Fishing Stories

Guadalupe Story Midway Story Part 1 Midway Story Part 2

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

The Place:

220 South of San Diego, off the Northern part of Baja Mexico’s coastline and over 100 miles offshore lies an Island rarely visited by human. Unfished most of the time cause it’s "Damn sloppy". Volcanic in nature and pot-holed by crater mark or wind sweep.

The Time:

During a full moon phase of June 14-19 1989, Swordfish had been seen off the coastline and the spring fishing had just begun. Dark purple and gray patches of bait ruffled the smooth seas, dipping occasionally below sight in the gentle swell they swam peacefully and we caught several of them as bait. Almost a foot long they would be needed later.

Gaudalupe04.jpg (9565 bytes)Water temps at 64.6 and the Bluefin Tuna of Guadalupe Island were the quest. Large Freezers or cooler boxes were readied for their fill that prime delicacy of the sea. During the pre dawn hour we arrive in the lee of the island’s most southern end. In the protection of the offshore winds lies two small islands or rocks, Smooth Rock, an enormous stone rising dome like from the waters. Easing up to it’s face in the shallows we begin to make bait, catching Scade or Spanish Mackerel, their soft thin membrane jaw bone structure causes the hooks to pull easy and only a few of the precious baits are caught.

The Players:

Dan’s quick to grab a bait and puts the inflatable boat in the water and into it we all go. Dan and Mark are dragging the baits and I’m on the wheel, our mothership the "C-Time" gently pulls away and begins it’s own tack towards that other ugly massive rock known as Monster Rock an inverted volcanic island which has collapsed in upon itself with outside shear vertical walls flaking off it looks ominous. Elephant and Fir Seals bark their greeting as they rest on broken rock. The wash of the sea spreads foaming white and blue water against these amber colored mossy rocks and miniature waterfalls begin to cascade back and fill in holes from a swell that came from some untold distance. The current rips around the island and several million scad baitfish school in the clear blue waters, feeding on plankton life compressed by the currents. Our bliss is broken by a VHF call from Cami, the captain on the C-Time, they’ve already have hooked 2 fish one at 50 the other 60, and it’s only been minutes since we got here. They get bit again right in from of us, their diesels mark the strike. John O.’s on the fish , boiling tuna on our right and left now. The few straggling scads dart out from the pack are picked off by these lightning bolts from thGaudalupe02.jpg (34433 bytes)e sea. Marks bait erupts on the surface and it’s eaten right in front of us, the huge fish drives for single hundred yard streak, the line is popping of the reel at it snaps from one layer to another under drag, we spin and follow then another two hundred yards are pulled off the reel without stopping and the fish makes the corner of the island and cuts us off. Short but sweet the party was over way to quickly. We were left with that realization and returned into the lee of Monster Island for more bait and to regroup with the C-Time . Shoals of scad were milling within this crystal blue water. Like starling, flights of bending and shifting images with the slightest disturbance, then fear sweeps through them as they panic from some unseen enemy below then again calm is found though the safety of numbers. Casting small bait catching rigs we try to resupply our live baits, Dan lets his bait drift into the depths as we try for the baits, something woofs the bait and dives into the deep, the rod doubles over and the struggle begins then suddenly springs back another break off. to loose two big fish without seeing them is too much we return to the C-Time and find them fighting a fish on the starboard side. Already having taken four fish , one about 90lbs the other three about 60lbs. Replenished with new baits and cold beers we again join the sea. That afternoons fishing produced no more fish though several bites, retrieved baits found them either with broken necks or tooth scratched we again return to the C-Time for the short run across the gap to the shelter of Guadalupe Island. Extinct volcanoes and burnt our craters and their adjacent flows of harden lava with its dried yellow grasses sprouting through the cracks create he evenings landscape. Banks of fog veiled the crested jagged mountain tops as waves of turquoise green and blue ate away at the shoreline below. Five fish for ten strikes on the big boat and no fish for the skiff out of four bites. Dinner and a few drinks and stories and the day was at end.

