James Liu, 1996-2014 – RIP

Our friend, fishing companion, mentor, and fellow UPSAC Board Member James Liu has passed away at the early age of 48 and his passing has stunned us all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to adequately list all his accomplishments or do justice to someone who impacted so many lives in such a positive manner. James was a big man with a big heart, always ready to help out where needed, willing to selflessly give of his time and money, and willing to work longer and harder than most can imagine. James had a brilliant mind as evidenced by his degrees and jobs but what was truly brilliant was his ability to achieve so much success in so many different endeavors. Success helping out his children’s schools, success with UPSAC (United Pier and Shore Anglers of California), success with the Boy Scouts, and success with a plethora of other organizations. Most important though was the success he achieved with his own family, his loving and supportive wife Dora, and his three wonderful children, Warren, Amanda and Elaine. His ability to handle a highly demanding job while at the same time being an exemplary role model for his children is all too rare today. He had high expectations for his children, and they have met the challenge, but he also provided the love and support needed for the challenge and was always a role model to be emulated. We rarely use the term great in describing a person but in this case that seems the most appropriate work, a man who achieved greatness in many ways and one who will be missed by all those who’s lives he touched.

His family has requested the following: “In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Boy Scouts of America, United Pier & Shore Anglers of California, or St. Martin’s Catholic Parish.”


A lesson to be learned from up North

Fisheries Management always seems like a tough thing to do here in California. But take a trip up north, away from the environmental squabbles to places, like British Columbia, Canada, where they use a technique called “Active Fisheries Management” pioneered by researchers at the University of British Columbia. The basic concept is to break the fishing locations into lots of zones. And to actively make changes in-season short term as well as long-term to retain stocks and enhance fisheries.

BC Salmon Fishing

A well managed salmon fishery keeps producing.

The technique has continued to allow a fishery to thrive. Last year was a banner year for sockeye in the Fraser River and overall Lower Mainland BC. This year, the pinks are running in huge numbers. In some places, along the shores of West Vancouver and Howe Sound the fish are thick and caught by folks from shore in water just a few feet deep. It’s been decades since Pacifica, California has such abundant salmon runs, and it’s been a long time since shoreliners caught fresh ocean run salmon in SF Bay in quantity. But BC might hold some keys to enhancing our own fisheries. If we, in California, could just get away from the need by some very vocal and activist few that condemn fishing altogether and would do away with the sport. Their motives aren’t to enhance the fisheries, but to end them. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Coastal Clean-Up Day: September 25, 2010

Planning a fishing trip at your favorite beach, jetty, or pier on Saturday, September 25?

While you’re waiting for those hungry perch, stripers, and rockfish to bite, take a few minutes to bag up some trash and participate in California’s Annual Coastal Clean-Up Day. While the official event takes place from 9:00 A.M. to noon, please take this opportunity to conserve and protect the near-shore environment by reusing a grocery or shopping bag by filling it with old fishing line, plastic, trash, and any other waste you find at the beach.

United Pier and Shore Anglers would also like to invite you to send a picture of you and your fishing buddies participating in the Coastal Clean-Up Day. Take a digital shot of your group and your “clean up loot” and send it to board@upsac.org. If you include your names and the location (general location is OK to protect your secret “fishin’ hole”) where you picked-up trash, we will include your contribution in an upcoming post and “UPSAC Coastal Clean-Up Coverage Map” at UPSAC.ORG.

No prizes or giveaways for this one; just our heartfelt thanks for doing your part to keep our beaches clean.

For more information on the California Coastal Clean-Up Day, visit http://www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/ccd/ccd.html.

Remember Your First Time?

A few weeks ago on a small, nondescript pier, my two year old son caught his first fish. The prized creature was a smallmouth bass, caught on a leech that must have been given exceptional action as it was “jigged” along the bottom by my toddler’s efforts to turn the handle on the spinning reel. For an hour previous, that same leech had been soaking–motionless–along the edge of a weed bed that I had placed with a well-practiced cast… for nothing. It wasn’t until my son walked out to the end of the pier, announced “I want to catch a fish, Daddy,” and proceeded to show his old man how to get it done. I’ve never been more proud.

