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Fishermen's Journal

Going for Mr. Cuda


Not what to do When Going for Mr. Cuda


Jim Pack

I am a stupid fisherman. Well, that’s a little harsh. I have a tendency sometimes to do stupid things when I’m fishing. Nevertheless, you may profit from my stupidity, or not. Perhaps, you’re like me and can only profit from your own mistakes. Or in other words, YOU ARE ONLY ABLE TO LEARN THE HARD WAY!!!!

First thing you need realized is that pride cometh before a fall. Before you go out into the open water, on your local half day, or three quarter day boat, TAKE YOUR DRAMAMINE FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! There’s no shame in being prone to seasickness. No one will think less of you if they see a little patch on your neck. And your fellow anglers will appreciate you for not unloading your recently ingested ham and egg sandwich all over the galley floor, before you were able to make it to the starboard rail out on deck. The first three times I went out on the half day boat, I had no problem. I didn’t see the need for any Dramamine. Dramamine was for sissy’s (I thought). Not real men of sea!! Not for your ultimate angler (such as myself). That’s because you lucked out and the Pacific Ocean was calm on those days, DUMMY!! (I’m talking to myself here). I suffered through the last few three or four excursions before finally admitting to myself that I have a problem. And when I made that admission to a fellow angler, instead chiding me for my weakness, he kindly reached into his tackle box and produced two tablets of that blessed Dramamine and gave them to me. "You mean you get seasick too?" I asked. "No", he said. "I never get seasick. I just keep them incase somebody else does". Yeah right. I suppose he carries an extra dose of quinine in his tackle box too, incase he runs into somebody in the throws of a malarial attack..

The next thing you need to realized, you need to bring the right kind of tackle, DUMMY!! (Again I’m talking to myself here). Keep it in mind that this is my first few months of trying to become an experienced angler. For several of my sea going day adventures, I took light tackle more appropriate for freshwater.. And surprisingly, none of the many fishermen I ran into made fun of me for doing this. Maybe they thought I was some kind of light tackle enthusiast, who loves the challenge of hooking monster sea bass on a fresh water "trout pole". No I’m just cheap and don’t like to pay the higher prices for the appropriate tackle. However, to be fair to myself, I did not suffer much from having light tackle at first. But that’s because I was going out onto the Big Blue in winter. And the fish that we were hooking into were no bigger than ones one might find in the local lakes. Small sand bass, calico bass, rock fish, rock cod, sheepheads, mackerel, blue perch and a seagoing whitefish, which tends to be smaller than its freshwater counterpart. But, then the spring came and things started to change. Not at first, but eventually. By mid spring the big boys started coming to town. I’m talking white sea bass, red snapper, halibut, barracuda, and the incomparable yellowtail. Now perhaps these fish were out there all the time. We just didn’t go after them because most of the large day boats were to busy with the winter whale watching trade. But whether it was the coming of spring or the going of the whales, my light tackle and I were unprepared for what was about to happen. Especially for the Barracuda, or Mr. Cuda, as I now kindly refer to him.

After not paying much attention for the last 3 weeks, I began reading the fish report in the local newspaper, and had noticed that several day, and all day fishing boats were reporting barracuda and yellowtail in substantial numbers out off the Channel Islands. As alluded to before you could never get on a boat that went out to the Channel Islands when the whale watchers were around. To keep the local fishermen happy during the winter the sport fishing services provided day boats to go up and down the coast. But not out to the islands. That is why I began to wonder if those bigger fish were out there all along. We just couldn’t get out to them. But that was then and this was now. With the whale watchers gone, we could go out after them. So with light tackle in hand, I gallantly set forth one very early predawn morn, to conquer Mr. Cuda! I won’t mentioned the seasickness again, other than to say going against a rough current all the way to Catalina was not a fun time for me, or my stomach. Mercifully, the administered Dramamine started to kick in before a line could be dropped off the rocky coast of Catalina. At least, that was one lesson finally learned (the hard way). Now for the light tackle debacle.

