It started with an e-mail from onemancharters.com from a man named David Hansen. Not Dave, yoursaltwaterguide.com Dave Hansen, the one who has been super cool to pump up my charters jam and give me more credit for my fishing skills than I deseve; not the Dave Hansen who came out with me and the Okuma boys in 2010 and put together the first seabass score on one of ‘our’ little kelpline/reefs below Dana?
No, this was a different Dave Hansen, David Hansen.
I’m still letting this whole charter thing run its course this season and see how I like it. The being under a microscope. The rumors. The jealously that comes when guys hear that you are stringing together catches on seabass might end up being too much. It also takes a certain type of person to share their boat with complete strangers. But my roots come from sportboats, and I fished with thousands of strangers and can count on one hand all the “that guys” that really got under my skin. In the words of a college professor that taught a class I can’t recall: “Laissez-fare baby.” People and personalities fascinate me; I studied essentially the sociology of the law in college, so it's safe to say that the human mind fascinates me.
David Hansen was a joy — like all the clients so far — to have on the rig. He had no visions of grandeur. He had me at “I’d be happy with some sand bass if there are no seabass around.”
We talked about family, and our sons, and resources (time, money), and how tough it is to have to be gone at night when all you want is to be home with the wife and kid. We're all different, but the common theme with anyone reading this or coming out on the boat is that we all have to work and we all love fishing.
Hansen worked graveyard in hospital, so he was used to the night shift. Still, we left early enough to try for a sundown seabass. The conditions were plenty good enough, but “I need to catch this guy a couple fish” kept rattling through my head. There are no bass on this spot, usually. So we went and drifted halibut. Hansen got one 15 pounder and missed another bite on sardines I bought from the receiver to go with Catalina squid from a buddy. When Hansen said his trip was made already and that he was pumped on the halibut it opened up the door to look around for squid instead of going back to “the seabass spot.”
We saw a tiny bit of squid; squid that ended up being the scouts to what would turn into Part Four: a squid hive loaded with tankers and giant sand bass.
It was just a few squid, but it really got me focused on the zone. I woulda put $100 on the fact that this thing was going to go off, and when it did I was going to be there. It was almost the second week of July by now... "coming off the moon, coming off the moon it's going to bite" I kept telling myself. By this time I had combed the coast from Del Mar to Dana Point for squid to end June and bring in July. Saw a little below Oceanside, but this was the only other batch. I might only have a 17 foot boat and only an up and down meter and a StructureScan, but in my heart of hearts I knew that these were the only two bait spots coming together along the beach.
Back to the Hansen trip:
The current was going uphill; which makes it tough to set up on all but three of the stock seabass spots — one of which, Barge Rock, has no kelp now and is out of the picture — so that only left two options. I went with the backside of a Pendleton reef option.
I’m still learning how to fish from Dana Point to North County. I make no claims to greatness. I do, however, try harder than anyone else that launches out of Dana Point and I am out there more when they are not biting then when they are.
I didn’t grow up fishing around here; I didn't even know there was a kelp called Yellowtail until I moved to San Clemente; I finished puberty on the sportboat Producer along with my sportboat hero, Ray Sobiek (all time great overnight guy, and a wizard at the islands, IMO) fishing the Coronados and offshore; college was spent offshore all the time on the First String with Bradley Phillips (the man); and to end the sportboat “career” there was the long range experience that really helps me now. I paid attention to how Shawn Steward set up the Excel at the islands and Baja coast, and now I realize that Chester’s and the little outcropping in my "backyard," West Reef, have plenty in common when it comes to sitting proper. If I had only paid attention those days with Sobiek…
Bradley Phillips doesn’t fish around here much these days, but he did a ton when he ran the Fury and had a small commercial skiff. I pick his brain a little every time we talk—the last questions were about Patterson’s, and how I feel lost in there—and he has been a huge help in guiding me outside of the stock spots; I sponge onto his every word. His stories about the mud outside the Checkpoint were the ones that had me going down there (and catching nothing) the last few years.
The spot where I was taking Hansen was one that I think he was telling me about, but I'm not totally sure. Either way, lobster pots showed it to me and picking bass and even overvcoming my halibut aversion in uphill condition this winter showed me that this spot fishes in an uphill.
Fast forward two hours: 41-pound seabass on the deck. Back in Phillips' days of owning this section of coast on up to Laguna, that was a big one. Now it's smaller than than stock grade. Times change. But the stoke of fishing stays constant. And being able to tell Phillips "I'm picking" the next time we spoke brought with it some more words that will help me, no doubt, down the road.
Anyone who gets a seabass on my boat has the spot named after him. So I asked a totally-stoked Hansen what his nickname was.
I named this one Big Daddy.
Still, it was the pictures that Hansen sent of he and his son with the seabass that he wanted to take home whole that really made me smile.
We’re all just trying to make a living, trying to get by and make few bucks and have a good time along the way.
Turns out that that little bit of squid down the road was going to put me in a position to keep busy and make a few bucks to buy my son something special (and the first $200 towards college education) and pay for my wife’s dress for her sister’s wedding — and those $2,000 in plane tickets to Germany. (Someone please comment that it is possible to get ahead on one white or blue collar middle class salary in California…)
But first there was going to be some missing and dealing with uphill condition and realizing what was already engrained before going to the DFG and getting the licenses to start One Man Charters: picking a seabass every trip is impossible.
There was good fishing around the corner, but next up was some dues paying… But before any of that could happen it was time for the Pacifico and watching Hansen cart his seabass up the ramp while the scrub brush went into a bucket of salt water that would kill my iPhone.
Guess what? Somehow I managed to lose my memory card with all my pictures with clients from this fun month of seabass fishing. So camera phone pics and scrambling will have to do. This week’s blog: happy customers.
To kick it off, here’s the seabass and client I will never forget, no matter if I only do the charter thing for this season or until skiff fishing becomes too much. Jared Wells was my first client, and a super cool guy. When he got this seabass on my first trip after getting my CPV (Commercial Passenger Vessel, FG 70734) and all the other logistics to be 100 percent legit in order.
Like any small business starter, I had my doubts. Doubts about if it was worth it, if it was too much time for too little money. Doubts if there really was a niche for local white seabass trips out of Orange County and North County on a small, not-too-comfortable boat. Turns out there is.
Any doubts were washed away after that first trip when Wells walked off the boat after he caught this seabass on a jig tipped with squid that I got from Ventura. The current was ripping to the point of being unfishable most of the night. I kept saying “if the current backs off, if the current backs off...” It did on the high tide, and right as it started to pull down and in some fish marked on the up and down and Wells got bent over on his first seabass. Watching him walk off the boat with a beautiful bag of fillets in his hand was a real highlight.
I cracked open a Pacifico and started scrubbing; I quickly realized that this was going to be a fun ride, one where catching fish might just end up being the easy part and dealing with everything else could end up being the hard parts.
The only thing I’ve figured out is that none of it is easy. But it’s incredibly rewarding putting people on trophy fish so close to home. The success rate so far: 75 percent. Now if I can just figure out how to not wear it on my sleeve when I miss.