Trips 2009

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January 4, 2010

Central Coast Trip 12/29/2009 - 1/1/2010: Huell Howser Made it Look Easy

After much consideration, Eunice and I decided to take a trip to the Morro Bay area along the central California coast during my winter break. The deciding factor was when I found out that the Motel 6 in San Luis Obispo was only charging $41.39 per night. (The one in Morro Bay only charged $4 more per night, but being the nearly broke cheapskates that we are, we chose the one in San Luis Obispo. While there, I noticed a sign on the bathroom door which listed the rate as $105.99 per night. I don't know whether the lower rate had to do with the season, the poor economy, or both, but I was glad for it.)


After driving nonstop from Moreno Valley (with Eunice handfeeding me lunch on the way), and a quick trip back from Riverside to home to retrieve the camera we had forgotten, we made it to the motel around 4 p.m. After settling in, we headed for Morro Bay to do some fishing, hoping to catch some tasty Rockfish or whatever else might be biting. My pier fishing book mentions 2 public piers called the Morro Bay T-Piers, so I followed directions to the embarcadero where those were. First, I found the north T-Pier, walked out on it, and observed that it was virtually surrounded by boats, with people working on a few of them. The book said that they were working piers but people were allowed to fish in between the boats. Nonetheless, the place looked so cluttered at the time that I decided to look for the South T-Pier. When I found it, I saw it was less cluttered with boats, so we decided to fish there. By this time, it was aroiund 5:30 p.m. and getting dark. At first, nothing was biting, but after 15 minutes or so, I had a repeat biter on squid about 20 feet from shore and pulled up a little 5-6 inch Rockfish on the second bite, which I showed to Eunice and put back. A while later, I had a heavier bite only 7-8 feet from shore, also on squid, and pulled up a pretty 8-9 inch Rockfish of the same species, which I kept. A check of my regulations book revealed that most likely these were Grass Rockfish, although there are several similar looking species. After that, I missed a few more light bites, while Eunice went biteless fishing farther out on the pier, before we decided to head back to the motel around 7 p.m. Rockfish of any other species than California Scorpionfish are unusual catches for either of us, so I was happy with my 2 Grass Rockfish. (I think I did catch a small one of these at Oceanside Harbor last summer, so they probably weren't my first ones.)


The weather forecast called for rain this day, so I wasn't expecting to have much in the way of fishing opportunities. As it turned out, there was fairly heavy rain from about 5-7 a.m., followed by a few hours of light rain. The rain was finished around 10-11 a.m. Since we are, let me say, leisurely anyway, on our vacation, that was no problem -- no dawn fishing trips for us. In fact, all of our fishing was in the afternoons on this trip. Meanwhile, we split the Rockfish I had caught the night before, which was delicious. (Eunice brought electric powered cooking equipment.) We left the motel at 11 something after an early lunch, and headed for Port San Luis Pier first, because I had read something about Crabs biting there. (We were very well equipped for various sorts of fishing/gathering activities.) As it turned out, Port San Luis was a dissapointment (for the second time; we were skunked there a few years ago around Memorial Day). I did encounter a father with 2 young sons who had caught 2 barely legal size Red Rock Crabs in their hoop net, but zero fish. Those were the only Crabs I saw, except for the commercially caught ones on the pier. I tried hoop netting for Crabs and fishing both, to no avail except for 3 pretty red Starfish (2 in my hoopnet, one on my fishing line), which I put back. At least I caught something, which was more than last time. The only fish I saw were 1 Jacksmelt and 1 small White Croaker, among about 25 fisherpeople. Around 3 p.m. I gave up, and decided to try to Pismo Clams at nearby Pismo Beach since the tide was super low (-1.4). As I was leaving, a woman asked what I had caught. When I told her 3 Starfish, she said they were protected, and thanked me for putting them back. She also said they are inedible. The strange thing was that a shop on the pier was selling dried Starfish. Also, I have seen Starfish in soup preparation packets in Chinese markets, so people must eat them. Eunice said the fishing was no good, and she felt tired, so she didn't even try fishing at Port San Luis.

Eunice said, "You toss the Clams to me; I'll measure and store them." It sounded so easy. After eventually finding the best parking area near Pismo Beach Pier, I headed down to the beach which was far out under the pier with the low tide. Equipped with my pitchfork type device Eunice had scavenged from one of our foreclosed neighbors (with their permission), I started probing deep into the sand, finding nothing but sand. I remember seeing Huell Howser on one of those California's Gold shows standing under the pier with a Ranger and saying something like "That feels like a clam," then pulling up a couple of legal size Pismo Clams that way. I had always wondered whether that was staged. Now, I am pretty sure that those clams were planted there by the Ranger. As far as I could tell, there were few if any clams to be found, even farther under the pier than Huell Howser was. Actually, I suspect that fishing pressure over the years has created selective pressure on the clams, such that the ones which live farther offshore continue to thrive, but the ones living in the surf have been depleted. That may be why I hear of people actually diving for these clams, but not getting them along the beach as they used to. Oh well! I will never think of Huell Howser in quite the same way again.

Eventually, we headed back to Morro Bay for some sightseeing, picture taking, and scouting around Morro Rock followed by more T-Pier fishing. This time, we tried the North T-Pier first, since we found some open spots there. In brief, Eunice missed a heavy bite, and so did I, in the same corner of the pier. My bite came when Eunice asked me to take a picture. (The sunset was really beautiful.) I had left my rod propped up on some equipment. As soon as I walked over to where Eunice was on the other side of the pier, I heard my rod fall down. I ran back there and picked up my rod, only to find my line snagged in a piling. I am pretty sure it was a bite -- probably just some frisky Jacksmelt but we will never know. I had to break my line, but having it tangled in the piling might have saved me from losing the pole. Since the fishing action wasn't exactly nonstop on the North T-Pier, we headed back to the South T-Pier. I had lots of action from small Rockfish there once again, catching 4, but only keeping 1. I was definitely getting the hang of fishing there. These fish really like squid, and hang out not far from shore. I tried mussels, too, but nothing bit. Meanwhile, Eunice got skunked again, but did get a few bites.


Being the last day of the year, Eunice said she had to clean everything very well. Thus, she spent what seemed like an interminably long time washing her hair and so forth. Eventually, we left the motel. Eunice said she wanted to treat me to lunch. We wound up going to Jack-in-the-Box and spending $9. That is our idea of a fancy date. (The rest of the time, we ate food we brought or fish we caught in the motel room.) Around 2 p.m., we found ourselves back at the South T-Pier. Hey, it was the only place we had caught any fish. Eunice said we should try it during the daytime for a change, and I was agreeable to that. At first, the fishing was slow, but I did get occasional bites. After a while, I noticed a man fishing on the rocks near the pier. We began talking, and he mentioned that he had caught 2 Rockfish. He invited me down there, so after awhile, I went over the railing and down the rocks. My line immediately got stuck in a crevice, and I had to break it. Oh well! The man (whose name I never found out), showed me his two nice size Grass Rockfish, about a foot long each. I was impressed. What really surprised me was that he was dropping his line among the rocks only a couple of feet from shore. It seemed as though, the closer to shore, the bigger these fish were. I tried there for awhile, but had no bites. However, I witnessed my new friend catch a small Cabezon about 8 inches long, which he put back. (Their minimum size limit is 15 inches.) Meanwhile, Eunice's hair washing had gone awry, leaving her hair tangled in several places, so she was sitting in the car, trying to untangle her hair. Eventually, she gave up, and simply cut them off, as I had suggested. Since I wanted to check on Eunice's progress, and since the rocks were very slippery with the low tide, I headed back up.

Eunice headed to the pier along with me, and soon, our new friend did too. He said he was a local who fished there "all the time." He had plenty of Rockfish to eat, so he offered to give his to us. Were we interested? Heck yes! I gladly let him borrow some of my mussels for bait, and some hooks, etc, while we chatted. By this time, he had 3 Grass Rockfish, which we transferred to one of our coolers. (Being optimists, we brought an extra cooler, mainly for Crab.) The local was glad we had mussels. He said that people weren't even allowed to pick mussels in Morro Bay, since it is a nature preserve. No clamming or crabbing is allowed, either. Only fishing for finfish is allowed, and only in part of the bay. When I checked the current fishing regulations and discovered this, I was very disappointed, because we had been planning to hoop net for crabs from the T-Piers. But we behaved ourselves and refrained from doing so. Meanwhile, the Pier Fishing in California website raves about the crabbing from the T-Piers. It was legal to do a few years ago, but no more. The website owner really needs to update his website. The second cooler was what we were actually hoping to put the crabs in. As it turned out, once Eunice started fishing, she kept having good size Red Rock Crab grab her bait. They would let go as soon as they reached the surface, but we got a good, mouth watering look at them. The crabs seemed to prefer the mussels, while the fish seemed to prefer the squid. I also eventually dragged a few Rock Crab to the surface before they let go.

