WESTERN OUTDOOR NEWS/INDEPENDENCE CHARTER
Two friends and business partners — Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano — form a bond that goes back to when they were 14-year-old pinheads on the Sport King; Duo host the 11⁄2-day WON charter on their long range boat Independence
MARK PISANO AND PAUL STRASSER are owners, operators and designers of the Independence, and are partners with others in the landings and San Pedro Bait Co. They met as deckhands on the old Sport King, bought their first sportfisher together in 1984 with the First String and haven’t looked back.
SAN PEDRO — Paul Strasser’s birthday is April 13. Mark Pisano’s is six days later, April 19. They were both 14-year-old pinheads on the old San Pedro-based Sport King and became good friends, and then business partners when they bought into the building of the First String in 1984, each throwing in $9,000 for the down payment.
“What was it? Something like $20,000?” Strasser asked Pisano in the wheelhouse of the Independence. “It was something like that.”
Several boat purchases later, the 49-year-olds now are solidly joined at the hip personally and professionally as owners of the long range sportfisher Independence, 22nd Street Landing and San Pedro Bait Company. There are others who share the load financially, but they are the main cogs in the machinery.
“I think that a partnership is a lot like a marriage — there are the ups and downs and you can’t let everything they do get under your skin,” said Pisano. “It’s like right now, Paul is down on the dock and he’s yelling at me to get my ass moving.”
He added, “But partnerships can be tough. I can’t tell you how many guys start out as partners and they end up in court and as the worst enemies, but I don’t see that happening with us. We’re more like brothers. In fact, three people asked us on your trip if we were brothers. We do look alike a little bit, but Paul’s got those green eyes the girls go crazy over.”
“Their families are close by. Pisano has a son, 13 and two daughters, 11 and 7. Strasser has a 13-year-old daughter. The families do hang out. “Yeah, we do, even though we see each other all the time on the water, we do still hang out pretty often,” said Strasser.
You might say they became friends through a love of fishing, but they became partners through necessity.
If they wanted to stay in fishing and make a living, they had to buy a boat or at least part of a boat as 21-year-olds. Thus, they bought into a whopping one percent of the construction of the First String and what they learned from that experience with the late Russ Izor and his boat builder, they carried through several more boat purchases and the creation of their own super sportfisher.
“Russ and his builder, Chuck Carlsson, were perfectionists, and we learned how to build a boat the right way from them,” said Strasser.
Thus began a “string” of boat purchases on their own that included the then-mothballed Monte Carlo that had been sitting in Ventura for a year when they bought it in ’88. “Nothing worked on that boat,” said Pisano. “It’s like any boat that doesn’t run for a long time.” But they got it for a song, and they were in business as owners and operators of a sportfisher at 22nd Street Landing. In the coming years they bought the Islander, which was the old Red Rooster II, then the Sea Angler, and finally the Morning Star that got its old name back, the Pursuit, before deciding to replace the multi-day sportfisher Islander with a vessel that was a true long ranger. Two years later, the 113-foot luxury Independence brought all of their knowledge — and money — into one fishing machine.
“We built it for fishermen and designed it for fishermen,” said Strasser, pointing out the unique design features of such things as the rows of numbered rod racks for longer sticks and easy access at the bait tank. The salon where seating in the bow is designed for “bigger guys” so they don’t have to sit sideways. Plastic trays for bait that keep the ’dines and macks fresh for longer, and the first wide stairway to the upper deck, a vast improvement to the dangerous ladders used on most sportfishers. There are dozens of features that were revolutionary and have been duplicated, some not. The wheelhouse has a multi-camera system that shows the captain what is happening on the deck, the salon and engine room. Every bit of it was designed by the pair. They made a DVD of the two-year construction, and play it now and then for groups who ask about it.
More than their long range sportfisher, just miles from their homes and families — is their other home away from home, the landing.
When 22nd Street Landing was in danger of closing in 2000 due to financial difficulties, Pisano and Strasser scratched together whatever funding they could with two other friends, Carl Smith and Danny Strunk, and bought the historic landing that is now home to nine sportfishers — and one tiny sailboat tied to the dock that Strasser enjoys zipping around in from time to time. They recently rebuilt the docks. Strasser built the sections in his back yard and strung them together as he completed them.
“We had to do something about those docks,” said Pisano. “We’d get a big wind and a section of them would just tear off.” The docks are a source of pride for the pair. Joked Strasser as Pisano guided the Indy to the dock, “I get to keep my sailboat tied up there. You get to do that when you build the docks.”
And five years ago, faced with losing their access to a local bait operation that moved eight miles away in a port dispute, they formed another partnership with Strunk and Smith and another friend Todd Phillips, and started San Pedro Bait Company. They have three bait boats — the Pamela Rose was added to the original purse seiner, the 45-foot Bounty they brought down in a unique journey from Napa Valley Marina (that’s right, Napa Valley, a remote marina accessible from the Delta and San Pablo Bay), and the newest currently being outfitted, the 70-foot St. Catherine. They just renewed their 5-year lease with the port.
