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.