Eventually, our friend went to another spot he liked to try for more Rockfish. He came back around sunset with 3 more Grass Rockfish to give to us. If you see this, Thank You my friend! At this point, we still hadn't caught a fish, but soon afterward, Eunice caught a decent size Grass Rockfish. I caught 3 of them after that. I discovered that they bite better after dark, and what worked best for me was casting parallel to shore, within about 20 feet from shore, using a jig with a strip of squid for bait. After going home, we dined on some of our Rockfish. Strangely, one of the large ones was very fibrous and chewy, while others were soft and delicious.


After a breakfast of more Rockfish (including another chewy one) and more morning cleansing activities, we headed south. We decided to go to Lopez Lake, which is in that area. When we got there, we first bought our annual fishing licenses. There were a good number of people there buying fishing licenses, trying out their new fishing equipment, and taking their boats for a spin on the lake. Being the winter off-season for fishing, I had my doubts that anything would be biting. After scouting out the possibilites, we decided to try Cottonwood Cove, which is where we fished the only other time we had gone to Lopez, a few Augusts ago. The problem was that suddenly, a heavy wind came up. I went down there to try it, while Eunice waited in the car to find out if anything was biting. I headed down to the little fishing pier there, only to see a family of 4 (mother, father, grown son and daughter) get there just ahead of me. No problem -- I just fished from the right side of the pier while they fished from the left side. I put on a minicrawler, with one of my eco-weights (non-lead, environmentally friendly), cast out as far as I could at an angle, and crawled the bait along the bottom. After only a few minutes, I felt a sort of heavy thud on my line, so I pulled my pole up, and sure enough, a fish was on the line -- a big fish. After several minutes of excitement, doing my fish-playing dance around both sides of the pier, and under the pier, immersing the end of my pole in the water while the fish made its runs to the other side -- and wondering whether it was a huge Redear, Bluegill, good size Bass, Catfish, or holdover Trout -- the fish came into view. Wait a minute! That wasn't what I was expecting. Why, it's a... What is it? My gosh, it's the biggest, most colorful one I have ever seen, I realized as I pulled my auspicious, prized first fish of the year onto shore. It's a Sucker! One thing I can say is that I really nailed that Sucker. Actually, it was barely hooked in the front of the lip with my tiny size 18 worm hook, but I caught it. I took the fish up to the car to show Eunice, laughing all the way. Since Eunice says she actually likes to eat Suckers, we kept it. She said I was specially blessed and God loves me extra specially. A check of the internet yesterday revealed that this drainage has Sacramento Suckers, so that is what I presume this fish was. It must have weighed over 2 pounds, perhaps closer to 3.

After that, I caught one frisky, 10 inch Largemouth Bass along the shoreline nearby, which I promptly released. Eunice came down and tried fishing, but was unable to catch any. In fact, I was the only person to catch any fish as far as I could see, out of perhaps 25 fisherpeople. We fished until about 4 p.m., then finally gave up. We did reel in a couple of lines which looked like the minicrawlers had been bit, but we had detected no bites at the time. One really cool thing we saw was a gathering of Raptors of some kind (as in Hawks or Eagles, not rappers). At first, we saw 5 of them, but other ones kept flying in from the east, until there were 11 of them circling over the woods near the lake. I have no idea what they were doing. The only other time I saw a gathering of Raptors such as that was many years ago, above the Owens Valley.

Next, we headed for Santa Barbara. We arrived there around 6 p.m. or so, and decided to eat dinner there at one of the restaurants by the harbor. By the time we were finished, it was almost 8 p.m. Nonetheless, Eunice wanted to go fishing, while I was thinking about how late it would be by the time we got home. We had fished this spot last year, the same time of year, and had pretty good luck with small fish on our poles, and a couple of large Red Rock Crabs in the hoop net. As it turned out, fishing was good, but the Crabs were a no show. Eunice had the touch with the Grass Rockfish, catching 3 of these critters, keeping 2 and releasing one. Meanwhile, I caught 2 Jack Mackerel and a relatively large Lizardfish, nothing to get excited about but lots of bites. All but the first Rockfish were caught on squid, once again. The only fish we caught on mussel the entire trip was Eunice's first Rockfish that night (and her first fish of the year). Eunice really likes that spot, which is on some public, "working docks" in the harbor, so much so that I practically had to drag her away from there.

I do find it rather peculiar that all the Rockfish we caught, plus the ones the Morro Bay local caught, all appeared to be Grass Rockfish, since there are many Rockfish species which inhabit the area. Without Grass Rockfish (if my species identification is correct), we wouldn't have caught much. Thank God for Grass Rockfish -- and Sacramento Suckers.

We finally left around 9:30 p.m. and made the long, night drive home. We got home at 12:12 in the morning. Eunice said it was an auspicious number. I just thought it was a late number, which in part accounts for the lateness of this report. Well, that is what we did on our winter vacation. Tonight, it's back to school, teaching, that is. All in all, it was a really good trip -- a beautiful, romantic get away with my wife -- and we did bring home a good number of fish on ice (including 8 Grass Rockfish), largely compliments of our new friend from Morro Bay.

April 22

Familiar Places, New Faces: Chuck and Cody

Last Tuesday morning, my wife called my parents to find out what my brother was doing. It turned out that he had gone to Disneyland with his family for the entire day. Since we weren't gone to see them, my wife decided to take off for the Blythe area on the Colorado River to go fishing, where we had gone the previous two spring breaks. Thus, Tuesday afternoon, we drove to Blythe and a favorite fishing spot on the Colorado River, Aha Quin.

Aha Quin has a public dock where boats can buy gasoline, and people can fish. By the time we got there, it was a little after 6 p.m., and we expected the area to be absent of fisherpeople, as it usually has been in the past. However, there were two people fishing on the dock, an older man, and his grandson. I asked the older man if we could fish on the other side of the little dock, and he replied with something like "Well, we don't own the dock, so I can't complain." The next thing out of his mouth was "A few minutes ago a 30 pound Striped Bass just pulled my whole rig into the water, pole and all." Apparently it was true that a fish had pulled his pole into the water, as his grandson did not contradict him. Whether it was actually a 30 pound Striped Bass, none of us had any way of knowing, since nobody actually saw the fish. This was my introduction to Chuck, a retired detective, who was a real talker and a real character, but had a lot of goood things to say as well. His grandson's name was Cody, and he was a very well-mannered, smart and likeable boy of around 8-10 years of age.

We continued fishing with them that day, and came back the next, and fished with them again. They had an unusual modus operandi. They slept in sleeping bags on the ground, ate fish they caught, used the public restrooms, I guess, and generally just unofficially camped out at Aha Quin. Actually, I liked their simplicity and thriftiness. Talking to Chuck was a hoot, though. One never knew what he would come up with next. Some of his fishing claims were unbelievable, but his opinions were bery believable, and I agreed with him about many things. Among Chuck's claimed fishing exploits: He claims to have caught a world record catfish at Loveland Reservoir, near San Diego. (There is no such record); He claims to have caught or seen caught a number of 30 pound Largemouth Bass near San Diego. (The world record is 22 pounds, 4 ounces.); He claims to have caught 100 pounds worth of fillets of Corvina in one day at the Salton Sea. Since fillets generally are about 1/3 of a fish's weight, that would mean that his limit weighed 300 pounds. I believe the limit was 10 Corvina at the time, and a 30 pound Corvina would have been a huge one, close to the record. Meanwhile, he claimed that his friend the ranger who taught him the secret to catching Corvina caught 114 pounds of fillets that same day. I just smiled, rolled my eyes, and kept the conversation going when I heard these claims. Chuck had some interesting things to say about the Salton Sea, the topic of a recent post of mine. He said that the Corvina from the Salton Sea were the best tasting fish he had ever eaten, back when they were thriving there. I have actually heard similar comments from several people. Chuck says he filleted them, and fried them in Crisco Oil. But he said that the last time he caught any Corvina, several years ago, he filleted the first one, and saw it "still moving." He said to his ranger friend "Hey, this fillet is still moving." Upon a closer inspection, it turned out that the fillet was full of parasitic worms. Apparently, the Corvina became unhealthy and vulnerable to disease, before they died out. Chuck said he had the throw those fish out, and never went back. He also talked about the mismanagement of the Salton Sea, and how, were it managed properly, or rejuvenated as it could be with a public project, it could provide good fishing for 3,000 people per day year around (his estimate), which works out to around 1.2 million people per year. Back in its heyday, approximately half that number of people most likely fished the Salton Sea in a year's time, according to an article about the Salton Sea in the February 2005, National Geographic Magazine, but now, only a small fraction of that number fish there. When Eunice and I went there, we did not se a single boat on this large body of water, and the only people fishing it were on shore at the state park jetty, around 30-40 people in all. This is by far the most popular fishing site at the Salton Sea now, so probably no more than 100 people or so actually fish there on an average day in its present state, and only catch the Mosambique Tilapia which are the only fish species which tolerates the existing conditions there. Cody talked about how he caught a large number of Tilapia at the State Park, in the cove, then going back the next year, and seeing the "no fishing, spawning area" sign there which I mentioned in my previous post about the Salton Sea. Cody thought that was to help the Tilapia spawn. Somehow, I doubt that. Most likely, the spawning area is in hopes that the other species would survive and spawn there -- something which has not happened.

