Daily musings…

Eureka Boardwalk

Sunrise at the Eureka Boardwalk

Although not designed for fishing, and not designated as a public pier, the “Boardwalk” in downtown Eureka’s waterfront has become my favorite spot to practice the piscatorial arts. I say this with a word of caution because if anyone wishes to fish from the boardwalk they should be very, very careful to clean up after themselves and not damage the boardwalk in any way. It’s primarily designed as a walkway for locals and tourists and provides some great views that do not need to be marred by trash, fish scales or blood from careless anglers.

A beautiful fall morning

Traditionally my first stop for fishing in Eureka was the Del Norte Street Pier and IT IS the designated public fishing pier. However, the homeless outnumber the tourists in Eureka and when the city decided to allow a homeless encampment adjacent to the pier’s parking lot it made it a dangerous spot to leave the car (since the pier is a long distance from the parking lot). There are homeless at the boardwalk but at the boardwalk you can park your car a short distance away and keep a good view of it.

Woodley Island

As said, the boardwalk offers great good views of Humboldt Bay. In the distance, a little to the left, one can see Samoa and the North Spit that gives protection to Humboldt Bay. Directly across the bay and its “Eureka Channel” sits Indian Island. A short distance to the right, and across the water known as the “Inner Reach,” sits Woodley Island and its marina.

Looking toward Indian Island with a sea gull as a companion

Most important, the boardwalk also offers access to good fishing, something that I have confirmed by my annual trips to Eureka over the past decade.

A fish processing plant sits just down shore from the Boardwalk

My first visit in 2008 resulted in a decent-sized bat ray while subsequent trips have yielded a variety of perch along with the pelagic species that can invade the bay at different times of the year—anchovies, sardines and herring. Nighttime action can see sharays—sharks and rays, and some flatfish are also to be had but you’ve got to keep the crabs from getting to your bait first.

Mid-picture is Woodley Island and Marina, to the right the Boardwalk

Environment: The boardwalk is basically three blocks long and stretches from D Street to F Street. It fronts on Humboldt Bay but behind it sits Eureka’s historic “Old Town” with its beautiful Victorian buildings, various restaurants, and interesting shops. Just a couple of blocks up the hill is the Romano Gabriel Sculpture Garden and a block further sits the Clarke Historical Museum with its treasure trove of Native American  and Gold Rush era artifacts.

All in all it’s an interesting area for both the angler and non-fishing members of the family. Eureka has put a lot of effort into sprucing up its waterfront area and it’s hoped the efforts continue. Many, including myself, feel it may be the best part of Eureka.

To be honest though, there always seems to be a few “characters” hanging around the area. Some are obviously homeless and some have drug and/or alcohol problems. I’ve never had a problem but I do keep a close eye on my pier cart, camera and rods when I am fishing.

I have met and talked to a lot of interesting people on the boardwalk and I have heard a lot of interesting stories. As said, I’ve never had a problem. Nevertheless, if you want to fish the area at night it might be better done as part of a group.

The fish: Inshore, by the boardwalk and its pilings, is the territory of perch and a number of different species are caught. Smaller walleye and silver surfperch are common most of the year while the larger redtail surfperch are typically caught in the spring. Large white seaperch and striped seaperch can be found year round. Far too common are the small shinerperch that can be a pest when grabbing baits intended for the more favorable perch.

Also too common are the staghorn sculpins (bullheads) that can be found from the shallows out to deeper waters and will often bite on bait and hooks seemingly much too large for their size. At times, especially during the summer months, you may also catch a few small, mostly juvenile, rockfish with brown rockfish leading the list. Occasionally a larger brownie or grass rockfish may decide to join in the fun but they are less common than the perch.

One morning a local walked over to see what I was catching and noticed a tap on my rod. Yes, I mentioned, a perch is checking out the bait. Soon after, I pulled in this white seaperch and I asked him if he would mind holding the fish for a picture. No problem! I released the fish to fight another day while my new found friend described his career as a fisherman in Alaska, Oregon and California. His stories of giant halibut and hard fighting salmon seemed to make my perch pale in comparison but that was then and this was now.