The next mornings a different day, 10 to 12 knots of wind out of the west had come in overnight and blew off what cloud cover we had exposing the last of the setting full moon and created a little chop on the sea surface. Bait breaking off in the distance can be seen with an occasional white water splash of breaking tuna, off on the horizon a tuna is silhouetted against the mornings light. We again return across "Tuna Ally " as it’s called to the shelter of Monster rock again and drag the baits in the rippling currents, two fish out of the skiff the others remain on the C-Time. On board the bigger boat a hour goes by and the baits have washed out and are replaced with fresh ones as they drop back a flash of metallic blue and silver boils in the wake on Joel’s bait but misses the point of the hook. The skiff returns with a weird story, they had gotten bit by a seal which when hooked rushed off making a few jumps then oddly dies, maybe a heart attack or something? The weather seems to have settled down a bit and the continued milling of thousands of scad fish can be seen these clear waters, schools of bait rising up out of the depths. Dan and mark come aboard for lunch and we troll four baits out of back. I’m bit, I’M bit Dan sings out, Gaudalupe01.jpg (24838 bytes)Marks bait also picked up the airs charged with action as Cami engages the diesels and a puff of diesel smoke hangs in the air. Bills right there giving advise and clearing other lines, Dan’s hooks pulls and he retrieves a scared bait, Mark takes the fishes pull and hangs on as a hundred yards are pulled off. The rods tip dips to the beat of the fishes tail and estimates of the fishes size are made. Steady pumping retrieves the line and in the depths of the tuna rolls on it’s side shinning silver and blue in these depths, it only looks to be a inch long though it might be a 100lbs. The battle goes on in the cockpit as Came oversees from the bridge controls directing comments and advice. The never ending pressure from the rods tips raises the tuna, poised with gaffs a quick jab with it and the prize is ours, over the rail and into the boat, "Ya-hoos", Bill and Mark seemingly stare at the fish rebounding off the wet brown teak deck, droplets of blood rich in color flood the corner of the cockpit. Triumphantly they face each other, arms raised gaff in Bills hands rod in Marks "Yeah-ahhh!!! Marks elated with slapping and pats on his back.

Returning back to the art of slowtrollng baits under this ominous looking rock with it’s blue water which mesmerizing your look into it. So Far John. Joel, Bill and Mark have all gotten their fish Dan and Myself are fishless. Oh we’ve had our chances but this slow trolling the baits requires luck and that "right" feeling, freespooling the bait at the slightest bite. The bait, swimming in this watery world full of the abundance of life, with it’s shoals of Scads gliding back and forth in the lee, why would your bait out of all the other thousands be singled out, it’s the week one the straggler that gets fed on and the poor baitfish knows it, Tethered on a steel hook it’s slowly dragged along this abyss knowing full well that it’s chances of a long life are limited. Cami perched above chirps out questions, Is your bait nervous? He’s all jacked up for action. The C-Times running only on one engine now, the others primed and ready to fire up in a split second. We make another tack to the port side towards the underhanging of this cliff some size hundred feet above, in the insueing slack the throbbing beats of both baits tail heightens to a panic. The lines rips off under the free spool and the hooks are driven, Cami’s on it instantly as the other engine roars to life and again puffs of dark diesel smoke fills the air only to clear leaving a view of white swirling water left behind. The boat slides to a stop with taught lines weaving zig-zags behind us in the wake, then to our horror, crisis-crossing among themselves, quick decisions made, Over, under, no-no not that way, yeah, that it, phew. The lines part themselves, Dan fish dives to the depths, the other fish towards the rocks only a few yards away, solid hard pumping balances the run and flashes of sliver and blue violet can be seen in the dark glossy waters reflection of this overhanging cliff. Dan’s fish continues to take line, mine makes a dazzling dash for the rocks ziz--zagging it’s course with blinding speed, stern pressure on the fish finally turns it. The tuna receptively dives for freedom, each time its pumped back up, At last Bi9ll makes a valiant stab gaffing the fish and it’s pulled on board. A nice fat one, A quick cheer and on to Dan’s fish. Dan pulls hard, real hard like someone who’s been waiting for this fish for a long time. The tremendous pressure on the fish stall it’s run gaining line back as the fish is turned towards the boat Dan fills the spool Hard pressure "Take your time Dan" Take your time, don’t pull the hooks, The engine’s noise vibrates off the shear walls, echoing our voices back. Dan’s not going to give up another inch, bracing himself on the railing he tethers the fish, but for only a second then the hooks pulls, Aughh----No---Augh--No. We all stare for a few seconds consoling him.

After Dan loses his fish.

