Feature Article: First Responders

First responders get a welcome break aboard the Sea Adventure 80

BY PAUL LEBOWITZ/WON Staff WriterPublished: Aug 27, 2019

SAN DIEGO — Capt. Mike McDaniels eased off the throttles and the big Sea Adventure 80 coasted to a stop after a long run. We were far down the Baja coast, well over 14 miles offshore, and we’d just arrived at a high spot.

Day 1 of the 2.5-day trip hadn’t gone as anyone had wanted, least of all McDaniels, but sometimes the water rolls and a prime time tuna trip turns into a scratch. Then it’s wonderful to have an offshore rockfish spot such as this in your back pocket to bend rods and put a little meat in the hold.

threeofakindTHREE OF A KIND — Nathan Pesquera, Dan Lemay and Steve Johnson show off their kelp paddy yellowtail.

Anglers on this “First Responders Fishing” charter shuffled quickly to the wide stern, a collection of San Bernardino police officers and one fire fighter, accompanied by family members and friends. They quickly baited up and soon chunky vermillions, a few fat lingcod, and a variety of other rockcod were coming over the rails.

Dan Lemay of Grand Terrace was among the first to score a big red, and he did it on a double dropper loop sweetened with plastics. It wasn’t long until Steve Johnson of Apple Valley cashed in on a sardine. Dale Hackbarth of Perris, wearing a vintage WON Striper Derby t-shirt, collected a big salmon grouper.

It wasn’t what anyone had expected, but the catch was welcomed and it was clear the first responders were enjoying themselves, even those new to offshore fishing who might have been feeling a little green due to a moderate mixed swell. Fortunately Day 2 would be better. More on that in a bit.

An offshore fishing trip is a much needed break from the daily grind for most of us, but for a first responder it’s a whole different level of relief. The phone doesn’t ring with bad news (it’s out of range) and if you’re on a charter with a bunch of other police officers or fire fighters there’s almost no one you don’t know, so it’s safe to let down your guard for a short time.

youngmjgaitanYOUNG MJ GAITAN is all smiles after besting a 17-pound kelp paddy yellowtail, the eventual jackpot winner on the recent “First Responders Fishing” Sea Adventure 80 charter. That’s the energetic Capt. Mike McDaniels with the gaff.

“They can let their hair down, they are amongst friends, they can have a beer,” said Rich Lawhead, who retired as a Captain from the San Bernardino Police Department the day before the trip after 28 years of service to the city.

When you’re a police officer you’re always looking over your shoulder. “These are all really good guys, patrolmen, our daily first responders,” Lawhead added. “These guys are running to hot calls every single day. They see the worst of society. It’s a huge thing to get away.”

Take away the badges and these were just normal guys on a fishing boat. There were poker games, cigars, and good-natured joshing between stops, and when it came time to fish, those who knew the game fished hard.

“They are enjoying the outdoors just like anyone else,” said reserve officer Manny Gaitan, whose boys AJ and MJ would each catch yellowtail before the trip was over.

Day 2 found the Sea Adventure 80 up the line hunting for kelp paddies. There was no shortage of them, but few were holding and those that were didn’t bite. Capt. McDaniels stayed on the hunt, and finally the afternoon would bring better fishing.

Steve Johnson broke the ice with a 10- to 12-pound yellow, then more fish started to bite. The boat picked off a couple dorado. Nathan Pesquera, Dan Lemay and Johnson caught a trio of ‘tails. Ashlie Walton got one. And then young MJ Gaitan hooked into a better jack, fighting it out of the paddy with some help from Capt. McDaniels.

phototimePHOTO TIME — Steve Johnson celebrates an atypical catch, big reds and paddy ’tails.

The fish ended up trailing some lines but McDaniels got the gaff in and put it on a scale. It went 17 pounds and earned MJ Gaitan a cool $500 in jackpot cash plus an Avet JX G2 reel offered by Western Outdoor News. The young man, thrilled with his win, said he’d use the money to buy new clothes and fishing gear. WON also kicked in Trokar hook packs, Hi-Seas fluorocarbon spools, and certificates for free 1-year subscriptions for everyone to support the “First Responders Fishing” charter.

Capt. McDaniels was honored to have the first responders on board. He flew the blue LEO flag and gave away the grand raffle prize, a free return trip on the Sea Adventure 80.

The charter was organized by married couple Ashlie and Clint Walton along with their friend Nate Barilics, a second generation police officer whose passions are fishing and policing. The Waltons — Clint is a police officer and Ashlie has an MBA with a concentration in Health Administration — run LEO Warriors, a life optimization service that supports first responders. They also author a podcast for LEOs called Tactical Living. Part of their work is to show the humanity behind the badge.

Clint Walton explained the idea behind the charter. “We wanted to get a lot of people from our work in an environment away from work. Fishing is something that Nate and I are passionate about. We always wanted to share that passion with a lot of people and in doing that it’s turned into a brotherhood with everyone’s who is here. We like coming out and going fishing just like anybody else does. Don’t think of us (police officers) as someone that’s above or below you, we’re right there side by side.”

DROPPING IN ON a choice kelp. You never know if it’ll bite before you try.

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