The week we spent in Santa Barbara a few years back was memorable, in part, because I caught my first long sought after surf perch. But that week produced many more stories than that.
At the time I owned an inflatable manufactured by Dave Scanton out of Utah that looks like a cross between a kayak and a float tube. Imagine an 11 foot inflatable kayak without the front half of the floor. This allows your feet to dangle down into the water enabling you to kick it like a float tube, yet paddle it like a kayak. Built from top end rafting materials and rated for class 5 waters (the boat maybe, but not me) I figured it would work in protected salt water areas, such as Santa Barbara Harbor.
On this trip I was slated to get a day and a half fishing the surf, which I wrote about prior, and a half day fishing the harbor, which I did the fourth day out. It was a great experience as I worked my way around the docks, over to the inner side of the jetty, around a large ship, under the pier, and back. Working a sinking line and streamers I managed a fair number of fish, mostly perch, croaker, small bass, and jack smelt, nothing large, but great sport.
As I was getting out of the water that afternoon, a local asked how I did. After I’d relayed the day’s events, he pointed out the bait dock. He said, “The next time you fish here, try fishing around it. During the week, after the early boats leave, there’s no boat traffic, so you’ll be alright” I thanked him for the advice, but indicated this unfortunately was my last day to fish as Sue and I were playing tourist the rest of the week.
That evening, as we were walking back to the bread and breakfast, Sue stepped wrong, fell and badly twisting her ankle in the process. The trip to the emergency room resulted in her getting a boot and crutches. Not wanting to cut the trip short, we’d have breakfast in the morning, do something touristy while she was fresh, then she’d spend the afternoon in the room resting, freeing me up to fish a couple more afternoons.
Remembering the advice of the local angler, I kicked my “kayak” out to the bait dock. The closer I got the better the catching. Those cages of bait attracted larger predators who were quite willing to munch down on my Clouser minnows. Fishing three flies at a time I frequently had multiple hook ups.
At some point I noticed three fur seals toward the mouth of the harbor. As they swam around, popping up every now and then, I wondered why they didn’t come in closer. I figured maybe they were scared of me, but that didn’t make sense given all the boat traffic.
I’d just made a cast and was counting down, when a huge sea lion head popped up within a rod length of me with a fish in its mouth. He eyed me for a minute or so, ate his catch and dived. Not sure what to do I stripped my line and it immediately went tight with fish. At that point I was more than a little nervous that my hooked fish would be targeted by the sea lion. As I was fighting the fish, he popped up nearby with another fish. I managed to land mine without incident. I now knew what was keeping the seals at bay.
Now a smart angler probably would have just called it quits and moved on. Not me. As he didn’t seem to be bothered by my presence I watch him feed. Then he was gone. After 15 minutes or so from my last sighting I figured he’d moved on, so I cast out, and shortly was into a fish. He popped up right along the path my line was taking with his own fish.
This occurred several more times, I wouldn’t see him for a while, I cast, hook up, and there he’d be. It dawned on me that he probably was able to see my line, and based on his size I was fairly sure I wasn’t the first fisherman he’d encountered. Figuring that if he’d wanted my fish, he’d of taken one by now, I relaxed and went about my business and he his. We fished together for a couple hours until it was time for me to leave.
Asking around I found out he was the biggest bull sea lion in the area and when he showed to feed all the other sea lions and seals stayed away. They referred to him as the “Big Dog.” Not sure why he tolerated me that afternoon, but fishing, catching, and watching him feed is one of my more memorable fishing experiences, and arguably not my most intelligent.