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Noyo Harbor Confidential (July 30, 2003)

I stand before you a humbled man. Last Sunday I was out trolling for salmon with Mike the Rookie and showing him how to tie fishing knots.

I've been tying knots for 40-odd years, beginning with my own shoelaces. The bunny rabbit goes through the hole and then you pull on its ears. It seems that I have yet to master the task. After trolling for five hours without a scratched bait, I hooked a big salmon that was well over 20 pounds. It was a movie-reel quality fight, with the fish porpoising across the surface, leaping in the air, and making repeated dives to the ocean floor. A fish like that, a hot one and a strong one too, will often break the line or "come unbuttoned" by slipping the hook, and you just have to tip your fishing hat to him. But on the third dive to the sea floor, the fish came undone when my knot came untied.

It's a sickening feeling, especially after working so hard for that one fish all day. There's no one you can blame but yourself. You're standing there with egg on your face holding the line with the tell-tale pig's tail at the end of it. Unless that fish had fingers, you did a sloppy job on the knot. My bellows of anguish rang out across the water.

At least I got to see the fish -- and it wasn't as big as the toad king salmon Jason the Deckhand landed on Randy Thornton's party boat, the Telstar. Weighed in on a certified scale at 53 pounds, 8 oz, it was the biggest salmon ever landed at Noyo by a sportfisher, at least within my admittedly faulty memory. The state record sport-caught salmon (ocean) was 65 pounds, caught off Crescent City last year by a retired Fish & Game warden.

I saw Randy and his brother Rick Thornton at the meeting in Fort Bragg hosted by the Department of Fish and Game on Monday night to take public comment and discuss next year's options for rockfish regulations. A new stock assessment for bocaccio revealed a lot more fish than previously estimated, so the regulations for Southern California will be relaxed considerably next year, south of Point Conception. In our area however, the canary rockfish status has not changed, and a new assessment isn't scheduled to happen for another four years unless money is found to conduct the studies. A number of people present, including Jim Caito, the fish buyer, stressed the need for a new stock assessment for canaries unless people were willing to live with the current restrictions.

I have a suggestion: maybe the commercial sector could pay a little more than 13 cents per 100 pounds of groundfish in landing taxes to support the management costs of the fishery. As it stands, the weekend warrior sportfisherman pays most of the costs in the Department of Fish and Game's fishery management. With the way they've been treated lately you shouldn't be surprised that there are fewer people buying fishing licenses every year. Instead, Caito suggested that we all write to our government for some general fund money to study canary rockfish, an unlikely scenario to say the least.

On the sportfishing side, we also have some difficult decisions to make, given the limiting factors of low allowable catch levels of canary rockfish next year. Maria Vojkovich, a manager with the Department's Marine Division, handed out information about canary rockfish catch rates during different months of the year, to give us a sense of how seasonal closures have different impacts, depending on which months are closed. For example, the winter months are low-catch times, while during the summer months the catch rate goes up, so closures will be shorter if the summer months are closed. But that's not going to work for everyone, because most people fish in the summer. There's a proposal for a new slot limit on cabezon, between 15 and 24 inches, to help the rebuilding of the stocks. Depending on a new cabezon assessment, however, it's possible that no retention of cabezon will be allowed next year.

I spoke in favor of an option to exempt shore anglers and divers from the seasonal closures. It's outrageous to keep kids from fishing off the rocks when there's trawling going on. Shore-based fishing is low-impact and sustainable. There is zero impact on overfished shelf species.

The Department ought to be applauded for holding these meetings. In the past, the options were developed in-house without much public input. Now the public can at least comment before the state goes to the federal management council, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, with its range of regulatory options.

The Northcoast Fishing and Diving Association is hosting a fundraising BBQ in Gualala on August 3rd, but unfortunately I have no more details on time and place. 

Abalone diving reopens on Friday August 1st. I have heard various reasons for the July closure, including that month's deep low tides. With the new punch cards and an annual limit of 24 abalone, I'm not sure the July closure makes sense anymore.

Thanks to a reader who sent me a 1975 article from Fly Fishermanmagazine, I learned that all of the rainbow trout in New Zealand came from a batch of Russian River steelhead in 1883. It turns out that the eggs were collected at a hatchery "at a small stream in a canyon 1/2 to 1 mile south of the Ukiah High School." The hatchery was operated by the Great Western Railroad, which is now known as the Skunk Train. I wonder why the railroad operated a steelhead hatchery back then? In any event, there are now more Russian River steelhead in New Zealand than there ever were on the Russian River. And the New Zealand steelhead, mostly landlocked populations of "rainbow trout," are a purer strain than the ones in the Russian, because of releases of fingerlings from other rivers into that system.

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