As I documented in my last post, push had definitely come to shove as far as my chance to check a sheephead off the 2014 Top 10 list.  It was time to go to my ace in the hole and find a ride to San Nicolas Island.  I’d only ever been to this remote island one other time.  That trip was aboard the Pacific Islander.  I love that boat/crew, and it was good fishing, but the return ride uphill (against the current) back to Oxnard was brutal.  I wanted to find a boat headed out there from a more central location.  I’ve heard good things about the Eldorado out of Long Beach Sportfishing.  They have been doing regular trips to the island, so that’s the boat I went all in on to target #thatdamnfish.

IMG_6162In the week leading up to this weekend’s trip, California got POUNDED by extreme wind and rain.  There was even a tornado that hit the coast.  It was a storm system that came from Hawaii deemed the Pineapple Express.  The boat was scheduled to be online throughout the week, but because of the storm didn’t go fishing since Tuesday, December 9th.  They didn’t even really know what to expect for our trip.

We departed at 9pm Saturday night (Dec. 13th) with 22 anglers aboard.  Several salties came out to join me – my buddy Lucas Doran and his friend Tim, Mark Smolak, Tim Shiau, and KJ from last year’s PI ling trip.   Captain TJ Schlick was at the helm and we took frozen fresh dead squid with us for bait.  I brought my own shrimp as well 😉

My plan was to fish bait until I got a sheephead, and then when/if that happened I’d throw jigs and let myself have fun.  I pre-rigged a double dropper setup with red octopus hooks that I snelled.  I was able to quickly rig up, then hit my bunk for the long (75 mile) ride out to San Nicolas.

The next morning I was up at 5:30.  It was supposed to be bumpy headed out, but I slept comfortably.  It was still dark out and we were still a ways off from getting to our destination.  I ordered a breakfast burrito and waited things out in the galley.  We got into the spot about an hour later.  We were on the west side of the island working a ridge just under the 20 fathom limit (Nic is a cowcod conservation area and the depth limit is restricted to 20 fathoms vs. the 50 fathom limit in the rest our fishing area).  I’ve never had much luck rockfishing in the dark.  I did happen to put the first fish in the boat (a chunky 2lb starry), but it was a slow start overall.

I had started the day with 10 oz. of lead, but the wind was fairly stiff and the drift was pretty fast, so I had to bump up to 12 despite the relatively shallow depth.  Things improved though once the sun started to come up.  The wind slowed down and the bite improved.  Bigger reds and chucks started showing up, with a lot of blue bass mixed in as well.  Surprisingly few sheephead though, and the few I saw were all pinkies.

I was getting a little worried and almost gave up and went to my normal jig and fly (or bare hook) setup that I like to use for rockfishing.  Once there was a solid count on the rockfish though, TJ decided to go shallower.  We went into a spot that was only about 80 feet of water and very kelpy.  At this point, I was posted up in the starboard stern corner opposite from the drift side of the boat.  I casted out with a strip of mackerel on my top hook and a full squid on the lower hook.  I got bit and it was heavy but without the headshakes you would expect from a ling.  Could this be it?  I slowly reeled it up, hoping to see that black and red body.  Instead, when it got to color I could see the long brownish outline of a ling.  It bit the mackerel strip.  I was almost disappointed to get my favorite fish to eat.

Mark:  Baaa humbug

Mark: Baaa humbug

I took off the mack strip and sent the next one down with 2 squid.  I had already abandoned the shrimp at this point, because all I was getting on them were blue bass.  I get bit again.  Not heavy.  I get it to color…are you kidding me?  A friggin pinkie.  I released it.  I seriously had to give myself a pep talk to keep my head in the game.  Because it is such a long drive out, we’d have to leave sometime after noon and the clock was winding down quickly.  Meanwhile, my other buddies on the boat are slamming the right kind in this spot…adding to the pressure of getting one myself.

Next cast, send it out and because of the drift, instead of passing to the outside of the stern so I could follow it to the opposite corner, it’s coming back straight to the boat and about to pass under.  I was about to reel up and start over when I got hit.  It feels like the right kind, heavy without the headshakes.  I’m slowly winding it up.  I catch myself holding my breath.  “Breathe Joe.  You got this.”  It gets to color and I yell for the gaff.  Deckhand Steve misses it on the first try and it takes a mini run back down.  “Come on.  Please.”  This time up, Steve stuck it and I could exhale.  The quest was over.  Whew!

The last hour plus was really good.  I got another ling on one of Jesse’s lingcodjigs.  I got a monster whitefish that actually pulled drag on my buttoned down Tranx.  When it was all said and done, I had 17 fish in my sack – full limit of large rockfish, 2 lings, 4 whitefish, and that damn fish.  I could’ve easily gotten a 20 fish max bag had I chosen to keep fishing bait.

The boat count was similarly well rounded: 67 Sheephead, 110 Whitefish, 220 Rockfish, 12 Bonito, 20 Lingcod.  If you want to get a full 20 fish bag limit and really stock up before the closure, this is your ride.  Capt. TJ is kicking off a Holiday Special starting this week.  Between December 18th through the end of the year, you will receive a FREE OVERNIGHT trip aboard the Eldorado for any time in 2015 when it departs from Long Beach Sportfishing (it fishes out of SD during offshore season).  So you can fill up your freezer and have a free trip waiting for you to use next year.  I found the boat very comfortable (see my Boat Notes below) and the crew was very friendly and helpful.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this boat and look forward to riding again next year.  Thank you to Capt. TJ Schlick and his crew for helping me get this major monkey off my back.  Tight lines!

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Boat Notes

This was my first time aboard the Eldo and I liked it.  When I got on, the first thing I did was find a spot for my bag.  The second thing was find a bunk.  There are no bad bunks on this boat.  You know how sometimes there is just a small partition in the middle bunks separating you from the guy on the other side…who’s usually overweight and snoring when you get one of those bunks…not on this boat.  Each bunk is a self contained cell with a real wall separating you from the next bunk.  There are also a lot of outlets around to keep you charged up.  There are soda and ice machines.  There are real showers!  Also, the heads are located inside the house instead of around the outside under the wheelhouse, so you don’t have to go outside to hit the head.  The galley had a tv on either end, so you could comfortably watch anywhere you sat AND the satellite tv worked…even all the way out at Nic!  I watched the Seattle/SF NFL game on the way home from our trip.  The bow was very spacious if you like to go up and throw jigs.  And supposedly they’re going to renovate when they go offline after the season.  Capt. TJ also likes playing classic rock on the deck speakers while we are fishing.  This is definitely a boat you want to check out.

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