Camping, Off-Roading, Fishing

The Beast Gets Some Upgrades

Hunter S. Thompson had a line in his book Generation of Swine that went “the days dragged by like dead animals.” I can’t think of a better way to describe these last few weeks. I’m not a fan of December to begin with, and this one has been clipped by the curveball that is COVID-19 to make it even more wretched than usual. The Beast has been having mechanical issues and I’ve been too low on funds to do anything about it on top of everything else.

It hasn’t been all bad however. One of the reasons I’m broke is that I spent all of my money on a badly needed propane heating solution for my camper. I did my reasearch and found that a Camco Olympian Wave 3 catalytic heater was exactly what I needed. They aren’t cheap at a couple hundred bucks apiece, but these heaters are the most economical way to heat a small space like my camper shell. The problem was finding one when I finally had the money to purchase it. They were sold out everywhere, and prices were over 300 dollars for the ones that were available on Amazon and Ebay.

I finally located one from an RV company in Tennessee and placed my order. Of course, I had to throw down on a hose and connecting equiptment, leg stands for portable use, a heater cover (the catalytic pad is sensitive to dust so you have to keep it covered when not in use) and a carbon monoxide detector. My friend Cole hooked me up with a 20 lb tank so that saved me some bucks. All in all it cost me around 350 dollars, but it was a great investment. Now I have the ability to cold camp anywhere I wish and stay warm. I’m going on almost 3 weeks using it an average of 5 hours a night and I’ve still got plenty of gas. I’m loving this little heater!

My heater emits passive radiant heat, so I have to put it right next to me to stay warm. It only warms what’s right in front of it. Since the only place to put it was right next to my cot, I repurposed my portable aluminum table to act as a buffer between the heat and flammable materials behind it. I also got a new weather station to replace the one I lost in the fire. I just love to know what the temperature and humidity is at all times, so getting a replacement weather station really makes me feel like my life is stabilizing somewhat.

This a different model of LaCrosse weather station than the one I had before. This one is more of an alarm clock than a weather station. One huge thing that really stood out to me was that this model comes with a nice Bluetooth speaker, so now I don’t have to watch movies and shows with just the sound from my phone’s internal speaker. This is only a small thing, but it has really made a world of difference in how I enjoy my entertainment.

Another thing I got for my camping rig was another string of remote control lights. I already had one strand up, but it was only long enough to stretch across half of the space I needed it to. It was also in only one color, I wanted to have a whole bunch of different colored lights if I was in the mood for that. Having good lighting is a huge part of making my space comfortable, so it is important that I get it the way that I want it. The lights were only 20 bucks, and I got 100 on a 33 foot string which wrapped all the way around easily.

They also have really crazy strobe light modes as well. If I’m feeling like getting wild I can just sync up both strings and let ‘er rip! It’s nice to be able to have fun with free power from my solar array.

As the year draws down to a close, the seas have become less favorable for fishing due to the predominant swell from the northwest. The fish stocks are pretty depleted by this time of the year as well. Despite this, I decided to go out and fish with my good buddy Beartits a couple of weeks ago. Beartits works as a fishing guide in Alaska in the summers, and inspired me to get a job in the same field. We’ve been friends for a while but I’ve never gone fishing with him.

It’s a mystery why he calls himself Beartits (his real name is Barrett) but one time he punched a bear that stole a fish from him. Maybe that’s where the name originates, I don’t know. Anyways, we went out on a sunny but cold morning. The fish weren’t really biting, but he got a nice ling cod and I caught my personal best canary rock cod. Canaries were illegal to keep until recently, so it’s nice to be able to keep these beauties. I think they are by far the most beautiful and tasty of the rock cod family. It was really large for these local waters, this fish was more the size of the ones you catch down in Big Sur.

We had these plus a handful of small rock cod. More than enough for some fish tacos!

I hope everyone reading this had the best Christmas possible in these trying times. Let’s hope the next year brings a return to normalcy so we can all get on with our lives. Summer seems such a long time away, I sure hope that this virus can get squashed so I can get on up to Alaska. Stay safe out there ya’ll!

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Camping, Off-Roading

My Birthday Escape

Well, it’s that time of year again for me. The older I get, the less I care for birthdays. If I’m doing well in my life it’s not so bad. If I’m not doing well, it’s pretty gloomy for me. I always measure myself by how I was doing the previous year at that time, and of birthdays gone by.

The past two birthdays I’ve had have been at the lowest points in my life. My 40th birthday in particular was the absolute rock bottom. In years past, I’ve done things like going spelunking, glider flying, diving with Great White sharks, and camping in cool remote spots. I always envisioned myself on my 40th to be somewhere on some tropical island, living it up. Unfortunately, on that day I was as far from my ideal as I could get. Not only was I far away from everyone I knew and loved, it was rainy, I had to work, and I spent half the day at the Mandeville DMV in Louisiana.

It was what it was. All one can do is just try to improve their situation from year to year. Anyways, I’m not the kind of person that wants to be the center of attention, so throwing a big party isn’t my thing. I do like to go on a cool adventure though, or at the very least eat some good food. It’s all about treating myself in some way. If I don’t do it, I feel like I let myself down.

This being the case, the Saturday after the election was my birthday. I found myself in a much better life situation than I was in the past couple of years. That, plus the welcome donation of funds from some loved ones inspired me to want to go out and get into something good.

After consulting with my good friend Jer, I decided to light out towards the south. He had first suggested to me this place to go up to in the Ventana Wilderness called ‘Indians’. Since he is a Monterey native, I was keen on taking some local advice. It had been unseasonably warm in the lingering Indian Summer, but that weekend a brutal cold front moved in. The temperatures were forecast to drop to below freezing levels, and high winds were poised to scuttle any kind of outdoor plans anyone could make.

Nevertheless, I was intent on getting out there and getting into some shenanigans. If I didn’t, I knew I would never forgive myself. At the last minute, I found out that access to Indians was temporarily denied for some reason. Jer told me that the spot he would go to at this time of year besides Indians would be the campgrounds around Hearst Castle. So on the Saturday post-election when Biden was declared our new President, I hit the road down towards San Luis Obispo.

I drove south on the 1 all the way down. This is a very special highway. For those who have never driven it, it’s a world class drive, and it is also the way I came up when I first came to Santa Cruz over 21 years ago. I hadn’t been down that far south in many years. There’s nothing better than scouting out new and seldom-seen territory on a birthday or any other time methinks!

Unfortunately, I left much later than I originally had intended to. You see, I kept wavering back and forth about going down south on the 1 towards Hearst Castle, or heading southeast towards my favorite area to camp down in San Benito county. Normally I would have defaulted in going out to the places I love around the Pinnacles area. Unfortunately with the aforementioned cold snap coming in, temperatures were going to be down in the 20’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t have a propane heating setup for my truck yet, and it was forecast to also be rainy and windy. It was doubtful I would be able to build a fire to keep warm, I thought. Ultimately I decided to go down to check out those Hearst Castle campgrounds where it was forecast to be warmer.

It was a nice drive down the coast. There were some dark clouds, but it never rained. As I wound my way down towards Big Sur, I noticed that traffic was still at summer levels. Normally at this time of year there is a noticeable drop in the amount of people driving around and camping in that part of the coast. Obviously, due to all the COVID restrictions and joblessness, there were a bunch of folks down there who felt that was the place to be. I can’t say that I blame them, I was down there as well for the same reason!

Mostly cloudy down around Pt. Sur at sunset.

Since I left so late, it was around 7 PM when I arrived at my destination. I rolled up into the campground to find out that on the weekend they only let in people who had made reservations. It was all due to COVID, of course. I guess the campgrounds all had to adhere to a protocol that prohibited them from having a certain occupancy density. I went to 4 campgrounds until I finally gave up. By this point, I was in Morro Bay, so I drove down to the beach and parked there.

It actually wasn’t that bad of a place to stop and camp out, except for the fact that 20-30 mph winds were blasting through due to the cold front.  I had been driving a long while, and I also was rather sleep deprived from partying the night before. Between these two things I was rather thrashed and needing to crash. I had a great stash of wine, so I got into my camper, drank a bunch of vino and then passed out after a long while of listening to the savage wind blow itself crazy.

I awoke in the morning with grit in my teeth and eyes. When I turned on my phone, it showed that it was 9 o’clock. The wind continued to blow just as strong as it had in the night before. My truck was rocking like it was going down the road from the breeze. Despite the windy conditions, it was a beautiful clear day. I had to think about my next move. Should I just pack it in and head back to base, or should I go to this new place I found up in the mountains on BLM land and suffer extreme cold?

Where I spent the night in Morro Bay. It actually wasn’t that bad compared to most right-on-the-road spots.

Well, if you have been reading this blog, you can probably guess the answer. I decided to brave the cold and check out this spot I’d never been to. “Fortune favors the brave” and all that. I had been disappointed by my camping experience the night before, and I was determined to find a nice camp spot somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted to make a fire and enjoy some peace for a night.