Flatfish—California halibut, starry flounder and a few sole and sanddabs, can also be found on the bottom but generally are a ways out from the boardwalk.

Sharays—Sharks and rays, primarily dogfish sharks, leopard sharks, bat rays and big skates are found in decent numbers but are more common at night and few fish for them from the boardwalk.

Top-water fish can be plentiful. Both jacksmelt and topsmelt are common and can be caught in fair to good numbers much of the year. Some years sees good runs of Pacific sardines (summer-fall) as well as Pacific herring (winter-spring). Anchovies are found most summer to fall months and can be in almost unbelievable numbers.

The Crustaceans: Crabs are both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they can be taken in good numbers during the crabbing season. A curse because they are found in the bay year round and sometimes seem to cover the bottom waiting to grab the baits intended for fish.

Fishing Tips: Anglers can pick and choose which species and associated techniques they desire. Basically four methods of fishing are employed.

If seeking out perch, the inshore waters are where you will typically find them and by far the hours before and after high tide is optimum since this is also shallow water. Under and just out from the Boardwalk there are both rocks and kelp to attract the perch. I typically fish on one of the extensions that poke out from the main walkway and thus can fish along that extension or even cast back under the walkway toward the rocky shoreline. You may need to try different areas but I’ve always been able to find some fish. At low tide your options are more limited but usually a drop of the line straight down from an extension will find some fish.

As for the bait and technique, it’s the same bait that works in most bay environments. Ghost shrimp and sea worms are optimum but you will not find them in local bait shops. More common is market shrimp, mussels and a small piece of either placed on a high/low rigging with No. 8, 6 or 4 hooks is all you need. If you find a school of walleyes or silver perch you could try a Sabiki-type bait rig but here the water is typically too shallow for bait rigs to be effective; I much prefer to simply place a couple of small hooks on the line. And, I almost always am holding my perch rod since you want to feel the bite and react properly. Setting your rod against the railing and waiting definitely produces less fish.

 The large redtail surfperch are more common in the bay during the spring months (March-May) when they enter the bay to spawn. White seaperch and striped seaperch seem to be present much of the year but both do seem in greater numbers during the spring months. The larger perch are typically caught on the bottom while walleyes and silver are often mid-depth. Shinerperch are just about everywhere and, unfortunately, are great at stealing the bait intended for the larger perch (such is life).

Striped Seaperch

The second fishery is that for flatfish and the main prize is California halibut. Typically they begin to show up around April while peak action is during the summer months, July thru August. Since halibut are ambush predators, a moving bait typically works better than a bait simply sitting on the bottom. Casting a Carolina-type rig baited with a whole anchovy or small sardine/herring can attract a halibut but it’s recommended you cast out and then begin a slow retrieve. A live-bait (anchovy, sardine, etc.) can also work. The problem here is the number of crabs and at times they make it hard to fish any soft-fleshed baitfish such as these. Artificial lures such as Scampis, Big Hammers, Fish Traps and Lucky Craft lures (among others) are proven lures for halibut and will avoid the crabs—as  long as the bay’s eelgrass is not flowing as sometimes happens. The halibut can range from a couple of pounds up to 15-pounds or more.

Starry flounder prefer sea worms and live shrimp (ghost shrimp or grass shrimp) but again those live baits are hard to find locally. More common will be pieces of market shrimp, salted mussel (that is tough), pieces of clams or strips of squid. They will also take strips of anchovy but again the problem is keeping the crabs from getting them first. Tackle can be either a Carolina-type rigging or high/low generally with No. 4 hooks. A medium cast out from the Boardwalk will find them if they are around and often the winter months are the best for the starries.

Small sand dabs, usually Pacific or speckled sanddab may also enter the catch but there numbers are not big. A high low utilizing size 6 hooks and small pieces of bait is generally the preferred method.