Chuck also brought up the topic of fishing at Diamond Valley Lake, a large, relatively new reservoir not far from where I live, and how it was being mismanaged and was a huge disappointment. I share those views as well. He decried the lack of facilities and poor fishing opportunities there, in contrast to the hype about Diamond Valley being "The Daimond of the Southland," and supposedly having great fishing. It is revealing how people's private opinions tend to converge, despite public advertising and hype to the contrary. When people experience something personally, it is far more enlightening than any second hand reports or media hype can convey. As it turns out, Chuck also told us that he has a child who is currently in mainland China, although there were differing accounts given about whether that child was a son or a daughter, and whether the daughter-in-law was Chinese or not. Anyway, there was a young grandchild involved, and Chuck said that all the Chinese were fascinated by the "white baby." He also said his family members were in the business of building golf courses in mainland China. Given all of Chuck's extravagant fishing claims, the fact that I have never heard of golf courses in mainland China (although I suppose there are some), and the inconsistent accounts he gave, I have to question the accuracy of Chuck's story. But when you talk to a big talker, such tales are what one can expect. On the other hand, perhaps he was telling the truth after all, and we just weren't listening very well.

I warned Eunice not to expect the fishing to be as good as last year's or the year before, especially since the weather was not cooperating, and temperatures had been largely below average for that time of year (February and March) the past couple of months. The weather was chilly, cloudy, and very windy the whole trip, which did the fishing no good. Indeed, unlike the past couple of years when fish could be easily seen preparing to spawn, the Redear Sunfish and Bluegills were still in deep water and not in spawning mode yet, making them harder to catch. Despite that, all of us managed some good catches. When we arrived at Aha Quin, Chuck and Cody had 3 Bluegills, a large Redear Sunfish, and a Smallmouth Bass on their stringer that were destined to become dinner. Eunice and I each caught a large, female Redear Sunfish that evening. In fact, Eunice's Redear was probably the largest I have ever seen personally, around 1 1/2 pounds, clearly the catch of the trip. She also caught a good-sized Bluegill that day. The next day at Aha Quin, nothing seemed to be biting from the dock, although Chuck did catch a good sized Largemouth Bass there. Since Eunice and I were not getting bit from the dock -- where we caught virtually a cooler full of Redears and Bluegill in one day a year ago -- I decided to try fishing from the launch ramp, which was deserted at the time. I kept getting bites there, and caught two undersized Smallmouth Bass on crickets (my first towo fish on crickets), which I returned to the water. It seems Smallmouth at the boat launch was the only action going on. I hooked a large one that felt like a snag at first, fishing a nightcrawler on the bottom, nearly had it to shore, and somehow, the line broke. The strange thing is that a while later, fishing two crickets on a jog below a bobber, I caught a good-sized Smallmouth. When I landed it, it had my hook in its mouth, so it was definitely the same fish. It was 14 inches long, one inch over the size limit, so I kept it. What was also strange it that the line which broke was 8 pound line, but the line I caught the fish on was only 4 pound line. Apparently there was a weak spot or poor knot in the 8 pound line. Cody was nearby and saw me catch the larger Smallmouth, which he seemed to really enjoy. He said he preferred using bobbers in fishing, as do I.

After a few hours of disappointing fishing at Aha Quin on Wednesday, we moved on to another fishing spot along the river, Lost Lake, after telling Chuck and Cody about the fishing there, and saying goodbye to our new fishing buddies. Fish were not biting well at Lost Lake, either (definitely not in spawning mode). Once again, Eunice was getting no bites. Eventually, I found a Bluegill that was determined to be caught at the corner of a public dock. It bit about 5 times before I finally caught it. (I could actually see it bite sometimes.) I caught the fish using a technique I have learned when a fish is an eager biter but I am being too anxious to let it engulf the hook -- dropping my bait to the bottom, giving the line some slack, waiting for about 5 seconds to give the fish time to inhale the hook, then lifting my rod. Fish in the Colorado River area seem to be particularly gullible oftentimes. Shortly afterward, I caught another eager Bluegill in another spot, but then the action stopped. I mentioned that there was a public area at the other end of Lost Lake, where there was a launch ramp close to where it joins the Colorado River, a place where there seemed to be lots of Smallmouth. We went there, and started getting bites. Once again, the fish were Smallmouth Bass holding right over the launch ramp. A little while later, Eunice was fishing crickets on the bottom well out from shore, when she exclaimed that her line was "snagged." She kept dragging the "snag" toward shore, and when the "snag" was around 20 feet from shore, it turned into a Smallmouth Bass and jumped about 2 feet out of the water. It turned out to be a "keeper" fish, and our last fish of the trip. Actually, I had the same snaggy sensation the first time I hooked that Bass at Aha Quin, so I can understand how Eunice thought it was a snag. In fact, Eunice said she was getting similar "snaggy" feeling bites on virtually every cast not long after her bait hit the water.

Afterward, Eunice wanted to go to a place called Mayflower Park, near Blythe, where there was pretty fast fishing last year for Bluegill and Largemouth Bass in a small, shallow lagoon there. I thought "Okay; it was good last year." However, when we got there, the water was only about 5 inches deep, and the fish appear to have deserted the place. (Last year, it was probably around 2-3 feet deep.) I found the drop in water level really strange, since the water at Aha Quin and Lost Lake appeared to be somewhat higher than it was last year. After observing the disappointing lack of water at Mayflower Park, we drove home, since it was almost sunset by then and since we had an appointment to take Branda fishing the next day. Eunice commented to me that ever since we went to Mayflower Park last year for the first time, she had a mental vision of "big Bass waiting for us to catch them." I pretty much had the same vision, myself, but it turned out not to be true. Oh well! Every year is different, and unpredictable. That is one of the interesting things about fishing. Perhaps Chuck and Cody will be waiting for us the next time we go to Aha Quin, or perhaps some new fishing buddies.

April 19

I Took Two Kids Fishng

You know the sayings: "Take a kid fishing;" "One way to keep a kid out of trouble is to take him/her fishing;" "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime." That last saying is an ancient Chinese saying, probably of Confucian or Taoist origin. I doubt it is Bhuddist, since Bhuddism discourages the consumption of meat.

My brother, his wife and two daughters came to Riverside for spring break, staying with my parents. As it turned out, their spring break this year coincided with mine. My brother's daughter Branda, age 7, fortunately is very fond of fishing. When Eunice and I went to my parents' house on Easter Sunday, Branda kept telling me "I want to go fishing tomorrow." Naturally, I thought that could be arranged, but when tomorrow came, Bruce and Rosalie had other plans, and told us to take the kids fishing on Thurday, so Eunice and I went fishing that afternoon at our local reservoir, Lake Perris, ourselves. I figured it would be a good chance to assess the fishing there and what was working, and as it turned out, I was right. Most of the afternoon fishing was mediocre, with assorted missing worms informing us that there were lots of small, light biting fish around. At about 6:30 p.m., Eunice said she was feeling tired and it was getting cold, so she went back to the car -- bad move. At that point, we had only caught two medium smallish Bluegill (6-7 inches) on worms -- not very big, but big enough to eat. After she left, I caught a medium smallish Redear sunfish on worms. Meanwhile, I noticed that many fish were surfacing near shore. At first, I thought that they were Threadfin Shad, a minnow that was introduced to the lake to feed other, larger predatory fish such as Bass and Crappie. A man who was fishing for Bass nearby mentioned to his son that he thought they were Bluegill, since they certainly weren't interested in his Bass lure. As time went on, the surfacing activity increased and spread, and I noticed swarms of Midges buzzing around near the water. In fact, there was an effect that almost looked like raindrops falling on the water. I surmised that that was probably from Midges laying their eggs, or hatching, since Midges, which somewhat resemble Mosquitoes, have aquatic larvae. Fortunately, unlike their relatives the Mosquitoes, Midges do not feed on blood. These Midges were the size of large Mosquitoes, and a tan color, so finally, around 7:15-7:30, I selected a brownish artificial fly that was about the same size and shape as the Midges, from my box and tied it to the end of my line. Using a red and white bobber for casting, I caught 12 Bluegills on the fly in short order, about 1/2 hour. Nine of them were little ones (4-5 inches) which I put back, but 3 were 6-7 inchers like the earlier ones, so I kept them. The basic bobber and fly technique is to make a long cast, reel in slowly while carefully checking for the feel or sight of a biting fish, then quickly reeling in any slack line and lifting the rod until feeling the full weight of the fish.