Perhaps sharing this seems gratuitous or self-serving (most Internet fishing posts are, aren’t they?) Maybe it’s a stretch to recount the piscatorial happenstance of a toddler on the shores of a shallow northern Wisconsin lake in this forum. But for me–for a Dad–it brought back wonderful memories of my own first fish, and the joy that came in watching my brothers, friends, my wife, and even total strangers catch their respective “first fish.”

For many folks in California, that initial nibble on the end of the line comes with one’s feet on a pier. With no license requirement, easy access, and a relatively higher chance for a novice to catch something, piers are a natural entry point for new anglers. Many times while conversing with passersby on a pier, I’ve handed off my rod to someone who wanted to “pull one in.” For some, it’s no big deal; they continue on down the pier. But for others, it’s nothing short of a magical moment–it’s the first fish they’ve ever caught, and it implants an immediate need to ensure that it is not the last fish they’ll ever catch. Even the most humble smelt can be a lifelong memory. Such moments have also given me the opportunity to share a few thoughts on important ideas like catch and release, conservation, fishing regulations, or simply to help dispel the unfair perceptions and stereotypes some have about “everyone” fishing on piers.

My dad once shared with me that, as a boy, he left the carnival booths and roller coasters of the Pacific Ocean Park Pier complex, and approached a man fishing in the surf line. That nameless fellow showed my dad how to dig for sandcrabs, how to hook them through the tail so they couldn’t dig in, and even let my dad pull in a barred perch… his first fish. That moment set my dad on a lifetime of joy, fishing with his friends throughout high school, and later with his six sons. He stood right behind me when I caught my first fish– a small sheephead caught at Abalone Cove some 30 years ago.

And while my son might be a bit young yet to remember his smallish smallmouth, I’ll never forget it.

UPSAC continues to support various youth fishing events throughout California. It is our hope that all young (or not-so-young) anglers who are called to a life of fishing start off on a solid foundation of knowledge, safety, a conservation-minded approach, meaningful and legal harvest, and a desire to celebrate and protect the unique pier and shore fishing opportunities in California.

Deep-Sea Pier Fishing?

When I was about seven or eight, my dad took me on my first “Deep-sea fishing trip,” aboard the First String. Being on a boat–the First String was one of the finest of the day–was a wonderful experience for me. As I remember it, we chased barracuda all morning, and ended the day dropper-looping for rockfish. It was the first time I saw a yellowtail, a blue shark (that ate half of a starry on it’s way to my gunny sack), or a deckhand. It was a great trip, and one that was to be the first of countless trips on things of all sizes that float.

Up until that day, going fishing had meant doing so with sand, rocks, or pier-boards underfoot. But there was a certain mystique to the concept of “deep-sea.” Granted, we did a lot of fishing in 20 to 60 feet of water, certainly not “deep” by comparison with most of the ocean’s depths. But for a young boy, miles from shore, catching fish alongside his dad, it was deep enough. The barries were a lot bigger than the perch we had caught at San Onofre or Huntington, and thus, “deep-sea” became synonymous with “big fish.”

It seems that, often times, pier anglers have that same mindset. The relatively deeper water at the ends of piers seems to beckon most pier anglers the the farthest railing, perhaps with the possibility of one of those big fish that have existed in tale and imagination. Instead, what many anglers find at the ends of piers are crowded conditions and small mackerel or other baitfish. Most piers are not deep enough, it seems, to bring in large fish with regularity.

That’s not always true, of course. Anyone who has pulled on big sharks and rays from the ends of piers like Gaviota, Goleta, Seal Beach, Balboa, or Oceanside knows there are some big ones out there. The occasional yellowtail will chance a trip through the pilings of Newport, bonito runs can be frenetic and exciting, and many of us have heard stories of bluefin tuna caught from piers in Santa Monica bay a century ago.