I did a bit of online searching and I found this place about an hour and a half to the north off the 101 called Williams Hill Recreational Area. It was a BLM camping spot, which I am partial to. On BLM land, you get to camp for free in really beautiful, wild country which is the best thing. Usually those lands are off the beaten path so there’s few people around. Lastly, on BLM land firearms are legal to shoot and sometimes encouraged. This was the case at Williams Hill, as Google said it actually had a shooting range.

I had my shotgun on me, but I wasn’t in the mood to shoot off valuable shells. Since I still don’t have a California driver’s license after being based out of Louisiana for a year, I can’t buy ammo here in California. I keep a couple of boxes of buckshot in my gun case that I bought back home. I think it is technically illegal for me to bring out-of-state ammo into California but I don’t give a shit. Fuck California’s bullshit gun laws! They are unconstutional!

Before I left Morro Bay, I needed a good feed, so I drove over to Cayucos to get some vittles. I had never hung out in this place, but a few months ago I was on Reddit and someone mentioned that there was a spot down there that served the best fried fish. As a fan of all fish that are fried, I marked it on my Google Maps for future reference. I’m real glad I did that at the time, so I had a bonafide good place to go get some food.

I went on down to downtown Cayucos. This place was pretty unique for most seaside communities I’ve been to in California as the downtown was right on the beach. It had a cool vibe that was equal parts southern and central California. I parked a couple of blocks away from the place I wanted to go to and took a little stroll down the wharf. No one was out fishing that day due to the strong winds, but it seemed relatively fishy.

As I was walking back towards the shore on the wharf, I witnessed a cool phenomenon. Since the wind was so strong, occasionally as the waves came in the tops would be blown back as they swept to shore. I was watching this at the perfect angle to see this beautiful rainbow light up in the spray. It took me a few tries, but I was able to capture this effect on video so ya’ll could see it as well!

By this point, I was starving, so I went to the restaurant that had the good fried fish. It was a place called ‘Duckies Chowder House.’ It was one of those joints that do only a few food items, but do them very well. I decided to get the fish and chips, and let me tell you, I was not misled. Both fish and chips were 10/10. The cod was perfectly battered and flavored, and the fries were fresh cut and cooked just as well. It any of ya’ll wind up in those parts and want some good California beach town food, I very much recommend ya’ll go there.

Where the magic happens.

After I ate the best fish and chips I can recall, I put the location of Williams Hill into my Google Maps and headed north. Just a couple miles outside of Cayucos, I drove by this reservoir up in the mountains. Seeing large bodies of water in inland California always makes me marvel at the sight. It was a pretty good looking bit of watery real estate.

I looked it up, and this is known as Whale Rock Reservoir. I bet that there are a pile of fish up in there!

As I wound my way up north, I ran into Highway 46. This little stretch of road means a lot to me. It is the highway I took the very first time I was in California to get to the Pacific Ocean. It runs through wine country, and is a pretty little stretch of road. As I got close to Highway 101 in Paso Robles, I was witness to a crazy sight. A whole flotilla of Trumpers was making a parade through the town! Keep in mind this was one day after the election results were called in favor of Biden, so I guess this was in reaction to that.

Now, I normally wouldn’t include any kind of political nonsense on my blog, which I feel is kind of a sacred artistic neutral space, but I thought I’d include the clip I filmed as a sociological observation. My comments do give my feelings on the matter away however. Bear in mind that while I disapprove of Trump, that doesn’t mean I love Biden. I hate both of them, I voted 3rd party.

I’ve decided that after this election, I’m going to start writing in Teddy Roosevelt on my ballot. I wonder what the vote tabulators will think of that? Perhaps I can bring the Bull Moose Party back from the dead! Ya’ll spread the word and let’s make this happen!

Yeah, I have to admit I am a bit of a Teddy Roosevelt fanboy. I do believe he was our greatest President though. It was through a camping session with John Muir that he came up with the idea of our National Park system. What a beautiful idea that was. At the time he did that, industrialists were closing in on the last beautiful places here in America. Teddy put a stop to that. What an amazing man he was to tell the land-raping corporations NO!

He was an imperialist, yes, I will admit that. I do not approve of that, but I will say in defense of him that at the time, that was the logical geopolitical strategy for an up-and-coming superpower like the United States. Besides that, I feel that Teddy was a man’s man and he made decisions during his Presidency that showed that he was thinking about the health of the country he loved in the long term. That’s more than I can say about our modern politicans.

Ok, I digress. So I made my way up the 101 to San Ardo. The weather started to worsen a bit, I ran into scattered rain on the way up. I rolled into San Ardo and got gas, and then headed up to Williams Hill. The road was gravel, but it was well-maintained. I made my way to the top of the mountain, and to my delight I found that only one other campsite was occupied. It was chilly, but the winds were dying down, and the sporadic rain was wearing itself out as well.

I set up camp and got comfortable. I was estatic that I had found such an awesome campsite. It was everything I wanted in a place to land.

I could tell that I found a magic spot.
I needed a new Tinder pic, so I got into some selfie action. I think it came out pretty good!

For my birthday I gifted myself a nice Bowie knife. It is an Ontario Knife Company Spec Plus Marine Raider. These knives are made for the United States Marines. I’ve wanted a good Bowie knife for many years now, and I finally decided to pull the trigger and get one. I am in love with it, and I feel that I just acquired a life-long companion. It is built like a tank and can come in handy in so many ways around the camp. I could paddle a boat with it if I needed to!

I built a big fire with the firewood I had brought and settled in. I knew it was going to be cold that night, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get! So after the sun set, I started to put on clothes. In the end I had on 4 layers on my upper body, 3 layers on my lower body, two pairs of socks on each foot, gloves, and a beanie and hoody on my head and still froze. My firewood was only sufficient to last half the night. Around 2 AM it got down to 28 degrees, and I decided to start up my truck and turn on my heater. My fingers were so numb it took me 5 minutes just to be able to turn over the key in my ignition. I finally got my truck going and blessed warmth started flowing eventually. Finally, the day broke and I was saved by the sun. I took a long nap and drove back to Santa Cruz in the afternoon.

That concludes the story of my birthday escape. It was short but sweet. I know that ya’ll must be wondering how my camping outdoors in the 20’s could be anything but horrific. It was cold, but it was so nice to be out in a beautiful spot on the top of a mountain. The air was clean, no one was in my space, and I could see the stars without hardly any light pollution. I think that really made my experience incredible despite the frigid temps. I’m really glad I created a nice little experience for myself on my birthday.

Before I go, I would like to ask ya’ll to give me a like here on the WordPress platform if you enjoy what you read. Comments are great as well, don’t be shy! Both these things mean a lot to me. This is the only social media I do these days, so feedback helps me out a lot in how I present my blog. Thanks ya’ll!

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CZU Lightning Complex Fire

The Mountains of the Moon

I know the Mountains of the Moon are a place in Africa near the headwaters of the Nile river. It’s a name of a place I have heard about somewhere before. I liked the sound of it so I filed it away in my mental Rolodex for future use. I never thought I’d be in a place where I’d use it to describe a location. After my first trip back to Last Chance yesterday however, I can say without a doubt that’s how I’d describe the place now.

For weeks I’ve been dealing with the trauma of having to flee for my life from the conflagration. I’ve been doing a lot better lately, but I’ve been needing to return to further the healing process. It’s something that I’ve been dreading, but needed to do. Just knowing about how bad it was was one thing, but I needed to see it with my own eyes. Yesterday was finally the day I decided to go back up there.

As soon as I turned off Highway 1 to head up Last Chance, the scale of the destruction hit me. At the bottom, there were quite a few homes that miraculously survived the inferno. Of course there were some burned out homes, but that particular area fared better than I had supposed it would. When I turned up Last Chance Rd. however, it was like a gut punch. Everything along the 7 mile stretch was completely obliterated. The whole forest for miles and miles was complete ash. I’ve never seen such a complete obliteration of nature. Where there was beautiful redwood forest and lush greenery everywhere, there was now just differing shades of gray and black.

It just got worse the further I went. The road was in really bad shape, and barely navigable even for The Beast. A couple of times I met other vehicles and had to do some tricky reversing to get out of the way. On my way up Shelby Mountain, where I was living, I ran into Catdaddy and Jacob coming back down. Catdaddy had brought up his trailer for Jacob to live in while he’s working on cleaning up his property. They were scouting the driveway up to see if it was possible to get the trailer up there.

I got out of their way after greeting them, and proceeded to head on up to the property up top. They were going to have to do a bit of chainsawing to clear a path, so I wanted to have a moment up there by myself to come to terms with things. Jacob warned me that it was very hazardous in the footprint of the cabins from chemicals and sharp debris, and to wear a mask and have on boots if I wanted to poke around. He had actually been wearing a full Tyvek suit himself doing cleanup. The environmental people said that things were highly toxic from all the chemicals released by the fires so none of us wanted to get sick.

