Archive for June, 2011

For me, there are two reasons I love to be on the ocean. 1) Fishing. As in hunting fish. 2) Nature. As in experiencing the stuff that is there to see.  A couple of weeks ago, I was out with my pals Matt and Joe (see Reason #1), and we were I was getting the crap kicked out of us me by some rough water, and a bite that just wouldn’t switch on. Between casts my stomach would lurch, and flop, and clench as my temperature rose uncomfortably, and my palms grew clammier by the minute. Every time I turned my head, my meager breakfast began rising in my throat. After what seemed like a thousand 6 foot swells rolling past, I called it and told them, “I’ve gotta go in, or this is going to get ugly quick.”

First seen off of Dana Point

I’m not one of those guys who can just lean over the rail and quietly empty the contents of his gut into the clear blue water, allowing the other occupants of the vessel relative peace. Maybe I missed that day in Reverse Peristalsis 101, where they teach you to barf gracefully, or perhaps it was the severe potty training. No matter. The result is the same; I’m the guy who’s body tries to turn itself inside out with a crippling, seizing, body-length convulsion reminiscent of The Exorcist. People could be injured, namely me, and besides it’s damned embarassing… to watch.

Being friends, and not wanting to experience my disgraceful hurl-fest first hand, they relented and reeled up their unbit lines. We motored slowly across the surging swell toward the nearby refuge of Dana Point Harbor, and I felt immediate relief in knowing I would soon be in more stomach settling water. I’m not proud of my status as a wimp, but the weight of the annoyed looks I was getting bounced off like I was made of Teflon. Very queasy Teflon.

Even when I’m expressing my wuss-ness, I’m still a curious soul.


Through my unsettled eyes (yes, even my eyes were sick) I spied a white blob barely under the surface and without hesitation turned the boat in the direction of the disturbance, which I hoped would be something interesting to look at (see Reason #2). It turned out to be a whopper of a Mola Mola. For the uninitiated, a Mola sighting is quite bizarre. These gentle, but huge alien looking, fish are also called Ocean Sunfish because they will lazily fin at the surface on their sides, apparently resting under the radiant gaze of our nearest star. They do this until a boat comes near, or, I suppose, until they just feel like swimming away. Sometimes, like this time, it takes a bit more to get them off the dime.

Broadside of a 200# Mola Mola

In our case, the fish wasn’t in a hurry to dive and disappear as quickly as the other Mola’s I’ve seen. In fact, with its pale white color, and flaccid road-kill-esque demeanor, I was pretty sure it was dead and motored right next to it to take a look at my grisly find. Always the 8-year old boy, I gave it a gentle, but curious “Eeew, it’s dead!” test poke with a long boat hook, and was more than a little surprised when the baseball sized eye flinched and snapped shut. You can’t get the scale from the photos, but this fish was large, as in 6-7 feet from nose to tail, and roughly equal dimensions from tip to tip of its enormous fins. I don’t know about you, but when an eye, on a fish that big, snaps shut within feet from my own eye, it’s startling. I must admit, I jumped back, just a tiny little bit.

Mola Mola Up Close & Personal

I immediately felt remorse for my child-like morbid curiosity and grabbed my camera to turn the moment into this blog post. We circled the beast and to my surprise, it stayed within arms reach of the boat for several minutes. There was plenty of time for me to shoot a handful of underwater still shots, and assemble my video camera to shoot the video you see below. It’s not going to win any awards for anything, or likely get more than a few dozen views, but I think it was some of the coolest footage I’ve ever shot of wildlife. The 1985 Blag Flag frat house basement concert video excepted.

Our big pale pal swam over to the boat and my overwhelming childishness blasted forth yet again. I leaned over the gunwale of the boat and grabbed the fish by the giant dorsal fin. The photo does a good job of showing the scale compared to my hand. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it just felt right. I touch fish all the time, but this one was different. I had not hooked the fish, nor fought it, or even baited it for that matter. This creature was content to hang out with us and allow me to interact with it, physically. I’m sure the fish must have been sick, and perhaps even dying to allow such hyjinx, but the experience was one I won’t forget. It felt like shark skin, and the meat tasted like chicken. (I’m joking…)

After the fish decided to dive, I realized that my sea-sickness was gone, as in 100% symptom free. I’m sure there’s some sort of deep and meaningful life lesson, or cosmic soul-bonding, inter-species love/medical miracle story there, but I’m going to chock it up to simple awe. Whatever it was, it worked like a charm. Thanks Mother Nature.