The next time you’re heading for the end, remember that with every step along the pier, if there’s water underneath you, there are fishing opportunities, too. Perch, corbina, and croakers will take pier-fished baits in the skinniest foam. Mid-pier areas beyond the breakers are often the most productive for halibut and other gamefish, and in some cases, these fish see the lightest fishing pressure… there’s simply fewer people targeting them in these areas. And even though they’re probably not supposed to be there, watch out for surfers, waders, swimmers, and other folks who are within casting range, particularly in that skinny water close to shore.

Also remember that every trip doesn’t have to be about “big fish.” Scale down to a trout rod or an ultralight rig, and target perch with a hi-lo rig baited with ghost shrimp or razor clams. Just don’t forget to bring your landing net to bring your catch safely to your side of the rail, so the decision to retain or release the fish is yours, and not the unfortunate result of light gear.

If mackerel is your thing, then by all means, head to the end and bring your bucket. If you’re trolley-rigging one of those mackerel for threshers or yellowtail, the end might be just the place for you. But if you want to try something a little different, find a nice spot along the rail a few steps closer to the beach, and see what’s biting in the shallows. You might just be surprised what’s swimming around beneath the kids on boogie boards.

“You Shoulda’ Been Here Yesterday…”

Over the weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to drive up the Southern California coast. While the destination was my brother’s wedding in Malibu, the journey gave me the chance to drive past–and reflect upon with a variety of emotions–dozens of fishing spots I haven’t visited for a long time. A few of them had for so long faded into the past that I had forgotten about them. Yet that “muscle memory” (or is it mussel memory?) kicked in as PCH twisted and turned, the shape of the landscape triggered a long-buried mind file, and my brained whirred with the thoughts of family excursions, solo trips, and great fish stories. To protect the innocent, this record only contains the names my family assigned to these secret spots years ago, although no doubt our paths have crossed in the sand and stone at these locations over the past three decades.

Perhaps closest to family lore was “The Rock” (pictured), where my family fished weekly throughout my childhood. Hidden in plain sight along the Palos Verdes peninsula, The Rock provided consistent fishing for opaleye, calicos, perch, cabezon, and a dozen other species. A few times, schools of barracuda pushed shoals of anchovies right up on the beach, and hit anything shiny that was cast in their general direction. On one particularly special July 4th evening, my dad, brothers, and I caught and released limits of calicos to 7 lbs. from the kelp, all while watching simultaneous fireworks shows in Avalon, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.

Continuing north, I drove past “Cookie Beach,” a section of beach around Torrance that made catching legal halibut from the surf a near-sure thing. The stretch of beach was marked by a certain configuration of houses above the iceplant covered hillsides, but if you fished it just right…during the right tides…at the right time of year… with a big “cookie” on your hook (a “cookie” is three or four anchovies wrapped with cotton thread around a 2/0 baitholder hook, so that it looks like a big blob of fish)… well, you just had to make sure the fish you caught were at least 22 inches. Most were at least twenty-six, and that wasn’t accounting for the huge spotfin croaker that would sometimes beat the halibut to the bait.

Every few minutes, another fishing spot from yesteryear. The Bubble Hole. Upside-Downs. Don’t Falls. Tommy’s Cabezon-Spot. Jonny Carson’s (a turnout a few miles north of Wylie’s that was awesome for white seabass in the surf.) Passersby on PCH would have thought me a fool, as I drove up the road smiling, laughing, crying, remembering.

I pulled into the beachfront hotel in Malibu, just south of the pier, checked in, and went to my room. The breeze on the ocean view balcony felt particularly wonderful, as my toddler, my mortgage, my new job, any number of additional “mys” have kept me from my beloved Pacific for some time. My eyes gazed down the beach at house after house after house….