I was completely stunned when I got to the top of the mountain. It was hard to tell where everything had been, the destruction was so complete. I was really wondering about the fate of the things I had left behind, so I started poking around in the ruins of my cabin. I found my skillet (which was amazingly intact, but quite rusted) and my precious machete. The machete was warped and ruined, a testimony to the heat of the fire.

All of my possessions I could find.

The heat of the fire was so intense, it was like a forge up there. There were puddles of molten metal everythere. There was a big pile of beef bones stacked up that Jacob’s dogs had chewed on, when I stepped on them they crumbled into dust. It chilled me to the bone knowing that I was almost reduced to nothing but a pile of dusty bones myself.

Me at the exact spot where I stood when I saw and heard the fire coming at me and realized I had to run for my life.

As I was poking around taking pictures, Catdaddy and Jacob came back up and we had some beer and just talked about things. We were trying to crack jokes and make as much light of the situation as we could, but it was still really tough to deal with. After a bit, I took Catdaddy down to the base of the mountain so he could drive up the camper.

He drove it back up sucessfully, and the three of us donned Tyvek suits and gloves to remove Jacob’s water bladder. The remains of the bladder was resting on the flattest, best spot on the property to put the camper. We got it out of the way after a bit of difficulty. Catdaddy then manuvered the camper into place, and voila, Jacob now has a place to stay back on his property. He was really stoked, and we were happy for him.

Jacob with his new digs. It’s not much, but it’s a first step on the long road to recovery for him and his property.

After we got the camper moved in, I felt it was time to leave. I was mentally and physically exhausted and needed to get back down the mountain to recuperate. They were going to spend the night and drink beers. I would have loved to have hung out, but I can barely drink due to some medication I’m on so I had to pass.

Well, that’s the story of my return to what is now a lunar landscape. It really opened up a lot of wounds that I had thought were healing. Writing this blog post really helped clear my head. I’m so glad I have this creative outlet. In closing, I want to post a video I made of two of Jacob’s cats before the fire. It’s hard to watch, but I thought I’d post it anyways in their memory.

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CZU Lightning Complex Fire, mountain life

Respooling My Reel

Sometimes when you’re fishing, you get a lot of slack in your line that causes a big ‘ol bird’s nest in your reel. It really sucks because you have to drop everything that you are doing and address the issue. It’s maddening trying to sort out your line so you can get it back down to do what it’s supposed to be doing. Fishing is a process. There has to be certain things that need to go right before you can even present your bait or lure to your targeted fish.

My life as of late has been very much like a snarled reel. I’m ready to go fishing but I can’t do anything with a bird’s nest going on. Sometimes it’s so bad that you have to strip it all out and put new line on your reel. Being a refugee in these times of plague has really stretched my ability to adapt and persevere. The whole world seems to be breaking down around me, and I’m scrambling just to barely get by. It totally broke me down to the point where I needed to just strip out all my line and respool myself. It took me a minute, but now I’ve got line back on and I’m ready to start fishing again.

Since the fire ravaged my county, I’ve been bouncing around, just trying to find some stability somewhere. For about three weeks now, I’ve been hanging out with my good friend and his lady at a sweet place up in the Aptos hills. It’s a 15 acre property full of huge redwoods way back in the mountains. There’s a pool and a hot tub open for whenever you want to cool off or heat up. It’s been a great place for me to catch my breath and get caught up with myself.

A pic of the swimming area, still under construction. This is a shot from a couple weeks ago when all the smoke from the fires made the sky look like Mars.

Up here on the property, I’ve been helping my friend with various projects. This past week, me and another friend of mine worked on lower branching this big redwood in the yard. It has a vine going up it that was as big as my arm, so all that had to come down. My friend has tree climbing experience so he went up there and sawed away all the branches and vines that needed to be removed. I worked as the ground guy to support him and clear out the debris as it fell.

When my buddy finally got done clearing out all the vines and branches, he was about 70 feet in the air. After chainsawing one particular big branch, there was still quite a large nub left on the trunk of the tree. My friend, seeing this, then had the brilliant idea to attach one of his climbing ropes to it so it would make a bad ass swing! The idea worked out incredibly. It was the best rope swing I’ve been on in a long time. We joked that it was more fun than being at Disneyland!

Another thing that is great about being up here is that my friends I’m staying with are raising three little kittens. It is so much fun having them around, it’s a much needed bit of levity seeing them scamper about. They have their own room to hang out in for most of the day, but in the evening they are released to roam about the house. I’ve not spent a lot of time hanging out with cats in my life, so it is a trip watching them go crazy and get into things. I swear, they are more like monkeys than cats! They are cool little creatures that have their own personalities. It’s highly entertaining hanging out with them.

Spike and Princess Leia getting into shenanigans.
This is Henry Miller. I consider him the quarterback of Team Kitten.

All the fires from the CZU Lightning Complex have been fully contained. Earlier this week I went on a tour of where I used to live and work up in Bonny Doon. Amazingly, the fire’s destruction ended in the front yard where I used to live. Pine Flat Road served as a fire break and 95% of the houses along it were saved. There were a couple of burned places where the flames couldn’t be denied, but for the most part my old neighborhood was intact.

Away from the road, however, the destruction was complete. So many people up in the Santa Cruz mountains lost everything. It’s been almost six weeks since the fires, and they still won’t let us go back up to Last Chance. There’s just so many burned trees and hazards up there, it’s not safe even now. There’s a lot of talk about the coming rain from the winter monsoons causing mudslides everywhere. I imagine there will be some epicly horrible slides making life difficult for everyone living in the mountains.

It’s all paved roads where I’m at now fortunately. Not only that, but my friend cleared out a lot of brush and trees around the house so there’s a ton of defensible space here. We’re about as ready as we are ever going to be if the flames come a’knocking again.

With our country in a frezny due to all the political strife and the virus, I feel pretty secure where I’m at now. We are pretty well dug in here. Since there’s fifteen acres insulating us from the neighbors, it’s nice and peaceful. It’s been good medicine for me after the curveballs I’ve had this year. I’m slowly starting to get back on track financially and mentally as well. Unfortunately, it will soon be my least favorite part of the year. I dread winter so much every time it rolls around.

I despise winter, being as I have to sleep out in the elements. Also, Christmas annoys the hell out of me and I really hate the short days. It would make life a whole lot more tolerable if I had a decent shelter, so I’m starting to look out for a good used pop up camper for my truck. That would really be a game changer for me! They make some good ones that would fit nicely in the bed of The Beast. I’ll have to drop at least 5 to 6 grand for what I want, so for now it’s only wishful thinking.

Well, that’s about all to report for now. Hopefully soon I can get back up to Last Chance to see if there’s anything left. I’d really like to see if my skillet and machete made it through. Everything else is most certainly ash. All righty, until next time!

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CZU Lightning Complex Fire

Runnin’ From the Devil

So just an hour after I uploaded my last post, our next-door neighbor up on the mountain came over and told us that people in the community were starting to talk about evacuating. Immediately I grabbed my guitar, my fishing poles, and my clothes & bedding. Since I had just moved my stuff into the cabin it took a minute to pack everything back into The Beast all haphazardly.

After all this was done, I settled in to eat some blackeyed peas and rice I had just made. My thoughts were that I should eat as much as I can in case I needed the energy to flee. The fires off in the distance didn’t seem to be growing, and the winds were still. Unbeknownst to us, there was a vicious 40 mile per hour offshore wind blowing in from the north that was being blocked from that direction by mountain ridges. I could have never known that those peas and rice were almost my last meal.

I had just finished my dinner and was sitting around relaxing, it was around ten o’clock I think. I heard Jacob and The Professor yelling and hollering from Jacob’s cabin, they were watching the Trailblazers game and getting all worked up. I smiled at my friends having something to distract them from the tense situation. I got up to take a leak outside when I heard this roar I couldn’t quite place coming from behind our cabins up on the ridge. Since we don’t face that direction, I hadn’t noticed what was going on behind us. The night sky in that direction was bright orange and red, and the sound I heard was like a whole airport of jet engines taking off all at once.

I stood for a full minute trying to process what I was seeing, and at the moment when I realized what was about to happen, the next door neighbor ran over and told us it was time to get the hell out of Dodge! The Fear washed over me like a flood as I grabbed whatever was in my immediate vicinity. Since I had the only fridge/freezer on the property, all our salmon was stored there. Jacob ran over and we both grabbed as much fish as we could. What a true fisherman he is, he got his frozen fillets safe at the last minute. I don’t even think he thought to grab hardly anything else.

We made a quick check to see if we were all ready to go, and within 3 minutes we were convoying down the mountain. As we rounded the turn to head down, I turned to look back and saw the first flames crest the ridge. It was like looking at the face of the Devil. We sped down Last Chance Rd. as fast as we could go. A couple of times I had to check myself when I fish-tailed. I knew if I wrecked or worse, blocked the road somehow, it could trap myself and everyone behind me who was in full flight.

