Saturday, June 26, 2010

Specious Weather Behind Me

Thankfully, the Weatherman was way off today! I was a little worried when I checked the NWS SFO/Monterey AFD and Marine Forecast. Yesterday's Tomales Bay forecast for WNW winds 10-15mph was upped to this morning's 10-16mph!?

SturgeUrge and I hit the road about 0730...there was some barely-there "drizzle" on the windshield...again, contrary to the latest forecast! We arrived at the Miller Park Boat Ramp at 0930 to view a glassy, flat Tomales Bay under cloudy but dry skies.

I rigged and baited the crab pots while SturgeUrge chatted up the other fishermen getting their rigs ready to launch. Word was, no legal dungeness crabs around, halibut fishing...slow. Some helpful anglers advised us to watch the course they ran from the ramp to the main bay, as the water was pretty thin.

We launched into the mirror-like water, followed the Good Samaritans' course until the depth sounder said five feet, and blasted across the Bay to the West shore to set the pots.

With the crab gear deployed, we started drift fishing for halibut. There was barely any wind at least the flooding tide moved us some. We had some raked baits, but no bites that got our attention. We drifted for an hour and ran back to the crab gear.

After a one hour soak, the first pot had a bunch of Red Crabs and a half a dozen dungees! The reds were huge! Three of the dungees were keepers, too. The other pot was loaded with dungees...maybe 15! Most were just a little short, but a couple more were keepers, and went into the livewell.

The day went like this as the sun came out, and so did a small armada of fishing boats and kayak fishermen. We chatted with a couple of the kayakers...nobody it seems was hooking any halibut. One kayaker, whose "handle" I knew from the NorCalKayakAngler's website, was crabbing too. He had crabs in the boat, but wasn't doing any better than the rest of us when it came to the halibut.

We kept at it, drifting for halibut, and pulling the pots every hour. After the third pull, we moved the pots because of diminishing returns, and because I recognized an undersize dungee we'd pulled three times! Poor little fella had one normal claw and one tiny "baby" claw. The Tomales Bay crab had many barnacles on their shells and claws...many more than we see in the Pacific proper.

The day flew by, we were running on adrenaline and didn't ever get around to making sandwiches. As the crabs kept coming aboard, the livewell filled with nice crustaceans. The baitwell was working like a champ...KirkVallus' electronic wizardry was paying off in spades! Thanks KV!

We weren't catching halibut, but we were caring less and less the more the livewell filled with tasty crabs! Finally, SturgeUrge brought a halibut aboard! It was about 20 1/2 inches...too short!

California Halibut must be 22 inches to retain in California waters...Urge's halibut went about 1 1/2 inches. It was impaled on a hook's point, but it was only a "flesh wound"...nothing important felt the "sting of steel" fact, the little flatfish was so small that he was still transparent. It was cool, it had the signature halibut spots, both eyes were on top, and Urge said he could see right through the skin. I snapped a quick photo, and the little guy swam away when SturgeUrge put it back in the Bay. Alas, in the bright sun, I couldn't see the LCD screen, and the camera moved, or the boat moved, and the focus was way off.

As the haul of crab grew, we started thinking we'd better leave earlier than we'd planned, so we called: "One more drift"...we'd recount and remeasure the crab, and hightail it home because there was an hour or two of crab cookin' and cleaning to do...not to mention a fresh dungeness crab dinner to savor!

We went a little further northwest for our last drift, and before long, we drifted out of the wind shadow of Point Reyes and we really started to scoot! Just then, SturgeUrge's rod almost jumps overboard! Urge grabs it, sets the hook, and starts reeling. "Anybody home" I asked. "No, it's got weight, but no head shake"...then Urge says: "Get the net!" There's a big dungee hanging onto my bait!" Then, "I'm not making any headway...start it up and we'll back down on it" That's when Urge realizes he's snagged on a crab pot rope, entangled with a bunch of eel grass, and that big crab hitching a ride. I bumped the outboard into and out of reverse, handed the landing net to SturgeUrge, he expertly caught the crab as it cleared the surface and let go, dropping right into the net.

As this was going on, we realized what we had here...A crab pot that was lost when a boat ran over the pot's line...I grabbed the gaff, and caught the crab line. SturgeUrge picked up the other fishing line that was still out, and I started to pull the derelict pot's line.

There were no line weights on the hardware store black and orange nylon rope. You've got to weight the floating line, or it's bound to find a boat's propeller.

I hoisted the pot over the gunnel, and it was loaded with dungeness crabs, and a lone red crab. We whooped it up, high-fived each other, and generally enjoyed our great fortune. There were another three or four keepers in the lost pot, which was poorly rigged...under-weighted, no line weights, no hanging bait...just a giant bait cage. We guessed it was lost last weekend, because the line didn't have any growth started on it yet...So some poor schlub lost his new crab pot on Father's Day...sorry about that, DaddyO...

So, today turned out to a day for the archives...catching a lost pot with a rod and reel is rare enough...but grabbing that hitchhiker crab, and a potfull of dungeness...well, that was just icing on the cake!

We talked to some other anglers back at the ramp who did catch a 10lb halibut today...they said they've been catching halibut all week...with live jacksmelt for bait. They jigged up the smelt from the edges of the eelgrass patches in the shallows of the Bay. They were one of only two boats we saw using the local live bait today...Noted for next time...jacksmelt were the prey we saw the ospreys winging back to their nests too.

Two hours on the highway later, we were back at the SturgeUrge Compound by 6:30PM. SturgeUrge fired up my cooker and steamed the 20 crabs in two batches, while I flushed the outboard motor, washed the rods and reels, and hauled in all the stuff from the tow rig.

I set the table for the regal spread. Two flavors of crab, french bread, and a quick homemade coleslaw, enjoyed with a great California Sparkling Wine, Domaine Chandon Blac de Noir.

In a word...perfect.

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