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It is one of those mornings when you show up late, forget something, and realize you are not wearing pants, then you jump out of bed to find your alarm is set to go off in another half hour. The Morro Bay sportfishing boat, the Black Pearl, is scheduled to leave the Morro Bay harbor at 4:30 am for a four-hour trip north to the Big Sur coast, four hours of fishing for rock cod, and a four-hour return. Anglers will load the boat, choose a lucky spot, and bundle up before ordering a breakfast burrito, sleeping in the bunkhouse, or cracking the first beer of the day. Whatever the choice, the captain says we will start fishing at 9 am, so have your gear ready by then.

Guys on a boat in the dark for Morro Bay Sportfishing.
Go fish. Departing at 4:30 in the morning on a four-hour boat ride is a great time to crack a beer and prepare for a day of freedom from life on land.

The 23 anglers onboard bring jigs, bait, flashy LED lures, and every combination. The first fish on the boat is a jackpot 17-pound lingcod. While no bigger fish weighs in to challenge this lunker, the catch is generous with 10 more lingcod, 92 large vermillion rockfish known as “reds,” and 138 assorted rockfish for a bag limit of 10 fish per person that may include no more than four “reds.”

A fisherman with a red cod on his hook.
Big Sur benefits. Not only are the fish huge like this vermillion “red” rockfish, but there are also dolphins, whales, and a majestic coastline.

It takes effort to land a fish from 300 feet below. A baited hook weighted with lead is dropped until slack in the line says the bottom has been reached. Quickly winding up a safe distance before the hook-snaring rocks can grab hold, the lunging 65-foot boat draws the hook up and down as the boat drifts over the reef. You must act fast to set the hook if the rod shows a tug on the line, then begin the arduous cranking of the reel. As the fish gets closer to the surface, its displeasure becomes apparent as the fighting begins. To free itself, a fish will swim upwards, shake its head, and put on its “brakes” before an eruption of splashing as a final effort to shake the hook. If the fish is large, the boat crew will be on it with a gaff to bring your catch aboard.

A captain looking out his window.
Aye aye! The captain barks what to do if he doesn’t like what he sees.

Big Sur has a rugged coast with no protected harbors for launching boats. The only way to reach the bounty of larger-than-normal-sized rockfish is a long-range boat from Morro Bay or Monterey. And although this area is in a marine sanctuary, fishing is regulated by the state, which places limits on fish numbers and sizes as well as fishing seasons and water depths. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website, the restrictions seem to be working, with significant increases in the vermilion “red” rockfish catch over the past five years.

A cook preparing a row of cheeseburgers.
Chow time. The galley prepares tasty burritos for breakfast and cheeseburgers for lunch.
Guys on a boat in the dark for Morro Bay Sportfishing.
Asleep in the bunk. Some anglers never leave their sea-sick induced slumber.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

The African savanna with three acacia trees.
Amazon Jungle
Costa Rica

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