That 30 minute drive down the mountain was the longest drive I had ever made in my life. It was an intense white-knuckled experience all the way down. The whole mountainside to our right was on fire and was heading our way, and we knew that it was the same behind us. Incredibly, there were a couple vehicles actually going BACK UP the mountain! What fools! They had no clue, I yelled at them to turn around as we went by but that’s all I could do. As we continued downhill, more and more vehicles joined our convoy. I was glad to see that people had gotten the word to get out.

Close to the bottom, we ran into a CalFire engine that was blocking the road, stopping traffic. For a horrifying moment, I thought that our escape route was blocked by fire and they were prepared to make a last stand with us. Fortunately, they were just trying to get themselves staged to head back into the inferno that we had fled from. As we made our way down the last stretch, there must have been 10 CalFire engines headed back up. God bless the cavalry! I whooped as I passed them. Such brave men and women they are.

At long last we hit Swanton Road, and just short of Highway 1 we stopped to let everyone catch up. The Professor, Redwood (our neighbor who initially gave us the head’s up) and I were together, but Jacob lagged behind. He rolled in a couple of minutes behind us, he was delayed after trying to warn his neighbors about the firestorm who might not have known what was about to go down.

We all agreed to go down to Waddell Creek beach to get a look back up the mountain at the fire before we went to our evac house in westside Santa Cruz. We got there and the fire was already burning down all the way to the highway. A CalFire dozer operator was staged there and he let us listen to his radio to hear what was going on back up the mountain.

It sounded like a war zone on the comm. “We’re getting overrun, fall back, fall back! The fire has jumped Last Chance Road, get off the mountain!” is what we heard. I’m glad they didn’t get enveloped and got out of there. There is nothing to be done when you’re faced with 50 to 100 foot walls of fast-moving fire except to run for your life. The fireman was a 15 year vet of the service from the Central Valley and he said this was one of the most intense fires he had ever seen. He’s like, “I hate to tell you boys, but this ain’t looking good.” We agreed that it sure wasn’t looking good at all. If we had delayed our departure by 15 minutes, we wouldn’t have made it out.

The view from Waddell Creek beach looking back up the mountain towards Last Chance across Highway 1. The glow on the right was our escape route on fire moments after we left it.

After having a beer to steady our nerves, we decided to get down Highway 1 to safe harbor. The ash was thick and stuff was falling out of the sky on our retreat. Some giant rock or chuck of debris slammed into my driver’s side door around Scott’s Creek, no doubt lofted into the air by some explosion back up the mountain. I’m glad it didn’t hit higher up in my window, as it might have taken me out.

Jacob had a friend over in westside Santa Cruz that said it was fine if we crashed at her place. We rolled up and she had plenty of tequila and space for us to relax. She was an angel, I so much appreciate her opening her home to us. Over the course of that night and the next day the situation was super tense. We had no idea what the fire was going to do, it seemed like it was capable of burning down the world.

We had word that there were fires to the east and the south that were just as bad. At one point I was going to go down to the harbor where I used to live and go out as far as I could on the jetty rocks to escape if I had to. The fire was moving so fast towards westside Santa Cruz, it was not much of a stretch of imagination to see it burning up the city. Fortunately, the winds died and the firefighters managed to cut some burly firelines north of UCSC to protect the town pretty fast.

After a couple of nights on the Westside, I decided to relocate to Catdaddy’s house outside Watsonville. He lives halfway down the Monterey Bay, a good distance away from the fire-trap mountains. This area is full of fields and agriculture so there are natural fire-breaks at his spot. The air quality is so much better here than back in Santa Cruz. Also, my guns, cot frame and mattress were (thankfully) stored in my storage unit in Scott’s Valley out of the fire’s reach, so I wanted to scoop them up. There were rumors that Scott’s Valley was about to evac however, so I wanted to go get my stuff out of the path of possible devastation.

Sure enough, not long after I got my gear out of storage, Scott’s Valley had a mandatory evacuation order. I was so glad to get myself and my essentials out of harm’s way. I’m never going to let a natural disaster out-flank me again if I can help it. The past five days or so Catdaddy, his awesome lady Kellsie, our good friend Jenny and their dog Mr. Wu have been hosting me at their house.

A couple of days ago, Jacob and The Professor came down to join us. It was agreed that we all needed to do something to get our minds off all this horror, so we went salmon fishing. I’ve always said that, when in doubt, go fishing! We caught a couple of 10 lb’ers and were blessed with perfect conditions. We spent 12 hours out on the water. The Professor landed his very first salmon, and the joy he expressed upon doing so helped dispell a lot of the gloom we’ve all been feeling the past week.

So now, the question is, what next? We’re all in survival mode here still, we’re not out of the woods yet by a long stretch. One of our neighbors went up to our mountaintop the next day to report all was vaporized at our place. I lost a lot of treasured items for sure. The biggest one was a vial of ashes I had from a dear friend’s cremation I had stashed in with my fishing gear. For some reason I grabbed my freshwater tackle box, but not my saltwater tackle box or this bin that had all my other fishing gear in it, including the ashes. The other great losses were my month’s supply of emergency food, (I’m really kicking myself in the ass for that one), a vintage WW2 machete a wise old wizard gave me 20 years ago back when I lived in Hawaii, and all my camping & kitchen gear.

All of that ain’t nothing compared with what Jacob lost though. All he got out with was his truck, his dogs and his laptop. He lost all he had worked for the past five years up on the mountain. We didn’t have time to grab the cats. Mama Cat, her kitten, and Papa Cat are gone. His neighbor actually had the most horrific tale of escape that made regional headlines.

He had packed up his truck, but when the fire came up he had misplaced his keys. He took his neighbor’s car with pet bunny in hand, but the window wouldn’t roll closed. He made it out right behind us, but the flaming debris came into the car through the open window and blew up something inside. He then had to ditch the car and spent the rest of the night running from the flames on foot. He came across some firefighter in the AM who gave him a lift out at the bottom of the mountain. It was astonishing he made it out alive.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we heard that there were 4 people unaccounted for from the Last Chance community. I heard that yesterday that 3 of the 4 eventually turned up, but that one poor feller’s body was found in the ashes. I heard from Jacob he was a hermit who had bad knees and no phone, and so wasn’t dialed in to the community evac warning. A lot of people lived that way up there, I’m surprised that there weren’t more deaths. Hell, if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have gotten out as clean as we did. The fire moved so fast it even took CalFire off guard.

For now, we’re holding strong here. I just want to let whoever reads this communique know how important it is to have a disaster plan. Whether it is fire, tornado, earthquake, or hurricane, BE PREPARED. IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU EVENTUALLY. The state and federal goverments are stretched to the limits, it is up to YOU and your communities to take care of each other. Assume there ain’t nobody else to do it because they more than likely can’t help.

We had a solid fire plan with CalFire, but they didn’t show up until the horse had already escaped the barn. There was no official warning either. I’m not faulting them at all, I’m sure they had to triage their response with the boots they had on the ground. A lot of their ground crews are usually made up of prisoners who are in lockdown now due to COVID. There was a huge shortfall in what is essentially slave labor that the state has always leaned upon. That, coupled with perfect environmental conditions led to this debacle.

We’ve got a long road to recovery here. They are saying it could be weeks until they let people back into the affected areas, and who knows how long until they can get the utilities restored. When the winter rains come, there’s going to be bad mudslides everywhere since there’s few trees left to hold up the hillsides. At last count, there are are somewhere around 80,000 refugees in the Santa Cruz area alone. I think there are 275,000 people displaced statewide from the other massive fires. Things are never going to be the same. I guess 2020 is the wretched gift that keeps on giving.

Anyways, keep calm and carry on out there everyone. Dogfish out.

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Fishing, mountain life

Fire on the Mountain

Greetings and salutations to everyone, it’s been a little while since I’ve last hollered at ya’ll. Not much has been going on in the last month. I’ve been getting decent work and have been staying afloat financially, which is no small feat in this COVID reality.

Last weekend the boys & I went salmon fishing and Catdaddy got a 20 lb’er. We also caught a barely-legal 8 lb’er that we didn’t even know was on the line until we brought it up. We saw some whales close by, within 100 yards or so. I tried to take pics, but they were unspectacular, as whale pics tend to be. Whales are pretty damn difficult to get good shots of, they’re just so random with their surfacing.

Catdaddy with the catch of the day.

In the month and a half I’ve been up here on the mountain, I hadn’t seen any snakes. As a reptile fan I was hoping I’d run into some slithery serpents at some point, but I never did. Earlier this week though, I was giving some water to this pumpkin vine that is growing on top of the compost pile when I saw this good-sized garter snake leap up out of the thicket. I was able to snatch it up before it could make its great escape. I had a real good time just hanging out with the little fellow.

At my last job, I worked at this big garden in Hot Springs, AR. One of my unofficial duties was snake catcher. If a snake was spotted anywhere, I’d get dispatched to go catch it. Nothing like catching a copperhead at 7 AM, it wakes you up better than coffee! I just love catching and handling snakes.

