Charles Frederick Holder.

Life in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California online

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the wind all along shore dies down, diminishes in force,
but the same delightful conditions hold far into the fall.
In twenty years' familiarity with the sea here, I have
never run into a day fog similar to that which drifts in-
shore off the New England coast. The fog is always
high during the day along the Santa Catalina Channel.
The heavy bank can be seen offshore to the west, often-
times stationary, holding its own by some mystic power
against a ten-knot breeze ; but at about five o'clock in
the afternoon it will begin to move in, as clouds, from
four to eight hundred feet up, coming inshore in long
lines, creeping up the river beds, as the Santa Ana and
San Gabriel, following along the Santa Ana and Sierra
Santa Monica ranges and filling the valleys ; but out at
sea it is clear. The high fog of Southern California
nights and days is one of its blessings.

The winter season is equally delightful for yachting.
All the islands are then rich in greens, literal wild-flower

Fern Canon, Santa Cruz Island.

Cruising Along the Channel Islands 337

gardens in the sea, with a most interesting flora. Pro-
fessor T. F. Brandegee, of the California Academy of
Sciences, says : " It has been suggested that these islands
are the remnants of a western Atlantis. The botanical
arguments in favour of the theory are drawn principally
from the flora of the island of Santa Cruz, and consist
mainly of new species." The list of plants, according to
this authority, includes about five hundred and twelve
species, twenty-six of which have not been found on the
mainland, and only twelve of the latter being known on
the islands of Lower California.

Among the interesting plants to be seen here are
Catalina dogwoods, five-leaved oaks, the rare Mac-
Donald's oak, and a yellow Heteromeles. At Christmas
time this island is ablaze with colour, the beautiful red
berries of the holly, or Heteromeles, being seen every-
where. Over the slopes, with Adenostoma in vivid
green, is the Catalina apple, Crossosoma californicum ;
not an apple at all, but a bush about fifteen feet high,
which looks very much like it.

Here blooms the Malva rosa, the wild lilac, while
the glossy and delicate green of the wild cherry flashes
in many cartons, a contrast against the deeper greens of
ironwood. The silver tree, Eriogonum, is seen along
the slopes, while later a fringe of radiant blossoms in
clusters depends along the edges of lofty cliffs, telling of

The island and I take it as a type, as it is the only
one available to the public by daily boats seems filled

338 Life in the Open

with rivers of verdure flowing in all directions, and in
winter the vale of Avalon becomes a charming picture
with its setting of green hills which might well de-
light the eye of artist or poet. In January, February,
and March, wild flowers follow in rapid succession over
the hills and dales, and the days are like the cool
days of the late eastern fall. Perhaps the most remark-
able feature is the dryness of this island, twenty miles
out at sea. The relative humidity for the year is 67 ;
that of Asheville, N. C., is 72 ; Jacksonville, 70 ; Phila-
delphia, 80. The average heat for July at Avalon is
65. In August, 1892, a typical year, the highest mean
temperature at six in the morning was 72, the lowest
68 ; the highest at noon 78, the lowest 69. The high-
est at six in the evening was 74, the lowest 68 ; the
lowest ocean temperature was 69 at six in the morning,
the highest 76 at noon. Frost is practically unknown
at Avalon. The comparative mean temperature for
the six cold months is 58 ; the average for the same
period at Nice in southern France is 48, or 10 cold-
er, yet Nice is the most famous health resort along the
Riviera. The average temperature for January at this
island is 54, making the difference between mid-winter
and mid-summer 1 1 ; a most remarkable feature, which
I wish to emphasise, as it shows that the vale of Avalon
has an almost perfect climate, of interest to those who de-
sire such conditions and propose cruising along the Pacific
Coast. For these figures I am indebted to Mr. H. Elms
of Avalon, who kept the records for six or seven years.

Cruising Along the Channel Islands 339

The resorts of the world famous for "perfect
climate" are those in France and Italy along the
Riviera, visited by thousands of Americans who travel
across seas and continents in search of a mild climate,
not realising that in three and one half or four days they
can reach from New York an American Riviera, the
coast line of Southern California, far surpassing any
locality in Europe in its climatic perfections. To em-
phasise this the following table may be referred to
showing the difference between the monthly mean
temperature of the resorts of the European Riviera
and Southen California, January and July:

Rome, Italy 25 Nice, France 30

Naples, " 30 Cairo, Egypt 27

Jacksonville, Fla 28 Florence, Italy 33

Auckland, N. Z 19 Avalon, Cal 11

Coronado, Cal 12 Santa Barbara, Cal. . . . 13

No records are available as to the islands of San
Clemente, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa, but doubtless
very similar conditions hold, as the climate from Santa
Barbara to Coronado, including the near-shore islands,
is as near perfect as can be found, being invariably
milder than the interior.

