Tuesday, May 27, 2008

John Day Wild and Scenic River

With the arrival of spring it's time to celebrate the melting snow that breathes life into our region's rivers. While many of the rivers that have defined the natural and cultural history of the region been dammed for hydropower, flood control, or water supply, a few still flow freely and the John Day in Central Oregon is one of those rivers. The John Day is a Wild and Scenic River, a federal designation that protects rivers from future water development projects and preserves the opportunity to journey down our nation's original highways of travel and commerce. This year celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and Aki and I set out to explore the canyons of the John Day with friends from Portland on a 4 day trip (river description).

At age 3 Aki is becoming quite the veteran river runner.

Beautiful canyon scenery on the John Day River.

Story time with river friends.

Traveling down the river.

Carefully scouting out the line downstream before committing.

The John Day River has some great geology that kids can appreciate. Aki's favorite was Hoot Owl Rock.

The John Day offers some great riverside hiking and Aki imagined himself as a tiger climbing to an overlook above the river.

Aki working his way through the rocks to an overlook above the river.

The view downstream.

Aki heading down the river.

All this boating and hiking sure is a lot of work. Time for a nap on the raft.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fishing the Sea of Cortez

I spend most of my time on rivers but every once in a while the ocean calls and when my friend Harry suggested a week long fishing trip to the Sea of Cortez on the fishing boat Tony Reyes, I decided that it had all the makings of a good adventure.

I flew down to San Diego on Friday where I joined up with the crew and we drove down to Mexicali. We crossed the border on Saturday morning and continued on down to San Felipe, a festive beach town at the north end of the Sea of Cortez. We found our boat down at the pier (30.9927, -114.828) and claimed our rooms on Saturday around noon before taking the rest of the day to explore town and enjoy a great meal at Chuey's. On Sunday morning we set out 250 miles south to the Midriff Islands.

The sun sets over the Baja coast as we journey down to the Midriff Islands.

A typical day on the Tony Reyes began when we awoke around 5 am for a hot breakfast in the galley.

The guides had the pangas stocked with bait and fishing gear as we made last minute preparations for our morning out on the water.

We began our first day of fishing on Monday morning at Puerto Refugia at the north end of Isla Angel de la Guarda (29.5471, -113.527). On a typical morning we were out on the water by 6 am. This photo shows our boat the Tony Reyes, which has room for 27 fishermen who can head out in groups of 3 on 9 guided pangas.

The morning might start of with some time spent working the edge of reefs on the hunt for cabrilla. If conditions were favorable the night before we had live wells stocked with mackerel.

A live Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus) on the line and used as bait. We would often start out fishing with the mackerel as live bait and we'd cycle through to keep an active fish on the line, tossing those we had used in the fish well for later use as cut bait.

We were able to catch Cabrilla (Mycteroperca rosacea) by working the shoreline or reefs (in the background to the left in the photo above). These fish are quick to dive into a hole in the rocks when hooked so it was necessary to give a hard jerk and reel in quick so they would not cut the line on the rocks. Our guides--in this photo Francisco--would unhook the fish, toss it in the fish well and set us up for another pass.

We had great luck with the spotted bass and would often park at a spot over a sandy bottom. If conditions were favorable we could pull one after another in by jigging with a two-hook rig using cut herring bait.

A typical Spotted Sand Bass (Paralabrax maculatofasciatus). When conditions were poor for other fish we could just about always catch these guys.

When the fish weren't biting there was plenty of stuff to see. The coastline offered beautiful and diverse geology along with hundreds of birds. Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) were fascinating to watch as they patrolled the coastline and dove for fish.

Around noon all the pangas came back to the boat and it was an opportunity for everyone to show off their catch. These Black Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas) were caught off the west side of Isla Angel de la Guarda and at 84 lbs. the larger one was the biggest fish caught on the trip.

A grouper caught on a live mackerel bait that came in on the last morning and weighed in at slightly over 50 lbs.

Within just a few minutes of bringing in our fish they were gutted and gilled and on ice in the hold.

Lunch was served around noon after everyone had a chance to survey the morning catch. The galley could seat 12 comfortably so we'd eat in shifts and then everyone would disappear off to their cabin for a much needed siesta. During this time the captain would move the boat to a new fishing spot and at 3 pm we would all head out again.

Afternoons were often a good time for trolling and we favored the Mirrolure 111 MR HP which proved successful for yellowtail and cabrilla.

Fish On! John hooks into a 25 lb. yellowtail.

Whenever we'd hook into a fish the guide would quickly gaff the fish and haul it in. Our guides never missed a fish aside from one white bass that a seal grabbed just as Bill was pulling it in along side the boat.

Our guide Marcos hauls in one of our yellowtails.

Harry and Ralph trolling for yellowtail.

Most of the time I spent fishing but I did take an hour to do a bit of land-based exploring when the fishing was a little slow. This photo is looking north from the southern end of Isla de la Guarda (29.0328, -113.114). After looping around the southern tip of this island Tuesday after lunch we began to head north along the coast of the Baja Peninsula.

It was always fun to watch the birds.

If the trolling was slow you could always jig for spotted sand bass which was typically productive. While we would often all head out to different areas for trolling or fishing the reefs, the pangas would often gather up in the same general area for jigging.

By about 7 pm we'd all head back in and it was another chance for everyone to show of their catch.

Here's John with a nice Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis lalandi) he caught on an afternoon troll.

We would watch the sun set and then head in for dinner.

After dinner it was time to jig for bait. The captain might move the boat while we were having dinner. Once we were anchored again we would often spend 2-3 hours jigging for mackerel.

Ralph gets some bait on his hook for jigging.

Everyone wandered off to bed as they grew tired of jigging and over the night the boat might move again. We were then up again at 5 am for another day of fishing.

While we were out on the water in the morning the crew would take our catch from the day before, pull it out of the hold, and fillet.

The fillets were then vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer with tags coded to our panga.

As we headed back in to port the crew pulled all our fillets out of the freezer and distributed them to our coolers where they were packed on ice. We got in to port around 8 pm and then had dinner in San Felipe before heading north to the border. We packed our fish with dry ice the next morning and all flew home from San Diego. I was able to enjoy cabrilla for dinner.