The following appears in the August issue of California Sportsman:
By Mark Fong
California’s North Coast is home to some of the best fishing opportunities in the West, besides it being a gorgeous setting.
One man who knows this area intimately is Tony Sepulveda, owner and operator of Green Water Fishing Adventures. Sepulveda specializes in guiding for salmon and steelhead on the rivers of Northern California and southern Oregon. He also fishes spring-run striped bass on the Sacramento River and during the summer skippers his six-pack boat, the Shellback, along the waters of Humboldt County’s Lost Coast in search of salmon, halibut and big bottomfish.
Recently, I had the opportunity to climb aboard the Shellback out of Eureka with Capt. Tony. The fishing I experienced was nothing short of amazing.
Several months before the date of my actual trip, I phoned Sepulveda to discuss what kind of fishing adventure I was hoping to find. It turns out that it was a wise decision to call early, because as I quickly found out, the Shellbackis constantly booked, so if you want to fish with Green Water Fishing Adventures, sign up early.
On Capt. Tony’s Facebook page I saw post after post detailing the amazing rockfish and lingcod he was putting his customers on. When I told him I wanted to catch big rockfish and lings, he replied that the Lost Coast was just the place to go.
“The Cape (Mendocino) is home to the best Alaskan-style rockfishing this side of Alaska,” Sepulveda said. “It’s as good as it gets, but the weather is often rough and the Lost Coast guards her treasures well.”
We would head out on a treasure hunt of our own.
JOINING ME ON MY long-anticipated rockfishing adventure was my equally fishing-crazed buddy Ian Rigler. We met up with Capt. Tony at the Woodley Island Marina, and it was there that we joined the other four members of our fishing party.
Capt. Tony announced that it would be about a two-hour trip down to the Cape, so I found a comfortable seat and settled in for the ride.
As we made our way southward, the wind began to pick up. When we reached our first spot, the boat was rocking and rolling pretty good in the sloppy conditions. Luckily there was little swell, which made the drift fishable.
Capt. Tony quickly showed us how to bait our rigs with frozen herring and soon we were fishing. Within 30 seconds the first shouts of “Fish on!” began to ring out as the action started fast and furious.
All around me big chunky rockfish came over the rail. It took awhile for me to get my first bite, but when it finally happened there was no mistaking.
I let my rod load up and I was into a nice fish as well. Soon I had color and could see that I had hooked into a big vermilion rockfish. Our skipper was quick with the hook and in a flash, the vermilion was over the rail and headed for the fish box.
And so it continued at a steady pace – sometimes bordering on frenetic and only interrupted by short runs to reset the drift or to explore a new hot spot.
When I am in the middle of a wide-open bite, it’s hard to focus on much else except what’s going on at the end of my line. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was the size and quality of the rockfish. I have experienced a lot of great rockfish frenzies before, but never have I seen so many jumbo rockfish.
In the midst of the chaos, I took a moment to watch Capt. Tony work the deck. He was in constant motion: Gaffing fish, untangling lines, baiting hooks – all the while keeping us on the fish. He is truly one of the most knowledgeable and personable skippers I have fished with. I was hopeful he would help me score an even bigger prize.
AS MUCH AS I like rockfish, I came to the Cape to sample its legendary lingcod fishing. After catching a half-dozen or so rockfish, I was anxious to land a ling.
Herring are equally tempting to both rockfish and lingcod, so it’s really just a waiting game until your bait gets within range of a hungry ling.
“Patience, patience, patience,” I kept reminding myself.
My luck was about to change when I felt the very distinct take of a lingcod as it mouthed my herring. I waited patiently until my rod loaded up and I could feel the weight of the fish before I forcefully set the hook.
By the way it was behaving I could tell it was a heavy fish. As lings do, the fish made several strong runs in trying to get back to the bottom. I applied steady pressure and just kept reeling against the fish.
All the while, the other members of the group were hooked up and engaged in battles of their own. Even with the wide-open action going on all around me, I kept my attention focused on the task at hand.
After a spirited tug of war I worked the lingcod in range of the gaff. With a quick swipe, Capt. Tony hauled the fish aboard. The fish turned out to be a beautiful lingcod in the 20-pound range. It was a nice fish for sure, but the Cape is home to much bigger ones.
Still, I was truly in a state of rockfish nirvana. As the bite continued on, I became lost in the action. All too soon Sepulveda made the announcement that we had reached our fish limit and that it was time to head home. The ride back to Eureka was filled with laughter, good times and smiling faces.
IF YOU ARE A crazed bottomfishing fanatic like me, the Lost Coast is a must-fish destination. Because of the weather conditions, Capt. Tony was unable to fish his A1 spots. As great as the fishing was, I can only be left to wonder what if. You can be sure that I will be back soon to find out. CS
Editor’s note: If you would like to fish with Capt. Tony Sepulveda, he can be reached at (707) 845-9588, or you can visit his website at eurekafishing.net.