In cruising among the channel islands in winter, the
yachtsman will occasionally experience north-westers
and south-easters, but the rule is a succession of clear
and beautiful days. Santa Catalina Island has a good
harbour in Avalon except when a south-easter blows ;

340 Life in the Open

then the land-locked Catalina Harbour affords perfect
anchorage. The new breakwater at San Pedro has
made a harbour for the navies of the world, while the
inner harbour is where yachts winter. Terminal Island
has no harbour, relying on the protection afforded by
the San Pedro breakwater ; but here in summer many
races are held. Off Coronado is the course of the
Corinthian and the San Diego Yacht Clubs, the inner
harbour being one of the finest in the world, with an
ideal climate winter and summer. Here are held the
yearly contests for the Lipton Cup, a splendid trophy
presented to the former club by 'Sir Thomas Lipton.
The race is often entered by yachts from the north-
ern clubs. Nowhere in America are the conditions so
nearly perfect for this sport as along the coast of South.
ern California, especially among the channel islands,
where the long, cool summer days imperceptibly melt
into winter that is still summer under another name.


Chapter XXIV

The Still Angler

ONE would look a long way along the New
England coast, or possibly anywhere else, to
find a municipality that would spend thou-
sands of dollars in extending one or more splendid piers
out into the sea for the sole benefit of anglers who might
come that way ; yet nearly every Southern California
town on the sea-shore has such a pier, or several ; not
makeshifts, but fine affairs, leading out over and be-
yond the breakers, and in the main for the fisherman,
the still angler, the philosopher of content, who comes
from the interior and the East and fishes from the string-
piece to his heart's desire.

These begin at Santa Monica, and reach to San
Diego, where a long pier reaches out from Coronado.
Possibly the culmination is found at Long Beach, where
the pier is a double-decked affair, with a ballroom, con-
cert hall, and a town, so far as shops are concerned, all
out at sea.

At Venice the pier is equally remarkable, having a


344 Life in the Open

vast hall, music room, or dancing pavilion far out over
the water, not to speak of a hotel in the form of an
ancient galleon. Here is an imitation of Venice, Italy,
and one may enjoy the delights ot the gondola, as well
as go a-fishing. At Ocean Park and other places these
piers are seen, all patronised by anglers, who seem to
possess all the qualifications of Walton, patience, so-
briety, and a peaceful mind. The game is usually
though not always small : the surf-fish of the coast,
smelt, rock-bass, and occasionally halibut, yellowtail
and white and black sea-bass. But the smallness of
the game does not discourage your real fisherman ; it
is not all in the game, but the art of fishing, the

The pier is high above the water, to clear the long
rollers that at times come piling in ; hence the majority
of the anglers use long stiff bamboo rods and big reels
by which the fish can be lifted, and the renting of rods
and the selling of bait is a remunerative business along-
shore. One may see the sides of these long piers
crowded day after day by anglers men, women, and
children ; a remarkable demonstration of the universal
fascination which angling has for mankind. There is
nothing quite like it, except along the Thames, where
at times hundreds of men may be seen patiently and
philosophically holding a rod for game of the smallest
size. Doubtless the anglers hope to land a five- or six-
pounder, and without hope and patience there would be
no anglers. But the secret is that these fine piers with

Beach Fishing for Leaping Sharks, Catalina Harbour.

The Still Angler 345

their bands, dancing halls, lectures, organs, and ship
hotels, afford the people a voyage at sea, its delights
and pleasures, without any disadvantages. The green
sea comes piling in in tidal measure, the surf high, a de-
lightful spectacle as it breaks, affording the angler the
perspective, the spume and dashing spray, all free as air,
and the angling thrown in. I do not know who invented
the angling pier, but he was a wise man in his day a
public benefactor.

While the majority of the game is small from the
pier, there are fishing launches near at hand, and you
may go outside and troll for barracuda, bonito, or yellow-
tail ; or you may anchor in deep water and fish for the
big black sea-bass. These boats and others take you to
the great breakwater of San Pedro, a harbour which cost
five million dollars, and to Point Firman and Portuguese
Bend, the home of the mainland abalone fisheries. At
the former point can be seen at low tide during or after
a storm some of the most remarkable waves on this or
any coast, well worthy a visit even if a winter gale is
blowing. Off the point a rock rises out of the sea from
a great stratified platform ; as the sea comes piling in
it strikes the rock, and is sent whirling, it is said, three
hundred feet into the air, the dome of water assuming
many beautiful shapes as it rises and falls, at its climax
or maximum height resembling a splendid fountain, or
some terrible explosion which has forced tons of water
into the air in the shape of silvery pompons.

At night, when the darkness is intense, this

346 Life in the Open

marvellous flocculent mass becomes a pillar or fountain
of fire, due to the remarkable phosphorescence of the
water, which at times has assumed so fiery a hue that thou-
sands were attracted from the interior towns and cities.

The still angler occasionally varies his sport by
going out upon the beach, and with a long rod and
heavy sinker casting for surf-fish or other game. You
may see the long stretch of sands dotted with these
monuments of patience, these advocates of philosophical
reflection and the peaceful arts, who face the rich strong
wind and salty spume, and are happy if they do not get
a gudgeon.

Along the laguna shores I have found good beach
fishing for large rock-bass, standing in the water and
with a fairly stiff rod casting fifty or sixty feet from the
sands. I have caught sheepshead from the rocks, yel-
low-tails from Avalon Beach, in the old days, and have
seen the little beach lined with anglers, all of whom ulti-
mately became involved in unutterable confusion as the
big and gamy fish crossed the lines and amused them-
selves at the expense of the anglers. At certain
beaches at Santa Catalina there is fair leaping-shark
fishing, particularly in July and August, at Catalina
Harbour. The heavy bait is carried out by the gaffer,
who stands by on the beach and gaffs the game as it is
reeled in. This is the luxury of angling. You do not
leave the dry sand that is not necessary, your gaffer
does that as there is no surf, the harbour being as
smooth as a lake. A strike comes, and as you hook


The Still Angler 347

the game it leaps two or three feet into the air and
often repeats it ; a sixty-pound shark (my own record),
striped gray and black, like a tiger. He carries you up
and down the sands, and affords excellent sport for
those who like the more robust piscatorial indulgences.
You may see the still angler, on the inner bay, sit-
ting on the sands at Alamitos, while over on the sand-
dunes is his family listening to the music of the sea ; or
he is stationed at intervals on the outer beach down in
the direction of Newport, his rods thrust in the sands
and tagged with flags. Again you find him at the
great railroad pier at Port Los Angeles, or at Re-
dondo, where the deep sea cuts in, at times bringing
large fishes.

Chapter XXV

The Tribe of Seriola

THE angler who has fished in Florida from Palm
Beach to the Gulf has an especial pride in
his amber-jacks one of the gamiest fishes of
the Gulf Stream, running up to eighty or more pounds,
clad in splendid vestments of colour, silver, gold, or am-
ber ; a type of matchless cunning and strength. On
coming to the Pacific slope, or to Southern California,
he finds a cousin of this fish ; not so thick-set, longer
and a little more slender, but a near kinsman of the
royal family, a Seriola, known here as the amber-fish,
and by many other titles best known, perhaps, as yel-
lowtail. It ranges from ten or fifteen pounds up to
thirty or forty, and doubtless reaches one hundred
pounds in its old age and best condition.

The amber-fish call him what you will comes from
some mysterious realm offshore in March or April, in-
creasing in numbers, as time goes on, until June, when
he often throngs the Santa Catalina Channel and
abounds in such numbers that the great schools fairly


35 2 Life in the Open

tint the water with gold. They soon break up into
twos and threes, or small schools, and can be caught,
trolling or still fishing as the case may be ; and the ease
with which they are hooked gives the splendid creature
the place of the bluefish of the Atlantic.

You may see the angler at Avalon sitting on post
or string-piece of the dock angling for yellowtails and
rock-bass men, women, and children, while out in the
bay is a large fleet of rowboats, angling for this gamy
roustabout that has been known to jerk a boy from
the pier.

They tell a story at Avalon to the tenderfoot, which
I will not vouch for, to the effect that one morning
service was being held in a tent chapel, this being be-
fore the days of churches, when a small boy came in,
whispered something in the ear of a man, who immedi-
ately got up and went out. Presently another followed,
others joined him, and when two thirds of the congre-
gation had left, the Presiding Elder, unable to resist any
longer, so the story goes, cried out, " Hold on, brethren,
let 's start fair," and hastened down the aisle, and was
soon seen on the beach where every man, woman, and
child had gathered to see the greatest run of yel-
lowtails ever witnessed at the island. They filled the
waters of the little bay, a ravenous throng which bit at
anything, and the beach was soon lined with anglers,
who were involved in confusion worse confounded.
No one who has not seen a similar sight or a jack-beat
in Florida can form any conception of it, or the com-

Taking the Yellowtail.

(i) The strike. (2) How the rod appeared after thirty minutes. (3) Gaffing. (4) " A

thirty-five pounder."

The Tribe of Seriola 353

plete demoralisation that fills the soul of the still
angler, who, from a simple philosopher of the string-
piece, becomes a wild man ; and to see these anglers stand-
ing on the sands, the line of one entangled with that of an-
other while the fish are biting, is to witness unutterable
anguish no contingency so tries the soul of man the
temptation of Saint Anthony was a bagatelle to that
which dangles red before these martyrs; who invari-
ably fall from grace, and swear by Jove and all the
gods and prophets.

It is the fish of the people, and one of the sights in
summer alongshore is to see the yellowtail fleet in
August drifting or anchored at Avalon Bay. There
are from fifty to one hundred boats, ranging from row-
boats to launches, with men, women, and children
angling for a fish that averages twenty-five pounds. No
such rod-fishing can be seen anywhere in the world, so
far as known, and this is said advisedly, this one
fish alone would make the angling reputation of South-
ern California. The big island is a wind-break, giving
water often as smooth as glass and of an ineffable
blue. Glancing down into it you see a wealth of
streamers, long beams of light pulsating, throbbing,
extending here and there and bringing out into strong
relief a variety of marvellous shapes, crystals, the very
ghosts of animal life, yet living, pulsating animals. The
most ardent angler cannot fail to notice these fairy
forms, as some are fishing in boats with glass bottoms
through which the smallest creatures are seen with

354 Life in the Open

perfect distinctness ; and those who know, see that the
ebb and flow of animal life is similar to that of Naples
and the Mediterranean.

As the anglers sit and watch the drift in this float-
ing throng some one raises a shout, and from the
throats of the people in the yellowtail city comes a
roar ; shattering all the ethics of angling, as the man
who has hooked a fish is encouraged in loud and joy-
ous tones by every one else ; there is no trace of envy
here, and voices shout, "Good boy!" "Give it to
him ! " " Go in and win ! " and other consoling phrases
well known to anglers.

The victim takes it pleasantly as he is in the float-
ing village by choice, and there are sixty miles of shore
where he can fish alone ; so he plays his game and is not
" rattled " by the roars of advice.

Glance at this game and its play. The lucky angler
has a light rod weighing not over ten ounces, a line
known to the trade as a number nine. He is in one
hundred feet of water and has hooked a yellowtail
weighing at least seventeen pounds. Will he land it ?
That is the question. If cheering and vociferous en-
couragement be an aid, he will. The fish has taken
one hundred feet at the start ; the rod is bent into a
suggestive curve, and the reel is making music that
is heard high above the noise. He has tossed off his
painter, and the fish is towing the light skiff out into
the channel, making for deeper water. Every now
and then the reel sounds as the yellowtail makes a

The Tribe of Seriola 355

rush, and you see that its peculiarity of playing is to
make a series of mad rushes that are irresistible. Zee,
zee, zeee / sounds the reel, again and again ; the crowd,
catching the melody, takes it up, and the roar of sounds
drifts over the waters into the caflon, and gives the
angler who cannot go a-fishing a sharp and poignant


The fish is down and out three hundred feet,
hence, must be lifted ; and we see the angler lower his
rod, reeling quickly, " pumping," in this way gaining on
the fish, that occasionally breaks away to the accom-
panying music of the reel, then comes slowly in, all the
time bearing off with a force and vivacity that tests
every fibre of rod or line, and angler's muscle. If you
were near enough, you would see deep in the heart of the
azure channel a blaze of silver, with flashes of gold.
The yellowtail is a hundred feet down at the end of
thirty minutes, and the skiff one hundred yards from
the fleet, where, perhaps, other anglers are in the toils.
The fish is upon its side, bearing off gallantly, making
the fight of its life.

As it conies in, it rushes around in a big circle, then
plunges down, zee, zee, zee, zee ! until the tired angler
loses nearly all the line he has gained, and it is such a
thread, this nine-strand affair, that great care must be
taken, as the slightest mistake, the merest over-pressure
of the thumb and it is gone, and the yellowtail sails
away. But your angler is a cautious fellow; he has fished
before ; he watches every move, and suddenly you see

35 6 Life in the Open

him reach for his gaff and, presto ! he lifts a great
silvery creature up out of the blue sea, holds it a mo-
ment and laughingly nods at the floating-village people,
who send across the water a volley of congratulations.

And the fish ? A noble fellow silver belly newly
polished in the ocean mint, clear as silver can be, tail
and fins gold of California, and along the side a stripe
of the same. Its back is green in the water, but now is
a blue deeper than that of the sea ; the blue you see in
some minerals, in the heart of an opal and in the blue
heart of labradorite. It is nearly four feet long, and
weighs thirty-two pounds, yet nothing is thought of it.
The angler slips back into his place and shouts con-
gratulations to some other fisherman, as in the three
quarters of an hour of play perhaps a dozen such fishes
have been caught or brought to the gaff.

The fishing-ground is a delight in itself. The air is
cool, never sultry, and if one wishes wind, why, it is
around the turn at Seal Rocks where the fresh inshore
breeze, called by the desert, is driving in the scud and
spume high on rock and sand.

So much for still fishing for the yellowtail ; and if he
is not in a responsive mood the boats move slowly
along the rocky coast about fifty feet from shore in
water as smooth as any inland lake (though you are
twenty miles out in the Pacific), and you troll with
about sixty feet of line out, and perhaps a heavier rod,
say sixteen ounces. The bait is a four-inch sardine, or
a spoon, and sooner or later it is taken and the experi-

The Tribe of Seriola 357

ence is repeated. There is hardly any play that quite
comes up to that made by this fish. Its fierceness, its
sudden rushes, its evident strength, all are factors that
surprise old salmon fishermen and dumbfound the ten-
derfoot in these summer seas. Santa Catalina is the
home of the yellowtail, so far as the rod angler is
concerned, as here the equipment of boats is perfect,
the water smooth, and the fish found in large numbers ;
the rocky cliffs, the long ideal stormless summer days
appealing to anglers, some of whom have a weakness
for creature comforts even when fishing.

The yellowtail is found as far north as Monterey,
and where deep water sets inshore, as at Redondo and
Portuguese Bend ; it is caught, also in mid-channel.
Schools may be found all along the coast where they
are taken by the professional fisherman with his hand-
lines and bone-gigs. But the ideal rod-fishing is found
in the lee of the channel islands, from San Diego and
Coronado to Santa Barbara, where still waters and ideal
conditions make the sport unique in the annals of
rod-fishing for big game.

Yellowtail fishing at the islands continues all sum-
mer and up to December, and I have taken this fish at
Avalon from the pier nearly every month in the year ;
but officially Seriola is on leave, December, January,
and February, and is then only caught on hand-lines
six hundred feet down in the San Clemente Channel, or
off the great banks of Tanner and Cortez some miles to
the south-west, or down the coast at Ensenada.

Chapter XXVIII

The Climate of Southern California

INFORMATION regarding the climate of a locality
is essential to the sportsman or traveller.
Aside from its fame as a sportsman's paradise
Southern California has become noted as a health resort;
yet its peculiar climatic conditions are but little under-
stood, as instance the party of otherwise intelligent people
who, proposing to spend the winter in Southern Califor-
nia, packed away their winter clothing in New York and
came to Los Angeles in a private car, garbed in muslins
and duck and with wardrobes light enough for Samoa.
I was first impressed strongly in favor of Southern
California by the remarks of a Southern Californian of
wealth, who had no real estate to dispose of. He told
me that, obliged to seek a mild climate for a permanent
residence, he began a tour of the world, making an ex-
tended, and, as he considered, an exhaustive series of re-
searches, living in all the famous health resorts known,
as the Azores, Madeira, the south of Italy, France, Spain,

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 18 of 21)