The third fishery is for sharays—sharks and rays, with dogfish and leopard sharks leading the shark parade, bat rays leading the parade for rays. Big skates, not just their name but also reflecting their size (some over a hundred pounds in weight) are also commonly encountered.

All are caught on the bottom and the prime time for all is the nocturnal hours when most sane citizens are safely ensconced in their beds (hopefully with happy dreams). Shark anglers are after big game and a five-foot long leopard shark, a hundred pound “mud marlin” (bat ray) or huge big skate will yield some satisfaction (until the next night). If a huge 7-gill shark shows up they may be sated for two nights.

High/low rigs or Carolina rigs with size 4//0 to 6/0 hooks will work for most species. Sharks seem to prefer a whole fish (herring, sardine, jacksmelt) while the rays seem to prefer squid. Given the attention from crabs the tougher squid may be the best way to go. Heavier line and larger hooks are needed.

By the way, landing a large sharay can be a project unless you have some friends along to man the nets. At the south end of the Boardwalk is a dock that is a good place to land sharays.

The final fishery is for the top-water species, fish that are pelagic in nature—herring, sardines and anchovies. When present, and often the sight of diving birds will indicate their presence, they can be hooked on a Sabiki-type bait rig. Generally you do not need any bait on the hooks, simply attach a torpedo sinker to the end of the rig and start casting. Sometimes they are on the top; sometimes you need to let the rig sink mid-water before retrieving. Sometimes a steady retrieve works sometimes you want to reel, rest, reel, rest—try different techniques until you find the one that works. And remember, reel all the way to the Boardwalk since often the fish will be in waters adjacent to where you are casting. If done properly, you may be able to catch 2-5 fish on every cast. It’s great fresh bait and live bait for the flatfish. As for hook size, it depends on the baitfish that are present. Generally the smaller hooks work best, obviously for the anchovies but also for the slightly larger baitfish. Too big of a hook on the bait rig and you will simply hook less fish. While the sardines and herring seemingly come and go, virtually every trip I have made to the bay during the late summer to Fall months has seem big schools of anchovies.

Jacksmelt also fall into this top-water fishery and they too can be caught on the bait rigs (although I prefer a couple of small hooks rigged on a high/low above a torpedo sinker). Size 8 or 6 hooks generally work best and though sometimes the jacksmelt will hit bare hooks, often they want a small piece of bait—worm, shrimp, or strip of squid or mackerel. If finicky, they may prefer a number of small hooks fished under a float of some type with the hooks being from about two feet under the top of the water down to about 5-6 feet under the top. Large jacksmelt put up a good fight on light tackle and are fun to catch.

Eureka Boardwalk Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Lights and trash cans.

Handicapped Facilities: None.

Location: 100 F Street, Eureka.

How to get there: Take Highway 101 (north or south) and turn on to F Street and follow it toward the bay and the boardwalk.

“Stuck in Catalina With The Bonito Blues Again”

Are the bonito in Catalina blue? No, that’s not it.

Written for and dedicated to Hashem aka Mahigeer when he was seeking out his first bonito at Catalina in 2006. Although the rest of the UPSAC/PFIC gang was pulling in the bonies, Hashem just couldn‘t seem to hook one.

Hashem aka Mahigeer

Oh, the Dompha, he draws circles
Up and down the mole.
I’d ask him what the matter was
But I know that he don’t talk.
And the anglers treat me kindly
And furnish me with line,
But deep inside my heart
I know I can’t escape.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Dompfaben and a bonito

Well, Ken, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells,
Speaking to some French girl,
Who says she knows me well.
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked,
But the tackle store’s been stolen
And the tackle box is locked.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

KJ and a bonito

Gordo tried to tell me
To stay away from that Catalina mole
He said that all those older fishermen
Just drink up your blood like wine.
An’ I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that,
But then again, there’s only one I’ve met
An’ he just smoked my eyelids
An’ punched my cigarette.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Rita, Gordo and Kyle with bonito

