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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 10:03 pm | Fair 53º


Captain’s Log: The Shark, the Lingcod and the Captain

Sometimes it's not a question of who wants it more, but who's closest to the action.

Wintertime is for sharpening hooks and filet blades, tying fresh leaders and maintaining rods, reels, tackle and boat. Oh, and most important, it’s for spinning yarns. I’ve got one for you.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
Several years back, about three weeks into lingcod season, I was fishing a hotspot where I knew there were some big ‘uns … a seamount in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel. On my hook was a lively 6-inch sardine, rigged on a reverse dropper loop, fished within a foot of the rocks 340 feet below.

I felt the rod bend and the telltale tug of a powerful lingcod bulldogging its way back into its lair after dashing out to inhale my bait. I set the hook solidly and pulled upward with equal stubbornness while hooting and hollering like the pirate I am. It was a dead-even standoff for the first minute. Then I began to work the big fish slowly up away from the rocks. My confidence waxed. Periodically the fish would put its shoulder into the fight and peel line off against a buttoned-down drag as it made for the safety of the rocks. My confidence waned. But given a few minutes, I was clearly gaining line.

These fish I know well. This one was big enough — I estimated 20 pounds from the feel of the fight — to earn my nickname for large lingcod, “lingasaur.” I had this prehistoric denizen of the deep coming my way and I was smacking my lips thinking of the delicious and healthy filets I’d be taking home for the family.

My hands are strong, but I was feeling the strain after fighting the fish 300 feet upward to within 40 feet of the surface. Suddenly the rod bent double and I hung on for all I was worth as a hundred feet of line peeled off that reel like there was no drag set at all. I groaned, grimaced and bellowed, because I knew exactly what had happened. A mako shark had bit my lingcod and was claiming it.

Instinctively I shifted into heavy battle mode. Ignoring tired muscles, I repeatedly lifted, reeled, lifted, reeled, lifted, reeled. The shark came halfway up and then made another run. We kept at it for a good 20 minutes, both of us equally stubborn.

Finally that shark broke surface 15 paces off my port beam — head up — with my lingasaur firmly in its jaws. We glared at each other — apex predator to apex predator — each of us tugging intently on that lingcod, which I still had securely hooked. Let me assure you … if you think a lingcod can’t get an expression on its face, you are wrong!

That mako bit that lingcod clean in two and lazily swam around the boat while enjoying its meal. I reeled in my half of the fish, which was now less than the legal minimum size limit for a lingcod, so I had to toss my half to the shark, with a salute. For the life of me I can’t quite recall which finger I used for the salute! I love life in the food chain.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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