Where do they come from, where are they going and do they move with the water? These three questions plague my thoughts and dreams (aka nightmares) more than any others.
When you’re fishing on a daily basis, whether it’s commercial fishing, chartering or whatever, you’ve gotta figure this stuff out.
I had been running Glen Stollers’ Mirage operation for about three years and was just starting to really get with it in the harpoon fishery, targeting swords on the West Coast. We were butting heads with Gary Sanson and Johnnie Foster on the Pilikia on a daily basis. Gary had been running Fred Duckett’s harpoon operation for about 15 years at this point and was the top boat every year, usually doubling the score on the closest boat on any given year. Gary and I were pretty good friends/enemies. We kept a side-band schedule and talked twice a day, more to stay out of each other’s turf than anything else. We both needed a lot of elbowroom back then.
I always started the season sooner than Gary and I think I went into this particular week about 10 fish ahead of him. When you start earlier you have a better shot at getting the high-dollar fish and it freed me up to fish the marlin tournaments later in the season. We were about three-quarters of the way through the season and Gary was coming on strong. Within a few days they were within about seven fish of us. I was stressing heavy, sweating blood.
This was the first year of our two-airplane operation. One of the beauties of having two planes was you could send one guy looking at any piece of water that looked good on the machine while keeping the other guy over your boat so you were still in full swing. If the long-range plane found a good area, you could call him back and blast off.
We would keep one guy on the port side crossing the bow and the other guy off the starboard side crossing the stern so they wouldn’t have any mid-air issues.
So I had been keeping an eye on this piece of water on the machine for about three days. It had slammed into Ensenada and was rolling up the beach at a pretty good clip. It had the right rotation and I knew it should be holding fish big time. It was just gonna cross the border so I kept Spencer Puskas over the boat and sent Brian Jennison long to check it out with the second plane. He had the faster plane and sea-surface temperature sensors in the wings so when I gave him the coordinates he knew when he was on the break. The break was on the Nine Mile Bank, perfectly dissecting the part of the bank that holds swordfish best.
All for nothing. I had caught good fish on a similar piece of water the previous year. That day Pilikia found two, Mirage one.
The next day that break was just short of the 209. I sent Brian long again at prime time, same story —nothing. I couldn’t believe it. Perfect conditions, and nothing?
Pilikia three, Mirage one.
“We got Laz on the ropes, he’s on his knees,” Johnnie told his dad, Stu Foster. Stu fished swordfish forever. Another sleepless night for me.
Spencer was taking the next day off to apply for a job with United Airlines but Gary would still have his two guys up in the air. At that time he had Carl Sbaronous and Jeff Lubauff flying, both great pilots. That did nothing constructive for my blood pressure. Well, we went into the island that night and I tried to drown my sorrows in some Chinese food.
At the end of the meal my fortune cookie said, “Your luck is about to change.” I still have it.
We left the Island at 7 a.m. and started sliding down towards the break. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t holding. Before we got to the 277, Jeremy, my crewmember, spotted the first one. It dressed at 425 pounds. I was down getting the latest SST shot from Ocean Imaging when he picked it off.
After we got the gear out, I readjusted our course and bent it in a little. By the time Brian got there a little after 9 a.m., we already had three swords soaking. We were like 12 miles from the first one. Brian started picking them off pretty steady.
I think after about nine we had to put the skiff in the water and send Ryan off for that first one. It was about 22 miles away, when he finally got it. The fish was off Church Rock. We wound up getting three more for a total of 12 fish on the day. By the time we got to Ryan he was out of gas, drifting in the shipping lanes and it was almost dark. Every time we would see a tanker heading at him we would send Brian over to keep an eye on him. We didn’t want to lose that fish.
So we got into the anchorage late that night. We figured everybody was asleep and it didn’t matter. Later Johnnie told us that his dad called him the next day and said, “You know that guy you have on the ropes? He was putting fish down until midnight.”
We stroked ‘em the next day too, landing 23 in two days of fishing. That was a lot of fish for that year. Well in October, Gary went ahead of us and beat us out by like three fish or something. He got the crown for the year, again.
So here’s the questions that keep me up at night:
• Do the fish move with the water? Always?
• Do they go the same direction as the water?
• Or, when the water passes over the fish do they react properly?
• Were those fish there the whole time? That many?
• Does the water always move the same?
• What rotation is best? For which species?
• Current good or bad for offshore fish?
• What’s your take?