Monday, May 29, 2017

Poke Poling for Intertidal Eels

"Many fish bites when you got good bait, here's a little tip that I would like to relate. Many fish bite when you got good bait. I'm a goin' fishing, yes I'm goin' fishing, and my baby goin' fishing too!"- Taj Mahal

Got eels? We do!

It had been weeks since I had the opportunity to get out and do a bit of catching and cooking. I had to take my PhD Qualifying Exams (QE) last week, which was the single most important test of my graduate career. As a result, I locked myself in my house and avoided the sun for weeks on end as I read every book and article I could think of. This was the state of my life for most of the month.

Well, I passed! To celebrate, my girl Diane treated me to a trip to the coast. I looked up marine conditions beforehand and lucky for us there was a low tide of -1.58 in the morning. We had planned to fish, but this gave me the opportunity to show Diane an old style of fishing we used to do as kids at the low tide: Poke Poling.

When we neared the coast we started calling campgrounds. That's when we realized that it was Memorial Day weekend. Out of seven campgrounds, there was not a single campsite available. We were not about to let a little thing like not having a place to sleep get us down, so we cooked up some amazing ramen on the bluffs of one of my favorite beaches and waited until the sun set. Now, I don't break the law often, but since I grew up along this coastline, so I knew of plenty of spots we could "go ninja" and camp for free for the night. I'm not saying that we did do that, I'm just saying that hypothetically if we did, then it was a very nice night on the sand listening to the waves lapping against the seashore while we slept.

The next morning after coffee and a snack we stopped at a pullout near one of my favorite northern California fishing spots and unloaded the gear while I rigged up a poke pole in a matter of minutes. 

Lucky yellow rainboots and basic tackle (bring a good jacket just in case...we had on four layers each at times)

Look mom! A local hillbilly rigging up a pokepole in his natural environment!

All it takes to rig a poke pole is a stick (like this one I cut from the roadside) or a length of bamboo about 8-12ft in length, a coat hanger, some string, duct tape, and an octopus hook on a 6" leader of at least 25lbs test mono-filament line. The coat hanger is trimmed to about 1' in length, half of which is wrapped around the tapered end of the main "rod." The other 6" of the coathanger extends from the rod tip and a loop is bent with pliers and twisted securely so that no matter how hard a fish pulls, it will not bend open. The haft between the wire hanger and stick pole is then reinforced with string and tape. Finally the leader and hook are tied to the wire loop and the hook is baited with a 1" piece of squid.

Next we scrambled over boulders and across cracks out in the intertidal zone to locate our prey. We were after monkeyface prickelbacks aka monkeyface eels (Cebidichthys violaceus). These guys live in tight cracks and under overhangs in the rocky reef that cannot easily be accessed by a standard fishing setup. The pokepole allows you to work the bait deep under the rocks and back into cracks. In a minute or less you will likely feel a subtle tug. Pull back to set the hook and pull the quarry from the hole.

I suggest bringing a tight mesh net and a stringer as these eels are very hard to keep hold of once caught. 

We spent a few hours fishing and poke poling and honestly, by the end of the day, I had decided that next time I am only bring poke poles. The poke pole out-fished the standard rods and reels to an astonishing degree!

Of course, my baby out-fished me as well! She had never used a poke pole and yet she caught four juvenile fish and a nice eel. I only caught two eels, but they were both keepers for sure! The first eel I caught, I was just showing Diane how to probe a good fishing hole while telling her, "now this is the kind of hole where you might find a...HOLY S#%T! EEL!!!" That was just five minutes into the trip. After that, the eel was not the only one who got hooked! We couldn't get enough!

Hard to believe that these eels would go anywhere near such an ugly poke pole... but they sure did!

Some happy intertidal anglers

It was a hell of a good time and when all was said and done, we had a nice red rock crab and three sizable eels to bring back. I filleted one of the eels and Diane got to cooking seaside on my old propane burner.

I can smell the spices and sea air still!

Eel sauteed in chili-garlic sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce was placed over udon noodle soup with a stock we made from the crab and eel skeleton. * Keep in mind that rock crabs are not safe to consume in most of northern California currently, and though I will not tell you where we were because I always keep my spots secret, I guess that is a subtle hint. Please call the Biotoxin Information Line maintained by the California Department of Public Health before harvesting any sea-life to be sure it is safe to consume in your area (800-553-4133).

In any case, the crab and eel imparted the most incredible base to what I can honestly say was the best sea-side meal I have had all year! We were absolutely thrilled. It was a great day fishing, laughing, cooking, and ended with one hell of a feast! It doesn't get any fresher than that!

Sooooo goooood!

The pictures look good right? But believe me,  they simply do not do justice to this exquisite meal!

Well, I hope you enjoyed the story. 
Can't wait to see you out there! Be safe! 
And keep the old ways alive!


  1. You certainly found a great way to unwind after the grueling weeks of studying.

  2. Awesome! Always wanted to try poke poling! Did you catch the crab via poke pole as well?

    1. Jocelyn, Thanks for the support! The crab was caught by hand. We went back out this weekend and landed five fish and three eels. Ended up smoking the eels again to make unagi-style hand rolls. So tasty!

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