and John planned to stay at the Mole the entire night.

 Friday, September 26 —

Sunrise at the Mole

Steve stayed in my spare bed that first night and the next morning we both were up at the crack of dawn to head out to the Mole for the early mornin’ bite. It was the stillness of the dawn, empty streets with only a few solitary workers preparing for the day, and the sound of gentle waves washing Avalon’s harbor. In ten minutes or so were at the Mole watching the sun emerge from the waters to the east and we were ready for some fish. Steve was casting for bonito within a few minutes of arrival (and got an early mornin’ fish). I was fishing by 6:45 and began to pull in the normal species from the Mole.

Steve and his early morning Bonito

Disappointing again was the lack of opaleye. Some were present but not in the numbers we had seen at the Green Pleasure Pier. So too was the lack of mackerel but we would stay at the Mole until 6 PM and the day produced another nice mix of fish.

KJ and Giant Kelpfish from the Mole

Spotted Kelpfish from the Mole

In the morning Burger showed up for some fishing and hooping and proceeded to wet a line. In the afternoon Dora and the Liu children arrived as well as Rita and Kyle (who is now about 6’3” and large).

The Liu’s — Warren, Elaine, Amanda and Dora — Picture courtesy of Rita

Kyle and Rita — Picture courtesy of Rita

They had driven down together from Sunnyvale and would head over to the hotel to check in. I can’t remember if Rita came back to fish the Mole that afternoon but we decided we would all meet at Antonio’s for dinner. John and Burger stayed at the Mole and watched the equipment while the rest of us enjoyed a good meal.

KJ and a Halfmoon from the Mole

Friday, September 26, Cabrillo Mole: 6:45 AM-6 PM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Garibaldi, Halfmoon, Rock Wrasse, Giant Kelpfish, Senorita, Blacksmith, Sheephead, Spotted Kelpfish and Blackperch

The highlight of the meal at Antonio’s was, by the way, a practice reading of “Who’s On First” the old Abbot and Costello routine (as performed by Warren and Kyle). It turned out Warren needed to learn the lines for an upcoming school production and Kyle was playing the part of Abbot.  Apparently they had already gone through the routine several times during the drive down from the Bay Area and did an excellent presentation. Of course Dora, Rita, Amanda and Elaine had already heard it several times and perhaps were not quite as enamored hearing it again. For Steve, Hashem, Hans, Donna and myself, it was refreshing entertainment.

The group at Antonio’s — Back Row: Rita, Hashem, Dora, Warren, Kyle; Front Row: Steve, Elaine, Amanda.

Warren and Kyle practicing “Who’s on First?”

Kyle, Rita, Hans and Donna

After dinner most of us headed back to the Mole. Hashem and Hans were ready for the lobster opener as were John and Burger. I was fishing and had two goals: (1) a moray eel and (2) a flying fish. I figured my best chance to catch a moray was to simply fish straight down between the lobster traps and set up a high/low rigging. The flying fish was an experiment. I figured since they are similar to jacksmelt they might hit a Sabiki rigged with bloodworms. To reach deeper water I cast out the rig under a large bobber and added a glow stick to hopefully attract the flying fish.  The high/low failed to attract a moray although it did yield a few decent-sized kelp bass. The Sabiki did not yield any flying fish but did finally attract a couple of good-sized mackerel and it seemed that once those two they were brought in to the Mole the school seemed to follow.

Since the flying fish weren’t cooperating and the lobster seekers wanted some fresh mackerel for lobster bait, I switched to fishing for mackerel on my ‘flying fish” rod.  The Sabiki was replaced with two size 2 hooks and the worms were replaced by pieces of mackerel. Soon the mac attack was on. The rigging (with a glow stick) would be cast out and soon a fish would hit and the glow stick would streak off across the dark water. Normally one fish would be hooked, occasionally two would join in the fun, and the fight would be on. Not exactly big game fishing but a lot of fun on the fairly light tackle I was using. A few other anglers saw the mackerel but most were busy hooping so not too many joined in the fun that night. I called it quits on the mackerel at 25 figuring that should be plenty of bait for the lobster traps that night

Hashem measuring a Lobster

You gotta love Lobster, right?

