Fishing with kids is one of my favorite types of sportfishing because you don’t have to catch huge monster fish to have big fun. Gray smoothhound sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, lizardfish,
halibut, and spotted bay bass are plentiful in San Diego California Bay, and I recently took a bunch of my students there to fish. We had a blast!
The fun started as soon as we left the left the dock at
Check out Alex below. We told him to put his hat on backwards and get ready for a speedy launch. He lit up with a huge smile when my friend Captain Tony Miller gunned the engines!
We ventured out to Tony’s secret honey hole and pinned on some live sardines for bait. Within five minutes Alicia was hooked up to a big fish. I couldn’t believe how quickly she got bit!
After a great fight and a lot of hard work she brought her catch to the side of the boat, and lo and behold I’m looking at a first-time angler with a nice sized halibut. How's that for lady luck! It's hard enough to catch any sized halibut. To catch a legal keeper, they have to be at least 22 inches. All eyes were on Alicia as Tony hoisted her magnificent prize.
It was a great fish, but would it be big enough to keep? We measured it to make sure. Captain Tony had a special sticker from the California Department of Fish and Game taped to the side of his boat; it shows the minimum size for most of the fish caught in local waters.
As you can see the halibut measured well over 22 inches, so into the cooler it went! Look at those gnashing jaws, razor sharp teeth, and the two eyes on the same side of the head. Behold the mighty San Diego Sea Monster. What a catch!
The downside to having so much luck early in the trip is that it can set kids' expectations too high. Privately I worried if things would be all downhill from here. My anxiety didn't last long, for within 5 minutes, Alex's reel began screaming and line raced off the rod tip. Fish on!!
The junior angler was amazed at the power of his fishy foe, and struggled mightily. Suspense mounted as Alex summoned all of his power and strength. This was a battle for the ages!
Alex finally subdued the beast, and Alicia bravely pulled the amazing creature out of the water. It was an incredibly strange, weird fish. Alicia thought it was an oarfish, Raul claimed it was an opah, and Alex was convinced it was a cookie cutter shark. Can you name it?
If you guessed Rhinobatus productus, you're right! Of course that's it's Latin scientific name. It's commonly called the shovelnose guitarfish, which is actually a species of ray. They can be caught with bait like bloodworms, squid, or sand crabs, but this critter fell for a live sardine. The kids posed for a picture and then released it back to the briny depths from whence it came. It's important to teach kids the value of catch and release fishing.
After their valiant efforts, Alicia and Alex headed below deck to savor some of the fine cuisine Captain Tony and I had spent all night preparing. If I remember correctly the lobster bisque, duck confit, and escargot were big hits.
That left Raul on deck alone to face the next fish. His peers enjoyed the gourmet treats in the boat's salon, and I went down to witness the feast. The festivities were interrupted by the the ear-piercing whine of a saltwater reel in full meltdown. By the time I reached topside Raul was engaged in a furious battle. His reel glowed red with heat as the gears ground noisily against each other in protest. This was off 'da hook!
The fish was a formidable opponent, but it was no match for Raul's brilliant blend of cunning, brawn, and sheer brute force. Good thing I brought the "A Team" with me! To our great surprise, Raul's catch turned out to be none other than the feared and revered California Lizardfish.
In fact, this was no ordinary specimen, this was a GIANT lizardfish. Specimens of this size and quality are usually immediately shipped by helicopter to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo where they fetch untold thousands, but we were committed to only keeping what we would eat. Since we had already boated the halibut, we released this lucky lizard fish to fight another day.
Seconds after the lizardfish swam to freedom, we heard birds squawking in the distance. This could mean only one thing: more frenzied action! Alex manned the deck and scanned the horizon with our Spy Net Night Vision Infrared Stealth Binoculars.
He spotted a maelstrom of activity, and we sped over to try our luck. We were shocked by what we saw: spotted bay bass as far as the eye could see, so tightly packed together that one could nearly walk across their backs to shore without getting wet! Here's Alicia with one of the bass just before she released it. If you compare the size of the fish to her, I'd say it's pretty obvious it was a potential world record spotted bay bass. Look at how it dwarfs her arm!
Incredibly, before the bass hit the water, Alex was hooked up to another beast. After a long a brutal fight, the dorsal fin of a giant gray smooth hound shark broke the surface. The kids gasped in excitement and we brought the huge, writhing shark aboard for a quick photo.
Catch and release shark fishing at its finest!
After their brush with danger, Alex and Raul sat down on deck, equally thrilled and exhausted. Alicia was ecstatic that she had landed a trophy halibut on her first San Diego fishing trip. On the way back to the dock she told me of her plans to fillet the tasty treat with her family.
Once we hit land, Alicia had time to examine her impressive catch. The fish had been put into the cooler so quickly after being measured that she hadn't had time to fully appreciate the fish in all of it's glory.
Besides being one of the best tasting saltwater fish, halibut are unique in that they have both eyes on one side of their head. In addition, they have a huge mouth full of dagger shaped teeth. Oh the horror!
Alicia posed one last time with her fantastic fish, marking the perfect end to our marvelous day on the water.
Later on that day Alicia emailed me and told me that her family had a lot of fun preparing the halibut for dinner. It turned into one of their best meals ever. She was so proud!