This was one big mellow fish.


One of the most practical devices a kayaker can install is the leash. If you are anything like me, it’s just a matter of time before a slippery grip, rough wave, or flopping fish causes you to be parted suddenly with your prized rod and reel, paddle, radio, knife, or boga grip. Having left more than one expensive tool on the ocean bottom, I’m a big fan of leashes, and internet shopping. Speaking from experience, I know that there is a split second between the time your  rod leaves your hand and hits the water where you absolutely panic. I’m not saying a  leash will ease your panic, but it will make you smile when your prized set up is dangling over the side of your kayak, rather than making a b-line for the bottom.

Commercialy available kayak leash ($30)You can purchase leashes made of various materials for various applications like the one pictured here for around $25-$30.

But, I hate spending money on things I can make myself almost more than I hate losing prized gear. And since this is a Do It Yourself blog post, I’m going to show you how to make an excellent leash for about $5 and 15 minutes of your time. I love this project because it’s easy, cheap, and the finished product is super functional and professional grade.

NOTE: Feel free to experiment with materials other than phone cords. I’ve made these leashes out of simple parachute cord (which I use as my paddle leash) and light duty bungee cord for rod leashes. I like the phone cord leashes for applications that will not get used often, like my cell phone, radio, and lunch bag.

Do It Yourself kayak leash materials


2 – Plastic Scotty clips (Can be purchased for around $2/each at your local kayak shop or even cheaper through

36″ – Curly phone cord (Check your junk drawer, local Goodwill, or 99 cent store.)

2 – 6″ zip ties (small gauge is best)

1 – Needle nose pliers (Note: Should have wire cutting capability)


Cut cord to desired length (cut off plug ends and discard.) The old adage of “measure twice, cut once” is true here. Plan ahead. Think about what you will use the leash for and stretch the cord out to make sure the mostly extended length is long enough to serve its purpose.


Insert one cut end into the narrow Scotty clip slotInsert cord into Scotty clip narrow slot


Fold end of cord over onto itself about 1/4″. Fold it tightly as this will become the tag end that holds the cord in place.Fold the cord end over tightly


Fasten zip tie tightly around folded cord. Make sure there is no wiggle. Use the needle nose pliers to pull on the zip tie if needed.Tighten zip tie around tag end


Trim excess zip tie end, and short tag end of cord so that it fits inside the large round Scotty clip openingTrim zip tie and short tag of cord end

Push tag end into round Scotty clip opening

Repeat steps 2-5 for second side of leash.

Finished Do It Yourself kayak leash

Clip item to kayak and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing your equipment will not leave you.

Do It Yourself kayak leash at work

Newport Harbor Negative "Neep" Tides for 6/4/11 (courtesy of

After last week’s more-chatting-than-fish-catching episode at Newport Harbor, it was clear to me that if I wanted to catch more fish, I needed to spend more of my limited attention span focused on getting the timing right. Basically, I just need to study the conditions in advance, and whenever possible avoid fishing on days when the water temperature swings 14 degrees from low to high tide. Yeah, the fish were a bit cold last week, and just didn’t want to cooperate.

As you may have heard, the rising tide, up through high tide and even an hour after, is widely believed to be the most favorable fishing time period. While I do agree that moving water is a contributing component of a good bite, I’m not convinced that it has to be a rising tide. In fact, I have experienced slack tide to be a terrific time to catch fish quickly, as in one of my prior posts, The Newport Experiment. It’s obvious that many factors play a part in catching fish, but I think the greatest factor is having your head out of your butt, and not just part-way out, I mean all the way out.

To me, that equates to understanding the conditions enough to fish the right bait, to willing fish, with the right presentation. Of course, this is akin to the well-worn golf adage that says golf is easy because all you have to do is put the ball in the hole. This is one reason I don’t golf; dumb adages. The other reason is they won’t let you bring a rod in your golf bag to fish the water hazards. What could a couple of casts hurt? Seriously? As usual, I digress…

Kayaks loaded and ready for the 4:30 AM departure.

