Posted by: 1000fish | March 23, 2020

Rascal Approves


Last summer seems like years ago. My Mother once told me that time goes a lot faster when you get older. I was young then and thought she was full of crap, but the older I got, the smarter Mom turned out to be. So here I am, somewhere in the post-Christmas dead of winter, just going through my notes for a blog about last summer, which is already separated from us by three major holidays, and I’m not including Valentine’s Day, which hopefully hasn’t happened yet, (whoops,) because I haven’t been to the jewelry store, and believe me, a vacuum, no matter how nice it is, is a bad Valentine’s present.

Now, back to the subject – cats. The 1000fish blog has introduced us to a number of remarkable felines. Cora the cat and her memorably awkward photo with Ben Cantrell is a fan favorite, and perhaps the greatest cat of all time, Rossi Arostegui, has appeared in these pages. This summer, a new kitty coughed a furball onto the fishing scene, and his name is Rascal. Rascal belongs to Ben’s girlfriend, Katy. and since Ben and Katy cohabitate, and Ben works from home, Ben and Rascal spend a lot of time together.

Rascal takes a selfie with Ben.

On a WhatsApp group Ben set up for some species-hunting friends, when fish photos are posted, he enjoys sending a photo of Rascal with the caption “Rascal Approves.” We all consider this to be a badge of honor.

Remember – we are species fishermen and weren’t normal in the first place.

I managed to avoid business trips in July and August, so naturally, I planned some California fishing excursions. There are some excellent closeby options – my “go-to” fishing – but you rarely read about them because they do not meet one of my four blog prerequisites – a new species, a world record, or someone getting seasick, or naked, hopefully at the same time. (Molnar, we’re thinking of you.) There are precious few species options within a day trip of my house, and by now, those tend to be stupid rare (e.g., sixgill shark) or just stupid (e.g., Sacramento blackfish, which won’t eat anything.) So, in this episode, we’ll cover a few trips of note this summer, some of which involve new species, but all of which involve fish.

Speaking of seasick, the first trip involves my on-again, off-again nephew, Charlie. Chuckles somehow wrangled some sort of lame internship out here on the west coast, which gave us a rare chance to get fishing together where his mother wouldn’t try to keep it to 15 minutes and make him wear a suit of armor. Our first adventure was pier fishing in Tiburon, an excellent way to spend an afternoon, especially when there is Waypoint pizza for dinner.

The first thing Charlie caught was a brown rockfish. This is going to upset Pat Kerwin, who couldn’t get one to bite for a whole miserable day in December.

I love to hide Charlie’s sunglasses.

A Tiburon landmark, and truly one of the best pizzas anywhere.

But the main event for Charlie was to go to Clear Lake, one of Northern California’s bass meccas, and try to get a big largemouth. Charlie defined “big” as five pounds or more, and I felt confident that he could get one. I signed up guide Tom Guercio, a good friend of 1000fish regular Jim Larosa.

Tom and Charlie. Where did those sunglasses go? (By the way, Tom is on 925-813-0792 for Clear Lake bass fishing.)

We were blessed with calm, cloudless weather. Those early hours, before the sun hit the water, gave us exactly what we wanted – constant bites on plastics. We both got a few solid fish, including a nice three-pounder for Chuckles.

This was his first fish of the day.

Around 8am, Charlie got the hit he wanted, and after a spirited battle, Tom expertly netted Charlie’s five-pounder. Charlie has managed to grow up into a 20-year-old high school junior, but we have still had precious few of these moments. It was quite a privilege to be there.

Charlie and his beast. I made him wear the hat for the photo so his mother would think he cared about sunburn.

He got a bit cocky about catching the biggest fish of the day, so I thought I’d include this shot of a slightly larger beast from my portfolio.

Rascal was still not impressed.

It wouldn’t be summer unless I made a couple of trips to Tomales Bay to fish for sharks and rays. In mid-August, I ran up there with old friends Michael and Cooper. Michael is the Creative Director at a premium design agency that does work projects with Marta. While he is an awesome guy, I generally get to see him during some high-pressure consulting emergency where everyone except me is obsessed with a website launch. This is how I have gotten to know Cooper so well – he and I have no idea what the adults are talking about, so we talk about important stuff, like fishing and baseball.

Tomales can be a miserable place. It is prone to fog and wind that can turn even a summer excursion into a shivering test of willpower, but the place is full of fish. I had warned Michael and Cooper about this for years, so naturally, the day we chose to go was flat calm and beautiful.

Cooper is the one with the magnificent hair.

Not only was it sunny and still the whole time, but the fishing was excellent. We boated a load of leopard sharks, spiny dogfish, and bat rays, all safely released with a free squid lunch.

Cooper and his first leopard shark. This photo made him the most popular kid in school for weeks.

That’s Cooper’s Dad, Michael. He is smiling because he isn’t talking to Marta about 472 design changes she needs done in the next hour.

Rascal approves.

Watching a kid do this for the first time reminds me of how darn exciting it is to be on the water, so I really had Cooper to thank. Fishing with him gives me all the joy of a kid without having to get barfed on. Again, I’m thinking of you, Molnar.