When Wednesday evening came, we called Bruce and told him about the fishing Monday, and he seemed eager to take the kids for the Bluegill fishing at Lake Perris. I told him that there was no need to go early, since the fish feed on the Midges around sunset, so around 5 p.m., just as Eunice was wondering why it was taking so long for them to arrive, my brother's family arrived at my house. They were in a Toyota Camry donated to them by my parents when another of their cars had a major booboo about a year ago. (I also drive a car that used to belong to my parents; they are very generous people.) I noticed the car has a "Keep Tahoe Blue" sticker, and an Obama/Biden '08 sticker -- good taste in stickers, Bruce! The first thing that Branda and her sister Beverly, age 6, wanted to do when they got here was to "pet the cats." I couldn't find our normally sociable calico Gorjilina, who was apparently being a little shy with unfamiliar kids running after her, but I had noticed our other female cat, Beautricia in her usual spot in the vacant front yard next door. I got a bowl of dry cat food for her, which she could not resist partaking of, so she quickly jumped on the brick wall even with Branda and Beverly waiting there. Both of the girls happily petted Beautricia while the cat ate her food. I was pleasantly surprised at how cooperative Beautricia was, since she is usually a shy "scaredy cat," although I doubt she would have let the girls pet her if she had no food to eat. Before leaving, Branda kissed Beautricia, then kissed me on my tummy, since she is only as tall as my abdomen.

Shortly after this, we headed for Lake Perris, equipped with my California State Park parking passes, and got to our fishing spot around 5:30. Then the comedy of errors began. When I opened the trunk of my car, I came to the distressing realization that I had forgotten to bring the cooler which had the bait in it. Well, we'll try flies and see if those are working, I thought. We tried flies, and they didn't work. Worse, the weather was very windy, cloudy and chilly. I soon realized that Midges cannot fly when there is much wind, so apparently they were grounded that afternoon. Thus, I went back home as quickly as I could and retrieved the cooler, feeling guilty since my "zhu nao" (pig brain in Chinese, which refers to a forgetfull person), forgot it. About 45 minutes later, I was back with the cooler, plus snacks from the car in case anyone was hungry. Now, I thought, we should be able to catch something. I was wrong about that. We had a couple of light bites, but nothing we were able to catch on the worms. The fish weren't even biting as well on worms as they had been three days earlier. Meanwhile, I was not doing much fishing since I was constantly kept busy with a barrage of kid-related problems. Every 10-20 seconds of fishing time for Branda and Beverly was punctuated by, "This line isn't working," or "it's tangled again." At one point, the handle came off one of the reels. Even now, there are a couple of reels with badly tangled lines in our garage. "We need help. Uncle Robert" was the typical refrain from the girls. Every time Branda got near the worms, she would take the top of the box off and set it on the docks where we were fishing, so that it would quickly blow away. When it was time to get a worm out of the box, Branda wanted to hold it and talk to it. Her comments included ones such as: "We're going to stab you, worm;" "I feel sorry for you;" "That must really hurt;" and "I think you're going to die now." Actually, Branda's empathy is a really good thing. Empathy is probably the best sign of a child's future success as a person. I remember feeling the same way about worms when I was a kid, but eventually I realized that worms don't even have a brain, and I suppose lack any sort of real consciousness. I think the same of fish, even though they do have primitive brains. Even if a worm were aware of its own existence, I doubt it would be an enjoyable one, crawling through the ground, eating detritus, so I suppose it is just as well that they do lack consciousness.

Remarkably, neither Branda nor Beverly seemed to be perturbed by the lack of fish catches. All of the adults were bothered by the lack of fish, but the kids were playing happily, even if they were making a bit of a mess. After a while, Beverly, who is more feminine in her approach to life than Branda, decided to to up the slope (which is a launch ramp that is not being used) to fly her kite. Soon, we could see the kite flapping about high in the sky. It may not have been good fishing weather, but it was indeed good kite flying weather. Eventually, Bruce's feet hurt, a problem I did not previously know about, so he headed back to his car. I don't know what time that was, since I was already fully preoccupied helping other people. Finally, sometime after 7 p.m. and still fishless, what I had been hoping for all along finally happened. The wind died down to a mere breeze, and swarms of Midges appeared. Just as quickly, fish started splashing the water's surface, especially near shore. I grabbed the rod that I had kept fly on from last time, and casted out. Unfortunately, I had changed the bobber, and this one did not cast well in the wind. After a couple of overly short, unbit casts, I replaced the bobber with the larger one from last time. On the next cast, I caught a fish. The girls were really excited, although it was a little Bluegill that I let go. The next cast after that, I caught a 6-7 inch Bluegill, which we put in the net. After that, I started casting out and letting Branda reel in. I let Branda cast sometimes, but I can cast farther and also did not want to risk her getting a major tangle, which was very likely had I left her on her own for more than a moment, especially since, being left-handed, my poles are rigged with the reels reversed to the left-handed position (reeling with the right hand, holding the pole with the left), and I think the girls are right-handed. Even lefty style, Branda actually did quite well copying my technique, and caught two more Bluegills. Meanwhile, Beverly was carrying the net with the Bluegills that we kept in it, dipping the net into the water and watching the fish. Beverly wanted me to give her a chance to catch a fish too. I casted out, handed the pole to her, and she caught a Bluegill on the first cast. At last, we were having success and everyone was happy. Even Rosalie thought she had a fish on at one point, but apparently, she had only hooked the net which Beverly was holding in the water. Satisfied that they had caught fish (on an artificial fly no less), and since it was starting to get dark, Rosalie and the girls finally left. At that point, I handed the "lucky" pole that was catching all the fish to Eunice. Before long, she reeled in a Redear Sunfish on the fly, which was about twice the size of the Bluegills we had kept, so that turned out to be the catch of the day.

Since there was quite a bit of equipment and food on the dock, I knew it would take me two trips to get everything back to the car. I started up the ramp with the food, drinks and some fishing equipment, but on the way up, things started falling out of one of the bags -- just the way to top off the day. Cans were rolling down the ramp, with me chasing them so that they would wind up in the "big drink." Two cans of soda actually broke when they hit the concrete. A plastic easter egg full of candy spilled its load all over the ramp. I gathered up what I could, put the broken cans in the trash, and carried the rest up to the car. When I got there, I realized that I had given the car key to Eunice. Thus, I settled for leaving everything outside the car while I went back to retrieve the rest of the equipment. Eunice did not catch any more fish, as they stopped biting when it got too dark. Finally, we got the car loaded around 8:30 p.m. in the dark, and headed home. On the way home, Eunice fed me by putting pieces of Pop Tart in my mouth, while I sipped from a bottle of Powerade. I had eaten nothing for dinner prior to that, so Pop Tarts turned out to be my dinner. I did not mind, though, since everybody seemed happy and satisfied with our eventual fishing success.

The next day, Friday, we went to dinner at my parents' house, eating leftovers from Easter. Branda asked me to take her fishing again that evening, and kept talking about how we caught those Bluegills. I politely told Branda that we wouldn't be fishing this evening, since we were having dinner at that time. Rosalie and Bruce promised Branda that I would take her fishing around Tahoe when I went there. I can hardly wait.

March 28 - March 29

I am going to take a break from the war topic to do a few more personal topics. This has become a huge post. I revised and added considerable material today, so I am making it a two day post and dividing it into parts.

Thank God for Tilapia

Part 1: Adventuring to the Salton Sea

Yesterday, we went to the Salton Sea to fish for Tilapia. It was only my second time fishing there, and the first time, I only fished for awhile near Salton City, the water smelled of rotting flesh, and all I caught was a Molly I accidentally hooked in the side. Yes, the Salton Sea has Mollies, descendants of aquarium fish. At least, it did a few years ago. I thought we were going to go after lunch, but when I woke up, Eunice, who had been talking about going fishing in the Salton Sea, said "let's get ready." I didn't want to disappoint her, and I knew it was a long drive, so I complied. Thus, another day of potential blogging was missed. (Other days have been missed recently due to doing taxes, helping Isabella with her Master's Thesis -- another blog topic -- and test scoring.) Before leaving, we picked up some pots to get the worms underneath, which was a good thing, since we didn't have many worms, and it turns out, Tilapia don't seem to bite on much of anything else. By the time we left, it was after 10:30. So much for early starts.