Returning back to the art of fishing in unspoken manners, Cami spins the boat back to where we had gotten the bites. Rods, reels and tackle put back in order, new baits back in the water in what seems like only seconds, "Are you ready to give it another go Dan?" Cami ask "yea" a little dejected, his spirits rise again as we quickly discuss his "Hour and a half fish in fifteen minutes". Now that was fun, Dan chirps in. Rounding the corner where we had the double, Dan refreshes himself with a beer. Bill already has the baits swimming behind the boat. Dan’s bait almost immediately gets nervous, " I’m bit, I’m bit! Engines roar back to life, another cloud of dark smoke emits, the cockpit springs to life in front of watchful eyes, the rod bows. Does it feel like a smaller or larger fish?", someone ask, Bill thinks from the pull on the rod that it may be smaller, Dan adds that "It’s the perfect size!", and that he’s got the drag backed off a little. Working into the trough and chop reflecting off the island, Dan tries to balance himself and keep even pressure on the fish in these sloppy seas. The inflatable skiff has been tied along the side of the boat all this time and sideways in the trough like we were the skiffs lines begin tearing at it’s holding grommets. As each new wave slaps against it begins to rip free. Dan remains composed in the cockpit while we secure it, leaning on the fish where possible, gaining some line, losing other. The skiff appeared to be hanging on for the moment as the battle continued. Harnesses and belts adjusted, Dan pumps the fish up as he works from one side of the transom to the other. The fish could be seen circling in the deep, "Color, Color!", it’s blue side shining up through the depths. Relentlessly the fish rises, finally the swivel comes out, "a little more, a little more" circling the fish starts for under the boat, Bill, on his toes leans overboard, reaching out he gaffs the fish! A wave of relief and cheer sweeps over the boat, another fat one on board, eighty-five to hundred pounds. Line marks radiating from the corner of the tuna’s mouth show where the leader had worn. The fishes throat is cut quickly to drain the blood, a washdown and them into the fish hole.

What a day so far, "Now this is tuna fishin’!" Dan quotes. With the skiff still bouncing and dragging along we return back into the calm of the leeward side on Monster Rock. A time to get shipshape and to lift the skiff up and onto the bow of the C-Time, even thougGaudalupe03.jpg (17160 bytes)h teamwork quickly gets the job done, precious fishable minutes pass by. Now, Joel he’s the smartest one of the group, while we work he fishes. Dropping a bait back and letting it soak while we drift along in the lee of the island he relaxes sitting on the railing gazing up at this creation of rock and lava. Our job of securing the skiff on the bow completed we all return back to the cockpit for regrouping and fresh beers. Joel ejaculates "I think I’m getting a bite!", Cami guns the throttles, the rod’s tip becomes heavy under pressure, "Here we go again!" The rod’s tip relaxes for a moment, Joel questions himself whether or not he still has the fish on but Cami is already on top of the situation. He knows that a lot of line was out and hasn’t yet fully come tight. "Reel, Reel! he cries, the rod takes another bend, deeper this time it bows, throttles still pressed the engine roaring away, "Joel’s on!" What a day. here we are hooked up again! Cami backs off on the throttles and belt and harness are strapped around Joel. In tight to the island like this the fish sounds with terrific speed. Cami calls out the water’s depth, it’s relative shallow here on this shelf but as though the fish hears us it dives into the drop-off. Into the wind and chop it moves, deeper and deeper the fish sounds. Joel’s struggling trying to pace himself for the long battle. The rod bends deeply, throbbing with the beat of the fishes tail, Bill and John debate on the fishes size, Bill says it’s a "mold fish" ( a hundred pounder. they all look the same) other guesses and bets are made. Joel does an admirable job, lifting straining for only the few feet of line that he gains, pumping, reeling and using the boat as it drops in the swell to gain a few more feet only to loose it again to the pressure of the raising boat, rewinding, repumping, it makes a tough job of it. Time goes by, and times wears on both angler, fish and tackle . The fish works out even further into the deep. Cami continues to call out the ever-increasing depths. Joel labors under this continues pressure, John staying by his side giving him advise, It’s a time when friends can stand side by side and reflect with each other on the nature of it all, the sea, the sky, the fish and that feeling of just being alive in this world, the essence of it all. Hard pumping, starts to wear on Joel, he had told someone earlier that he’d never fight a fish for over a hour, and that hour unbeknown to him had come and gone long before. Keeping his spirits up we taunt him with encouragement’s and praise, "Don’t be a wimp, keep it up Joel, you’ve got him, that’s it". The battle wore on, Joel suspends the fishes downward glide, stalling that ever diminishing line, then gaining back a few feet here and there. The repeated hard pumping takes it’s toil on him. The tuna turns and slowly makes it’s way back to where it was first hooked, Cami again calls out the water’s depth as the fish comes up out of the deep. The late afternoon sun has dropped behind the rock and the sparkling waters of the day’s reflected sunshine are now replaced with low evening clouds on the horizon. Heavy shaded with moisture the soft gray clouds are fringed with highlights of yellows and purples while the struggle between man and fish exist. There comes a time when one or the other just simply gives up, it’s spirit gets broken down, but it’s not in the will of the tuna it’s life depends on it, it’s Joel’s gallantry that collapses. In what seemed like only a few seconds he gives in to the tunas vitality. Turning the rod and reel over to John to continue the battle, Joel staggers into the salon, weary of strength his colleges give him praise for his efforts. John enters the arena with the freshness of a new boxer. Enthusiastically he pumps on the rod, short pumping with the flurry of stabs and jabs he raised the fish without compromise. Fear is express over such tactics, the hook could possibly tear out or worse yet work loose but John keeps it up this unyielding pressure, methodically gaining line as the fish works into the overhang of rock. A full moon raises up out of the evening’s haze, blends of grays and oranges hiding it’s ascent. Glimpses of the obstinate fish are now reveled in the darkened water below. Gradually inch by inch the fish comes up, hanging below the surface just out of reach it remains, it’s will preserving it’s salvation. But alas that thin line of relentless pressure overwhelms the weakened fish. Bill’s there unhesitating with the long handled gaff, on it’s side the fish rolls, one, two, three gaffs quickly slide into the fish. The gaffers pumped up with adrenaline haul the fish aboard! What a fish, it’s size dwarfs the others, two hundred pounds easily. Pounding the deck with all it’s weight, shuddering the cockpit, fiery colored vermilion blood enriched with the battle of life flows out and onto the salt washed teak deck. The battles over, death to the loser, glory and praise to the victor. The full moon behind us now rises above the purple haze as we pick up and run across the gap towards the protection of the anchorage cove. Onboard with big smiles and rejoicing we all assemble on the flying bridge. Gazing down into the cockpit now awash with the mist and spray wrapping around from the bow, a roostertail of white water and foam trails behind us, Gloomy and dark, monster Rock fades in the distance, it’s piscatorial flesh and blood now wenched from it’s waters. The tuna, dead now lay bronzed and gold in a wash of weak colored blood, it’s brilliant colors of lilac and silver fading fast with life. Returning to the anchorage we make guesses at the fished weight, the estimates vary as much as a fisherman’s stories will. With struggle amiss ropes and lines the fish is hung, two-hundred and two pounds!!! The battle taking two hours and forty minutes on fifty pound tackle. Bled and hosed down it too was put in the fish hole among the others, then cocktails, dinner, a fish story or two then a much needed rest.