While this was going on, the lobster opener had proved to be a blast. People had their lobster hoops set up and ready to go in the water by 11:30 and people counted off the time: 20 minutes to go, 10 minutes to go, 2 minutes to go, and throw the hoops in the water boys! People were scrambling and soon hoops were being pulled in right and left and many had lobsters. The bugs were measured and though most were too small every once in a while a legal lobster would show up and it would be soon be headed to a bucket (often a bucket in the water). It was exciting and by the next morning Hahem had caught six legal lobsters, John had four, and Burger had two and I think Hans had one or two. I of course was still fishing for that eel.

 

Lobsters

Friday/Saturday, September 26/27, Cabrillo Mole: 10:30 PM – 2 AM — Fish caught: Pacific Mackerel and Kelp Bass

Saturday, September 27 —

In memory of our friend James Liu — and his presence was felt

James and a Bonito he caught at the Mole

Saturday morning was a time to prepare for the 1st Annual James Liu Memorial Derby and so that occupied my attention. Joining us with a surprise visit was GordoGrande/Ross Kestin who had been absent for a couple of years.  Greetings were made to all and then scoring sheets were handed out. Most of the anglers were bait fishing and most caught some fish—kelp bass, halfmoon, and garibaldi seemingly the most common. Steve and Eugene were using lures but the bonito and mackerel were absent so it looked like they might have a tough time.

Eugene and Mina

Eugene was casting at the left edge of the Mole while Mina was reeling in fish after fish on lugworms when Eugene hooked up something that seemed strong. Lo and behold it was a yellowtail and Eugene fought it expertly bringing it close to the pier. There was confusion for a moment when it appeared something was trailing the yellow and I immediately thought shark but instead it was two other yellowtail. People rushed to get a net but just before capture the hook pulled free and we would have to wait a little longer for our first yellowtail.

Rita, Kyle and a Finescale Triggerfish

Soon after, Rita hooked something big and we weren’t sure what it was until it got to the top of the water. Initial guesses were a large sheephead or even a small bat ray but no, it was a triggerfish and once Hashem netted it in his net Rita and joined me in the still fairly exclusive PFICCMT Club (Pier Fishing in California Cabrillo Mole Triggerfish Club).

Interesting teeth!

Not only are triggerfish fairly rare in California waters, they are fun to catch and delicious to eat. I did though tell Rita to have a sharp knife and a honing stone since filleting triggerfish tears up a blade. The fish was by far the largest that had been landed so far at the derby.

Hashem

Burger

Ross

Kyle

Elaine

Amanda and a Kelp Bass

Hans and a Halfmoon

Donna

Eugene and his “Bottle” rig

Mina

Hashem and Ross

Elaine, Amanda and Warren Liu

Nevertheless the derby continued and Hashem and Hans continued to pile up points on bass and halfmoon. Rita decided she needed to add on a few more points to her total so she next went out and rigged up an anchovy, cast it out, and hooked up to another yellowtail. This time a net was available and the fish was netted. It wasn’t a large yellowtail but IT WAS A YELLOWTAIL and the additional points would assure Rita the title in the derby. It was also cement her legacy as the first participant at a PFIC Catalina Get Together to land a yellowtail—from either the Mole or the Green Pleasure Pier. The triggerfish and yellowtail added the final excitement that was needed to make it a memorable day.

Rita and the Yellowtail from the Mole

Other participants continued to catch fish (including the hooking of a yellowtail by Hans), or at least most of them. Steve had opted out of fishing to help out Elaine while Eugene also, I think, did about as much socializing as fishing.

Steve and Eilaine

Food too was available from an early point in the derby after Dora arrived with a large batch of dough-wrapped hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and snicker doodles. Others brought brownies and NO ONE went hungry.

People by the food

As the derby drew to an end Ross went around selling raffle tickets and eventually enough tickets had been sold to make an interesting raffle and make a little money for UPSAC.

Steve, John, Hans, Eugene and Mina

Following the derby we had the awards presentation.

The group

The Liu Family — Warren, Elaine, Dora and Amanda

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 1st Place — Rita Magdamo

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 2nd Place — Hans Jones

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 3rd Place — Hashem Nahid

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: Junior Division Winner — Mina Kim

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 6-Year-Old Age Group Winner — Elaine Liu

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 10 Year-Old Age Group Winner — Mina Kim

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 12-Year-Old Age Group Winner — Amanda Liu

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 14-Year-Old Age Group Winner — Warren Liu

James Liu Memorial Fishing Derby: 17-Year-Old Age Group Winner — Kyle Pease

 Amidst the activity on the Mole was a plethora of on-water activities.

