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Steve Merlo

Looking for something to do while staying at the coast? My wife and I enjoyed a brief sojourn last weekend north of Pismo, where we were staying with relatives. Driving north on Highway 1 and looking for a new place to surf fish, we found something equally or even more interesting. (Okay, maybe as interesting).

Located several miles north of San Simeon at Point Piedras Blancas, we discovered a state-run viewing area for the once- threatened elephant seal. Most people have seen photos, videos or televised pictures of them, but the best description I can give of an elephant seal is that they are the giant sea-faring animals with the full upper lip that curls completely down and over their mouth. Ring a bell, now?

The rookery, as seal gatherings are called, is located only a few yards from a fenced in viewing area and allows people to get extremely close to the animals. During our short stay, we watched huge males fight for breeding dominance, knocking necks together or biting to gain superiority over one another. Others slept on the sand directly below us looking like unmoving and unyielding rocks, occasionally tossing cooling sand over their one-ton bodies with their fins. When they did move, they squirted along the sand like giant sea slugs to chase off an intruding bull or unwanted suitor.

Once severely threatened, their numbers now reach close to 15,000 and the seals where a sight to behold on our trip. I think it's a perfect way to spend a little family trip viewing these huge creatures that are able to dive to 5,000 feet and hold their breath for more than 15 minutes.

Surf fishing

After leaving the elephant seal rookery and viewing area, we tried to find a little peace and quiet along one of the beautiful beaches along the coast. However, surf fishing during the three-day July 4 holiday probably wasn't one of our better ideas, with most anglers, ourselves included, finding little, if any, open space.

We finally ended up on the bay side of Morro Rock, of all places, where only a few fishermen were casting into the water. One angler had several rubber-lipped perch to over 2 pounds each, while another younger fisherman had caught a small cabezon. During the next hour or so, all I could muster was a 2-inch-long halibut and a 2-pound black rock fish, but my wife, Candy, nailed seven or eight nice blacks and some excellent eating johnny bass. Both of us used Gulp plastics, but I suspect live bloodworms or lugworms would have worked better.

Hunter safety courses expanded

Kern Shooting Sports, with hunting season just around the corner, has expanded its popular two-day, state-certified hunter safety courses to allow for the outpouring of interested parties just before the hunting seasons begin.

The outdoors-oriented group will hold its first state-mandated, two-day classroom course Aug. 9-10 and then follow up with a second Aug. 16-17.

Individuals not able to physically take the classroom studies can also take advantage of Kern Shooting Sports' internet courses. The first one is scheduled for Aug. 11, the next Aug. 18. An inexpensive fee is charged for all classes to pay for classroom materials.

All classes are by pre-registration only, and, since space is limited, interested parties need to register as soon as possible. Remember, a certificate of hunter safety compliance is necessary to purchase both out-of-state and California hunting licenses.

Deer season has already begun for bow-hunters, and rifle season is just around the corner. Dove season begins Sept. 1, and so far looks like it's going to be a barn-burner, so don't get hung out to dry by not having proof of owning a prior license. The old declaration forms, by the way, are no longer valid.

Once certified hunters have been registered in the automated licensing system, they'll be able to buy their annual hunting licenses from now on without having to show proof of having taken the course.

Shafter Friends of the NRA

Because their second annual fundraising banquet and auction is limited in size, the Shafter "Friends of the NRA" will probably sell out quickly.

To be held at 5 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the small Shafter Veteran's Hall, sponsor packages and dinner tickets ($50-each) are being sold, with special incentives being offered to those signing up before Aug. 29.

Lots of quality firearms, custom knives, outdoors-related gear and art, as well as autographed Ted Nugent and Charlie Daniels guitars, will be given or auctioned.

Interested parties can immediately contact Dennis Bell at (661) 809-7510; Mike Barrett (661) 319-7050; or Coleen Morris (661) 331-5273 for more information regarding this fundraiser.