Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears monthly.
Today, in January 2013, I am sitting at a parking lot due east of Castle Rock just south of the airport runway. I have watched the ocean so many times from here over the years. Just north of this location is Garth’s Beach, which I am sure takes on the name of Garth McNamara of the long-standing McNamara family in this community.
I see two surfers trying to catch waves that are remnants of a rough ocean that breaks over a submerged reef that runs north-to-south toward Castle Rock.
When the ocean is calm there is no break on this reef unless there is a really low tide. When the ocean is rough, usually during the winter months, I have seen breakers 20-30 feet tall.
It is awesome to watch the surf break at that level. There is deep water west of Castle Rock and outside of this reef so the waves form quickly and build to great heights as they strike the shallow water of the reef. This same big surf strikes Castle Rock and the tall rocks that are off the coast west of Pebble Beach Drive.
During big winter storms I’ve watched waves rise 20-40 feet to strike these rocks.
In contrast, years ago I put in a drift boat at Marhaufer Creek during a calm summer ocean and rowed out behind Castle Rock and fished to the east of all these rocks.
When I rowed out toward the sea lion rookery on Castle Rock’s southeast side, several scouts from the pack would come out and dive underneath my boat to say in a subtle way, “Leave us alone, hit the road.” They all cheered when I rowed away.
I got to know each reef as I rowed from north to south. One small reef was where I could catch sea trout, a real delicacy. It was fun going from reef to reef and jigging my hand-tied gold, yellow, and orange and black flies. Sometimes I would catch two black snappers at a time. Catching a 15- to 20-pound ling cod was always a primary goal when I would jig for rock fish.
As I am writing this, I hear the sound of a plane and look up. It is the United Express flight from San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. You can definitely tell by the sound that it is a turbo-prop.
I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to aircraft taking off or landing. I love sitting in a restaurant in San Francisco International Airport and watching the big jets take off and land. The big 747s, 767s and 757s headed to the Hawaiian islands and the Orient usually take off from south to north right by the restaurant window. Wow, pure power.
For years I fished during good weather off the beach at Marhaufer Creek until someone complained about vehicles driving on the beach. All things seem to come to an end in this day and age, and the county put up a gate to block the access off.
That never settled right with me, and I miss those wonderful times sitting in my drift boat and taking in the beauty of the coast and the challenge of finding each reef and jigging for rock fish and then loading the drift boat on the trailer behind my old 4x4 truck, my dad’s old Ford 3/4-ton, and heading home with a small sack of fish.
In the hour that I have been writing, the tide is going out and the rocks of the reef are starting to show through the breakers. The two surfers are still finding good rides on the waves that are coming out of the southwest, skirting the reef.
Castle Rock right now is green with vegetation from the rains, but that will change as we move toward drier weather. In March the Aleutian geese return on their northern trek to the Alaskan peninsula. Here they feed on the fields to gain strength for their big jaunt. During the same time period other birds also frequent the island, and the cover of the landscape changes as this manure starts to accumulate and the green and brown takes on a white or gray cast.
Another interesting thing occurs during these stormy months. The framework and the dynamics of the Pebble Beach-area beaches go from a lot of sand during the late spring and summer months to bare bedrock. The sand is swept away by the tremendous stormy ocean. I have also seen many people out at low tide lately looking for pretty rocks and agates in the gravelly sections.
Agate hunting in Del Norte is a great pastime for many.
As we get into the early and middle spring months, the major storms now have passed and the northwest gale winds return in some of the afternoons. It is these northwest winds that work up the ocean from the west and the displaced white sands are returned to the beaches. It is also the return of these sands that bring in the razor clams in good numbers that people loved to dig during minus-tides. What fun.
An interesting part of being raised by my father Wes was, as a young boy in the 1950s, I was shown how to “poke pole.” We did this at minus-tide during calm ocean days, fishing below Pebble Beach north of the Battery Point Lighthouse with a long cane pole with a strong flexible wire, three feet with a small loop. A short piece of braided line was tied to the loop and also was tied to a strong hook.
We would use mussels as bait and would carefully maneuver over the slippery rocks and push the hook, line and flexible wire down into small caverns below the water level. Boy, what a surprise when there was a strong tug on the end and you would pull up a large ocean eel, a Cabazon or sea trout.
My dad and I had many successful adventures “poke poling” during my young years. I still look down at those rocks and ocean after all of these years and the events all flash back like it was yesterday. My dad showed me so much as I grew up, and it was through my love and dedication to him that I wrote my first book, “Kneebockers” (Xlibris Publishing — Amazon).
One of these days soon I am going to try to take my grandsons, Chase and Coley, “poke poling.” I have actually talked to a few folks over the years that have “poke poled” before.
Ah, to live in Del Norte, and even better yet to raise kids here. So much to see, so much to experience, so much to learn and so much to enjoy in this rich place if you’re willing to get away from video games, computers and cell phones.
Happy New Year to all.