Dateline: October 11, 2015 – San Diego, California
Generally, people don’t want the blues. But I want a blue shark. Badly. Yes, I know you’ve caught one and I haven’t – but do you really want to get into that contest with me? Don’t make me remind you that I’ve caught a spotted wobbegong. On purpose.
My San Diego trip in June failed to net me a blue – I got some nice other fish and a few world records, but the blue sharks disappeared like Marta’s sense of shame when she sneaks my Lifetime Achievement Award into the garage. And I had to spend 20 hours in the car with Spellman, which is like spending 20 hours in the car with Guido, except Guido’s English is marginally better. (Details on Guido HERE.)
Of course, I dismissed the notion that the water temperature was simply too warm and blamed everything on Spellman. This meant that I needed to try with a different road partner, and there are few road partners better than Scott Perry. (Prerequisite reading HERE.) Scott and I have been doing road trips together since we were young and thin, and it was great to get a weekend away. And so, doing my best Dick Cheney impression, I ignored clear data that the water temperatures in San Diego were still too warm, and I booked a few October days with ace guide James Nelson.
Did I mention it’s a long drive to San Diego?
We didn’t eat at Dairy Queen on the way down, because we had an option that may be (gasp) even better – the Willow Ranch restaurant. This meal stop, on an isolated stretch of I-5 just far enough from Bakersfield to avoid the smell, makes darn good everything, but they specialize in barbecue, a genre which Scott and I both favor.
A referral to this place is one of the few things of value ever given to me by a particularly troubled relative.
This time, they had a new sandwich, and it was AWESOME. (Even if I am still digesting it.)
Who thinks of these things? Genius.
We finally got to San Diego, checked into a comfortable condo on the south end of the bay, and set up gear for the big days to come.
Sunset at Imperial Beach. Of course I fished the pier, to no avail.
Morning came early, as it always does. It was great to see Captain James. He was cautiously optimistic to get offshore with us, but he did warn that the water temperatures were still showing somewhere between tropical and bathtub. People were catching wahoo on day trips out of San Diego, and this did not bode well. But stubbornly, I forged ahead, ignoring both science and common sense. Unfortunately, science and common sense did not ignore me.
There were plenty of fish out there, but none of them were blue sharks. We saw all kinds of tropical critters, including an impressive hammerhead shark of some 12 feet. But the blues were not there, and I was predictably grouchy, blaming the usual suspects – LeBron James, Dodger fans, and bird flu. In hindsight, I recognize this was irrational – it was actually all Guido’s fault.
Fine, we saw a whale. But it wasn’t a blue shark, which would have been much more majestic and beautiful as far as I’m concerned.
As we worked through different locations, we eventually got into water shallow enough where I could fish the bottom. We picked up a variety of rockfish – which meant that we had dinner, because Scott can take fish and turn it into meals. But this is not the important thing. The important thing was that one of the rockfish looked strange, and when I dug into Val Kells’ new book, the creature turned out to be a speckled rockfish, which is a new species for me.
The speckled rockfish.
Scott’s may look bigger, but that’s just an optical illusion created by the fact that it was longer and heavier than mine.
I also got my personal best sheephead – it was just getting to the beautiful tricolor pattern that marks the adult males.
These things are all born as females but then eventually become males. Marta, ever the sexist, theorized that they lose 50 IQ points when they do this.
So the day was a triumph after all … sort of … but I was still traumatized about the blue shark. They’re supposed to be easy to catch, but they just weren’t there. It’s not like going back to San Diego is all than undesirable, but I really would like to catch one of these things before I get too old to use a 50# class setup.
There was no ugly fast food dinner in store for the evening. Scott can cook, and he whipped the rockfish up into some sort of restaurant-worthy stir fry. (To be fair, Martini can cook at a professional level as well, but none of the places we stayed in September had cooking facilities or, in many cases, running water.) We then spent the rest of the evening watching baseball, and I realized how long it had been since I just sat down and watched a whole baseball game. This was especially fulfilling, because the Dodgers lost. This would have pleased my grandfather, who never liked the National League. (He reserved a special dislike for the Cubs, who defeated his beloved Tigers two World Series in a row – 1907 and 1908 – thereby ruining his childhood. Whereas we may think of the Cubs as America’s loveable hard-luck team, they were quite the juggernaut while Archduke Ferdinand was still alive.)
We spent the next two days plying San Diego Bay. There are several things in here I had not gotten – corvina, corbina, striped guitarfish, midshipman – but the one that annoyed me most was perhaps the smallest – the diamond turbot. This modest flatfish is supposed to be all over the bay, but I had yet to see one in several days of fishing. With this challenge in mind, we set out to fish one of the most pleasant locations I have ever visited.
Scott and I both caught all kinds of stuff using mackerel slabs on the bottom – small sharks, guitarfish, bat rays, and butterfly rays. Round stingrays and bay bass pounced on the smaller baits – in terms of action, this is about the best place a 220 pound eight year-old like me can go. Something is always biting.
Scott’s first butterfly ray.
But a diamond turbot was not among these things that were biting. I had to make do with a big butterfly ray that smashed my record from June, but if Marta gets the idea I am going for another IGFA Men’s Saltwater trophy, I am going to get put in the garage. But it was a heck of a fish.
16 pounds of steaming Butterfly Ray.
James and his sixth world record as a guide.
That evening, we dined in again – shockingly, two healthy meals in a row. After the Cubs beat the Cardinals, which would have displeased my grandfather, we actually got to watch one of those movies from my young adulthood that I had never actually seen – “Valley Girl.” The music, the clothes, everything was so frighteningly familiar and yet so old. Say what you will about Nicolas Cage, but Deborah Foreman should have gotten an Oscar. Doubly so for her memorable performance in “Real Genius.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up the scene where she meets Val Kilmer.
One of the most important moments in modern American cinema.
And then it was dawn. We hit the bay again, on a pleasant, clear morning, without a care in the world unless you count the dread of a 10 hour drive coming up later in the day. We scored loads of the usual suspects, but could not seem to get anything strange in the boat, except of course for me.
Morning in San Diego Bay.
We drifted small baits for a couple of hours, but the only surprise was how athletic a round stingray could be chasing a piece of shrimp. I was well past caring when I got a strike and hooked up either a very small stingray or a moderate piece of kelp – imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a turbot.
And there was great rejoicing.
We spent the rest of the day chasing assorted bay creatures, and Scott had the fight of the day with a bat ray on a rig meant for spotted bay bass.
These things pull very hard for their size, and they have been given the evolutionary advantage of being completely inedible. I don’t know why Scott squats like this for fish photos – maybe he had cramps.
The group as we headed in to port. We had a long drive ahead, but Willow Ranch awaited us.
And so, that wrapped up the 2015 fishing for me. The species count had crept up to 1478, countries to 86, and states to 48. I was getting close to some major goals, which realistically means that I would just set more goals. After a what turned out to be a festive if eventful holiday season, I knew there would be a 2016 full of new countries, new species, new friends all over the globe – and new things for Marta to put in the garage.
Look this guy up if you’re near San Diego.