Avalon at Christmas Time

The Casino with Christmas lights

I’ve been coming to Avalon on Catalina Island for 51 years and it’s always a highlight of the year. However, just like the changing seasons, the face of Avalon reflects changes throughout the year. In the spring to fall seasons it can be crowded which, if you are trying to fish on the Green Pleasure Pier or the Cabrillo Mole, can mean less fishing space and less of the solitude which I enjoy while fishing.

In the wintertime, especially during a mid-week visit, the streets (and piers) can be almost deserted. That’s fine with me, since my visits are fishing visits and having the piers and the fish to myself is a good thing.

Thus a short trip toward the end of December 2017 proved to be most pleasant. The weather was of the shirtsleeve variety (at least during the day), the piers were uncrowded, (although there are always tourists checking out your fish and wishing they had a fishing pole), and the fish were biting.

In addition there were the signs of Christmas, the Casino had its Christmas lights, businesses and homes were lit up for the season, and a Christmas tree greeted visitors smack dab in the middle of the beachfront area on Crescent Avenue.

A morning view of the Casino

It was a short two-day visit but one that was long enough to reenergize the batteries of life: it was good for the soul.

Lover’s Cove

Day 1, December 20, saw a very early morning trip to Long Beach with my friend Hashem and a smooth ride to Avalon on the 6 AM ferry. Upon arrival at the Cabrillo Mole we noticed an angler casting for bonito—and shortly thereafter a hook-up. Since Hashem was going to do two main things on the trip—fish for bonito at the Mole and hoop net for lobster at the Green Pleasure Pier, we went over to check out the action.

An angler on the Cabrillo Mole

Yes he had been getting strikes and the fish were nice sized. As we talked he hooked up and fought a good-sized bonito until a sea lion, decided it too wanted a meal of the bonito. The saying “thrill of victory and agony of defeat was epitomized in the fight with the fish. What started as a good fight ended with the angler pulling in about half of a bonito after the attack of the sea dog. But he would hook and land more bonito. Hashem was pleased, he was planning on fishing for bonito early Thursday morning and now knew the fish were present and that they were good-sized.

The “Sea Dog” got it!

But we moved on to the Green Pleasure Pier since Hashem had about a half a ton of equipment (he really follows the 7 P’s—Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) and didn’t want to unload it at the Mole and then repack and unload it again later at the pleasure pier. This of course was necessitated by the closure of the Cabrillo Mole to lobster hooping due to the regulation changes in the past few years. You can still hoop at the Green Pleasure Pier (GPP) but not at the Mole. Hashem had come to the GPP opening night and limited out on the bugs and was hoping there might still be a few around for his Christmas dinner.

The Green Pleasure Pier

As for myself, I just wanted to catch some fish and as usual was mainly seeking out variety and possibly something new to add to my list. I would see good variety, a few good-sized fish, and although not catching a new species, did see a new species that to date is stumping the experts that I have contacted (with pictures). So, all in all a very good visit even if these old bones were really tired by the time we left Thursday night.

As for the fishing: Wednesday was spent at the Green Pleasure Pier. I had brought three rod/reel combinations, one for the light tackle fishing I would mainly be doing, one a little heavier combination for hopefully some bigger fish, and a third fairly heavy rod/reel that I planned to use for sharks at night when Hashem was hooping.

A Sheephead

I fished from 8-1:30, 2:30-4:45, and 5:15-6:45 a total of 9.25 hours and caught 78 fish. Most of the fish were of the smaller or mid-size variety—the wrasses, smelt, perch-like opaleye and garibaldi. Unusual was the paucity of small kelp bass fish that are sometimes so common in spring and summer that it is hard to keep them off your hook. What was high was the number of sheephead; usually most days at the GPP will see only a few of the big-toothed fish.

A “Mr. Limpet” kind of look — a Sheephead head

Unfortunately the largest fish of the day, a sheephead I estimated at 6-7 pounds was lost. I had cast out a piece of shrimp on my light line and hooked the sheephead while Hashem had gone to the store and had not as yet taken out his net. I got the fish up to the pier and a boy I had been talking to, one who said he worked as a “pinhead” on Sportfishing boats in Santa Barbara, said he would go down to the adjacent float and grab the fish. He grabbed the line and half way to the dock the fish gave a jerk and was off. Although Hashem had followed the 7 p’s I had not and had lost the biggest fish I would hook on this trip.

One interesting creature this day was a California Two-Spot Octopus, the second I have caught from the pier; they are always an interesting and somewhat gnarly catch.

California Two-Spot Octopus

Although the bass were few, they were bigger than normal. Most of the bass were 10 or more inches and I caught fish of 12-½ inches, 13 ½-inches, 13 ½-inches, and 13 ¾-inches. However, the new 14-inch minimum length meant all of the bass were returned to grow a little bigger.

I had brought four main baits—three boxes of lug worms, a little over a pound of market shrimp, two containers of frozen mussels, and a half pound of baby octopus (for the sharks).

As usual, if you fished a size 8 hook baited with worm and cast out and made a slow retrieve you would get a wrasse on almost every cast. That is you would get a fish or lose the bait to the bait stealers. As for the rock wrasse, they are a favorite fish on light tackle. Most are under a half-pound but put up a very scrappy fight for their size, fighting all the way up to the pier.