Garters are such chill little creatures.

It was wild when the very next day, Jacob starts hollering about something. I get out of my truck and see he’s caught a big rattlesnake! Jacob had been telling me he catches them every now and then, but I hadn’t seen any until that day. We were under the assumption that it was a pygmy rattlesnake, but it had this green sheen to it that I’ve never seen before in a rattlesnake.

There have been rumors that the Mojave green rattler is moving up into central California. If this was one of them, it was not good news. Those snakes are really deadly and aggressive. To check on the identification of the serpent, I submitted a pic to Reddit to see what they thought about it. It was confirmed that this was a Northern Pacific rattlesnake, pygmy’s don’t live in California. Well, you learn something new every day!

The snake was mostly green-tinted on the upper third of its body. You can tell by the number of rattles that it was an old serpent.

That brings me up to the events of the last 18 hours. So we have been in the middle of this massive heat wave here in California. Temps have been way over 100 degrees for the past 3-4 days. Down in the on-grid world, they are having rolling blackouts due to energy demand from AC units. On the mountain it’s been brutally hot, temps in the day have been 105 to 110 with not a breath of wind. In the 17 years I have lived here, I’ve never experienced such heat. These are Mojave Desert temperatures! It only gets down to around 80 at night, so no relief there. It’s been hard on all of us.

I just moved into some cabins on my buddy’s property, so after 8 months of truck life I have a roof over my head again. It’s amazing to actually have space to move about in! I love sleeping in my camper but it was getting real old. I’ve had my own houses to live in for over a decade, but the past 2 years I’ve been a nomad floating from place to place. I feel a bit more human having my own roost once again.

Anyway, so I made my first pot of jambalaya in many months last night as my first offical dinner in my new place. As I was eating, Jacob came over and told me there were weather warnings of strong thunderstorms rolling through from 11 PM to 11 AM. This was news to me, as I hadn’t gotten any alerts on any of my weather apps. I guess Cal-Fire issued a warning to residents in places most likely to be affected by fires started by lightning. As it is bone-dry up here, this is an enormous concern for our community. Last Chance Rd. is our only way in or out, and if that gets blocked by fire our only option is to be evacuated by helicopter.

Now, normally we don’t get storms until October. This was really out of the ordinary. It seems a hurricane down in Mexican waters sent out a bunch of tropical thunderstorms our way. I’m glad Jacob told me about it and gave me a head’s up, as it was a good thing to be aware of. As the hours passed by, it was as still and hot as ever. I tried to go to sleep around 1:30, but the heat was just too much. I had every door open for any hint of a breeze, but none stirred. About the time I went to bed I became aware of distant booms that sounded like an artillery barrage. Along with this were distant lightning flashes. The storm raged far away for a while.

I thought that maybe the storm would skirt by us, but all of a sudden, the wind started to pick up. It was astonishing to actually feel a breeze once again, but the way it started to blow, I could tell that we were about to be in for it. Before I knew it, my cabin started to get pelted by all kinds of branches and debris. Huge gusts of wind started to blow fiercely across the top of our ridge here.

Now, I have been in hurricanes before. Once I was even in a tornado. All of a sudden, I started to feel like I was about to be in a weather event such as those things. The winds started to moan like a train was headed our way. Then, it was like the wind suddenly turned up steadily like it was the volume control on a stereo. The cabin was then engulfed in a chaotic windstorm! It was like being in the middle of a twister! I could hear tons of smashing and breaking sounds outside. The windows of the cabin flung open and all kinds of forest duff filled the room. I expected that any moment a tree would come crashing down, so I just laid on my bed and braced for impact.

After about five minutes of this however, the wind calmed. The thunder and lightning were raging hardcore overhead still though. It was like being in the middle of a maelstrom! As suddenly as the fierce squall arrived, it was gone. It then started to rain afterwards for a good while. This was such a good thing to have happen though, as I figured that there had to be some kind of fires resulting from this. Moisture of any kind would be an enormous benefit to help keep the blazes at bay.

After that initial big blast, the winds would alternate between gusts and periods of calm the rest of the night. Things kept crashing against the cabin, constantly waking me up even though I was wearing earplugs. Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

In the morning, Jacob woke me up and told me a tree had fallen on his cabin. In the chaos of the wicked gust, it was so noisy I didn’t even hear the tree fall. Fortunately it didn’t damage his roof. He also told me that there were numerous fires sparked by lightning burning up around us in the mountains. We could actually see a plume of smoke off in the distance, right behind this ridge to the south-west. At this point, the smoke wasn’t too bad. I took a long nap and woke up to the sounds of my friends and a couple of neighbors cheering outside. The big C-130 fire-fighting planes were dropping flame retardant on the fire, which had turned from a plume to a big column of smoke.

Amazingly, no damage was done to the roof by the falling trees.
When the plane dropped its payload, we cheered like we were at a football game!

There was a lot of discussion between us and the neighbors about the wild storm and the ensuing blaze that followed. Everybody had a story to tell about that first huge rush of wind. Everyone agreed that it was the most intense wind they had ever experienced on the mountain. A couple who live a little further down from us who moved here in the 70’s said it was the worst wind they had ever experienced here. This year just keeps on with the insanity, I guess.

We kept getting updates on the fires all night. It was essential that we stay on top of what the fire was getting up to. If it starts threatening our exit we’re gonna have to get out of here with a quickness.

By this morning (Monday) the smoke laid thick over the valley. No C-130’s today, instead, a parade of helicopters with water buckets swarmed all over the sky. It feels like we are in the middle of a military operation with all the aircraft and haze everywhere. It’s still crazy hot, but temps have gone down to the lower 90’s. It almost feels cold compared to the hellish temps of the past week. The thick smoke actually blocks a lot of the sunlight, which is nice.

Our view on Monday. Smoke has increased considerably.

It is still tense up here, but we feel better about things than yesterday. The community is on high alert still. We get regular updates from the Last Chance community email list. The fires are not large, 25-40 acres, but they are stubborn and won’t go out completely. There’s anywhere from 0-25 percent containment. Ash is beginning to settle all over everything and the air is getting a bit harsh to breathe.

In the middle of this dire situation, our real good buddy, The Professor, came down from up north to visit. We were super stoked to have him down. Wherever The Professor goes, good times follow. Some levity was definitely needed. We hung out all night. At one point we went out to the driveway vista spot to watch the glow of the fires burning three miles away.

It took me back to when I lived in Hawaii. Me and my girlfriend at the time lived only 20 miles from Volcanoes National Park, so we’d go out and watch the lava flow into the ocean occasionally. It was really spectacular to see it at night. You could look up the volcano and see a ribbon of fire going all the way up to the vent, which had the same glow as these fires up here. Fire is nature’s paintbrush. Sometimes it creates things like lava flows, but most of the time it just destroys. It’s humbling to be so close to the possible agent of your obliteration.

The fire, zoomed in with night mode activated.
“Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” They say this about storms at sea, but the smoke is doing the same thing here.
The view on Tuesday. Now you can’t even see past the trees at the edge of the property.

As I type this (Tuesday) The smoke is thick as fog. Everything is heavily dusted in ash. It even got through the mosquito netting on the doors of my cabin. It is an apocalyptic scene. The choppers have been at the fire non-stop. You can’t see them but you can sure hear them going about their business. It’s like being downwind of a campfire you can’t get away from. It’s all good though, I just put a pot of black-eyed peas on to boil. This is just another thing we have to get through, like all things it will pass.

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Fishing

Rock Hopping in Half Moon Bay

I decided to take off a week writing for my blog as I didn’t get up to much other than working. I was doing this wood chipper job with some neighbors that was rather taxing. I was working with some good folks and it paid well, although I got all beat up from the limbs and brush wacking me. It was pretty exhausting work for sure. After a full day of doing that I would be completely exhausted. I just wanted to come home, drink a beer or two, cook food and pass out. I didn’t have much energy for writing.

I had really been wanting to go do some rock-hopping on the south jetty up at Half Moon Bay for a while. After getting my bills paid and having a little extra left over, I took advantage of my free day this past Friday and headed up there. Since I’m almost halfway there living on the coast, it was an easy decision to make. I really like the town. Half Moon Bay is one of those towns like Moss Landing that still has a thriving fishing industry going on, I really like the vibe there. It’s an unpretentious little place like Moss Landing, the people are cool and there are some nice views to be had.

Back in my early days of fishing out here, I belonged to this online forum called ‘Pier Fishing in California’. It was, as the name suggests, primarily focused towards pier fishing. There was a thriving shore-fishing community there as well. Most of the pier fishing guys were old retired fellows, but the guys who liked to rock-hop, cliff and beach fish were younger guys like myself. We’d have meetups from SF Bay all the way down to Big Sur. I really enjoyed spending time with these dudes who really showed me a lot I know today in regards to shore angling.

