2009 PFIC/UPSAC Catalina Get Together (1)

Date: May 3, 2009 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: Ken Jones — Subject: Another Catalina Report—‘09

I always find the journey over to Catalina to be one of intense anticipation and this trip would be no different. Riding the gentle waves, watching an occasional pod of dolphin, sipping on a hot cup of Joe, and recalling past visits to the storied isle: all part of the short, one-hour ferry ride. Then the island and its hills come into focus. Sometimes the canvas is a brightly lit, sun-shined mural, but this day will see low clouds surrounding the island.

I find the cloudy days much more appealing. Why? Well, I guess I still retain that ‘60s belief in fantasy and am thinking I’ll see King Arthur’s Castle poking out amidst the hills that line the island’s coast. This trip those hills still showed the effects of the winter rain—a swath of green along the arroyos that crease the normally brown hills, like veins dropping down to kiss the salty waters of the Pacific. Of course you then see the harbor of Avalon and the fairly new condos that have disfigured the hillsides to the right of the city. Tis a bit sad to this romantic mind.

But there’s still a second anticipation, that of seeing what now seem old friends, and once again partaking of the fishing in this magical isle, will more than make up for a non-existent castle, or even a round table for that matter. We will have our own knights and conquer our own foes; at least that is what we thought at the start of the trip.

Day 1, Thursday — After arriving at the Catalina Express office in Long Beach and checking in, we were soon joined by Rita and her son Kyle. A short time later Hashem (Mahigeer) and Mike (Santa) arrived with about a thousand pounds of equipment and we were wondering if his cart would survive the trip. Boarding the ferry Hashem had a little trouble with the cart but he made a couple of McGiver fixes and everything was soon safely stored at the rear of the ferry.

Apparently Avalon was celebrating flying fish during the year and the landing supplied us all with “flying fish hats) which were hidden away until Hashem said we needed a picture. Amidst considerable enthusiasm (not), we took a group picture.

KJ, Pat, Mike (Santa), Kyle, Rita and Hashem (Mahigeer)

Soon the ferry was in the open ocean waters where we enjoyed a smooth and fast trip to Santa Catalina Island and Avalon.

As we entered the Avalon Bay Hashem mentioned that the front of the Green Pleasure Pier (GPP) seemed to be open, the dock normally anchored out front seemed to be missing, and we wondered what was up. Then, as we traversed the walk around the bay, we got a better look at the pier. Sure enough the GGP was open but it was also obvious that some sort of construction was going on. What would we find?

We soon arrived at the foot of the pier and Rita and I decided to walk out to the end. Sure enough workers were working, construction supplies blocked the end, and roping sealed off the end. #*##***##*! Rita and I both said this is BAD, why hadn’t they let us know it would be closed?

The group then headed on to the hotel with several people in a very FOUL mood. After unpacking the bags, and a quick lunch at Antonio’s, it was time to fish. I was at the pier at 2 P.M. and would find a spot to fish. Soon I ran into the Harbor Master and explained our predicament. He said the end was supposed to be closed until June but he would see what he could do. Still in a foul mood I found a small corner next to the dive shop that was fairly open to the water and soon after began to catch fish. Rita and Kyle arrived soon after and located on a spot just a little bit down the pier. Neither spot was perfect but if you knew how to cast the areas were fishable—and still full of fish. Rita and Kyle also began to catch fish.

I soon managed a couple of nice-sized opaleye on ghost shrimp, a garibaldi on the same, an unending number of bass (on cut bait and ghost shrimp), rock wrasse (whenever I used the lug worms I had brought from Big Fish), and senorita (on whatever).

KJ and a garibaldi

Then I pulled in a blackperch, the first I had seen at the pier after 32 trips. All right, a new species for the pier! Kyle was also pulling in fish, especially after he decide to bait up a Sabiki with peas. He managed two opaleye and a keeper sheephead on the vegetables. This trip was starting to look interesting even if the pier was a mess. Eventually Hashem also joined us and he too managed to catch fish (including an opaleye) so we were a semi-happy troop catching fish (including some jack mackerel that decided to join in the fun) but still wondering what we would be catching if we were out at the deeper waters at the end.

Hashem (Mahigeer) and an opaleye

Soon after, the Harbor Master walked over and explained that he had talked to the construction crew and that they were going to open the end for us Friday afternoon. They would move their supplies back and allow us to fish the area during the weekend. Hallelujah! We fished until 6:15 and then headed back to the rooms before once again heading down to Antonio’s where we typically have dinner the first night

Dinner at Antonio’s — clockwise from left — Mike (Santa), Hashem (Mahigeer), Adam (Baitfish), Rebecca (Roosterqueen), Pat, KJ, Ross (GordoGrande), and Rita

The results the first day showed the fish were still there but the number of halfmoon and sheephead seemed a little down. I was hoping that they would be more evident out at the end of the pier when it opened (and they were, but both would indeed turn out to be in lesser numbers than the prior two years).

