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Mike Moropoulos: Catch of a Lifetime Just a Fleeting Memory

There's a trophy calico bass still roaming the kelp, if only our columnist could picture it.

I will begin this column by answering questions that have yet to be asked.

1. That’s right, I do not have a photograph.

2. Yes, that is stupid.

3. Yes, next time I will have a camera (there will probably never be a next time).

4. We were fishing the kelp between the Light House and the Mohawk Rock (22 feet).

5. As is usual with me, we were flylining live bait — anchovies and medium sardines.

6. We being my older (older?) brother, Lou, and my friend, netter and witness Bud Bottoms.

7. Yes, the scale and ruler are both accurate.

8. And, yes, we released it.

9. Released what? A 10-pound one-ounce calico bass (technically a kelp bass).

10. And, yes, certainly I understand the lack of credibility with no photograph.

While I have written almost a thousand columns and magazine articles, photography, or lack thereof, has always been my Achilles brain. I have had many photos published — some that I thought were pretty good — but I am not a photographer. I fish, hunt and, until recently, dive.

As of this missed opportunity I am now a certified photographer. But I have learned this: if you are planning to take photos or teach a kid, forget about fishing for awhile. I’m not certain I can do that.

I have caught calicos up to eight-and-a-half pounds, but that was on the outer edges of the Carpinteria Reef prior to the installation of Platform Hazel, and through diving I knew they were there. But until last week I had never seen a 10-plus calico. That new oil structure had pirated almost all of the calicos from the Carp Reef, including many of large proportions. Fishing under the platform — in between dumped mop-water and curses — was difficult but outstanding.

I realized that for this fish to be of any consequence we’d have to travel to Sea Landing to get a photo, have it weighed on a certified scale, and secure the terminal end of our 10-pound test line. I did not think the big fish could survive those rigors. It took about 15-20 minutes to get it through the kelp and into the net; the fish was exhausted.

Article Image
We don’t mean to rub salt in Noozhawk columnist Mike Moropoulos’ wound, but here’s a picture of a calico bass like the one he caught and released. (California Department of Fish & Game photo)
We decided an expedient release was critical. After weighing and measuring we did our resuscitation thing of pushing and pulling to force the water through its gills until it awakened — then adios. Since it was only hooked in the jaw, I am convinced it survived.

Releasing that fish didn’t even hurt. We were almost at our self-imposed grandkids’ fish-fry limit of eight fish anyway. We stayed awhile but that 1 p.m. trophy kind of ended the day.

I really thought it was a good white sea bass because it did not act like a typical calico. I guess that’s because it wasn’t. It ran hard enough to almost spool me; that didn’t take long. What did take some time was getting that fish back on the light gear we were using. But the best thing I did was to get lucky.

When we got color it morphed from the silver (white sea bass) I anticipated to gold/brown with dark blotches. Lucky? Absolutely, because bringing in the big calico and its tangle of kelp was the challenge and the luck factor. The big bass measured out at 25-1/2 inches.

And for certain you can say I am bragging. For the past 53 years (since my first ocean boat), the calico bass has been my prey of choice, both fishing and diving. So that 10-pounder has become the fish of my lifetime, and sure, you can bet your last dollar I wish I wasn’t a photographic lump. But it is a done deal and I wish I could forget about missing on a photograph. They tell me time heals!

Photo or no photo, I know I have caught a trophy and it is still swimming in that kelp. I also know it is difficult for many to believe this story and that’s OK, too, I wouldn’t fault them; it’s pretty easy for someone to fabricate a big fish story. But my brother, Lou, and Bud and I know.

And at least this isn’t a story about one that got away.

Noozhawk contributor Mike Moropoulos is a longtime outdoors writer in Santa Barbara.

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