The south jetty at HMB was a pretty popular meetup spot. The jetty is pretty unique in that you can catch deep-sea fish off the ocean-facing side. The rocks go almost a mile out to sea, and the water gets pretty deep pretty fast. There is a technique I was taught to fish there that involved casting swimbaits off the top of the jetty as far as you can. When they hit the bottom, you’re right at the point where the rocks of the jetty meet the sand bottom. All kinds of species like thresher sharks, rock cod, ling cod and halibut are caught there using this approach. I’ve seen all those species landed there since I’ve been going to that spot. It’s not a place for the easily frustrated, as since you’re casting into rocks you’re going to get some hangups and lose some gear. It’s such a lovely spot to go though, it is worth the hassle it takes to fish there.

Looking at the jetty from across Highway 1 where I parked The Beast.

I left the mountain around six, but by the time I drove to HMB, ate breakfast and hit up the bait shop, it was around 9 when I got to the jetty. I had brought my medium-size rod and reel shore combo to fish with this day which consisted of my 10 and 1/2 foot Shimano Talora medium-light shore casting rod with my Shimano Curado baitcasting reel. I’ve got 30 lb green Power Pro braid on the reel, and a shock leader made from 50 lb monofilament. This is my go-to setup for casting jigs from shore. Shimano makes some fine gear, I really love this combo. That coupled with some swimbaits makes for a great rig to catch whatever may be swimming out there off the rocks or beach.

A pic of my sweet setup.

The first thing I noticed when I got up on the jetty is that there was a 10-15 mile per hour wind steadily blowing up from the south. As I was going to be casting directly into the wind this was going to pose some problems. I only had 1, 1.5 and 2 oz jigheads on me, and I didn’t figure out that all of these were too light to work for me until I had hiked a half hour to the last 2/3 of the jetty. I could only cast around 20 to 25 feet when the minimum distance I needed was around 40 feet.

I was all the way out here when I realized I hadn’t quite planned for the conditions. That weird-looking thing in the background on the right is Pillar Point Air Force station.

This left me in a pickle. Should I just wait out the wind or pack up, walk all the way back to my truck and hit up the bait shop again? I checked out a wind prediction app I have on my phone called Windy and it told me the wind was only going to build through the day. The wind usually doesn’t pick up until after noon, so to have it blow up so early screwed things up for me. I finally decided to walk all the way back, make my way once again to the bait shop and pick up some 3 oz jigheads. That was the only way I was going to be able to fish successfully that day.

Back I went to the bait shop and bought plenty of the necessary tackle I needed. I debated on if I should maybe try to fish the north jetty since I was over that way. I drove over and realized that it was probably a half mile walk to just get to the rocks, and another half mile of rock hopping after that. I noped out and drove back to where I had been earlier. Once again I made the long trek out to the end. The heavier jigheads did improve my casts to get to the minimum distance I required. However, there was so much seaweed down underneath the surface that every cast brought back a lure covered in vegetation. I got snagged around 6 times in the rocks as well, fortunately I was able to get free each time.

The usual result of my many casts out on the jetty.
On the inside of the jetty, the water is calm and clear. I’ve never known anyone to catch fish on this side.
On the outside of the jetty there are constant waves and water movement. All the fishing action is on this side.

After a while, I finally got hung up and wound up losing my swimbait. I debated on tying up another one and to keep on trying to fish, but it was useless with all the salad in the water. I had a long walk and drive ahead of me so I decided to pack it up around 3:30. I made my way back to my truck and headed on back up the mountain.

Nice view of the harbor from the rocks.

When I got back up to Last Chance, Jacob informed me that Catdaddy had gotten in touch with him. He was rip-roaring to go out salmon fishing again, and they had made plans to do just that. I was pretty wiped out from rock-hopping all day, but I figured I’d be recovered by the next morning so I said I’d go with them. Hopefully I’d get into the fish once again! The odds were pretty good, the conditions were going to be perfect, and the salmon had been on the bite.

I got to bed early and caught some good sleep. The next day I was sore but had decent energy, enough for a day of salmon fishing at least! Jacob and I picked up Catdaddy and the Sea King as usual and had an uneventful launch at Moss Landing. The seas were dead calm and the winds were almost nonexistent as well. There was ample fog cover and a rising tide, so conditions were optimal for fishing.

Headed out in the foggy dawn with the Moss Landing smokestacks in the background.

Catdaddy usually has the fishing spots on his Navionics app on this phone, but a disaster happened to said phone and all the points had been erased. He had a pretty good idea where they were in relation to some of the topographic bottom features however, so we made our way to a close approximation of where the honey hole should be. We ran our downriggers really deep, around 280 feet or so. Nothing happened for a couple hours, then Jacob saw his rod doing some funny stuff. He checked it, and sure enough, it was Fish On! It didn’t put up much of a fight until it got close to the boat, then it decided to get a little crazy. Catdaddy swooped up what turned out to be a 20 lb, 35 inch salmon. It was a damn good catch. We had blood on the decks!

Another fine salmon to put on ice! Note the outline of the bite from an unknown predator underneath Jacob’s left hand.

Interestingly, the salmon has a big bite mark on its side that had to come from a sea lion or shark. We figured that it most likely was a sea lion, but thought it would be bad-ass if this warrior salmon had escaped from the clutches of a Great White Shark!

We continued to troll all around the area where the fish hit. As the afternoon wore on, the ocean remained calm and the winds never came up. This is almost unheard of seven miles out to sea, so we just stayed out on the water. Nothing was biting, but we were having a fine time out at sea drinking barley-pops and shooting the shit. The afternoon soon turned into evening, and we watched the sun sink into the sea. I can’t remember the last time I stayed out so long on the ocean fishing. We were out there twelve hours, it was a grand day to be on the water.

It’s not common for me to be watching the sunset from the sea. It was a nice way to end the day.

Well, score another one for the Sea King! Even though the fishing was slow, the quality of the one fish we caught and the excellent sea conditions more than made up for it. We managed to add some more salmon to the stockpile, and I got to go fishing for two days in a row. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

On a final note, today I worked doing wood chipping again up in the beautiful Bonny Doon redwoods. On the way back, I was riding with my neighbor when she spotted whale spouts out at sea around Davenport. There were at least a couple pods of Humpback whales a half mile out or so, and occasionally you’d see a fluke or the random breach. It was cool to see so many whales from shore, so we pulled over and I took some pictures. They didn’t turn out very good, but I figured I’d include one just for the hell of it. Whales are just cool to witness, I could never tire of watching them wherever I see them!

Times like this I wish I had a telephoto lens!
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Fishing

The California Sleigh Ride

Not much has been going on up here on the mountain the past week. Still no word on Alaska. If I haven’t heard anything by Monday I’m going to email my manager at the lodge and see what is going on with the situation up there. I’ve been working some, and have been watching shows on my phone and reading to pass the time. It’s been sweltering in the day, and chilly at night. The winds have been almost non-existent during the day, so hordes of mosquitoes, flies and bees are swarming around everywhere.

For me, it’s been a choice of being eaten alive or cooking in my camper shell. I’ve mostly stuck to baking in my aluminum can with the swamp coolers on high and all windows open. This makes it tolerable. At least it’s dry, the heat is preferable to being damp and cold all day as I was this past winter. Since I don’t have anything significant to write about at the moment, I thought I’d write about my early days fishing here in Monterey Bay. I want to tell ya’ll about the time I went on what I like to call the ‘California Sleigh Ride’.

Back in 2011, I was just getting started fishing out here. I had been spending a lot of time fishing off of Capitola Wharf getting the hang of things. I would use Sabiki rigs to catch live bait like mackerel, sardines and anchovies during the day, and at night I would use these baits to try for sharks or rays after dark. It was fun, but a little aggravating having to answer the question “What are you fishing for” every five minutes from tourists & passer-by. If I’m fishing alone, I’d rather not have to interact with anyone more than I have to. It was during this period I caught the dogfish shark that I’m named after.

The Dogfish with his namesake.

I soon grew tired of wharf fishing and longed to cast a line in deeper waters where the real fish resided. At the wharf they’d let you rent skiffs for around 100 bucks a day, so I’d get friends to help split the cost and we’d go out. The skiffs only had 6 hp outboards on them so they weren’t fast at all, but you could take them up to 3 miles from the wharf. This allowed you to hit all the local reefs and do some decent rock cod, ling cod and halibut fishing.

In addition to these fish, there were stories from the guys that ran the boat rental that they’d occasionally catch white sea bass from the skiffs. The white sea bass are nicknamed ‘ghosts’ by the local fisherman because of the way they would haunt the local kelp beds. They are among the largest, most elusive gamefish in Monterey Bay. Not many anglers can say they have caught one. My friends and I would ply the skiff rental guys with booze to try and get them to spill their guts about their white sea bass honey holes, but they wouldn’t ever tell us.