Day 2, Friday—Most of the day would see fishing at the Mole but I managed a 6-8 AM visit to the GPP, a visit that yielded kelp bass, rock wrasse, sheephead, Pacific mackerel and yet one more blackperch.

The breakfast group — clockwise — KJ, Adam, Rebecca, Ross, Mike, Pat and Hashem

A short breakfast at Jacks ensued before heading out to the Mole where I fished from 10:50-3:05 PM. I was targeting new species, and still trying to find a moray eel, but only had luck with the former when I caught a small spotted kelpfish. People (including Scott and GDude) were catching bonito right and left but I wanted variety and I did find it getting 12 different species—kelp bass, garibaldi, giant kelpfish, opaleye, halfmoon, spotted kelpfish, scorpionfish, sheephead, treefish, senorita, jacksmelt and kelp bass.

By now people were arriving from a variety of spots and it was time to prepare for our Friday night “Get Together.” However, before dinner we had one more place to visit. I had arranged a private visit to the hallowed grounds of the Avalon Tuna Club, a normally inaccessible spot. A group of us including Pat and myself, GDude, Adam and Rebecca, Mike (Santa), and Rita trekked down to the club where we were amazed by the pictures, equipment, and historical fishing artifacts that we found. We only stayed one hour but it was amazing. [BTW, the Tuna Club was the world's first marine conservation organization when it was founded in 1898. And interesting was the comment we heard while we were there. Members are not allowed to fish in any tournaments for money; if a member breaks that rule they lose their membership.]

Mike (Santa), Adam (Baitfish), Rebecca (Roosterqueen), Rita, KJ, James (GDude)

That night would see our annual group dinner this time at the Mi Casita restaurant. As always there was good cheer and fun and everyone had a good time.   At the conclusion, a couple of people talked of heading back down to the pier (or mole) for a little night fishing; I headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

Ross (center) and Rebecca (right)

Rita (left) and Mike (right)


Hashem, Scott and Steve

Warren Li

Amanda Liu

Dora and Elaine Liu

Ross (left) and Robert (right)


Group shot #1 — clockwise from ed on table — Hashem, Rita, Mike, Eugene, ?, Ross, Rebecca, Adam, KJ

Group shot #2 — From left clockwise — Scott, Steve, Kyle, James, Dora, ?

Day 3, Saturday—This would be the day of the derby so once again most of the day would be spent at the Mole. But, once again I slipped out to the GPP for a 6-8 AM visit. This visit would produce kelp bass, senorita, rock wrasse, salema (a first for the pier), jack mackerel and two more big opaleye. Not a bad start to the day

Back to the room, pick up Pat, and head out to the Mole for the festivities. The fishing itself would now take a back seat to the other activities even though I did have a pole in the water part of the time at the Mole and managed a decent amount of fish including kelp bass, senorita, garibaldi, blacksmith and an ocean whitefish. Only problem was that Pat and I were both feeling a little under the weather (and a cold wind didn’t help) which made the day a little funky.

As mentioned in several earlier reports the bonito were the highlight of the day and provided most of the big fish. However, just before the derby started Redfish pulled in a nice barracuda just one inch short of being legal.

Robert (Redfish) with a barracuda

He then followed that up with a 6+ pound sheephead during the derby that won the big fish award. And, shortly after the derby was over a legal barracuda was caught.

Robert with an 8-pound sheephead

Without repeating the reports of Hashem, GDude, JimboJack, Scott and others, just let me say the time together was great, the food (as always) was plentiful and delicious, and the drawings for gifts were a lot of fun (as well as making a few needed bucks for UPSAC).

The official prizewinners (based on a point scale for different types of fish) were:

1st Place: Scott; 2nd Place: Minnow Magnet; 3rd Place: SteveO; Awesome Angler Awards: Kyle, Adam, Rita and JimboJack; Big Fish Award: Redfish; Smallest Fish Award: JimboJack; Most Species Award: Minnow Magnet

Derby Winners

Group Picture

After the derby, the festivities, and a final group picture, many chose to stay and fish the Mole. I decided to head back to the GPP which was now open at the end and which is always a little warmer and less windy than the Mole (did I mention the windy conditions that confronted us off and on at the Mole?). A 5:30-8:45 P.M. visit produced kelp bass, jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel, senorita, blacksmith and rock wrasse.

However, I was on a mission. One of my goals was to catch a flying fish, interesting creatures that inhabit Catalina’s inshore waters (including Avalon Bay). I figured a Sabiki baited with lugworms, and fished under a float, just might yield a flying fish (since they so closely resemble jacksmelt). I might have been right except that jack mackerel kept hitting the rigging (darn them!).

Not only did I not catch a flying fish but I also missed what had to be a really nice fish when I baited up my heavier outfit with a lively jack mackerel. I had a hard hit, struck hard—and missed the fish. I pulled in a mackerel devoid of much of its skin on both of its sides.