On the way there, I needed to stop for gas. I ended up stopping at the Morongo Indian gas station. Yes, they actually have a gas station. It is adjacent to their casino, you know the one, Casino Morngo, where the morons go. I would rather spend my money on the Morongo Indian's gasoline than waste it in their smoky casino. At least the tribe is doing some productive activities, such as running gas stations and travel centers, rather than relying on money-grabbing machines to part fools from their money. Well, that delayed us a bit. Meanwhile, Eunice was complaining about the price of the gasoline, making me forget to check the map for the route to the State Park at the Salton Sea which was our Tilapia catching hotspot destination. It turns out that the Morongo Indian gasoline was cheaper than most of the other gasoline in the area, so I wound up being vindicated. Since Io had not checked the map, I was not sure which turnoff to take. Suddenly, the turnoff for Highway 111 was upon us as we continued our journey, and I was in no position to take it at the time. Thus, I found the next offramp, Dillon Road, and a Travel America center nearby. Since it was already around noontime, I suggested we have lunch. We wound up at the Fork In The Road Restaurant at the Travel Center. My, isn't that name clever? This restaurant never closes. As it turns out, they had a lunch buffet which wasn't too expensive ($8-something per person), so we had that and were happy wit it. How revealing it is that many of our fondest memories are of traveling and adventuring to cheap or even free places. Eunice didn't mind that it wasn't an expensive restaurant; in fact, we both preferred it that way. Of course, the entire lunch experience delayed us considerably. Then Eunice wanted to look for refrigerator magnets to decorate our refrigerator with. We found some with the help of some employees in the general store at the Travel Center, and Eunice ended up buying 9 of them, plus a sort of doll-sized sweater. The total of these items cost more than the lunch, as it turned out.

Having checked the map, we were finally on the way to the fishing spot again. We arrived there around 2 p.m. However, Eunice informed me that we were supposed to first go to Salton City to check on the price of her 6 properties there. That's right; Eunice bought 7 parcels of land in Salton City back in 1990. She bought 7, but has 6, as it turns out, because soem shady operation apparently swindled her out of one of them. These are just empty lots in the desert near the Salton Sea, but there are some people living nearby. In fact, there is a new Indian Casino, the Red Earth Casino, only a few miles away, along with another Travel Center run by native peoples, which are drawing more people to the area. Well, reluctantly, I turned around, and took Eunice to Salton City, which by my account, was about a 33 mile drive from the State Park. At least that way, Eunice wouldn't yell at me too much. Eunice insisted that she had informed me that we had to check on her properties before fishing, but I remember nothing of the sort. If that were the case, why didn't Eunice say anything while we were on the way to the State Park on the north side of the Salton Sea, where we had never been before, and commenting on how different it looked, and how we had never been there before? We obviously were not heading for Salton City at the time. Hmm.

We found two different realtors at Salton City, who both told us that prices had gone down substantially over the past couple of years, as I had predicted would be the case. A third realty had apparently gone out of business, as had the Superburger Restaurant which we had eaten in before. However, the second realtor seemed very interested in the land Eunice owns near Blythe. He said he thought he had a buyer for the Blythe land. Eunice, meanwhile, has her eye on the foreclosed house next to ours. The idea is that the money from the sale of the Blythe land, which is around 160 acres, might be enough to cover the cost of buying and fixing up the house next door. She hopes to have some of her relatives move there, and she claims I would not be asked to do much work on the next-door property. Still, I have mixed feelings about it. First of all, Eunice's relatives are in Taiwan, and I have no indication that they would be allowed to immigrate or even want to. It seems an inherent part of being with Eunice to have to endure this sort of pie-in-the-sky talk. On the other hand, it would be wonderful if Eunice's plan works out, and something I don't mention often are my premonitions, but before moving to Moreno Valley, I had a vision of a hawk flying over the neighborhood, and a v-shaped, concrete structure on a hill. The first time I came to this house, I saw the Hawk flying overhead, and the v-shpaed structure in the yard of the now vacant house next door, for whatever that is worth. Perhaps we are destined to own the house next door.

Part 2: Tilapia Fishing

After finishing this task, we were finally on our way to the fishing spot. The Salton Sea is part of a rather desolate, but attractive and unspoiled desert setting. We arrived there for the second time around 3:30, and immediately saw people catching 8-9 inch (about 6-8 ounce) attractive Tilapia. I did an internet search in order to get my facts straight about Tilapia, and found that there are over 100 species of Tilapia, which is a genus of African Cichlids, and these looked different from any I had seen before. This species was identified as Oreochromis Mossambicus, the Mosambique Tilapia. (Yes, that is the correct spelling.) They are the species of Tilapia which have been transplanted and propagated the most, and one site I saw claims that they are the same species sold in the market, although they look very different. They were pale, with flecks of green, blue and red, not the dark ones with red-edged fins usually seen -- very beautiful fish. There are color variations of this species, including gold ones, so I suppose it is possible that they are the usual species eaten by people. Another interesting fact about this species is that they are known to inhabit both fresh and salt water in their native range, unlike other Tilapia species, which accounts for their tolerance of salinity. We got out our fishing gear and started fishing near our car, and immediately -- started getting snagged. This place is a jetty, so it is quite rocky. I saw our neighbors periodically get snagged too, but they were using heavy weights and casting out farther than we could, and frequently catching fish when they didn't get snagged. We did get a few light nibbles in the beginning, perhaps from baby Tilapia, but were unable to hook them. I soon realized that we were not getting our baits far enough from shore. I managed to find a larger weight which I equipped one pole with. Once I did that, I immediately began catching Tilapia. I soon had 4 of these beauties, the first Tilapia I have caught, but then -- I got snagged and lost the weight.

After that, I went exploring a bit to determine whether there was a better place for Eunice to catch her first Tilapia. I noticed that there was a quiet cove behind us which seemed like a good fishing spot, although no one was fishing there. When I went there, I quickly found out why no one was there. There were several "no fishing" signs there. One of the signs said that fishing was not allowed there because it was a "spawning area." I suspect that was an old policy from years ago, although the signs are still there. Here is the reason. The Salton Sea was stocked with many species of ocean fish, once it turned salty. This was back in the 1940s and 1950s, I believe, perhaps even earlier. Most of the species soon died out, apparently unable to tolerate the highly saline conditions in the Salton Sea. Several species did survive, though, including Orangemouth Corvina, which is a large, predatory member of the Croaker family, Gulf Croaker, and Sargo. For many years, these species provided good fishing in the Salton Sea, which is a highly productive, nutrient-rich environment. Basically, the Salton Sea is a large sinkhole well below sea level, protected from an inlux of ocean water by the hills which surround it on all sides. It also drains the farmland of the Coachella Valley, which washes nutrients as well as salts into the water of the Salton Sea. Thus, over time, the Salton Sea has become ever saltier, and the nutrient load, driven by farm runoff, has increased. Tilapia made their way into the Salton Sea by accident, and much later, perhaps in the 1970s. They were stocked in the irrigation canals which drain into the Salton Sea as a means of controlling the algae in the canals, since Tilapia eat mostly vegetable matter such as algae (although they eagerly accept worms). Since these Mosambique Tilapia are highly adaptable to saline conditions, they found their way into the Salton Sea, propagated, and soon became quite numerous. A few years ago, a distressing development ocurred in the Salton Sea. All the other fish aside from Tilapia disappeared. According to fishery biologists, my internet search revealed that the water actually became depleted of oxygen due to the decomposition of organic matter such as algae. Apparently, only the Tilapia were able to tolerate the low oxygen conditions. Much of the Salton Sea even has too little oxygen for the Tilapia, in fact. Thus, this huge, particularly salty body of water, the Salton Sea, is left with only Tilapia, and perhaps Mollies (which I didn't see yesterday), both supposedly freshwater fish. Interestingly, being warmwater fish from Africa, Tilapia are intolerant of cold conditions. They quickly die if the water becomes cold. In fact, they cannot survive in local lakes because winters here are chilly. They can only survive in the low desert of California, because the climate is so warm there. If the Salton Sea's water were to become too cold during a spell of cold weather, presumably, even the Tilapia would die. But clearly, as things stand, the Tilapia are not in need of any extra "spawning areas." Those signs were presumably meant to aid other species in their spawning activities.

As you can imagine, the unimpeded population of Tilapia has exploded. Even though the Salton Sea is a very fertile body of water, the Tilapia have become somewhat stunted there, and do not grow as large as they used to. There are literally millions upon millions of them teeming throughout the Salton Sea presently. That is where sport fisherpeople harvesting the Tilapia come into play. People (mostly Filipino-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-American, it appears) are doing a pretty good job of doin just that at the Salton Sea State Park. To get back to fishing, I noticed a concentration of people fishing on the end of the jetty by the entrance to the bay. I also noticed that they were doing quite well, and some of them were not casting out very far. I didn't see any of them getting snagged, either. This area was more of a smooth, concrete platform, very convenient for fishing, and without the rockiness of the area by the parking lot. I suggested to Eunice that we move over there, so off we went. This turned out to be a good move for Eunice espeically, as she caught 4 Tilapia on the last couple of nightcrawlers that we had. I kept using smaller worms from the yard, and getting light bites which I could not hook, but I was happy Eunice caught some Tilapia finally. Apparently, nightcrawlers bring harder bites from larger Tilapia than smaller worms such as redworms, although I had managed to catch 3 of my 4 Tilapia on the smaller worms at the other spot, with long casts. By the way, almost all of the Tilapia we saw were about the same size, although we eventually saw a few smaller, younger ones caught and released by other people near the end of the jetty. Also, there were few or no snags in this area. The Salton Sea now resembles nothing so much as a gargantuan Tilapia factory, with cookie-cutter specimens of different sizes according to their age, but no very large ones.

