Barracuda Trenches Sport Boat
Writing last week’s column brought back a lot of memories from the twenty something years of summertime weekends I’d spent on sport boats. Included therein were enough good memories to get me wondering if I hadn’t been just a little too harsh in my description of just how big of a fiasco those trips can sometimes be. And considering that it’d been almost five years since I’d last set foot on a sport boat during the summer,
I decided to leave my boat in the driveway for a change and jump on a half day trip to get reacquainted with the reality of weekend sport boat fishing.
Sunday’s trip started off, with me dragging my ass out of bed later than planned, my back sore from the bass tournament I’d fished the previous day and my head aching from the bourbon I’d used to anesthetize myself thereafter.
I fumbled around in the garage for a while before deciding to just grab my jig stick and a handful of jigs, which I stuffed in my camera case. As expected, my lateness necessitated parking in the overflow lot and by the time I made the long walk down to the boat it was already loaded with fifty eager anglers. On the way out I toyed with the idea of changing jigs, as Captain Ryan said that the barracuda were biting small heavy jigs and I had a big Candy Bar tied on, but instead I decided I’d rather sit in the galley drinking coffee and catching up with some old friends.
After getting bait, the boat headed a couple miles off the east end of the break wall and found the fish where they’d left them the day before; with a half dozen sport boats already scattered around them.
As soon as we got in the area, Captain Ryan started marking scattered fish on the sonar and we stopped to make our first drift of the day. Rather than jump in and start fishing with the rest of the crowd, I decided to hang back and watch from the safety of the galley doorway. That ended up being a good choice as jigs were flying everywhere.
During the first hour, a few barracuda came up and boiled around the boat; but few were hooked and none were landed. This was likely due to the ten to fifteen seals that were surrounding the boat and eating not only the hooked fish, but also most of sardines that were used as chum. After making a move and dropping some of our seals off on another sport boat, the fish came up again so I grabbed my rod and the first (and only) cast I made that trip resulted in a barracuda finally making its way into the boat. After that, we started hooking a few more fish, but the vast majority of them didn’t make it through the gauntlet of hungry seals.
An interesting trick that the seals have developed since the last time I’d been on a sport boat is to hide under the boat and wait for a hooked fish to come to them. Time and again, someone would hook a fish on the jig and wind it all the way to the boat without a seal coming after it and right as they got ready to throw it on, a seal will shoot out from under the boat and grab it. This was action was immediately followed by a singing reel drowned out by a string of curses.
Apparently watching us lose a bunch of barracuda to seals was very enticing to the private boaters in the area as they soon started driving in circles around us. Often drifting within yards of our boat. As more and more private boaters arrived, the bite went from tough to nonexistent and the rest of the morning was a blur of seals, private boats and party boats all chopping each other up.
At that point Captain Ryan threw in the towel and decided to head over to the Horseshoe Kelp in search of some bass to keep the empty gunnysacks from flapping in the breeze. As luck would have it, we did find those biting bass and as time ran out on our trip, I asked Captain Ryan if he’d be coming back to this spot on his afternoon run, “I’d like to” he said as he pointed to the private boat drifting twenty feet off our side. “But as soon as we leave this guy is going to drop his anchor and he’ll probably miss the actual spot and not catch anything. But he’ll be close enough to it that I won’t be able to get back on it.” With that he shook his head and headed back up to the wheelhouse to prepare for another frustrating afternoon.
On the way to the dock we passed by the cluster of private boats still running aimlessly about the zone where the barracuda had never really bit that morning. Watching them made me a little sad. Sad that those boaters didn’t realize there were much better options than chasing the sport boats around, sad for the Southern Cal’s passengers who spent good money to have their fishing day ruined by a bunch of private boaters that didn’t know any better (or maybe didn’t care) and most sad for the sport boat crews that have to deal with this mess every day as they struggle to scratch out a living in an already difficult industry.
After having some time to think about that trip, I stand behind the comments I made in last week’s column, but there are a couple of points that I’d like to add. If you’re a private boater, do yourself a favor and learn how to find your own fish (there’s plenty of info on the subject in my previous columns). I promise you that it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than fighting with the fleet all day. And if you do decide that you absolutely have to fish with the fleet, don’t drive through the middle of it at full speed and then get mad when other boats ask you to slow down. Instead, try slowly driving around a few hundred yards outside of the fleet and see if you can find some fish that haven’t already gotten hammered by fifty other boats.