Two weekends back, I invited Hank and Holly (of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and NorCalCazadora, respectively) to drive me out to Bodega Bay for a day of ocean food acquisition. The Plan: arrive at daybreak to catch the rising, perfect tide for surfperch. After limiting out, drive down coast to the harbor, to throw crab snares off the jetty for dungeness, rock, and red crabs. After filling our crab buckets, and with the tide moving out, we'd mosey onto the flats and dig for horseneck clams, as I had done in my youth. With twenty clams, we'd have to call it quits, but the perfect low tide would have exposed the tidepools upcoast a bit, where we would find sea lettuce, laver, mussels, limpets, and everything else we'd need for an amazing dinner that Hank would (of course) provide the next day. It's a good thing I convinced Hank that he'd thought of cooking dinner for us, too.
Now, some of you (as in, anybody who has ever hunted, fished, or foraged with me) may be saying to yourselves, "but Josh! What about your reputation! You have your honour to consider!" I know, I know, I'd be putting my reputation on the line with such a diversity of opportunities. Alas, I didn't disappoint.
The night prior to the trip, I couldn't sleep. The folks would be arriving at 4:45 am, but at 11:30 I was up cooking biscuits for the trip. Then, I lay on the couch (loosely defined, as it more closely resembles a conglomeration of wooden bumps) and thought of surfperch, and the newfangled gizmo - a crab "snare" - with which we'd limit on dungeness. I finally fell asleep around 2:30; it felt like I was sixteen again.
At 4:15, it was brutally clear that I was not sixteen. I think the word "fuzz" most aptly describes that feeling of being shocked awake before 5 am...
Stumbling around, I made my coffee and threw my equipment out the front door. 4:30 came, and then 4:45... after a couple of minutes, I peaked out the window next to the door - no sign of Hank, no sign of Holly. I stepped away from the window.
Scrambling back into my skin (it's awkward enough answering the door with no clothes on), I grabbed the door handle and swung it open to find a particularly chipper Hank (if this were a sit-com, that's where the applause would have happened, because Hank is becoming quite the star lately). Uh-oh. Chipper. He might have accidentally packed the one item in a fisherman's chest that can cause nothing but pain when fishing with me - hope.
With my best impersonation of an awake person, I stepped out the door, grabbed my things, and hauled them to the car. Holly waited at the wheel, less chipper, thankfully (it was 4:45, and we weren't hunting), but still nice, as always.
I jumped into the car, and Hank actually started talking about tomorrow's seafood dinner, made with all the catch we were to acquire this Bounteous Day.
I thought, have these people never been out with me before?!? I started to sweat... his attitude just might ruin my reputation... but I played along.
After a forty-five minute drive of 200 miles through winding and twisting, undulating Coast Range Mountains - did I mention my motion sickness? - Holly finally used the brakes, and we pulled into a gas station at Bodega Bay. Peeling myself from the window, I wobbled out of the car.
"Well, Holly, you sure know how to get somewhere" I said, but she didn't hear me; my voice is muffled when my head is between my legs.
But the sea air has a wonderful curative effect, and the clear skies and rising Sun added to the amazement of the place. Bodega Bay is a small bay by California standards, and much of it is harbor, and lays out before you at the gas station. The tide was coming in, and it was a good flood. With the tide, my anticipation and ominously, my hopes, also began to rise.
"Yep", I said, pulling my belt up and sniffing hard into one nostril, "we'll head up-coast till we find a nice, dumping surf, and look for holes." I was sure to impress them with my surfperch know-how.
A couple of terrifying miles later, a beautiful little secluded stretch of sand lay before us. "Portuguese Beach" the sign read, with smaller writing underneath warning of sleeper waves, rogue waves, and waves that would just as soon kill you as give you the time of day. Among the warnings were the admonition not to turn your back on the ocean, nor to stare directly at it, but to maintain a respectful demeanor with eyes averted. This was one mean stretch of beach.
And perfect surfperch habitat. The V-breaking waves against the sand pulled open holes where sand-crabs and worms would find themselves drawn out into open water, creating the perfect natural chumming effect we'd been looking for. The incoming tide compounded this effect, pulling tons of sand, and the occasional small child, out into the churning waters.
Yup, everything was perfect. Perfect.
After an hour-and-a-half futilely flinging lead and bait into the washtub-surf that was Portuguese Beach, we slogged back to the car in disgust. Stupid hope.
Hank with a face-full of hope... it's like he doesn't even know me
(Photo by Holly Heyser)
But the harbor has a fishing pier, a wonderful stretch of concrete lovingly cradling the marina, where surfperch reside, as well as crabs - big, tasty dungeness crabs. As we walked out, we saw brants, ducks, and a beautiful loon catching perch after perch right in front of us. We tossed out our lines, and waited.
Holly read a book and complained, ironically, about the prologue being too long. Our day's prologue was extending quite a ways, itself.
The tide at full-flood, an Islander-type (Jamaica or Trinidad) just down the pier was catching crabs, but we had no bait, so I walked the twelve miles around the marina for five frozen mackerel at a buck a pop. Back to the pier, we baited our new crab snares. These snares reminded me of two lines: One from anonymous, "Some lures catch fish, and some catch fishermen"; and one from The Ghost and the Darkness, "...""but I am convinced that the theory is sound."
After about another half-hour of watching that hideous loon immorally gorging itself on surfperch that were too small, anyway, we decided to hit the jetty off of Doran Beach. It was hopping with folks, but there was some space. Hank, recovering from his torn Achilles (something which Achilles didn't even survive), gingerly walked out on the rocks, and we settled in. A very nice man was poke-poling for monkey-faced pricklebacks (that look and act like eels), an endeavour that I sorely hope to try one day. He was jovial, especially when he pulled a fish about as long as my arm out from three inches of water right in front of us.
Hank quickly lost his snare, and I played out a little line for another half-hour, until I grew bored of teasing three underage crabs with a box of mackerel heads. Meanwhile, that chipper A-hole with the poke-pole kept happily prodding the rocks, occasionally uttering, "Aw! I just missed 'im!"
But the tide had moved out a bit, exposing the clam-ful flats of Bodega Bay, and so we lit out with shovels and a bucket, Hank and I, while Holly discovered the better part of valor and went for beer. I must note that when Holly decides it's time for beer, just follow her.
Hank and I found a few holes with water seeping out, and dug and dug and dug. And dug. After apologizing for hitting a Chinese guy on the toe, and only finding three cockles and two sand shrimp, we hung up this chance. Holly had come back after a beer, and took some nice pictures. Unfortunately, the white of my legs broke her camera (she was kind and said that it had been making a noise, but we both know what happened).
It's those shining twin beacons that helped Holly find her way to us.
(Photo by Holly Heyser)Walking back, we got to the edge of the mud-flat, and Hank yells out, "Sea beans!" I felt a pang of guilt, that this once salty-tonged man from Jersey had been so deflated and defeated by our day that he couldn't even utter an appropriate epithet, much less a real one. Actually, though, Hank had found a plant that he loved to eat (thank God for something!). He picked a peck, and we headed to the car.
We tried back up-coast for the tidepools, but Hank's leg still needed mending, so he and Holly stayed on the ridge line while I managed a rope-less rappel (read: free-fall) down the sheer cliff-edge to go match wits with mussels and limpets. An uneven match, I know. And yes, they won - I came back with exactly eight mussels.
It being opening day of turkey season, and we with no guns, of course we saw a huge strutting tom near a bustling corner-cafe' on the way home. Well, I think it was a turkey - it went by pretty fast.
At least my reputation remains unblemished.