Grandpa died last week
And now he’s buried in the kelp,
But everybody still talks about
How badly they were shocked.
But me, I expected it to happen,
I knew he’d lost control
When he built a fire on the mole
And shot it full of holes.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Kelp at the Mole

Now the GDude came down here
Showing ev’ryone his rod,
Handing out free tickets
To the gathering on the mole.
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn’t it be my luck
To get caught without a license
And be discovered beneath a trunk.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

GDude and a bonito

Now Baitfish looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of feathers
Stapled to his chest.
But he cursed me when I proved it to him,
Then I whispered, “Not even you can hide.
You see, you’re just like me,
I hope you’re satisfied.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

 Baitfish and a bonito

Now Mahigeer gave me two cures,
Then he said, “Jump right in.”
The one was Persian medicine,
The other was just plain Raki gin.
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind,
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Mahigeer and his Persian “Raki”

When Rita says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon,
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Avalonian moon.
An’ I say, “Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante.”
An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

Rita, a bonito, a yellow submarine, and Hillary a fish-grabbin’ pelican!

Now the bricks lay on Metropole
Where the neon madmen climb.
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed.
An’ here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get new balls and feathers
After losing them more than twice.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck in Catalina
With the bonito blues again.

The Metropole at night

(With apologies to Bob Dylan and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

The group at the 2006 PFIC-UPSAC Catalina Get Together

Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito

With a little help and advice from his friends, Hashem learned the “Tao of Bonito

Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito

The Cast of “The Bonito Blues Again”

Ben Acker aka “DompfaBen” (Dominating Positive Fishing Attidude Ben)

Ben’s a real fisherman as seen in this wedding picture with his bride Brandy (and assorted fishing lures)

Ken Jones aka “The Pier Fisherman” with a halfmoon and a bonito

Ross Kestin aka “Gordo Grande”

James Liu aka “GDude”

James (GDude) and Adam (Baitfish)

The Liu Family

Adam Cassidy aka “Baitfish”

Hashem Nahid aka “Mahigeer” kissing a whitefish and with a bonito

Rita Magdamo aka “Rita” with a sheephead, triggerfish, and a kelp bass

Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito—Catalina—Bonito

As for the original song — given that many younger anglers may never of heard of Dylan, or the original song, here’s a few versions of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”

1. Dylan on an early acoustic version of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” (with slightly different wording). Not as good as the final version in my opinion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WS-TTNaLyg

2. A good Grateful Dead version of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwsjQbf0czc

3. A third version of the song by Old Crow Medicine Show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kpq5UMlpQE

 

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.

Largemouth Blenny

Species: Labrisomus xanti (Gill, 1860); from the Greek words labrax (a fish) and soma (body). xanti = ?

Alternate Names: Rock blenny. Commonly found in Mexico; Spanish names include Blenia Bocona, Chalapo, Curiche, and Trambollo

Identification: “Largemouth Blennies have shortened elongated robust bodies with a uniform depth throughout that tapers gradually at the rear into the tail. They are greenish-brown in color with eight dark bars along their sides and two thin dark stripes bordering a pale area behind and a little below their eyes. They have a black blotch at the front of their dorsal fin and numerous small white spots on the lower parts of their head and body. Breeding males are red with a large black spot between the second and fourth dorsal spines (pictured below). Their head is broad with a blunt snout, large eyes, a branched cirrus over each eye, and several branched cirri on each side of the nape. Their mouth is large, opens at the front, and is slightly oblique; it is equipped with one row of small teeth on the upper and lower jaws and includes teeth on the roof of the mouth. Their anal fin has two spines and 17 to 19 rays; their caudal fin is square; and their dorsal fin has 17 to 19 spines and ten to 12 rays with a deep notch in between. They are covered with small smooth scales.” — John Snow

Size: To 7.1 inches.