The Third Day: Guadalupe Island

Morning broke early with a light haze in the East, returning back across the gap we found ten to twelve knots of breeze from the northwest and a light chop of one to two feet. Quite a lot of bait on the surface this morning. Dan and myself are up first with the rods. Rounding the rock on our first tack Dan and I both got picked up. My fish mauled the bait but failed the hook, Dan’s fish took the bait without hesitation. Stripping off a hundred yards of line in a few seconds, so easily taken out, so hard to put back on. This is the way to start the day! Hooked up in the first of morning’s light. The sun peaking out through a few lazy clouds that still hang in the air. Soft grays and blues that hide the blue skies behind it. Bill’s again wearing his good luck tee shirt, he’s worn it now every day, torn in a few places and washed out stains of blood and "Guadalupe soup", (a mixture of freshly diced mackerel and anchovies that Bill has concocted for chum) covering it’s front Washed each night and dried in the engine room at it’s become a daily conversation piece, it’s condition denotes it’s good luck. The engine noise sifts from one side to the other as Cami jockeys the boat. A powerful rumbling in the decks as it’s poised to act at his command. A slight vibration putting everyone on nerve. Dan’s in tune with it all now, steady calm deliberate pressure is applied. I think we all reflected on that moment, the opportunity to be out here in the deep blue sea, to exist here in this world of nature and give thanks within one’s own self. The fish as if sensing our moment of lackness spurts off another length of line, Dan takes it all with the joy of the sport. The rumbling continues under foot with the boat unconsciously shifting into gear, an octave to this concerto. "There it is, down deep, color!", a deep flash of blue eighty feet down showing the fish has turned on it’s outside circle, Dan and Cami exchange thought as well as words, maintaining pressure Dan puts the beans to it. The deepened growl of the engines echo off the rock as Cami backs up to the fish and Dan lifts the fish out of the depths "Nice fish Dan, he’s a hundred, hundred plus, Bill agrees "It’s a bigger fish fer sure", he voices the opinion that such a beautiful fish should be tagged and released. Cami advisees "Take you time, Dan take your time." "Swivels up!" Circling on it’s side the tunas cobalt blue colored back is contrast to the fading shades of lilac and purples, a hint of green then the shine of silver and golds towards the belly , small scattered flakes of yellow showing near the tail. Dan glides the fish to the awaiting gaffs, "Ye-aah that’s it!", the fish hits the deck. Engines again roar back to life as Cami races back into action. Amidst cheers and jeers the decks are cleared again, rods and reels put into working order. Returning back to the prime area the baits again are dropped into the water, our bait supply has been reduced to the point of using ABC baits (already been chewed). The time spent making (catching) the scad mackerel takes away from the remaining we have left to fish these tunas. The time comes however when we must make the decision to leave this wonder of nature, the tuna and bait seem to have gone down for the moment and prospects of catching Yellowtail ar Calico Bass looms emmit. An opportunity to catch some other fish and a change of scenery eases the departure from these rock island names called "Monster", "Smooth" and "Tuna Alley" are now only a memory.

