Friday, June 17, 2016

Central Cali Surf Perch Stars in Our Eyes and Sand in our Teeth

It has been a few days since I last posted. Sharon and I made it out of Nevada and over to the coast of California without incident. We've been through Paso Robles, over to Morro Bay and now back to Paso for a few days before heading back to the Pacific Ocean at Cayucos.

If you're wondering- but probably aren't.... -why I haven't written it's because I have been concentrating on the Morro Bay magazine story. For some reason when I'm working on one of these stories everything else goes out the window. More experienced writers may know how to get around it but being a bit of a neophyte it's still an issue. Anyway our first run out to the ocean went pretty well, salt scum on everything and excessive dust not withstanding. I can't remember the last time I had sand in my teeth for 2 days straight, but I'll get to that later.

When we pulled into Morro Bay we couldn't have asked for better weather or a more picturesque scene. The sky was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds on the horizon, the ocean a beautiful aquamarine and being visible from almost everywhere in the area, monolithic Morro Rock made for a tremendous natural point of reference. The dunes between our campground and the beach are covered with ice plants and several other flowering ground covers that I can't identify.

Early on in our first walk on the beach Sunday afternoon we were both amazed at the number of sand dollars on the beach. Other places we've been finding a sand dollar is a treat or as is the case in Panama City Beach almost a rarity to find one intact. When I spotted the first one it was pretty thrilling so I picked it up, then another and another until I had a veritable sand dollar fortune which being the philanthropic guy that I am I ended up leaving my fortune on the beach for someone more needy than myself. Seriously you could fill a tote sack with all the sand dollars on the Morro Strand State Beach in a single afternoon. It was good to see things like that still exist somewhere in the world.

I haven't seen that many sea birds in a small space in quite a while. There are enough that the locals hold a bird festival every year. There are Sand Pipers, Great Egrets, Little Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-color Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Ospreys, Cormorants, White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans and the venerable Sea Gulls not to mention all the land based birds. One of the most entertaining are the pelicans. They hunt the ocean breakers just off shore by gliding along in front of the breaker just before it rolls over. This apparently gives them a view into the water as they cruise along wings outstretched peering in looking for fish and suddenly they dive into the wave like a crashing surfer. As the wave rolls on in the Pelican bobs to the surface swallowing its catch before taking off to do it over again. The other amusing behavior is when they cruise along on the wind outside the breakers at about 30 feet over the ocean then suddenly dive in after a fish in the blink of an eye. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.

There's a song by the band STYX titled Nothing Ever Goes as Planned. While the title is not exactly accurate it does depict the nature of life as it seems when big plans are in the works. The plan was to come in and take the beach by storm, capture a memory card full of photos, catch a pot load of surf perch and be done with it all in the blink of an eye. Well...................

As it turns out fishing in the Pacific Ocean, specifically the central California coast, is a bit more fickle than fishing in the Gulf of Mexico which is where all my saltwater fishing experience lies. There is much more to consider than tides and the overall weather. There is a reason surfers like this part of the coast, it has REALLY BIG waves created by really strong winds. After a morning of scouting, and a few hours fishing on the second day I thought it was all down hill from there. That's when I got a chance to sit down and get a really good look at with a slightly better understanding of what it's like out there. With no available information about the surf fishing around Morro Bay I had been relying on the information available for counties north and south of San Luis Obispo County. As it turns out the surf is almost nothing like those other location in terms of the character. While fly casters in other locations seldom go out in swells of 3 feet or greater the fly casters around Morro Bay consider the best conditions to be swells of 3 to 6 or even 7 feet! That's brutal water that can hurt or drown you.

Being brave and, as Sharon points out some times, not too bright I adopted the local attitude.....that is until the wind set in. That's also when we hunkered down except when we had to go out. With sustained winds at close to 30 mph sand blows like a dust storm in west Texas. Sand in your teeth, hair, eyes and every other conceivable place on your body, in your vehicle does not make for a pleasant time especially when you need to take photographs for a magazine. Needless to say it did NOT go as planned.

On the upside it didn't go all bad either. The first morning out I hooked-up on a pair of what I think were surf perch but didn't land them. I also met a local that shared a lot of valuable information including the trick to landing fish in the violent surf hydraulics. Instinctively as a trout fisherman the rod goes up when a fish is on. Turns out this is absolutely the wrong thing to do when fishing in the surf. According to my new friend the proper technique is to put the rod ti[p down in the water, strip like hell and back onto the beach as fast as possible otherwise the hydraulic surge of the surf creates slack and the surf perch is gone. I learned that lesson the hard way.

As I write this a few things just occurred to me. I wonder if the editor knew that the surf is so much more volatile than other parts of the the west coast when he gave me the task of checking it out. If he did is that a vote of confidence or is he trying to bump me off? Either way the story is all but in the bag. We're heading back out that way after the weekend with stars in our eyes. The plan again is to finish getting photos and catch a few perch.......that is if we don't end up with sand in our teeth.

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