A cruise ship was anchored just out from the Mole.

Parasailing

Parasailing

Steve and the cruise ship

Next up was the raffle and just about everyone won something.

Dora Liu

Donna

Warren

Burger

Rita

John

Ross

P-Line Crew

Hashem

Next up was the group picture.

From left to right: John, Steve, KJ, Mina (front), Rita, Warren, Kyle, Amanda (front), Eugene, Dora, Elaine (front), Ross, Donna, Burger, Hans and Hashem

There was still a little time to fish before dinner! A nice variety of species was caught including some scorpionfish. I did try casting a live bait out hoping for a yellowtail, in fact two of them, both small halfmoons. One was promptly swallowed by a large sea lion and one was grabbed by a cormorant. That was the end of the live bait experiment.

KJ and a California Scorpionfish commonly called Sculpin

Scorpionfish

Unknown lady angler

Hans and one of the many garibaldi that were caught (and released)

Saturday, September 27, Cabrillo Mole: 2:55-4:25 PM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Blacksmith, Garibaldi, Sheephead, Blackperch and Sculpin (Scorpionfish)

This pelican was one of the few birds we saw since Avalon has hired a falconer to keep the birds (pigeons and sea gulls) away.

Those who could leave the Mole (and their lobster nets) traveled to dinner at the Mi Casita restaurant where bodies were fueled, stories where shared, and people could prepare themselves for even more expected excitement during a nighttime visit to the Mole.

Hans, Donna, Amanda and Warren at Mi Casita

Warren, Rita and Dora (where’s Kyle?)

Elaine, Mina and Eugene

This night would see a repeat of the lobster excitement with the addition of a large group fishing for the mackerel (myself, Steve, Kyle, Rita, Warren, Hans and Donna among others). The mackerel cooperated and it was wild seeing glow sticks headed every which way back and forth across the water. Luckily the kelp was mostly absent this year so people could pull in the mackerel without losing fish, which is common most years.

A lobster in Rita’s net — picture courtesy of Rita

Hans and two lobsters — picture courtesy of Hans

I was still using two rods trying to catch that moray eel but again they ignored my bait. However, a number of different species did decide to hook onto my line including some rockfish and salema.

As for a moray eel, one of the slimy, detestable, ugly, hateful creatures did decide to join our group — on Rita’s line (even though I’ve been religiously seeking them out at the Mole for the past five years or so).  Luckily she’s one of my favorite people so I didn’t have to toss her over the railing. [Not that I would have tried since Rita is a head instructor at the Twin Dragon Kung Fu Academy. Sensei Rita has a brown belt in Kodakan Judo and experience in Shorinji Kempo and in all likelihood Mr. Jones would have joined the lobsters and other creatures in the water if I had tried to throw HER into the drink.]

Rita’s moray eel — picture courtesy of Rita

An up close and personal view of Rita’s moray eel — picture courtesy of Rita

One more view of Rita’s moray eel — picture courtesy of Rita — (Sigh!)

I also lost the largest fish (non-shark/ray) I had hooked from a pier in several years. The fish hit my high/low eel rigging and took off like it wasn’t going to stop. It headed straight out and then did a turn to the left before heading in and I was sure it would enter the area by the losbster nets and get tangled but it didn’t. Instead it came up in front of the Mole and just seemed to lie there in the lights from the Mole. It was a log barracuda, the kind you normally catch on a boat not on a pier and I honestly thought it was a 7-9 pound fish even though I know fish tend to look bigger when in the water.

Although I had yelled for a net, all the nets were in the water for the lobsters. Burger pulled his hoop net and came over but just before he arrived the fish seemed to get a second wind and took off parallel to the left of the Mole — and it didn’t want to stop. I guess I could have tightened down the drag but I’m not sure if that would have stopped it. It cut left around the corner and headed toward the deep channel while line rubbed against something. Net result — a loss of the fish. I took a break.