As it turns out, those 8 Tilapia were all that we caught. We eventually ran out of worms. I tried several lures such as Crappie Jigs, a Panther Martin spinner, and small plastic worms with no success. I also tried some bait that is infused with mealworm flavor that I had bought, to no effect. Basically, nothing worked but worms, and pieces of nightcrawler worked by far the best. Since Tilapia eat mostly vegetable matter, my internet search revealed that they also sometimes bite on peas or corn, which work for many other species of fish. I also saw claims that they sometimes bite on green jigs or even metal lures, but this did not seem to be the case while we were there. Everyone else we saw appeared to be using nightcrawler pieces for bait. Several families had icechests which were practically full of Tilapia by the time they left. There must have been over 100 in each icechest. I remember one adolescent girl who kept counting, 69, 70 etc, as she caught each fish. I think that was her own personal total. As they were leaving, one family took pity on us, since we had run out of worms, and gave us a box of nightcrawlers. By this time, it was around sundown, about 7 p.m. Of course, these people were much more familiar with Tilapia fishing than us, and knew that another peculiarity of Tiliapia is that they stop biting when the sun goes down. They weren't biting anymore, even on nughtcrawlers. We gave up and stopped fishing around 7:30. Everybody else had either already left by that time, or were in the process of leaving. Earlier, one man mentioned to me that the Tilapia were not biting that morning, either. They basically seem to bite only from around noontime until sunset -- peculiar indeed.

Part 3: Putting Things into Perspective

The strange thing personally about catching Tilapia for me, and the reason why I have been reluctant to go Tilapia fishing, is that I used to have them as pets in our home aquariums while I was growing up. I had many species of aquarium fish, but Tilapia were among my favorites. In fact, my Tilapias even had babies, several times. They never grew very big in the aquarium, only to around 4 inches, and they appeared to be a different species than the ones in the Salton Sea, but they were Tilapia. (Actually, they were dark ones with red-edged fins much like the ones often seen in markets, so perhaps they were a color variation of Mosambique Tilapia; I wish I knew.) I found Tilapia to be highly evolved fish. The father Tilapia carries the eggs in his mouth, after fertilizing them. This is called mouthbrooding. After the eggs hatch, he lets them out to feed, but whenever there is any sign of danger, the babies swim back into his mouth. It is very endearing to see these perfectly formed little fish swimming around their father and even trustingly into his mouth. He never eats them, no matter how tempting it might be. Eventually, the babies become too large to fit in his mouth, and daddy puts up the "no vacancy sign" on his mouth, metaphorically speaking, and encourages them to go their own way. Of course, all this behavior is instinctive, and Tilapia are not intelligent, but their behavior is rather advanced and accounts for much of their success. In Eunice's native country, Taiwan, Tilipia are grown in ponds, where they grow well since the climate is tropical. Thus, Tilapia are a common item in the diet of Taiwanese people. Since they have become a common food fish here in the United States, I have also had to get psychologically used to eating them. My mother still won't eat them, since we used to have some as pets. However, I realize that Tilapia are basically an instinctive, unintelligent life-form, and a good food source. (Actually, they look and taste similar to the sunfish family of the U.S., to which they are somewhat related.) When I eat Tilapia, I think of them with thanks, as Native Americans would thank the food they eat before eating it. Thank God for Tilapia.

Over the years, the Salton Sea has had frequent environmental problems. In terms of pollution, actually, the Salton Sea is very clean. Being in a remote, unpopulated area, it has no mercury, PCBs, DDT or other such pollutants. It does, however, have elevated levels of naturally occuring selenium, a substance which we need in trace amounts, but which is toxic if too much is present in one's body. Consequently, fish from the Salton Sea are safe to eat, but people are recommended to eat them only in moderate amounts, lest they ingest too much selenium. However, there have been numerous ugly, stinky dieoffs of fish due to oxygen depletion, or bacteria-borne toxins, and birds due to bacteria-borne toxins. Meanwhile, as the Salton Sea's salinity and oxygen depletion has increased, the diversity of life which it supports has decreased, to the point that the only fish remaining appear to be the Tilapia. There has been much talk about reviving the Salton Sea, but the political will and money to carry out such a large scale project has been lacking. Perhaps now, with a new, more progressive-minded administration in Washington, the means will be found to renovate the Salton Sea. The proposal which has received the most attention is the idea of placing a dike across the Salton Sea, leaving the southern third of the basin as an evaporation pond where salts and nutrients will be concentrated. Meanwhile, clean fresh water will be pumped into the northern part of the Salton Sea, making the water less saline, better oxygenated, and more tolerable to a large number of species. Purifying freshwater marshes will be created before water enters the Salton Sea, and also where water trickles down to the southern evaporation basin, according the an article about the Salton Sea in the January, 2005 issue of National Geographic Magazine. In addition to the marshes providing habitat for many species, parts of the southern basin could be used to generate geothermal electricity, and other parts could become fertile farmland. Furthermore, if the project is successful, other fish species could be reintroduced to the Salton Sea, and its environment will be more stable, without the die-offs. But for now, the Salton Sea is a gigantic playground for Tilapia, and Tilapia fisherpeople.

As an aside, last week, Eunice and I went fishing at one of the few natural lakes in the area, Lake Elsinore, for the first time in many years. It is a shallow, fairly large lake of several thousand acres, which normally does not have an outlet unless the water level is particularly high, in which case, the water drains toward the Santa Ana River to the north. The water at Lake Elsinore used to be very muddy, with visibility of only a couple of inches, and the main fish were Carp, which tended to stir up the silt in the lake bottom. There were also frequent die-offs due to decreased oxygen levels as algae rotted, much like the situation in the Salton Sea. In the past several years, the city of Lake Elsinore has sponsored a renovation project which has been successful. Every spring, Carp are netted and turned into fertilizer. Aerators were also added, and a drainage canal to stablize the lake's water level and flush excess water during rains. Also, a voracious predatory fish which like to eat baby Carp were added to the lake, known as Wipers, a sterile hybrid of White Bass and Striped Bass. Now, although Carp are still numerous, the water clarity is up to 2-3 feet in Lake Elsinore, and gamefish such as Wipers, Crappie, Bass, Bluegill and Channel Catfish are thriving. So are the minnows known as Threadfin Shad, which Crappies, Bass and Wipers eat. In fact, there were so many Shad, the water where we were fishing was literally bursting with them. We only caught one fish, but it was the fattest, and one of the largest, Crappies I had ever caught, probably weighing over 1 1/2 pounds. I caught it on a Crappie Jig just as Eunice was telling me it was time to give up, around sunset. With all of those Shad in the water, I am surprised that any Crappie would even bite, actually. In any case, Lake Elsinore is an example of how lake renovation can work. Done on a larger scale, it can work at the Salton Sea, as well. Perhaps commercial Tilapia fishing should be allowed at the Salton Sea. It seems to me, that would reduce the nutrient load of the sea more efficiently than sportfishing does, by removing Tilapia, and also yield tons and tons of tasty, nutritious Tilapia.

On the other hand, if the Salton Sea does become too salty to support fish life, that would not be a unique situation. Examples of such lakes which occur naturally include the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and Mono Lake in the Sierra mountains of east-central California. These lakes seem unable to support fish life, although I believe both of them are inhabited by great numbers of Brine Shrimp -- a small kind of salt-tolerant shrimp -- as well as other tiny creatures. There may be such lakes in other parts of the world, but I am not aware of any. Of course, humankind's ability to manipulate our environment is unique on earth and tremendous, but also leads to unintended consequences. Just how much we should try to manipulate nature is a philosophical question which is a topic of endless debate, but in the case of the Salton Sea, it seems like a good idea. I think the lessons to be learned about managing the environmment are first of all, to use scientific methods to better understand how the environment works, and secondly, to use our knowledge to work with nature in order to protect and improve the environment,

February 22

Today I will take a break from the myth of war. I thought I had written more material about it previously, especially personal experiences, but I cannot find it. Perhaps it was lost when my computer crashed in November. Yesterday, Eunice and I visited Santa Monica Pier for the first time, which was a most unusual and interesting place.

Santa Monica Pier

Yesterday, Eunice and I made our first trip to Santa Monica Pier. It was a fishing trip, prompted by a combination of curiosity, since neither of us had ever been there before, and reports of good sized rock crab being caught there using hoopnets -- circular nets with bait in the bottom. I knew that Santa Monica was a different type of pier, but it was not until we got there that we realized how different. It was a long drive from Moreno Valley, but on a Saturday with light traffic, it went quickly, taking about 1 1/2 hours, but when we made it to the west end of the 10 freeway, which is close to Santa Monica Pier, we went north when it turned out we should have gone south. The directions I had were for people coming from the north, not the east, so the directions were confusing. I soon realized that I needed to turn around. Once I did, we could clearly see the pier, especially the ferris wheel and roller coaster, so getting there was no problem.