I first realized I was in trouble when the captain announced over the loud speaker that he had located a school of barracuda sixty feet off the port bow. I imagine he must have been looking at a fish finder screen at the time. Although, not being privy to the bridge that is just an assumption, albeit a safe one. I don’t remember a fish finder being employed during my winter trips, just a dept finder looking for structure. This guy seemed to possess information and technologies that his winter compatriots did not. Maybe those winter captains never bothered to turn their fish finders on. I don’t know, again I had never been an invited guest on the captain’s bridge. We were always going for fish right on the bottom then, but this guy was pointing out suspended and surface targets. Something I had yet to experience before then. And other fishermen seemed to be acting in away I had never seen before. Almost to a man they quickly pulled up their live baits from the bottom and switched to a gig, called an Iron Man. Some guys had extra rods already set with these Iron Man lures, waiting in advance just for this moment. I had seen these Iron Man things hanging on hooks in tackle shops, and sporting good stores before, but I had never seen anyone tie one on their lines before. But all these guys tied them on, or had them ready, and as soon as they got word that Barracuda were in the vicinity, they deployed them. Did they know something I didn’t? When I had seen these lures hanging on the wall in the stores I was dubious about their possible effectiveness. They didn’t look like something that I would want to bite onto, if I were a fish. They were hard, and heavy and clumsy looking. A fish would have to be pretty stupid to bite on something like that. I dismissed them immediately. Another thing about this lure, in the stores these lures came in different sizes and color combinations, but most of these guys on the boat had the same size lure in the same color combination. 3 inches in white and blue colors. When tied on, they didn’t start casting the lures immediately. First they watched the surface of the water intently. Then one would yell out, "There’s a boil!! There, can’t you see it?", and cast his lure as hard as he could in the direction of the boil. Boil? What is a boil? I wondered. I can’t see any boiling water. What are these guys talking about? "There’s another one" another angler would yell, provoking him and several others to cast in that direction.

What these men would do, would be to cast a lure as far and as hard as they could to a specific location, wait for the heavy iron lure to sink to the bottom. And as soon as it hit bottom, start reeling in as hard and as fast they could in a straight line. No twitching from side to side, just straight back. In the first several minutes nothing came of this action. Frankly, it all looked to be a big waste time to me. Why don’t these guys use the live bait that is provided for them free of charge? Why would any respectable fish bite into such a silly looking lure? I thought. They would break their teeth biting into this piece of iron. And then it happened. Something hit one of these silly lures, and hit it hard. Then another one, and another one. All around me these silly clumsy lures were being hit head on, by unseen things; very big and very violent things.

When the first angler brought his to the surface he required no help to land it. As heavy and as violent as the fish was, with no help from a gaff or a net, he simply hoisted it in over the rail onto the deck, using his heavy tackle with 20 lb test. The cuda could not bite through his line with his razor sharp teeth. The heavy iron lure prevented this. When on deck, the angler carefully put his foot onto the fish’s flopping head, to avoid being bitten, when removing the lure. If the fish was over 28 inches, it was a keeper. This was the first of many keepers that day. In quick succession cuda were being hoisted onto the deck on my right and on my left. Everyone suddenly seemed to be hooking into barracuda. Everyone except myself. A wiser angler would have called ahead, before the boat left the dock, to find out what fish we were going for and what they were biting on. But hey, why should I have to call ahead. I have all kinds of lures in my tackle box, for all kinds of presentations. Except for one of course. The one I needed.

Frantically, I started rummaging through my disordered and confused tackle box. I knew had no Iron Man, but I also knew I had a lure that I had just brought from Kmart, that somewhat resembled an Iron Man, well not exactly. It was a lure designed for trout called a Dept Charger. Some how I found it in the confused tangle of my tackle box and then quickly tied it on the end of my 14 lb test line. You know this just might have worked, but then I decided to be even more innovative. I’m never good at innovation. Nevertheless, I thought I would increase my odds of hooking into a Cuda by attaching a number 4 hook about three feet above the Dept Charger Lure on the end of the line. I employed a Palomar knot to achieve this and then I stuck on a live squid. So I would have an artificial lure and live bait working for me at the same time. Perhaps I should have marked a big red X on the squid with a note saying, "Dear Mr. Cuda: Please cut my line right here, just 3 feet above where my expensive lure is, the one that I bought at Kmart.." And that’s just what Mr. Cuda did, with his razor sharp teeth, he went for the squid, severing my 14 lb test line as if it were cheap low grade thread, sending my expensive Dept Charger lure immediately to the bottom, somewhere off the Coast of Western Catalina. Scuba Divers take note. I want that lure back.

I tried my crocodile spoon, but it was too light to get any decent distance on my casts. With these boys getting 60 and 70 feet to the left and the right of me, my measly 30 feet on my ridiculous trout poll just wasn’t cutting it. I needed something heavier, like a solid piece of iron to compete with these guys, you know, like an Iron Man lure. Heck, while we’re at it, what I needed was an Abu Garcia, or a Shakespeare Ugly Stick with a strong backbone and some 20 lb test.

The action finally slowed and the school of cuda moved on. By this time there were cuda, averaging 30 inches, all over the deck, and fat ones at that. With all the excitement, nobody had time to put them away in the gunnysacks hanging around the live bait tank. Well that was taken care of by the deck hands while the pilot went searching for another school to the North. Depressed and feeling quite impotent, I went down stairs to the galley and eat away my sorrows on a Snicker’s bar. When I noticed one of those magic Iron Man lures hanging on the wall next to where the cook was working the grill. He had been selling them to the other customers, and this was his last one. Evidently some of the other anglers on the boat didn’t have them either and had been grabbing them up like hot cakes. I asked him how much he wanted for it and he quoted me $5.00. Which is quite reasonable since I couldn’t very well take a walk off the boat to make a quick trip to Kmart. Besides, I don’t think Kmart sells them any cheaper than that. Considering my present frustration level I would have been willing to give him my first-born.