Speaking of people barfing, Marta and I celebrated 15 years together last summer. People have lost millions of dollars in office pools over this.

We then move the show to Southern California. I had been giving some thought to a San Diego road trip, and there was never going to be a better time. In hindsight, I could have chosen a better route, because I drove down there via the Salton Sea, in the vain hope of catching a porthole livebearer. Everyone else catches them, yet I never do. It’s a lonely twelve hours to San Diego when the (1.5 inch) target fish was nowhere to be seen.

Once I got a night of sleep and had eaten my fill of Taco Bell, it was time to get to the serious fishing. San Diego is a gorgeous place – temperate, green, and everyone is young and good-looking. (As opposed to Los Angeles, where everyone is young, rich, annoying, and has a boob job. Even the guys.)

Illinois native Ben Cantrell has figured out a lot of the local species, and I still have a decent list of them left to catch. One of the most troubling is the horn shark. This shy beast is a close relative of the Port Jackson Shark I got in Australia a few years ago. It’s a sit and wait kind of thing, and I have done plenty of sitting and waiting without so much as a decent bite. Ben had a spot in Mission Bay he wanted to try, and we planned an evening of soaking squid by some bridge pilings. Ben had two big targets that evening, because he not only needed the horn shark, but he was also looking for a diamond ray. (The ray is a lot more common, and Ben was rightfully annoyed he hadn’t caught one yet. (I got my mine in Puerto Vallarta in 2013.)

It was a gorgeous night, which is par for the course in San Diego, and we cast out two rods each and let them sit.

San Diego is insanely beautiful.

The dreaded round stingrays, which must be stacked on every square inch of the bottom, moved in and began gnawing the squid. We caught quite a few; they are dangerous to unhook and take away from quality fishing time, but they have a right to eat too. After half an hour of this, I got a comparatively bigger bite. When I set the hook, whatever vaguely annoyed animal was at the other end was clearly not a round stingray. I announced to Ben “I have a horn shark.” “Ha ha” he replied. Moments later, Ben helped me land a horn shark, and just that quickly, I had added species 1889.

Oh hell yes.

The triumphant anglers.

They are adorable, but look closely at the dentition.

Ben is a good guy and a good friend, but he couldn’t help but mention that he had spent countless hours fishing this spot without a horn shark, and I had spent about an hour there and gotten one. This was not in any sort of spite – it was more in the spirit of mathematics and how statistical probabilities are not useful if I don’t follow them. But before I could even muse on how unfair the universe is, something raced off with my bait. I spent a few minutes battling whatever it was – decidedly not a horn shark – and announced I had a bat ray. I was wrong. I had a diamond ray – the other species Ben was after. Ben handled everything with good humor. “Nice, Steve. The horn shark wasn’t enough, huh?” I felt awful, but the competitive side of me, which is both sides, was faintly amused.

The fish in question.

Rascal did not approve.

We kept busy with round rays and small gray sharks, and the tide started slowing down. Ben was not thrilled, but he certainly didn’t blame me. As we enjoyed the warm evening, Ben’s rod folded over hard. Whatever it was, it was the biggest fish of the night, which made me feel a little better. Ben called bat ray, I called diamond ray, hoping that it was and that Ben would forgive me. Ten minutes later, Ben put 17 pounds of steaming diamond ray on the beach. He was thrilled, I was relieved, and the evening closed out as a rousing success.

Ben’s ray. Yes, he caught it on that rod, and no, he did not let it spine him in the calf.

We had a few targets for the next day, mostly small stuff in harbors and backwaters. Notable among these was the longjaw mudsucker, a goby species that is popular for striper bait that I can never seem to find in the wild. Ben felt that we could find them in the same slough where I caught my California killifish, and it turns out he is something of an expert on this, as he is helping the Scripps Institute write a paper on these beasts. I’m not bad at spotting fish, but Ben has excellent eyes and he saw a dozen of them before I found one. (Martini does the same thing to me.) It finally hit a bait after a few fits and starts, and I was 10 species away from 1900.

Species 1890.

That evening, Ben trusted me enough to introduce me to Katy. She is awesome. They are aggravatingly young, attractive, and fit, and she is remarkably patient with Ben’s fishing “hobby” (= “obsession.”)

I can’t find a picture of them NOT doing something healthy and outdoors.

They have 6% body fat. Combined.

We tried for some other sharks and rays that night, but the elusive banded guitarfish remained elusive, and I cut it off fairly early because I had a long drive home the next day. It was still San Diego, we were still out on the water, and there would always be another trip down here. Rascal approves.




  1. Greetings from Portugal. I was very surprised to see this as I was reading a blog post and I had to refresh the page. It brought me to the top of the page and low and behold there it was!!!! Keep up the good work steve!!!

  2. […] bigger fish drifted into the light and toward my bait, but just before it hit, I realized it was a longjaw mudsucker, a fish I would have given my eye teeth for a couple of years ago, but was now just a […]

  3. […] This would be my third trip to Penasco, the second with Chris and his kids, even if that concedes that The Mucus is human. I decided to drive to Phoenix, because there was one particular fish others had caught – the porthole livebearer – that was sort of on the way. I had already failed on it three times. […]

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