Friday, May 26, 2017

Catch of the Day

I have to admit that I am not really into fishing - I like catching and eating.
Go away Mr. Sea Lion.  This lingcod and I have a dinner date.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
Rock cod season opened on the Mendocino Coast May 1.  This week we finally got the conditions and time to get our lines wet.  We decide to fish one of our usual spots.  The lack of kelp is concerning, and we weren't sure if there would be any fish to catch.

As soon as we kayak past the first guardian rocks of the bay, we drop our lines.  Almost immediately, I feel that exciting tug on my line.  "Fish-on!"  Then that tug becomes a pull and I am fighting to keep this guy from heading into the rocks.  (When hooked, rock fish like lingcod will try to escape into the underwater rocks.)  We battle as he tries to escape and I try to reel him in.  He pulls and I pull.  I gain some ground and reel.  Then he dives, the drag on my reel gives a little and my pole flexes a lot.  It holds and he is still on there.  The fight continues - pulling and reeling, pulling and reeling. Once I get him out of the rocks into open water, things relax a little.  I slowly work him closer to the surface.  The water is fairly clear and as he gets closer I can see him.  He is a big one!!!  I've got a lingzilla on the line!

A lingcod has to be at least 22 inches long to keep.  In our world of amateur kayak fishing, any fish over 30 inches that fights and has big teeth is termed a lingzilla.
Lingcod have sharp teeth.
I call my friend over to be ready to help.  For us fishing for rock fish is like rock gardening - a team sport.  We usually fish close to the rocks and have the skill and comfort to be there; however, it is nice to have a teammate there to help out if needed.  Today, the drift is into the rocks.  As I am battling my fish, I am getting pushed closer into the rocks which have waves washing into and over them.  With our rock gardening experience, we are quite comfortable being close to rocks with breaking waves.  Getting washed into the rocks with a fish on the line is a bit harrowing.

With my friend handy to keep me off the rocks, the moment of truth is here.  Can I get him into my net?  When fishing for lingcod, keeping them from escaping into the rocks is the first battle.  The next is netting them.  As soon as you pull them above the surface of the water, they fight like crazy.  When we first started kayak fishing for lingcod, we lost quite a few.  I slow down and keep him just below the surface as I ready my net.  I rehearse the timing and sequence in my mind.  And here we go!

As he breaks the surface, he thrashes about like mad.  He is really heavy.  I bumble a bit with the net and lower him back into the water to reset.  I take a deep breath to try to quiet the pounding of my heart and to reset my nerves and coordinate the catch.  Somehow I manage to land him in my net and get my fish grips on him.  Once I have him on my fish grips, I know that I have him and can go through my process of getting him on my stringer.

After I have my fish in the water on a stringer, I get ready to start fishing again  Then the call of "SEA LION" comes.  Sea lions are notorious for stealing fish off the line.  I struggle to get my fish out of the water and onto my deck.  With fish pulled in, we watch for the sea lion.  We have our paddles ready if he comes too close.  Fortunately he moves on, and we get to continue fishing.
Team Liquid Fusion hauling in the catch of the day.  Photo by Jeff Laxier
Before too long, we are catching fish again.  The bite isn't hot but we are catching fish.  Several are small so we quickly pull them in and set them free  Eventually I catch another legal lingcod, my friend gets 2 and Jeff gets one.  It is time to head in and prepare for the cleanup.
Jeff prepares to throw this small lingcod back.
We have plenty of fish for dinner, the freezer, and to share.
Gail and Cate bringing home dinner.  
For the records my lingzilla of the day was 33 inches and gave over 10 pounds of meat.  Definitely not the largest ling out there but a pretty nice catch.

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