Day 4, Sunday—Again I was up early for one final visit to the pier, this time from 5:25-7:55 AM. The visit would yield kelp bass, jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel, senorita and rock wrasse but the news was the fish I lost.

Looking toward the Mole at Sunrise

I baited up my heavy pole with squid and cast out to the deeper waters while I fished my light pole by the pier. I managed to lose what had to be three big fish. The first was within ten minutes of baiting up when something hit my heavy pole, started to peel off line at a tremendous rate, and then saw the line go dead. When I reeled in it appeared the 30-pound braid had simply been cut in half. Never saw the fish but assume it was a big shark (big threshers, makos and blues are fund in these waters).

A half hour or so later another big fish hit the squid. This time the fish took the line but I was able to hook it and play it for about fifteen minutes before it tangled in something on the bottom and eventually managed to break free. The fight was that of a typical bat ray, a big one, but not as big as the bat ray that kept showing up in the waters next to the GPP. That ray seemed at least six foot across (so probably was only five) but kept swimming around the pier for over an hour. I did try some squid by the pier but the ray ignored it.

I did however manage to farm one more fish—on my light line. After baiting up some cut mackerel for some mac action, something simply inhaled my bait and took off on a steady journey headed out of the harbor. It wasn’t at a spectacular speed but just a steady speed that did not even slow as I tightened up the drag. As I neared the end of a spool of brand new 8-pound P Line, Halo line, I decided enough was enough and finally cranked it down and the line broke. If I have ever hooked a black sea bass this might have been the time but I don’t know what a large fish like that would have been doing grabbing my fairly small bait. Whatever it was though was big and strong and not a bat ray.

Later, after talking to Scott and SteveO about their battle with a huge fish from the GPP, I wondered if that huge bat ray that was visiting the pier Sunday morning might also have been what they hooked? It was certainly the largest bat ray I have ever seen but they felt their fish wasn’t a bat ray. Whatever the fish we all hooked, it proved there are some really big fish to be had in these waters and the need for some heavier gear next visit.

I hated to stop fishing but had to get ready for the ferry, check out of the hotel, and visit friends for a final breakfast. But I wished I could have stayed and had a chance to hook another big fish.

Some stats—new species for the piers—GPP/blackperch and salema—Cabrillo Mole/spotted kelpfish. I’ve now caught 18 different species from the GPP, 24 species from the Mole. Total fish for the trip = 234 fish (my fifth lowest total for the 8-year history of the “Get Togethers”). Most of the fish were returned excepting a few sheephead and opaleye that made it to my dinner table.


• Return of the mackerel. This was the first time we saw large numbers of jack mackerel and Pacific mackerel at the “Get Togethers” since 2003 (and that year saw Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel and Pacific sardines). Both were in evidence in large numbers during this trip and may help explain the number of large fish that were seen and/or hooked.

• Big fish—2007/2008 saw several huge fish swimming around the Green Pleasure Pier and the Mole. The biggest was a black sea bass that easily exceeded one hundred pounds that placidly came swimming along mid-water by the GPP. Another large fish was what looked like a large angel shark. As noted, this year on Sunday morning a huge bat ray was swimming back and forth around the GPP. A similar huge bat ray was seen Saturday at the Mole and a huge bat ray was caught Sunday from the Mole (and seen by Scooterfish and SteveO). Given the number of large fish seen, and lost, during 2009, it would seem wise to bring along a heavy duty reel loaded with 100+ pound braid next trip. There out there, can we catch them?

• Kudos to: (1) Brian Bray, the Avalon Harbor Master who made it possible to fish the end of the GGP most of the weekend; (2) Hashem who coordinated the event this year and did his usual excellent job; (3) GDude who once again provided much of the delicious food at the derby; (4) My friend Gary Graham who set it up so that we could visit the Avalon Tuna Club. Gary runs Baja on the Fly and is a great guy (and very knowledgeable). If you ever want to go fly fishing for sailfish, dorado, roosterfish or other fish in Baja visit bajafly.com; (5) The good folks at the Hermosa Hotel who provided a 10% discount for UPSAC members and provided their usual friendly and efficient service; (6) Paul’s Bait and Tackle in San Pedro who supplied live ghost shrimp, frozen anchovies and frozen squid for the anglers in the derby; (7) Big Fish Bait and Tackle in Seal Beach that supplied some live lugworms for the event.

(Cool All who traveled to Catalina during these hard times. It was especially good to see Scott (all the way from Louisiana) and Adam and Rebecca (all the way from Florida) but given today’s economic conditions it was a real commitment from everyone who made it over to Catalina. Thanks!

End of Part 1 — Main derby pictures and other Reports in Part 2 — 8th Annual PFIC/UPSAC Catalina Get Together — 2009 (2)


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