There was a large parking lot with a $7 parking fee for every vehicle, regardless of how long one stayed -- good for lengthy visits, lousy for short visits to the pier. On the pier, we first walked past a managerie of restaurants, unusual business booths, and performers, plus bumper car rides, games playing arcades, the ferris wheel and roller coaster. The whole area was crowded with people, except the roller coaster, which seemed non-operational, and ferris wheel, which was spinning but I don't recall seeing anyone on it. As I recall, there was a guy who was doing sort of a robot dance to space age music; a woman doing gymnastics on a variety of apparatuses; a homeless man who was dancing a puppet to dance music for donations; a blues player who played his guitar and sang, while selling his music CDs. There were several different places where you supposedly could have your name written and image drawn on a grain of rice. Another place sold maps of celebrities' homes and famous crime scenes in the area. One person was making busts of customers; another was doing calligraphy. As we made our way to the end of the pier, we noticed that there were sets of stairs leading down to platforms from which people were fishing. There were 3 such platforms in all, which is where all of the fisherpeople were. We made our way out to the fishing platform on the end of the pier, and found an unoccupied spot on the crowded platform. It was an unusual place to fish, since it was fairly close to the water, and also, one could acually fish among the maze of piliings under the pier, in addition to casting out or simply dropping one's line straight down. I had never seen a pier such as this before. By way of background regarding California's piers, there are many public piers built by the state for fishing purposes, around 100 of them, I believe, and the Santa Monica Pier is one of them, even though it has been turned into more of an entertainment area. A number of years ago, since the Santa Monica Pier had become such an entertainment center, it was remodeled with the novel innovation of placing fishing platforms around the pier for the fisherpeople.

Looking outward from the pier, I could see a sort of low breakwater, with rocks intermittantly just preaking the surface, about 100 yards beyond the pier. The breakwater seemed to surround the entire pier, creating a sheltered and rather rocky, and surprisingly snaggy, environment. The view from the end of the pier was very scenic. One could see the hills to the north leading toward Santa Barbara, as well as hills to the south which I guess was the Palos Verdes peninsula, along with what must have been islands, probably the Channel Islands to the west and Catalina Island to the southwest. The fishing turned out to be mediocre, but we did not have our expectations set too high. We set up the hoop net for crabs by our home station, as well as a couple of fishing poles. Unfortuately, nothing was biting. Also unfortunately, I had to keep going back and forth between the fishing area and the car. First, I had to get the food and more equipment. Then, I had to get Eunice's chair. After eating, I had to get Eunice's water bottle. Before leaving, hauling all of our equipment took two more trips to the car. Thus, I made five trips forth and back in all, while Eunice made just one. It was not a short walk, either. It was probably about 1/4 mile each way. Multiplied by 10, that is around 2 1/2 miles. We got there aound noon, but I didn't really get down to serious fishing until around 2 p.m. Once I did, I also roamed around the fishing platform quite a bit. I noticed that people on the opposite end of the fishing platform had far more fish in their buckets than on "our end," so I went over there. I noticed that the people who were casting under the pier were catching quite a few surfperch of several species. Following their lead, I managed to catch a pretty good sized Walleye Surfperch. After that, I tried that spot several more times, but the fish completely stopped biting there, strangely.

To be succinct, Eunice and I each caught one other fish on the day. Both of them were undersized California Scorpionfish, which we released back into the ocean. These fish have toxic spines on their dorsal and anal fins, which are very sharp. If they puncture your skin, it won't kill you, but it will definitely ruin your day. The area around the puncture, I have heard, swells up and is extremely painful for several hours, before the effects subside. Actually, we have caught lots of this species, and seen lots of others caught, without anyone being injured, but unhooking them is always an adventure. I had a nice fellow fisherman help me unhook mine. Most fisherpeople in the region are well aware of the toxic spines of the California Scorpionfish. We never caught any crabs whatsoever the entire day, nor did anyone else. I did inexplicably pull up a group of about 10 large mussels one time. Eunice suggested that perhaps they swam into the net. Yeah, right! Also, there were several small, attractive, conical snails that showed up in the hoop net, but they were much too small to eat, and I had no idea what they were. Also, Eunice found two croakers that someone left by the fish cleaning station, probably scared out of eating them by the two "Heal the Bay" women who were handing out literature about health warnings on fish in the region. Due to DDT and PCPs that were dumped into the local ocean until the 1970s, people are recommended to eat no more than 4 meals of fish from the Los Angeles or Orange County coastal area per month, which is one reason why I don't go ocean fishing very often in this area, and completely avoid the Long Beach Area and Palos Verdes Peninsula, which are the most polluted areas. Being the scavenger she is, Eunice kept the croakers, which she ate today, and said they were good tasting. I guess there will be no more croakers for Eunice this month. She filleted and fried them, along with the Walleye Surfperch, since the "Heal the Bay" literature said fillets carry much less pollution than other parts of the fish. Ironically, I have been telling Eunice the same thing for years, but she never listened to me.

Actually, Santa Monica Pier has some very interesting fishing potential. Like most spots in California, it has a highly diverse array of species. Although fish were not being caught in large numbers yesterday, we saw various species caught, including a beautiful Cabezon (a colorful type of large Sculpin with large, fanlike pectoral fins) around 12 inches long, a Senorita fish (a type of Wrasse), an unusual, eel-like fish, which might have been a Monkeyfaced Eel, a Mackerel, a Jacksmelt, the 2 Scorpionfish, the 2 White Croakers, 3 Queenfish (a small type of Croaker), 3 small Stingrays (probably Round Stingrays), some small Smelt and/or Anchovies, and numerous surfperch including Blackperch, Walleye Surfperch, and Shiner Perch. Additonally, the intertidal zone of the pilings were thickly covered with Mussels and Barnacles. I also saw at least one large Starfish. If a person were to fish there numerous times over the course of a year, I am sure that many other species of fish and invertebrates native to the area would be seen.

While fishing we were serenaded by a series of musicians who were playing near the top of the stairs. First was Terry Prince, who used a portable electric piano -- one of my favorite instruments -- and sang songs that he had written. I really liked his music, which was kind of spiritual "my life is so blessed," etc. Next was Stephen (I think) Wild, who played guitar and did covers of country music hits, also philosophical for the most part "live like you were dying," etc. The final performer was James Valenti. I know that because we are now the proud owners of his CD, thanks to Eunice. All 3 of them were both taking donations, and selling CDs. James Valenti seemed to be having the greatest financial success, for some reason. I don't think any of his songs were original, but he had a really nice voice and guitar playing, good song selection, plus he was a really handsome fellow. He also tended to sing spiritual and philosphical songs, such as "Imagine" by John Lennon (which is on his CD), and so forth. Santa Monica is a hotspot of progressive thinking, philosophy, and spirituality, so I could see the music reflecting that, which agreed very well with me. James Valenti played two songs from my favorite band, Coldplay, "Nobody Said it Was Easy" and "Clocks," but I was dissapointed to see that these were not on his CD. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Around 6:30 we left to go home. There was an older gentleman who arrived around 6 p.m. who encouraged us to stay, but we both figured we had better go. The older gentleman was dressed like a ship's captain, and came with a cart filled with equipment. The final half hour we were there, this man kept preparing his equipment for fishing, without getting his line in the water. We couldn't understand why it took him so long to get ready, but watching him was rather amusing. He used a rope to lower what appeared to be a plastic tackle box into the water. That really puzzled me. When we told him about our meager catch, he insisted that we should stay and use Sabiki rigs (sort of a series of 5-7 small lures with beads and brightly colored mylar or plastic threads), which he claimed always worked. I tried to tell him that many people had been using Sabiki rigs without much success, but he would not listen to me. Sometimes, fisherpeople can be that way, especially older ones who at times seem to be living in a time warp. Also, I think it is easier to remember one's successful fishing times than the times when they were not biting. Finally, we pried ourselves away from him, and drove home. The traffic for some unexplained reason was worse on the way home than the way there, so we did not arrive home until around 8:30 p.m., to be welcomed home by cats Gorjilina and Smurfull. Overall, I think we were both glad we went to Santa Monica Pier, and probably will go back sometime when the fish and crabs are hopefully biting better.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Next Time We’ll Bring Peas (They Call This a Vacation?)

As it turns out, I am starting the new year with another "vacation story." This week, of course, there has been no school, so Eunice and I decided to take a fishing trip, which turned out to be two fishing trips.