I blamed myself for not having a net ready to go. I preach the 7 R’s — Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance — and then I didn’t do it! I had originally planned to bring a net but at the last minute left it at home and I paid the consequences. I was surprised that the toothy ‘cuda hadn’t bit through the monofilament line and still don’t know how I had him hooked. It certainly fought better than most of the big barracuda I have caught in the past. It was a big fish but should have been landed.

Losing a nice-sized fish, no moray eel, and no flying fish — the karma was certainly against me this trip. I went back to the mackerel fishing but I was ready to stop and once I again reached 25 mackerel I called it a night and headed back to the motel room, all the while thinking about the fish I had lost.

Saturday, September 27, Cabrillo Mole: 7:30 – 11:45 PM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Halfmoon, Treefish, Grass Rockfish, Salema and Sculpin (Scorpionfish)

Sunday, September 28 —

Sunday morning saw one last trip out to the Mole before it was time to pack and head to the ferry. I was able to get a couple of hours of fishing in but fishing was relatively slow with only a few different species.

Sunday, September 28, Cabrillo Mole: 7-9 AM — Fish caught: Kelp Bass, Blacksmith and Sculpin (Scorpionfish)

After a shower and packing up and organizing all the various stuff (rods, reels, clothing, etc.) it was back to the Mole and waiting for the ferry. And, the wait was interesting.

You need a big lure for a big catch.

A cruise ship, boats and sailing

Ditto the above.

The yellow submarine

Avalon Harbor was getting just a tad bit crowded

The line for the ferry is on the Mole

Highlights, lowlights and simple thoughts.

•   It’s hard to explain the lack of bonito at this year’s derby. Coastal piers saw the best fishing for bonito since 2006/2007 due, it was assumed, to warm water conditions. However, only a few bonito were captured at Avalon even though anglers were casting a variety of feathers and lures most mornings and evenings. A drop in water temperature the week prior to the derby may have explained their absence.

•  There was also a decrease in the number of blacksmith, the small fish that seemed to cover the water in 2011 and make it almost impossible to get bait to other fish. A few were caught but only a few and most of these were small ones.

• There may have been a decrease in the number of sheephead since fewer were taken. However, they typically seem more numerous in the earlier months like April and fewer anglers had ghost shrimp (which have proven to be the top bait for the toothy beasts).

• The number of two species seemed higher than ever. Garibaldi were very numerous, both adult fish and juvenile fish and it was hard to keep them off the hooks. Kelp bass too were as numerous if not more numerous than normal. The Green Pleasure Pier saw an unlimited number of 8-11-inch fish with a few larger fish while the Mole saw a plethora of small 6-8-inch bass together with a few legal-size fish.

• I did not catch a new species this year so the number of species at the Cabrillo Mole and Green Pleasure Pier remained the same.

Cabrillo Mole — 31 species — Kelp Bass, Giant Kelpfish, Senorita, Striped Kelpfish, Rock Wrasse, Kelp Perch, Garibaldi, Blacksmith, Pacific Mackerel, Sheephead, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Jacksmelt, Treefish, Scorpionfish, Crevice Kelpfish, Bonito, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Rockfish, Rubberlip Seaperch, Mexican Scad, Olive Rockfish, Spotted Kelpfish, Ocean Whitefish, Salema, Jack Mackerel, Black Seaperch, Finescale Triggerfish, Pacific Sardine, Cabezon and Grass Rockfish. I’ve also caught a couple of lobsters.

Green Pleasure Pier — 19 species — Kelp Bass, Halfmoon, Rock Wrasse, Senorita, Shinerperch, Opaleye, Pacific Mackerel, Sheephead, Jack Mackerel, Blacksmith, Scorpionfish, Pacific Sardine, Garibaldi, Jacksmelt, Ocean Whitefish, Island Surfperch, Black Seaperch, Salema, Northern Anchovy. In addition, several lobsters, a spider crab and an octopus.

• As always it was great to see the various participants. In talking to Rita we discussed the costs involved and wondered if next trip we might check out the cost of renting a couple of homes. Some of the homes sleep as many as 8-10 people and sharing costs would reduce the overall expenses.

• The September meeting proved fruitful for the lobster and some bigger fish. Do we switch back to the traditional April (less expensive) Get Together or do we stick in the Fall or even go to a Summer gathering which would be easier for people with kids? We need to decide.

• Dat’s all folks!

I want to go back !!!

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