But all is not rosy, of course. Diesel is now made out of spun gold, it seems, and for every dollar increase at the pump, it’s a $150,000 hit at the bottom line for a long range sportfisher. No one else is raising their prices, said Pisano, so trip costs remain the same, and when needed, fuel surcharges are added. That can’t last much longer if diesel hits $6 a gallon, as some say it could.
But fishing is in their blood, and business is part of the equation. This reporter was aboard the Independence with 30 other anglers on the WON 1½-day charter to Catalina and San Clemente islands. In a nutshell, a blow-by blow account of the trip would bore you to tears as our best bet with high swells and winds on Monday and Tuesday were rockfish drifts to fill the sacks.
“Spring trips are a gamble,” said second day jackpot winner Wade Wells of Camarillo, who used a little baitcaster to catch a 10.4-pound bonito at San Clemente Island. The size of the bonito surprised even Strasser as he weighed it on a Berkley digital hand scale. “Wow, that’s a big one. I’d like to see some more of these in these waters,” he said.
Of course, while the fishing was relegated to rockfish drifts off the islands and anglers were eager for shots at yellowtail and maybe white seabass, their disappointment was tempered by the fact they were severely pampered on one of the most stable, luxurious fishing platforms on the coast, for a 1½-day trip. And the food that came from the galley of French chef Michel Buhagiar and his assistant Rolf Rittman was just ridiculously good. A local trip with long range service, top-notch crew and sportfisher.
That fact was not lost on the anglers, who filled the $350 trip in a few weeks of it being announced. The price was low considering the extra goodies. Each angler was given several packs of Lazer Sharp hooks, a spool of Yo-Zuri Power Carbon leader, and Sufix bulk spools were available for respooling. Turner’s Outdoorsman doled out eight $25 gift cards to four anglers in a drawing, one of them 7-year-old Joseph Pivovaroff who was on his first ocean fishing trip.
Most aboard agreed you just don’t get the chance to fish on a premier long range sportfisher, and their attitude about the operation became obvious when it came time to line up to pay the tab and buy clothing. There was a severe run on the snazzy official Independence clothing. Everyone likes a winner.
We had a great bunch of anglers on board, all excellent sticks. Anglers on the trip were: Lee Goodin of Newport Beach, Wade Wells of Camarillo, Joe Dolgovin of Upland, Norma Bybee of Hesperia and her son Jodee Bybee of Hesperia, Jerry Elowitt of Granada Hills, Tim Lowe of Hacienda Heights, Art Melkonian of Montebello, Eric Venerable of West Covina, Michael Reling of Costa Mesa, Ian Isaacs of Thousand Oaks, Ken Evenhuis of Echo Park, Delano Lytle of Granada Hills, Guadalupe Felix of Cypress, Mike Goodman, Roger Howard of Los Angeles, Ed Guthrie of Castaic, Angelo Fersaldi of Burbank, Denny Dennis of San Pedro, Jeff Marks of Long Beach, Rene Flores of Los Angeles, Delmar Flores of Los Angeles, Ronald Hall of Pasadena, Jonathan Cecil of Cypress, Eric Morgan, Joseph Pivovaroff and his son Joseph of Quartz Hill, Dennis Palermo of Alhambra, and Bob Hubkey of Rosamond.
* * *Owned and operated by Captains Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano, who also own 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro, the Independence was launched in 2004 and is 113 feet long and 33 feet wide and has a unique structure with a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure for less weight, a more stable ride and greater speed — and less maintenance. It offers trips from 4 to 6 days, 7 to 11 days and 15 to 18 days. Check out the schedule and more at www.independencesportfishing.com or call Independence Sportfishing in San Diego at (619) 226-6006.
THE DESIGN OF THE sportfisher includes this porcupine rod rack at the bait tank, numbered for each angler like the tackle box storage spots below, and is used for longer sticks and easy access for anglers.
SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND was a scenic stop and kept us out of the weather, but it’s kelp areas were unproductive, so most of the trip was spent working the 200- to 250-foot deep reefs for rockfish.
THE DAY 2 JACKPOT WINNER was Wade Wells of Camarillo who caught a San Clemente Island bonito that weighed 10.4 pounds on the Berkley digital scale.
ROCKFISH WERE THE primary catch of the 11⁄2-day trip. Here, some nice bottomfish were held by Ken Cecil of Cypress and his son Jonathan Cecil, who was headed for the wedding alter in two weeks.
THE WINNERS OF $50 in Turner’s Outdoorsman gift cards were, from left, Delane Lytle of Granada Hills, Ed Guthrie of Castaic, Jeff Marks of Long Beach, and 7-year-old Joseph Pivarovaroff of Quartz Hill.
ALHAMBRA ANGLER Dennis Palermo holds the sponsors pack of Lazer Sharp hooks and Yo-Zuri Power Carbon leader given to each angler. Bulk spools of Sufix line were made available to each angler for respooling.
CAPT. PAUL STRASSER is a hands-on captain with passengers, and personally served passengers a fantastic chicken dinner prepared by French chef Michel Buhagiar and his assistant Rolf Rittman. The trip was a 11⁄2-day trip, but the 30 passengers were feeling like long range anglers with free snacks, soft drinks and great food.