Range: An Eastern Pacific species found from Mexico’s central Pacific coast (south to Acapulco including the Revillagigedo Islands and Tres Marias Islands); the Gulf of California (Mazatlán to Roca Consag); and Baja, California’s Pacific coast (north to Puerto Mala Arrimo in Bahía Sebastián Vizcaino—central Baja). Some sources say the southern range on Mexico’s central coast is Bahía Tenacatita, Jalisco or Bahia Chamela, Jalisco (near Manzanillo, north of Acapulco). Apparently abundant in many areas. Unconfirmed reports from Panama (no date) and Peru (1919 and 1938) may be similar species; first reported in California in 2015 near La Jolla and now apparently fairly common at Catalina Island.

Habitat: One of the most common blennies and reef fish in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). Generally found in kelp-covered, rocky shorelines and in coral reefs down to a depth of about 35 feet. Considered a shallow water diurnal (day-time) predator that feeds mostly on benthic (bottom) crustaceans such as small crabs and shrimp.

Piers: Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole, both in Avalon on Catalina Island.

Shoreline: May be available from lagoons north of La Jolla and fishing from the rocks at Catalina Island.

Boats: Rarely caught from boats.

Bait and Tackle: Small hooks (size 6 or smaller) baited with pieces of shrimp or worms (blood worms and lug worms) when fished on the bottom will do the trick.

Food Value: Given their small size it’s better to simply let them go.

Comments: On a trip to Avalon in June 2017 I caught two of these fish, one at the Green Pleasure Pier and one at the Cabrillo Mole. Initially I thought they might be a species of kelpfish but the fins were wrong for kelpfish. I went through my normal fish I.D. books and couldn’t identify the fish so I sent a note to Milton Love at UC Santa Barbara. It turned out he (and others) had recently written a paper on the fish: Largemouth Blenny. They apparently showed up in California about 2015 and are now fairly common at La Jolla and Catalina Island. The speculation is that they moved north during the El Niño warm water conditions of 2015 and decided to stay. In December of 2017, I caught two more of the fish at the Cabrillo Mole.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhdwV17HMoc

Blacksmith

Damselfishes—Family Pomacentridae

Species: Chromis punctipinnis (Cooper, 1863); from the Greek word chromis (a type of Mediterranean fish) and the Latin words punctipinnis  (for spot and fin).

Alternate Names: Blue perch, kelp perch, rock bass and black perch. In Mexico called castañeta herrera.

Identification: Perch-shaped but not so deep—compressed and somewhat elongate. Their dorsal fin is long and undivided. Their coloring is dark blue or black on the back, grayish blue on sides, yellow tones in fins; they have black spots on the posterior half of the body.

Size: Length to 12 inches; most caught from piers are 6-10 inches.

Range: Punta San Pablo, central Baja California, to Monterey Bay. Common in southern California but uncommon north of Point Conception.

Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas and in kelp beds; young and adults aggregate according to size. Surface to 150 feet deep although may travel down to 300 feet. Reportedly migrate to  rocky holes shortly before sunset where they hunker down for the night. Those unable to find a hole or crevice cluster after dark in dense schools near the rocks.

Piers: Generally found only at southern California piers, and then only those located close to extensive kelp or reefs, although I have seen a few blacksmith landed at Wharf #2 in Monterey. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and sometimes, in late summer, Gaviota Pier.

Elaine Liu at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon

Shoreline: A common catch by anglers fishing rocky-shore areas in southern California.

Boats: An inshore species rarely taken from boats.

Bait and Tackle: Size 6 to 8 hooks fished on the bottom to mid-depth. Best bait are live bloodworms and lug worms, live small crabs, fresh mussels, and small pieces of shrimp.

Food Value:  Too small to have much meat.

CommentsA close relative of their damselfish cousins, garibaldi, and like their cousins they are noted as having a “pugnacious” nature. It is reported that young blacksmith seek out cleaning fish, usually juvenile pileperch or senorita, and place themselves in positions where the cleaning fish are almost forced to remove external parasites from them. During these actions, the blacksmith may be head up, head down, on their side or even upside down. If the cleaner tries to leave, blacksmiths follow and prevent escape. Talk about bad manners! At the same time, they are also cleaners themselves having been observed removing parasites from Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola).