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Outdoors Q&A: Poking Around for Monkeyface Eels

Up for a real challenge? Take a crack at these crafty creatures with an unorthodox tool

Q: I was just reviewing the state hook and line sport fishing records for California nearshore fishes and discovered that I have caught several monkeyface eels and grass rockfish in excess of the records listed. I caught these while poke poling, though, and wonder if you can tell me if it is an acceptable fishing method to qualify? If not, where can I find the guidelines so I can get my name into the annals of history?

Carrie Wilson
Carrie Wilson

Also, have there been any studies to suggest that eating them is unsafe? My girlfriend looks at me like I’m insane when I bring them home for dinner, but even she has to admit I have perfected various methods of cooking them, (including a kickin’ eel gumbo!). I would love to find out if these slimy bottom-dwellers are a high-risk type of fish to be eating once a month. (Jason S.)

A: Despite their eel-like appearance and little simian-looking face, monkeyface eels (or monkeyface pricklebacks) are not in the eel family. They occupy crevices, secluded holes and rocky pool areas between the high and low tide lines along rocky areas of the coast. A monkeyface prickleback caught by poke poling would be eligible for the state sport record. Click here for the Department of Fish and Game’s procedures for submitting your catch for record consideration.

By the way, poke poling is a legitimate method of fishing with a long history in California. Poke polers typically rig up a long bamboo pole with a short wire leader and attach a small hook on the end. Bait usually consists of shrimp, squid, mussels, clams, marine worms or fish. Then, by just poking the offering into crevices or cracks in the rocks or tide pools, especially at low tide, the poke poler waits for the fish to bite.

Kirk Lombard of San Francisco is the current record holder of the largest monkeyface eel ever caught on hook and line.
Kirk Lombard of San Francisco is the current record holder of the largest monkeyface eel ever caught on hook and line. (Camilla Lombard photo)

Like other fish species (e.g. lingcod, cabezon, greenlings, rockfish) that live in these rocky reefs, monkeyface pricklebacks tend to lurk and ambush interesting dinner possibilities that come their way. And it doesn’t take much for bait waved under their noses to trigger a pounce for the offered snack. Once the monkeyface grabs the baited hook, the poke poler lifts it out of its secluded hole, slips it into a bucket, goody bag or onto a stinger, and keeps on poking about for another bite from within the dark holes and pools of the rocky seashore.

To my knowledge, no one has looked at the levels of contamination in this species. I would advise you to follow the general sport fish consumption guidelines found in the back of the sport fishing regulations booklet or click here for recommendations from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Q: I want to donate some abalone and wild game to my church to use as part of a charity barbecue. If I do, can the church group then charge for the food if it includes donated sport-caught fish and game? What about for the abalone cook-off events held in Northern California every year? (Jim M., Santa Barbara)

A: It is acceptable to donate sport-caught fish and game to nonprofit charity events as long as only a donation is requested of the patrons and not a specific charge placed on each meal. To charge a specific amount for a dinner consisting of sport-caught albacore would be a violation of Fish and Game Code (FGC) 7121.

The nonprofit organizations can suggest a donation amount. However, if someone does not want to contribute they cannot deny that person a meal. In that case, the host organization would need to allow the person to eat the donated sport-caught fish/game but they could still charge for everything else (side dishes, paper plates, utensils, cups and drinks, and a place to sit and eat). This is what most nonprofits do for these fundraising events. If the church or host organization asks for a donation of $10 a plate for the meal, it must be a charge for everything else that is provided with the “free” part of the meal.

Q: We’d like to do some casting and blasting and are interested in shooting target skeet while fishing for sturgeon. Is it legal to possess a firearm, or rather, to have a firearm on my boat while sturgeon fishing? I am not a hunter or a gun guy and I know it is illegal to use a firearm to land a sturgeon. What about having just a pellet gun in the cuddy cabin for nonhunting target practice? Is this legal? (Scott E.)

A: There are no DFG regulations prohibiting you from simply having a firearm on the boat while sturgeon fishing. Your only concerns will be to make sure you won’t be violating any county or city ordinances by possessing firearms and shooting skeet in whatever area you intend to do this.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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