I became obsessed with catching one of these fish. It was hard to do though, you pretty much had to dedicate your fishing to just that one species of fish. The way you catch them is to fly line just a hook baited with fresh (not frozen) squid and let it drift behind your boat. The chances of catching one are very slim, so when you’ve spent so much money to rent a boat, you’re going to want to fish for something that may give you a better return on your investment. We tried and tried for one of these beasts, but were never successful.

Around this time, we started hearing rumors about a giant school of these fish in the waters down by Monterey. They were only reachable by boat however. Since no one in my fishing circle had access to a boat, we were out of luck. Then, amazingly, I get a call from my friend Cole. It seemed his dad (who was an experienced sailor) had an 8 foot Zodiac boat that he wasn’t using at the time. He proposed that we should try and take it out to sea and go after the sea bass. It was a pretty crazy idea to take such a small craft into the maw of the Monterey Bay, but it just might be crazy enough of an idea to work!

At the time I was busy working, so he and a now-deceased friend loaded up the boat and took it down to Monterey one morning. It was a pretty ballsy thing to do! I was glued to my phone to hear how it worked out. That afternoon I heard from Cole. Not only did they launch successfully and not drown, they actually caught a sea bass! I couldn’t believe it, they proved it was possible! I got myself into a frenzy thinking about catching one myself. I asked Cole when he could go out again and if I could roll with him. He said he would be ready to go out in another 3 days or so and I could absolutely accompany him. I was super stoked!

I got everything ready to go while I waited for the big day. Fortunately the bait shop had a bunch of fresh dead squid which was essential bait, it’s what Cole had caught his on. When the day arrived, I went to Cole’s and we loaded up the Zodiac and the little outboard he had to propel it. I thought we were going to head back down to Monterey, but Cole informed me that he had heard the sea bass were now schooling off of Moss Landing. I guess they were migrating, following the huge schools of squid that were moving north. That was some good information to know, I guess we were going to be going out of Moss Landing that day!

Moss Landing is the best place to go out of on the Bay. It is also the most treacherous due to the fact that it is the closest to the underwater canyon which underlies the Bay. Only a quarter of a mile out of the harbor the depth is 200 feet. It later drops to a mile deep, so if you could see it from land, it would look like the Grand Canyon. It is one of the largest and deepest submarine canyons in the world. This is what makes the fishing so good, you’ve got all these nutrients coming up out of the depths that support a lot of marine life.

All this is well and good when you are in a normal boat that can take the unpredictable currents, waves and wind that result from not being in the more protected waters to the north. We were in a Zodiac of all things, not something you want to take out to sea even in the best conditions. When we arrived down to the harbor, we found the conditions to be calm fortunately. Unfortunately for us however, there was a pea-soup fog limiting visibility to a couple hundred yards. Adding to this bad news was that we heard from the fishermen at the ramp that the local fleet had found the school seven miles north and three miles out of Moss. We could make it there and back, but it was going to be a dangerous trip to undertake.

We had come this far, and the allure of having the school within reach compelled us to go on out anyway. We were equipped with a radio and life jackets, so we thought if something bad happened we’d be within range of rescue. Onward into the fog we went! As we went north parallel to the shore, the fog thinned a little so our visibility improved a little bit. After about an hour or so, we started worrying that we had missed the fleet in the fog. Suddenly, we started seeing boats pop up out of the mists. We found the fleet! They were still a ways out, so we had to go offshore a little bit more. When we arrived, there must have been at least fifty boats spread out over a mile or so. Not sure on where to start fishing, we made our way into the middle of the fleet and dropped lines.

Needless to say, we got a lot of crazy looks from the people on the boats. They must have thought we were nuts! Actually, looking back on it now, they were right! We had to do it though, we couldn’t back down. Like that old quote says, “Fortune favors the brave” and all that.

There were a lot of things we had to watch out for, one being the fact that we had a sharp gaff in an inflatable boat in 50 degree water 3 miles out. One wrong move and we would have put a hole in the thing. We had discussed the protocol on landing a fish beforehand so in the excitement one of us didn’t go wild and gaff a big hole in the boat. If one person got a fish on, the other was responsible for gaffing and anything else that happened. There wasn’t a lot of space to work with, so we needed to make sure we had an understanding.

Since we didn’t have a fish finder, we decided to fish at different depths to increase our chances of a hookup. Cole fly lined his bait close to the surface, while I put on a bit of weight so my bait was closer to the bottom. Usually you don’t put any weight on since white sea bass are usually higher up in the water column, but I had a hunch. An hour passed by and we didn’t get any action. We were about to move to another spot when WHAM! I had Fish On!

It was like I had hooked up with a freight train. There was no doubt what it was. Until this point, I had never had anything this big on the other end of my line in these waters. It was pandemonium on deck. Cole and I were completely freaked out as I fought the beast. I would take up a bunch of line only to have it sizzle back out at almost the highest drag setting. I came close to getting spooled numerous times, but I kept up with the fish. For twenty minutes the fight went on, and for that time there was nothing in this world but me and that fish. It was probably the most intense fight I’ve ever been in, there was so much at stake. We put our lives on the line to have a shot at catching this fish, there was no way I was going to lose it!

At long last, we saw color as the fish rose to the boat. When it surfaced, we gasped at the size of the thing. It was almost as big as the boat it seemed! Cole was right on it though, he took the gaff and plugged it perfectly. With one giant heave he threw it into the bottom of the Zodiac. It filled the whole bottom of the boat. It felt unreal, like I was in a dream. Suddenly, I was aware of cheering and hand clapping. I looked up and three boats we had been a quarter of a mile away from at the start were now only about 40-50 yards away. The fish had towed us that far! It took us on a California sleigh ride!

Everyone on those boats had been watching the fight the whole time, now we were receiving a standing ovation. At that moment, I felt as proud of my achievement as anything else I have done before or since in my life. It was a moment I’ll remember on my deathbed, it was incredible. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

After our celebrations, we fished for another hour trying to catch another one but we didn’t even get a bite. We decided to head on in, our work was done for the day. The chop had increased and it was time to make our way back before we got swamped. About halfway on our return, I was sitting on the bow while Cole drove. We were having lively discussions about our victory, and our guard was down in regards to the seas we were moving through. Suddenly, it felt like the bottom of the Zodiac blew out and we found ourselves with a boat full of water! I’ll never forget the look of panic on Cole’s face. We were still about a mile offshore, and the fish started floating out of the boat. My first instinct was to grab the fish around the tail and was prepared to swim to shore if necessary. I had no thoughts about my own life, I wasn’t going to let this fish go for anything!

Cole, moments before disaster struck.

We started bailing like maniacs. I still had no idea what had happened, one minute we were doing great and the next the whole ocean had filled the boat. Like I said, I thought the bottom had blown out of the thing. As we bailed I noticed no more water was coming in, so everything was all right. It took a while for us to calm down, that was an absolutely terrifying experience! After we got the water out, we figured out what had happened. Since I was sitting on the bow of the boat, it couldn’t crest the waves properly. My weight had caused the boat to dig into a nice swell instead of floating over it. Relieved that this was the case, I sat in the bottom of the Zodiac with the fish and we carefully made our way back to port without any further issues.

We hollered at a bunch of folks when we got back to land, and by the time we returned to Cole’s, quite a few people were there to check out the fish. It didn’t take long to slice up some massive fillets and we put on a nice BBQ for everyone. I later made a lot of sushi out of my half of the fish, it was better than anything you would find in a restaurant! It just melted in your mouth and was just all around excellent.

Another pic of the great beast. As you can see, its head was almost as big as mine! It measured 4 feet long and weighed 40 lbs.

So that is the story of one of my greatest all-time catches. I guess you could say I found my ‘Great White Whale’ like Captain Ahab did in Moby Dick. I’ll never forget the fight of that beast in such an unlikely vessel. It made one hell of a fishing story! I’d love to try fighting a big fish in say, a kayak or something similar at some point in the future. Nothing like getting towed by your catch on a sleigh ride!

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Fishing

Here Comes Salmon Claus

You see, unlike Kris Kringle, Salmon Claus isn’t bound to one single day on the calendar, No, Salmon Claus can ride in on his boat any day during salmon season. You always hope he’s gonna roll up when you’re out there on the Briny Deep, but it’s never a given. Well, he sure did stop and pay us a visit! I didn’t think a day could go better than our last jaunt, but boy, was I wrong!

Jacob and I got up really early this past Saturday and made the hour drive down to Catdaddy’s to pick up him and the Sea King. The day looked like it was going to be a hot one. Summer has finally hit its stride around here, and without a bimini top, it was going to be sweltering out on the water. There was some nice fog hanging on halfway down the Bay, so we hoped it would linger as long as possible.

After stopping by the Moss Landing bait shop/liquor store for ice and last-minute gear (and Jacob scoring that sweet sticker for the boat) we headed off to the boat launch. There was a bit of mechanical failure down at the ramp, but it wasn’t enough to derail our day. We soon got underway and headed on out to the area we had such good luck at on the previous outing. When we arrived, I put my freshly tied rigs on mine and Jacob’s rods and we sent our lines down to around 200 feet on the downriggers.

