And it looks so easy...
by Avery "SwinginFish" Ellisman


I was born and grew up in So. Cal, and lived close enough to the Pacific to ride my bike to the Ventura pier where, in addition to tormenting seagulls, I tossed “shiny sinkers” for bonito at a very early age.  As time passed, my interest in the ocean broadened, and at 14 I was trolling jigs in the local marina from my own little 10’ O’Day Sprite.  Not surprisingly, the sailing interest soon gave way to surfing, which became an obsession that lasted some 20+ years, saw me through - and extended - my adolescence, and aside from shaping me into the chick magnet I never was, helped me develop a fairly appreciable respect for the Ma Nature. 

Having moved inland for a spell, I found myself lured yet again to the water, only this time to the less-salty kind where I tossed flies rather than lead at fish.  Needless to say, I was developing an appreciation for the challenges posed by the many forms of ripping lips, but it wasn’t until I was in my 50’s that I lumbered into a hunk of ocean-going polyethylene for the purpose.

Although active, I’m a bigger fan of food than I am of exercise, and as the years advanced, I’ve learned that “middle age” refers as much to weight distribution as it does phase of life.  So for my uninitiated and non-angling peers, I use “exercise” as my excuse for paddling plastic in the Pacific, but if you’re reading this, you know the call of the siren is for more than burnt calories ….

As for the burning of calories, I recently utilized some that were hard-earned and well-stored by pulling on a nondescript, none-too-unusual mid-size yellowtail somewhere off the point of La Jolla.  I say “somewhere”, for the fog that October day, rather than pea soup, was more like bisque and, instead of keeping me disoriented all the time, played a cool game of “peek-a-boo” by offering an occasional glimpse of something somewhere.  It was quite interesting, actually, for there was an unusually strong southwest current pushing me out and south while it effectively laid the usually evident kelp horizontal and well below the surface.  I was thus robbed of my standard points of reference and, when I would look up from retying a knot or pulling a wayward sabiki from the neoprene pin-cushion that passes as a wetsuit, I’d get to play “where am I” all over again.  

Now as for the reference to a “none-too-unusual, mid-size yellowtail”, I’ll say up front that although I didn’t hook a relative leviathan, I am always impressed by how these fish pull no matter what their size.  And yes, I’ve caught some fairly large forkies in the past, but the biggest I’ve landed that dared to pull my yak came in at about 25 lbs.  I’ve no complaint, mind you, but simply note that the tails that have found their way onto my hooks of late have been adolescents, i.e., in their mid to late teens.  So, you may ask, what was it about the recent jack that made it worthy of note?   Well, not a lot really, except that it was my first on an iron tossed from my yak, and its successful landing brought on a very warm sense of a challenge well-met.  I’ll explain….

Most who’ve done it know that it’s pretty exciting to fight and bring a good-size fish to gaff.  From the kayak, the thrill is multiple and amplified.  First, we’re alone out there, and the fight can turn into one heck of an exciting sleigh ride.  And if the fish doesn’t pull the pole out of your hands, break the line or hang you in some kelp, you’re either very lucky or you’ve learned a thing or two.  Oh, and did I say very lucky?  

Over time and the actual (or near) happening of the just-noted, I have in fact learned something.  Something like what can go wrong will.  Something like the value of clearing the lines on my extraneous brought-along poles so that the freight train on the business end of one doesn’t get hung up on the dangling ends of the others and, in so-doing, pull the extras one by one into the drink while the hooked quarry sets its sights on Catalina.   Or like learning that polyethylene is home to hidden razor blades that spring out only when an e-tuned (i.e., tight) line gets close to the plastic.  Further, I trust (and hope) I’m not the only one who’s learned that rods, when being pulled with great force, will hit the nose of the puller when the “pullee” suddenly bests the line the puller is pulling.  I also suspect I’m not alone in having a developed respect for surface kelp’s ability to aim and unexpectedly hurl a once-stuck lure back at the one who launched it into the salad in the first place…  

When YT’s are involved, it doesn’t take too long to realize that every line has two ends, that the one still on your reel gets visible real fast, and that as exciting as a long run might be, it is you who’ll have to retrieve the other now racing away as your reel screams, “Stop me, I dare you!”  We also learn that fishing is a lot about memory, i.e., reels don’t have one, and ours gets worse by the minute.  To illustrate, a reel doesn’t know that it should return to its previous drag setting after being buttoned down to yank a now-lost $5.00 blue & white Iron Man from a barnacle encrusted rock mistaken for a halibut because the clicker was chirping as you drifted over what was supposed to be a sandy bottom.  And it also doesn’t know that it, the rod its attached to and its plastic rocket-launcher type holder will someday be ballast for something finny because its owner, in a flash of supreme “wisdumb,” secured the base end of his rod leash to the rocket launcher itself (rather than the craft) and, although trolling with the clicker on, inadvertently forgot to put the reel in freespool and, after sensing the boat jerk and seeing his rod tip load up, heard a heart-stopping “keeeeraack” that, along with a vision of his reel, rod and now-broken rocket launcher going deep, deep south, still haunts him to this day.  Of course, even if a reel with memory were to be created, one still stands to be humbled by hooking, playing, maiming and losing a toothy 29-inch ling cod at gaff, and then forgetting to check and retie what will, upon its next encounter with something finny, give new meaning to term, “terminal tackle”.  

But I digress…  This is about catching a YT on a jig.  So, what’s the big deal?  Again, not much, except mine was one of few caught that day, I was out with some friends, they didn’t catch one, and although not summer, the sun had burned the haze away and I fully expected to make a cool landing with the fish on what I hoped to be a babe-laden beach.  That said, I suspect I should mention that prior to hook up, one of my reels nearly busted my hand when an anti-reverse bearing got political and, having became anti anti-reverse, allowed its handle to suddenly slam into a couple of otherwise innocent knuckles.  Also in fairness, I should note that my YT, being carefully slung onto (rather than hanging over) the yak and covered with burlap so as to avoid (this time) both sun and seals, eventually weighed in at around 12 lbs.  This, in my short-lived glory, was a mere 10 lbs lighter than the one brought to the beach simultaneously by another guy I initially didn’t see.  And why didn’t I see him?  Because I was too busy collecting things from the drink after I attempted to surf the boat in on a 1’ wave that, like many of its bigger cousins, relished my bracing with the paddle on the wrong side and, without ceremony or fanfare, dumped me some three feet in front of … well, my friends say it wasn’t her, but from my angle, she looked a lot like … Pamela Anderson.

So, on the way to landing – and landing with – this first YT jig fish, there’ve been some lessons learned.  In fact, the sometimes painful process of learning what not to do adds to the sense of accomplishment when a nice fish is finally flapping itself silly on deck.  Come to think of it, when I consider one’s vulnerability and the potential mishaps that can occur while hunting fish from plastic, I’m somewhat surprised I still have two eyes and ten fingers, much less succeed in putting an occasional fish on the family dinner table.  I mean we’re not really engaging in an extreme sport, per say, but we can and do go to – not to mention suffer some - extremes in order to feel whatever it is we feel when we land them muthas.   In the end, it seems that an effective kayak angler has or develops some important qualities.  To wit, he/she needs to be patient, tenacious and attentive.   It also helps if you heal quickly and, of course, are very lucky.