Just then the pilot announced on the loud speaker that another school of cuda was lying 60 feet off the port bow. "BATTLE STATIONS!!! ALL HANDS ON DECK!!", well, he didn’t actually say that, but he might as well have, with the way everyone began to ready themselves for another run at Mr. Cuda.

This time I would be ready. Well, as ready as I was going to be with my silly trout pole and my 14 lb test. But at least I had an Iron Man on now, and the right size and color combination too. Okay, time to get serious. I quickly found myself once again in the middle of a row of eager anglers, along the port bow, watching intently for boils. Well, I couldn’t see any so I just casted my lure as hard and far as I could directly in front of me. Its amazing how much more distance you can get when your are throwing a heavy piece of iron. It still wasn’t getting the distance everyone else was getting with their seagoing rods, but I was getting 20 feet longer than I was with that crocodile. Then I noticed an interesting thing. The fellow next to me didn’t always make long casts. He alternated between making a long cast, cranking it back when it hit bottom and then, once the lure was retrieved from the long cast, he would simply let it drop to the bottom, without casting. Once it hit bottom, he would once again reel it back up as quickly as he could and then repeat to sequence by making another long cast. Surprisingly, when he hooked the next Barracuda, it was when he pulled it up after dropping the lure to the bottom, and not when he made a long cast. Which meant the boat was probably right on top the school of cuda by this time. This way he was covering more ground. Not being to proud, I began to imitate him.. So instead of casting that time, I too dropped the lure straight to the bottom. Then when I cranked the lure back up, I made a long cast.

I kept repeating this process over and over, but still no result. I imagine, by this time the pilot decided that the boat had taken in enough Barracuda, and wanted to switch to looking for the elusive Yellow Tail. Understandable from his point of view. But I still hadn’t bagged my cuda. The pilot directed everyone to pull up their lines. He had gotten a radio message about a potential Yellow Tail sighting several leagues around the bend of a point of land. I could hear the pilot starting up the engine and trying to winch up the anchor. I gave a short prayer. "Lord, please let me have a cuda." The anchor must have been stuck on the bottom on the rocks. The winch wasn’t able to bring the anchor up. Again I gave a shortprayer and then WHAM, while cranking up from the bottom, FISH ON!!! My first, and only bite that day. But it was a good’n. That cuda hit my lure hard. Very Hard. It was a heavy fish. Almost breaking my thin backed pole. Several anglers, who all now had their lines out of the water, were genuinely excited for me. I imagine many of them had felt a littler sorry for me throughout the day. Three or four starting yelling, "Gaff, gaff!!! FISH ON!!" And then after a huge effort the fish broke the surface and somehow I managed to bring him to the side of the boat. A deck hand, wielding a gaff, yelled to me, "keep its head in the water, keep the point down, don’t pull up!" At this several men started yelling to the pilot, "Stop the boat!!" "Stop the boat!! FISH ON!! FISH ON!!"

Unfortunately, the pilot did not hear them. And when the anchor came free, the boat lurched abruptly to starboard, snapping my line. I, and several other fishermen, gave a mournful groan as we watched helplessly as that beautiful 30 inch monster disappear beneath the waves. If the boat had not moved, it would have been landed. "Too bad" said the deck hand shaking his head, "the boat moved. That should have been yours".

Nobody blamed the pilot. He never heard us. Anyway he had more important worries than my fish. The anchor was stuck. Freeing it was more important than a single barracuda. I decided to count this fish, in my private little Book of Countings. I keep this book in my head. I chalked it up to a long short distance release. To bad that Iron Man lure went with it. We never did encounter anymore barracuda that day, and as for that elusive school of yellowtail? Well the pilot did locate it on his fish finder, but the yellowtail never cooperated. No one got so much as a nibble. I understand that Iron Men work on them too, but not this day.

It was getting late and we had to head for Newport Harbor and home.

Next time, Mr. Cuda. Next time. And this time I’m coming prepared.



After the completion of this article, I went to a local lake to do some large mouth bass fishing. Did I call ahead to the concessionaire, who runs the lake tackle shop, to find out what the bass were biting on? No, of course not! I had every lure that I could possibly employ in my tackle box anyway. Well, almost everyone. Everyone except the one that the bass were biting on. That would be a Strike King, Double Bladed, Buss Bait (the color of black). At least that is what the concessionaire told me as I was leaving the lake, at that point being totally skunked.

When will I ever learn?

 (We all share your pain...and lesson - Chark) 

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