My favorite tide prediction website,, was showing a terrific negative, or “neep” tide this morning, which meant we could look forward to a long, rising tide from dawn until around Noon. We planned to be on the water by 5:30 AM prior to the entire harbor draining, and as it turned out, prior to the sun coming over the Saddleback Mountains. We packed the truck on Friday night, chained the yaks to the rack, and hit the sack for far too few hours of sleep.

Well before dawn’s crack, we were up, at ’em, and beating cheeks North on I-5. The neighborhood of Newport Beach where we launch, Corona Del Mar, or CDM if you’re a local, is pretty exclusive. The median home price there is roughly equivalent to my lifetime gross domestic product ($1.3M bucks) and the folks who live there take beauty rest, parking ordinances, and their exorbitantly taxed property rights VERY seriously. Having heard horror stories from others who ignored the 6a-10p parking lot time restrictions,  we decided it would be best to park on the street. We set up our boats very quietly, so as not to draw too much attention to the fact that we were about to drag our gear across a piece of land that was technically still closed to the public for another half-hour. Fighting the urge to ding-dong ditch the neighbors, we assembled our equipment and made our way to the water.

Pre-dawn Kayak rigging - "Dude, be cool! And quit giggling."

The Mystery Hand says, "Use this bait!".

The Mystery Hand endorses liberal use of Uni Butter

OK, enough of the set up. You’re here to see some slippery, finned, fish-on-lure action, so I’ll cut to the chase. We paddled out in less than 6 inches of water, as the tide was SUPER low (see chart above if you doubt me). We were bite-free until the tide bottomed out and just started it’s upward creep (Note to reader: NOT high tide). We did well until the tide topped off, and had some great fun doing so. All counter-intuitive if you follow conventional wisdom.

Matt chose the “Newport Special”, which is a 4″ curly tailed Hot Belly Bass colored AAT jig as his primary tool, and I stuck with my new favorite weapon of choice, the black Lazer Eye spinner bait & skirt, paired with a 3″ anchovy colored Big Hammer swimbait. We both were generous with magic potion called UniButter. I’ll talk more about the scent at another time, but let’s just say, it works. I’ll also add that you don’t want to get any on you unless you never want to be near anyone that doesn’t appreciate the rousing smell of a fish packing plant. ‘Nuff said.

Now, brace yourself for more of the Mystery Hand and bazillion fish montage:

The first of several chunk pre-spawn spotted bay bass.

A second, even bigger fish, from the same spot as the first. Just like I planned it! (yeah, right)

I'm starting to think there's something to this UniButter stuff!

OK, so it wasn't my worst day of fishing. (16" Spotted Bay Bass - Not too shabby)

Matt hooked and nearly landed a large bat ray that hit a curly tail grub. I later got to go for a ride behind one that nailed my spinnerbait. They should change the name of these fish to the “Crap Your Pants Ray”. Matt’s first swallowed his jig, then promptly jumped out of the water a mere 15 feet from his rod tip. The poor boy nearly soiled himself in surprise when the approximately 20# fish made it’s big, unannounced, and splashy appearance. Mine hit with such force that it nearly jerked the rod from my hands, and then it sprinted for the Pacific. Lucky for me it swam under a dock, where I ended up, slammed (really more of a thud) into the back of a half-a-million dollar yacht with my line tightly twisted around a gnarly piling. I’m still licking my wounds, but fortunately, Matt was able to regroup and put some trophies on the board.

To add to the degree of difficulty, he chose to target the souvenir keychain rack, which was heaping full of tiny, itty-bitty toy versions of the fish we know and love. As the sometimes ornery author, I get to say stuff like that. Matt, if you want payback, or a better review, start a blog, or at least a Twitter account! 😉 (Now let’s see if I still get invited to the July 4th pig roast at Matt’s place…)

Barred Sand Bass - All the ladies, in unison: "It's soooo cuuuute!"

The tiniest california halibut either of us has ever seen.

Matt's "Newport Special" bait even worked for me. Shhh, don't tell Matt.

Fishing Report for 06/04/2011