We were hoping for some early action like what happened the last time, but there wasn’t anything going on initially. We opened up some barley-pops and got our troll on. As these things usually go, it was a matter of working water and having patience. It was probably an hour or so into our day when Jacob’s line popped off and it was Fish On! The fish turned out to be quite a fighter as Catdaddy and myself brought up our lines and downriggers. I kept the boat straight as Catdaddy was on the net. Jacob got the fish up to the boat and Catdaddy swooped it up. It was a big ‘ol fish! I got out the scale and weighed it, and it was a 20 lb’er. That’s a big fish for the Bay! More importantly, the knots on my rig held true. No matter how secure I thought my knots were, there is nothing like testing them out in the field under real-world conditions.

The skipper with the first fish of the day.

Things were off to a great start. We got re-rigged and bracketed that spot with our trolling. It wasn’t long before my line popped, and it was Fish On for The Dogfish! I was amped as hell, as I was shut out on the last trip, so I really wanted to land this one. In salmon fishing, every bite counts. You might get one bite a day so it definitely puts on the pressure to not farm your hookup. I got it up to the boat and one of the boys netted it. It was glorious! I was whooping and hollering to bring down the house. My first salmon of the year! Again, my knots held true. I think I can safely say I’ve got this salmon rigging down.

Your’s truly with a nice 15 lb’er.
After I landed the salmon, Jacob suggested I do my best ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage impression. I daubed on some salmon blood and looked as savage as I felt!

Now we were riding high! Already the day was a roaring success. It took us a little longer to get fish on board on this outing, but every time you go out things go differently. You’ve just got to roll with whatever comes your way out on the water. Salmon Claus wasn’t done with us yet though! Not long after my catch, Catdaddy’s line went off the downrigger! You could tell by how it behaved it was a real beast. He managed to get it up to the boat and it was sucessfully landed. This one was a true beast, the biggest fish of the day! It weighed in at 25 lbs and was 35 inches if I remember correctly. We now had 60 lbs of salmon on board. Salmon Claus had not forgotten us on the 4th of July!

The spirit of Salmon Claus runs deep with Catdaddy!
A very happy crew.

Not long after the catching of the third salmon, the winds & swell started to pick up. We tried as hard as we could for a fourth fish, but as things were getting pretty nautical out there, it was time to make our way back to port. We had done what we had set out to do, there wasn’t any point in lingering around when the winds pick up as they inevitably will in the afternoon. It was a bit tricky getting back to Moss, but we made it back without any problems. Upon our arrival back to Catdaddy’s, I again volunteered for fillet duty. It’s a little tough when the fillets are wider than your fillet knife is long, but I managed. It was a good problem to have!

We were some happy fishermen at day’s end. Nothing better than a productive day out on the water.

We spent the evening ringing in the 4th in classic style and good times were had by all. Catdaddy has a vacuum sealer so we got the fillets all nice and packaged up. We each wound up with 10+lbs of fillets, it was a treasure hoard! Later on after we got back to Last Chance, Jacob cooked up some salmon slabs on the grill and we all feasted. It was just as good as before. Eating fresh salmon properly bled, gutted & prepared is always a transdescent experience. It was a great end to another awesome fishing expedition. Maybe next time we’ll try for halibut, as we’re going to be stocked up on salmon for a while!

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Fishing

The Crazies Are Coming Out of the Woodwork

This past Tuesday, I had time on my hands, so I ran down into town to post my unemployment forms. Maybe something will come out of it, even a little bit would be of immense help. After I did this, I stopped to get gas at Rotten Robbie’s on Mission. As I was in my truck cleaning out trash, a whole flotilla of Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Office vehicles screamed by. The police went streaming back in the other direction a couple minutes later, followed by a fire engine. It was utter bedlam! 

I went to pay for my gas and the attendant was tripping out. I’m like, “Man, there must be a pursuit going on or something!” To which he responded, “Yeah man, they were chasing a Prius of all things! It was doing at least 65!” (The speed limit on Mission is like 25.) We had a laugh about the unlikely choice of vehicle to evade the police in. We also agreed that the world was truly losing its collective mind.

After this, I drove up to Scott’s Creek close to the bottom of the mountain where I am staying. Highway 1 on the way up was just jammed with people at every beach. It was on a Tuesday, looking like holiday crowds! I guess since everyone is unemployed, there’s nothing better to do. There was also a lot of cops all up and down the road, lights flashing. I figured it had something to do with whatever had gone on earlier.

Arriving at my destination, I was wanting to check out the beach’s fishability, and to see if there were any good-sized sandcrabs in abundance. Sandcrabs are excellent bait for surf perch, and in particular, striped bass. Surf perch are really tasty, but the meat is really mushy. It’s like the saltwater equivalent to a bluegill or sunfish. Striped bass are much more desirable, but in the many times I have fished for them, I’ve yet to catch one. I’ve always casted lures, which are effective if you happen to get lucky and find a school.

Most of the time when I have seen fishermen at the beach with huge stripers in hand, they always caught them the same way. They were caught using sandcrabs with fixed poles on sandspikes. I don’t like hauling a lot of gear around with me when I go to the beach, so I’ve been stubborn and never went that route. I just recently decided to get a sandspike and switch things up however. It only works if you find big enough sandcrabs that they’ll munch on though.

Scott’s Creek beach looking north. Usually this beach is really popular with the parasailing crowd, but there were none in evidence this day.

I got all rigged up and headed down to the water to see what I could see. The first thing I checked was the sandcrab situation. There were lots of them there, but they were all really tiny, about the size of an English Pea. Quarter size is good for perch, and a half dollar for stripers. Maybe in a month they’ll have grown and it’ll be prime time here, but not now for sure. The winds were blowing pretty strongly and the surf was raging as I made a few casts. Each time I did so, I got gunked up with kelp and other marine plant debris. It was apparent that this beach doesn’t look too promising for what I want to do, at least for the time being. I’ll have to hit it again at a future time.

The next day the first thing I did was check the news on what went down the day before involving so many police. It turns out some guy had been up right around where I had fished the day before, and had fired shots into the air. He got reported, and as the cops closed in, he carjacked someone and fled! Right after I saw the pursuit, the cops gave up the chase as it was in a crowded urban area to keep people from getting hurt. The bozo then went down to West Cliff Drive and just drove off a cliff into the ocean! It was probably a 50 foot plunge into the sea. Somehow the guy survived, and is now in a whole heap of trouble, I bet.

People are just cracking up left and right around here lately! We also just had that case of some ex-military guy looking to start the boogaloo ambush and kill a Sheriff’s deputy over in Ben Lomond a couple of weeks ago. He had a whole bunch of pipe bombs and was heavily armed to boot. The crazies are starting to swarm like mosquitoes. I guess the world ain’t ending fast enough for these kind of people.

Anyways, later on in the day, me and the boys went down to help out a neighbor that was moving out of her place. I got a chance to meet some neighbors I hadn’t met yet, and we hauled a shed and a couple of non-functional SUV’s up the hill to her new spot. When we were done, she brought out all kinds of food and we had a nice little BBQ. It was really nice and relaxed, with dogs, kittens, and chickens hanging out with us as we all socialized. It’s such a nice pace of life up here, when someone needs help, all the neighbors pitch in to get things done. It’s like it was in the old days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a community like this in this part of California. I’ve never been in another place like it in the Santa Cruz area.

The past couple of days I’ve just been chillin’. I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s WordPress blogs to see what is going on out there in the blog-o-sphere. It’s been good to see how other writers express themselves and to maybe give me ideas how I can express myself better. I realized how important it is to have good tags on your posts, for instance. I’ve always enjoyed reading people’s blogs, but now that I’m writing one, seeing how everyone else approaches their topics is helping me to refine my own vision here on Tales of the Dogfish. It’s nice.

I found out today I may have some work coming in from my previous employer so that’s some real good news! I had thought I was out of that scene, it would be great to get back on board that train. I’m right at the edge of destruction financially, so that was reassuring news to hear. Another thing that is cool is that tomorrow, me and the boys are going back out to sea for another go at some salmon. We were short on salmon rigs, but between Jacob and I, we had the pieces to make our own. This is a skill I’ve been wanting to master for a while, so I just sat down and practiced until I got it right. Now that I know how to tie them, it’s going to be a big savings. They are going for 13 dollars apiece if you buy them at the bait shop, but if you make your own, the cost is only 4 bucks! Definitely the way to go!

My first snelled salmon rig. I actually learned how to tie an adjustable snell rig at the same time. Killed two birds with one stone!

We’re feeling good about tomorrow, the conditions look good out on the Bay for a day of fishing. I’ll see if I really did a proper job of tying those snells, if I didn’t, my boys might make me walk the plank! All right, Happy 4th of July everyone. I hope ya’ll can all celebrate the best way ya’ll can, given the current circumstances.

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