On Monday, we drove to the Blythe area on the Colorado River, and went to a spot where we had caught many fish in April. I had warned Eunice that the weather had been cold and the fish probably would not be biting, but she ignored my warnings and had to see it for herself. She had the impression that "Aha Quin" was a great place to fish and they would practically be jumping onto our hooks once again. When we got there, the weather was cold and windy, the River was unusually low, and there were no signs of fish life. We spent about an hour fruitlessly trying to get a fish to bite, when Eunice said "Let's go home." At first, I thought she meant "Let's go to the hotel," but she meant all the way home, which is a 3-4 hour drive even if nothing goes wrong. Anyway, my throat, which I knew was irritated but wasn't sure was infected, was getting worse, and it was clear that I was sick with an infection.

Thus, I drove all the way home, figuring that I would go home, rest and try to recover from my sore throat, with no more fishing trips in the offing. However, the next day, Eunice kept on talking about going to Santa Barbara to catch crabs, since I had mentioned that fishing reports said there had been lots of crabs there. Eunice gave me some antibiotics, and kept insisting that we go to Santa Barbara. Finally, Tuesday afternoon, since my condition was improving, I agreed to go, and we managed to leave around 3 in the afternoon to Santa Barbara, another 3-4 hour drive.

The trraffic was bad at times, it was already dark, and I wanted to get better, so we decided to go to a motel in Carpinteria, a few miles from Santa Barbara, around 6:30 that evening. We stayed in the motel and went to bed fairly early, planning on getting in a full day of fishing on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, I continued to show improvement, so we set off for Stearn's Wharf, a major tourist and fishing destination that was supposed to have lots of Red Rock Crabs. Unfortunately, the maps showing the pier on State Street were inaccurate. I got off the freeway on the State Street offramp, drove both directions, and never seemed to approach Stearn's Wharf, or even the ocean, for that matter. Finally, I asked a gas station attendant for directions, and he said to go south on the 101 freeway to the Castillo Street offramp. Next, I found the freeway, but the onramp only went North. "Okay, no problem," I thought. "I will just turn around at the next offramp." Yeah, right! The next offramp had no onramp going South. So, basically, I just started driving South on surface streets, found my way back to State Street, and took it to a place where I remembered seeing on onramp to the 101 freeway Southbound.

Finally, we made it to Stearn's Wharf at 11:23. I remember that because Eunice noted the time. It is a very scenic place, but also very expensive and touristy. You can drive out onto the pier, but the parking is 2 dollars per hour, with no price limit. There are expensive shops and overpriced restaurants out on the pier, and they only allow fishing on the very end of the pier beyond all of the shops. I think you get the idea. We went out there and dropped the hoop net (crab catching device) loaded with lots sardines for bait into a sort of hole built into the middle of the pier. Meanwhile, we tried fishing with 3 poles. Basically, everytime I checked the hoop net (lifting it to the surface, and it is heavy) there were these little baby "Spider Crabs" (actually, Sheep Crab -- Loxocanthus Giganteus), in the hoop net. These are strange, ugly creatures with a very alien appearance. The adult males can grow up to 15 pounds or so, but these were little 3 inchers, yet they were already covered with Kelp, Barnacles, etc, which is something they do since they are members of the "Decorator Crab" family of crabs. By the way, Alaskan King crabs are also members of the Decorator Crab family. Meanwhile, nothing was biting on our poles. so we determined to leave prior to 1:23. By the time we got the car loaded, and drove down the pier to the place where people pay the parking fee, the clock in our car read 1:24. Unfortunately, the young lady at the booth kept on insisting that we pay 6 dollars for parking, 3 hours worth of payment, for 2 hours of parking. Eunice and I argued with the young lady for about 5 minutes. Eunice asked if we could go back in for awhile, then pay the 6 dollars. The attendant said in that case, we would have to buy another ticket, and also pay the 6 dollars for the first ticket. I think you get the idea about what sort of place this is. At that point, Eunice declared "In that case, we will never come back here." I pretty much feel the same way. We paid the 6 dollars and left. We did take some pictures there (along with many other tourists), so maybe there was some good to come out of our trip to Stearn's Wharf after all. The photos are still on the camera, though.

We were really hungry by this time, so we wanted to have something to eat. We went over to the West side of the harbor, and found there was some free 1 1/2 hour parking. We walked over to the harbor and quickly found that this area was much more fishy than Stearn's Wharf. I remember having fished with my father a couple times in Santa Barbara Harbor many years ago, and I remember the fishing was pretty good, so I was thinking perhaps Eunice and I could catch something there. There were many Opaleyes visible in the clear water. Opaleyes are an ocean fish native to southern and central California, and ones of various sizes up to around 2 pounds or so were easily seen swimming in groups of several fish. We found a place called the Minnow Cafe with smaller prices (besides, minnows are what we usually catch, so it seemed a good spot to go). We ate lunch there, then looked around some more. This area was very public, with shops, restaurants, and a walkway with a railing, and we saw no one fishing there, so I was afraid that fishing might not be allowed in that area. However, there were none of those "no fishing" signs usually found in places where fishing is not allowed. We found a Harbor Patrol official and asked him if we could fish there. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that you could fish anywhere around there except behind the gates of private docks.

To conclude the story, we had a happy ending to our fishing year, although the Opaleyes were rather uncooperative. They mostly ignored our baits, but I managed to catch one large one (3/4 pound), and lost an even larger one (over one pound). Both of us also had smaller ones biting at times, which we would just pull the bait away from since we didn't want to catch the little ones needlessly. Eunice never hooked an Opaleye, though; I guess she doesn't have the hang of Opaleye fishing yet. They tend to be challenging fish to catch. One of the problems with catching them is that they have a mostly vegetable diet of aquatic vegetation such as algae and seaweed, but they also eat some meats such as mussel and seaworms. I had heard before that frozen peas make the best Opaleye bait, and two more people told me the same yesterday, but obviously, since I didn't expect to go Opaleye fishing, we did not bring any frozen peas. Also, Opaleyes, beautiful green fish with bright blue eyes, are members of the "Nibbler" family, which says a lot about how they bite, in those instances when they do bite. Once one did bite, I noticed, though, other nearby Opaleyes would join in and bite (nibble) as well. Anyway, we had a good time watching the fish swim around oblivious to our baits most of the time, along with the occasional bite. We also had a number of pleasant conversations with passersby who were interested in our fishing. Strangely, I noticed that there were two colors of Opaleyes, approximately equal numbers of a dark green kind, and a light green kind. I suspect their color depended on their gender, but I don't know which were males and which were females. I had never seen such light colored Opaleyes before. Perhaps it has something to do with spawning. If this is there spawning season, that could have contributed to their disinterest in our baits. At one point, I saw a group of about 30 large Opaleyes, around 15 dark ones and 15 light colored ones all together. Meanwhile, I had to keep going back to the car to repark it every hour or so. The whole afternoon and into the evening I seemed to be running around from place to place. As for the Opaleye fishing, next time, we will bring frozen peas for bait, to go along with the usual mussels, worms, etc.

Around sunset, we began to see a few crabs crawling around. We had the idea of putting out a hoop net from one of the boat docks in the area. Sure enough, after it got dark, we wound up getting 2 really big (6 1/2 inch across) Red Rock Crabs, plus a large Kellet's Whelk (like a Conch but not as large) in the hoop net. Also, fish started biting more, but they were still hard to hook. I managed to catch a smelt though, and Eunice, just as she was getting ready to leave, reeled in her line to find the pleasant surprise of a Kelp Rockfish on her line (at least that is my best guess about what it was). It was only about 7 inches long, but it was pretty, tasty, and a new species of fish for us. Meanwhile, the next dock over from our crabbing dock was very active with fishing boats arriving and unloading their catch. The ones that we saw all had huge catches of large Red Sea Urchins. Sea Urchin roe is an expensive and delicious ingredient found in some sushi and sashimi dishes, and obviously they are very abundant in the Santa Barbara area. These are strange, round creatures with spikes all over their bodies, and these ones live in the kelp forest and eat kelp. One of the boats docked near us, and I asked the fisherman, Rafael, how he caught them. He said you have to dive for them and catch them by hand. As the weights of his bundles of Sea Urchins were called out, I did some rough calculations and found his catch to be somewhere in the 2,500 to 3,000 pound range. That's a lot of sushi.

Around 7:30 p.m. we headed for home. I was so exhausted last night that I slept like a log for about 11 hours after we got home, and am still recovering today. It's strange how so often we wind up more tired after our vacations than we were before them. But it's a good, well exercised kind of tired. Today, we feasted on Rock Crab, Whelk, Opaleye, and Rockfish.

Ironically, I feel better now than I did Monday when I was getting a sore throat. I was afraid that the stress of another vacation with my beautiful, quirky, eccentric bride Eunice, and her overly ambitious vacation plans, would make me even sicker. A little over a year ago, I wound up with pneumonia when we stayed out too late catching a bunch of crabs one night, and it took me about two months to fully recover. But this time, catching a few crabs seemed to be just the thing I needed, along with those antibiotics, of course.