Fish America: San Diego

Fish America's 20th week on the road brought us to the Pacific Ocean for the first time, to a city situated scenically on the sea, San Diego. A fishing town if ever there was one.
My first full view of the Pacific came here, at San Diego's famous La Jolla Cove. The area is known for it's scenic caverns, seals and views like this one.
The city is equally impressive after sundown, and San Diego's North Harbor Drive runs along San Diego Bay.
The city is still all lights after the dark, from the historic "old town" to the club and bar-filled gaslamp quarter.
No visit to San Diego would be complete without stopping by the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The place is enormous, and there's more wildlife than you could look at in a week, but specimens like this polar bear are worth the visit.
Of course the Zoo's most famous for its panda population. There are only about 300 giant pandas in captivity in the world, and only a handful in the United States.
One animal that is pretty cool to behold up close is the hippopotamus. To see these minivan-sized creatures leisurely floating around a tank with their feet trailing behind only a wall of glass away is pretty surreal. Definitely hit the hippo exhibit if you get to the San Diego Zoo.
After a brief tour of the city, it was time to hit the water. I hopped a headboat out of H&M Landing. The fleet at H&M offers everything from half-day trips to weeklong expeditions on the water that run into Mexican waters. You can chase tuna, sand bass, wahoo, lobster, or just about anything else you can think of. Check out the variety of offerings here: www.hmlanding.com. The summer is the prime time to fish out of San Diego, I'm told.
I was aboard The Premier with Captain Rick Scott, a vessel capable of carrying up to 94 passengers on half day runs out into the pacific. The San Diego skyline sits in the distance beyond the docks.
The skyline faded as we made our way out to some structure on an afternoon voyage.
We were in pursuit of rockfish, and cut squid was the bait of choice, brought down into 80 feet of water with 4-ounce sinkers. Truth be told, party-boat fishing on the pacific was pretty similar to trips I'd been on in the Northeast, except of course for the target species.
We were after rockfish. Shown here is a small brown rockfish. These fish were adhering tight to structure and hugging the bottom.
This vermillion rockfish, proudly displayed by "Blue," and Captain Scott, was more like the size we were after. The two-plus pound fish was taken a couple hours into the trip on a squid strip.
Vermillion rockfish, also called red rock cod, are a colorful and good-eating fish, as I'd discover late. Captain Scott tells me they can grow to sizes of 10 pounds, but a fish over 3 pounds is considered large. It's not uncommon for these guys to have 80 and 100-fish days when the rockfish are actively feeding.
The red rockfish goes in the bag, a strong candidate for the pool money. Cooler water temperatures off the coast have hurt the usually strong fishing, cook and San Diego native Bruce Crafton explains, saying it's been one of the toughest seasons he's seen.
Cook, part-time unofficial mate, former lead singer in a blues/R&B band in the city scene, San Diego native and all-around enjoyable character Bruce Crafton shows off a brown rockfish.
After the last drift of the day, the mate asks if there are any challengers for Blue's pool-winning rockfish, and there aren't. The beauty never hit the scales, but I'd give it all of 3 pounds before it started dropping water weight. It never hurts when your dinner pays for itself.
The rest of the day's catch get filleted and bagged as we make the hour-long steam back to port.
It's tough for a native of the Northeast to argue with any type of fishing you can do at the end of October in short sleeves.
Thanks to friend and former college roommate Curt Dircks, a University of San Diego Masters candidate, I had access to an oven for the first time in a long time, which meant fresh rockfish.
I'll never be accused of overthinking a fish recipe. Butter, thinly sliced garlic and some Cajun seasoning is all that went on my share of vermillion and brown rockfish. But it looks pretty good, huh?
Cold beer and fresh fish on California coast. I suggest you come here and give this a shot.
If You Go:
www.hmlanding.com

Fish America's 20th week on the road brought us to the Pacific Ocean for the first time, to a city situated scenically on the sea, San Diego. A fishing town if ever there was one.