Rock Wrasse

Given that ghost shrimp, my favorite bait for sheephead and opaleye, was unavailable, I had brought back-up bait—market shrimp and mussels. The middle rod, the one that was cast out and used with a Baitrunner feature, was rigged with size 4 hooks and baited with the shrimp and mussels. It caught several of the sheephead, opaleye and garibaldi (but several were also caught on the worms). Whatever the case there was steady action throughout the day.

An Opaleye

Since Hashem could not hoop net for the lobsters until the evening, he was concentrating on catching opaleye (and he’s become an expert on the good fighting fish). He uses a bobber, a long opaleye leader, and frozen peas for bait.  He also uses a chum mixture to attract the opaleye—a mix of bread crumbs and peas that he would throw out every so often to attract the opaleye (and there were many). Hashem out fished me on the opaleye at least 2-1.

By 4:40 the sun was going down and the bite on the “diurnal” fish stopped (the rock wrasses and sheephead sleep at night) while the bass action would pick up.  Unfortunately the wind also picked up and I found that I was much colder than I had planned even though I had brought what I thought were warm clothes. I think it was age and tiredness from the long day more than anything but my plan to fish for sharks until the late hours while Hashem hooped would not survive the wind chill. I was dragging by 7 PM and headed back to the hotel. Hashem continued to hoop but with nary a lobster he too would stop much earlier than he had planned. My take for the day:

43 Rock Wrasse
12 Jacksmelt
8 Kelp Bass
5 Sheephead
5 Opaleye
4 Garibaldi
1 Ocean Whitefish
+ 1 California Two-Spot Octopus

The Casino

Crescent Avenue during the Christmas season

Day 2, December 21, saw our usual outstanding breakfast at “Jack’s” (although later than usual) before heading out to the Mole. Although Hashem had planned to be at the Mole by 7 AM casting for the bonito, he too was tired out and decided that the fishing would follow breakfast.

I fished from 9:40-12:40, 1-3, 3:30-4, and 4:30-5:30, a total of 6.5 hours and this day would catch 69 fish, a very nice variety with 13 different species.

A brown-colored Giant Kelpfish

A reddish-colored Giant Kelpfish

I started out fishing at the south end of the Mole casting down around the rocks (or under the Mole) with my light rod baited with worms. I was quickly rewarded with a number of garibaldi (which I didn’t want), a striped kelpfish, a small giant kelpfish, and an opaleye. I soon added a number of sheephead to the mix. The action would continue with about one fish every 8-10 minutes while I was there.

Sheephead

At 1 PM I headed down to the other end of the Mole to fish with Hashem who was primarily casting for bonito. I stated fishing down by the shoreline rocks while occasionally I would move out to the main railing. The variety was good with a number of different species.

Brownish-colored Striped Kelpfish

Reddish-colored Striped Kelpfish

About 2 PM I caught a largemouth blenny, a new species to the Mole that I had also caught in June. It would be followed by a second largemouth blenny later in the day.

Largemouth Blenny

One fish I wanted to catch was a blacksmith. I had caught over a hundred in my visits over the years but for some reason had not taken a good picture of one. I didn’t catch one most of the day and when I spotted a fellow angler catching one asked if I could take a picture. He said sure. Not long afterward I caught five in fairly rapid succession.

Blacksmith

Unusual for the day was the number of garibaldi. They are illegal to keep but at times it’s hard to keep them from grabbing bait when you are fishing for opaleye or halfmoon. For some reason they were very, very numerous this day and acted hungry as they grabbed bait after bait. All were safely returned to the water but I’m not sure how to avoid them without using large hooks and then you miss the other fish.

An adult Garibaldi and a juvenile Garibaldi with its blue spots

As the day when on I took several pictures of fish even though I already have a library of such pictures.

An Opaleye and an Opaleye head

The most interesting fish of the trip  was one I did not catch. I stopped fishing at 5:30, went to get a hot chocolate, and then put everything away prior to our departure on the late ferry. I noticed a nearby angler, the only other angler on the Mole, had caught a fish in the darkness and I went to see what it was. I suspected a type of rockfish or a salema, both of which hit well at the Mole after it is dark.

Unknown fish — picture #1

The fish turned out to be a fish that was new to me (and a quick check of my reference book did not reveal a picture). My first thought had been of a tiny, juvenile giant sea bass (it was only 5-6 inches long) but the fin structure was wrong. My next thought was of a was a popeye catalufa, the fin structure was about right but the color was wrong. We talked the angler into letting us take a couple of quick photos before returning the fish to the water. That fish helped make my trip even though I didn’t catch it.

Unknown fish — picture #2

[Upon returning home I sent a copy of the pictures to Milton Love at UC Santa Barbara for identification but he said he’s never seen it before so he was sending the pictures out to his network of friends to see if anyone could identify it. Interesting!]

By 7 PM we were lined up awaiting the ferry—and wishing we had a few more days in Avalon. It wasn’t to be but hopefully a few more trips are still in the future.

My take for the day:

24 Garibaldi
13 Kelp Bass
9 Sheephead
5 Blacksmith
4 Rock Wrasse
3 Striped Kelpfish
3 Giant Kelpfish
2 Opaleye
2 Largemouth Blenny
1 Halfmoon
1 California Scorpionfish
1 Señorita
1 Jacksmelt

A sign on the walkway to the Mole that seems appropriate for the Christmas season.

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One Response to Avalon at Christmas Time

  1. Rain Mariano says:

    Great post Ken, keep us updated on the unknown fish ID!

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