Running up the leeward side of the island the seas were glassy slick, outside a ruffled texture of darkened seas indicated some wind. Harbor seals could be seen afar, frolicking with each other, their slick amber bodies gold in color against the splashes of white water. Dolphin come racing in from this sea of tranquillity their speedy shapes porpoising through the swells, to dart under the boat’s bow. Behind us a trail of white water and foam left in the ever widening rippling wakes draw the Dolphin, playing like children somersaulting and leaping in these gentle waves. The island devoid of much vegetation bares it’s surface to all the elements. Burnt out volcanic cones scar it’s desolate steep hillsides spilling oxidized earths of red and oranges that mix with the fissures and eroded cracks of the land . Silhouettes of weather beaten Guadalupe Pines exist in the swirling whites and grays of fog as it vaporizes into a slivery mist rising above the apex of the mountain peaks. Rock and bolder strewn canyon plummet to the waters edge. A beach scattered with this rock and boulders gives refuge to a colony of sealions and Elephant seals, basking in the warmth of the sun their constant barking echoing off the stone walls. Calm gin clear water reveal the colors of yellows, turquoise and ambers of the rock and plant life below. Calico Bass and Yellowtail swim freely in these sheltered coves, taking our baits and lures at will, then diving to the protection of underwater rocks and breaking off. We land a few, lose more, the times quickly fades away, like the sun leaving it’s zenith we must also leave this apogee of life.

A warm wind violently rips around the northern end of the island, flattening the immediate seas and chops into a million beating reflections of sparkling sunlight. Gusts of wind and spray envelop the boat as we slide out from the protection of the island and into the heaving northwesterly swell from the vast Pacific. The journey home was unmarred except with the occasional jolt of an unannounced wave spilling over the bow. Bill highlighted the return trip with his famous version of "California Rolls", steamed rice wrapped with a blend of Sushi made from fresh caught Yellowtail, Bluefin and I think Calico Bass, then dipped in Wasabe sauce. That night sheets of tropical lightning edged the horizon and ghost-like clouds appeared on the radar then only to vanish from the screen. Daylight the next morning found the seas calming and winds subsiding from the West although a conflux of weather from a southern tropical storm enveloped us as we traveled home. Humidity and high tropical clouds rolled along as we entered into San Diego’s harbor. Life as we had know it for the past few days was about to cease and the hustle and bustle of the city overwhelmed us.

Maybe a fitting end to this saga ends with the Gods striking back at us for taking away some of it’s beauty from the cherished island in the blue. At the marlin Club we weighed and hung the tunas for all to see and photos of the fish to be taken. Adjacent to the club the busy five-o’clock afternoon commuter traffic was stalled as open-mouth spectators "Aahh" the spectacle. Parking his 75’ blue Impalla across the street, the driver failed to keep the car’s gear in Park. The car lurches into a backwards movement crossing the street careening wildly, the driver yelling and running after it. Breaking through a chain link fence the car wove a course through the parking lot. Women and children screaming as anglers, photographers and spectators scattered out of the cars path. The tuna, hanging defenseless by their tail ropes awaited the impending doom. Crash!! Into the weigh-in scale the car collides, bounces through all the tuna and finally coming to a rest, balancing half over the seawall. The dangling tuna bruised and bloodied. A drop of blood slowly drips onto the rear smeared window and trunk of car, an ominous silence overshadows the occasion.

Thank God no one was hurt except the tuna, and they, like the police report stated were already deceased..


John Doughty
"JD"

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