And that’s when it hit me.

My spots are mostly gone now. Sure they’re still there, I guess, but they are shadows of what they once were. The Rock is now virtually inaccessible, blocked by a billion dollar hilltop hotel that was recently featured on the cover of Westways Magazine. Cookie Beach has faded into memory, as the landmarks–and the halibut population betrayed by them–have simply disappeared. Jonny Carson’s is completely blocked off with K-rail and CalTrans vehicles.

I don’t know if these spots are on the MLPA chopping block or not, but really… it doesn’t matter. Whether or not we’re allowed to fish at many of the locations we enjoyed as children plays second chair to a more direct issues like beach access, parking, and the ever-changing coastal landscape. I can only hope that someday, many years from now, that big hotel will close, those CalTrans trucks will drive away for good, and my grandkids will amble down small, unmarked coastal trails and nondescript roadside turnouts to find hungry fish.

Yesterday’s history. I’m setting my hopes on tomorrow.

Don’t forget to fish with the kids this summer

The kids are starting to exit school and staying home for the summer. Years ago, a lot of us parents now, used to fishing almost everyday at the local pier or shoreline. Summer is a fresh opportunity to hook kids on fishing. It’s a time to hone rusty knot tying skills, straighten-up casting skills, and if the fish are around, perfect fish-fighting skills. Catch and release conservation is another great lesson too while we’re at it. And don’t forget the digital camera.

kids fishing summer

Kids with fish on!

9th Annual Catalina Classic Another Hit!

Report from April 24. UPSAC together with Pierfishing.COM has been hosting the Catalina Classic Pier Fishing Get Together (aka PFGT) since 2002. This was our 9th event. Hosted every late April, the event offers a chance for various members of the UPSAC community to meet many of the board members, enjoy a fishing derby, and a great meal.

Catalina Group Pic
Venue is hosted on the Cabillo Mole Pier in Avalon Harbor on Santa Catalina Island, about 1 hr offshore from Long Beach, CA. The event draws individuals and families together and we not only have a catch-n-release derby with junior and adult divisions, but also a potluck lunch on the pier, and a fund-raising raffle with a custom built distance rod and reel combo grand prize. The lure for a lot of attendees has been the annual hunt for bonito – a pelagic tuna-like species that frequents the shores of Catalina Island. But Catalina holds many other prized fish like large abundant opaleyes, big calico bass, humongous sheephead, barracuda, massive batrays, and the possibility of hookups with Yellowtail – all from shore! Event organizers work with Avalon Harbor Master and local merchants and restaurants to plan the event and make sure it goes smoothly.

Back to school to learn about Fish-Blogging

We’re back and doing eLearning over the phone with Professor Kim who is teaching us about our WordPress content management system. It’s fairly standard as far as publishing software goes and easy to use. All the setup work was taken care of for us by E.Kim. Hopefully, this training will improve the content quantity. BTW, this web stuff is fairly straightforward, even for a Solaris guy like myself.

Learning to manage a fish blog

Learning to manage a fish blog with WordPress

Cub scouts fishing belt loops and pins

Teaching the next generation of anglers can take many forms. My recipe starts with a bunch of Cub Scouts and their families. I add a 5 hour set of slideshow and exercises for the classroom that covers safety, species ID, conservation, knots and tackle and techniques, and then 2 field practice sessions involving derbies at the local pier with the winners taking home new spinning rod/reel combos, and issue certificates to all kid participants. Pre-requisites include about 15 sets of rod/reel, a tackle bag with a couple of small rigging kits and lots of cheap sabiki rigs. I’m up in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz is close by and has free parking up until 10am on the Weekends.

Parents get excited too because many haven’t fished in years or at all. And no license is required on public saltwater piers. Cub scout requirements for fishing pin and belt loops are online. The system works with older Boy Scouts, but requires a certified/trained Merit Badge Counselor present to sign off blue cards.