When anglers cross border into Mexico, lingcod and


Mar 11, 2001
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When anglers cross border into Mexico, lingcod and snapper are legal targets


November 23, 2002

When anglers cross the border into Mexico, lingcod and snapper are legal targets. Above, Melvin Ragland (left) and Capt. Bob Williams show off Ragland's lingcod. ED ZIERALSKI / Union-Tribune

Tim Linskey took the cellphone call from his daughter this summer, and it went like this:

"Daddy, will you catch the last fish in the ocean so you can come home to us," she said.

Linskey had to turn away from his client-fishermen, the words stinging his heart so hard he had to look away so he wouldn't betray the macho image of a sea captain.

Out of the mouths of babes.

The words meant one thing to Linskey, a personal plea from a daughter who missed her daddy during a red-hot tuna season.

But they are the same words that seem to be uttered wherever California ocean fishermen meet these days.

Will the sport fisherman who catches the last ocean fish off California's coast please pull the anchor when you leave. Thank you, and have a nice day.

Marine Protected Areas, Marine Reserves, closures for rare birds that need solitude, restrictive limits and gear, attempts to list bocaccio (Pacific red snapper) as an endangered species – the list goes on and on, one crisis after another for the state's beleaguered ocean sportfishermen.

But here in San Diego, there's an escape from it all. It's called Mexico, where the same protected fish – lingcod and bocaccio – that are off limits in California's waters may be caught – and kept – there.

You want bocaccio and lingcod? You want rockfish? Jump on the San Diego out of Seaforth Sportfishing in Mission Bay for a quick hop into Mexican waters.

That's what 26 anglers did Wednesday.

The hot, Santa Ana-fueled November sun already was heating up as Capt. Bob Williams scooped sardines from the Everingham Brothers bait barge, backlit with a golden hue that made it look like a picture from an old scrapbook.

It was appropriate because Williams was about to turn back time, back to when rockcodding was a popular winter pastime for ocean fishermen.

Williams doesn't hide the fact that he's not a fan of rockcodding.

"Surface action," is what spins Williams around in the wheelhouse. Schools of breezing yellowtail, pockets of feeding barracuda, flashes of bonito, even surface-biting calicos. Williams isn't into working fish off the bottom of ledges 200 to 400 feet down.

"We're really not a rockcod boat," Williams said. "But if that's what's biting, it's business. This is what I call just getting by."

The group on this day is a mix of serious and fishing-challenged anglers, typical for a three-quarter-day run. Some are U.S. Navy, taking a break from their duties on the USS Stennis.

Chris Morrison, a chef on the Stennis, landed a 10-pound cowcod and planned to cook it on the ship.

Edwin Shackleford, or "Shack," a jet mechanic on the Stennis, was one of the fishing stars, catching a limit of five lingcod and five rockfish.

Melvin Ragland of Rialto, a civilian fishing with his group that included Dwayne Henderson and his son, Dwayne Jr., and Robert Jenkins, drove more than 100 miles for a chance at lingcod and rockfish.

"To me, lingcod is the best eating fish in the ocean," Ragland said. "It's the prime rib."

Ragland hauled in a limit of lingcod (five), a couple of cowcod and a few bocaccio. He had a knack for knowing when another angler had a keeper lingcod hooked. He'd say, "There's some meat." And he'd be right.

What was most impressive, though, was the number of lingcod and large bocaccio caught. Many anglers released five to seven lingcod that were under 24 inches long. Williams and his crew abide by the U.S. minimum length even though they're in Mexican waters. Forms called "Declaration For Entry Into California of Game, Fish, Birds Or Animals" are filled out on the way back to the dock. All fish caught are listed in case the boat is met by Department of Fish and Game wardens.

Williams remembers going for years without catching lingcod, but five years ago, he noticed an explosion in the


"They just showed up, out of nowhere, so many they were like a menace," Williams said. "Makes you wonder if the same thing is going to happen with salmon grouper (bocaccio)."

Williams confirmed that no scientists ever knocked on his galley door to interview him about either species.

Said Tommy Miles, a retired Marine who now works on the San Diego: "They say there's a shortage of these fish, but these fish don't stop at the border."

There was no evidence anywhere on this day that these were the last fish in the ocean. Quite the contrary. Many are still alive and swimming.


Tale of two waters

Closed in Southern California

Rockfish, lingcod and California scorpionfish (sculpin): Closed in all waters, at all depths, to all methods of take except by angling or spearfishing from shore or from any man-made structure such as a jetty or pier.
Salmon: Closed below Pigeon Point in San Mateo County.

Cabezon, California sheephead and greenling: Closed in all waters, at all depths, to all methods of take through Dec. 31.

Abalone: Closed year-round south of the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

The alternative

Seaforth Sportfishing out of Mission Bay offers three-quarter-day trips into Mexican waters, where it's legal to fish for rockfish and lingcod, sculpin, cabezon and sheephead. Recommended gear includes a conventional reel with 30-pound test line. Two-to four-hook rigs (no more) and 8-to 12-ounce sinkers to fish 200 to 400 feet depths.

Call (619) 224-3383.

Additional information

For more information about closures and Department of Fish and Game regulations, check out http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd.

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