BY BUD CHADDOCK
Each of us can recall events from our lives that represent a special importance in our collection of memories, events which stand out from the rest. My recollections often include experiences with people I have fished with and spent time with during my lifespan. Time spent on earth should be cherished, whether it’s on land or at sea, yet spending long days on the ocean with friends and family are especially vivid for me.
As a young man in the early ‘80s while working on various party boats made by Bob Stapp of San Pedro, I experienced many fond fishing memories. I also had the pleasure to work at Seaway Boats of San Pedro, which was owned by Bob Stapp, who built many of the sportboats many of you ride every day; boats such as the Pacifica, New Hustler, Endeavor and Aztec just to name a few. Stapp also built a few private commercial fishing boats which later became six-packs that ran under different names than they carried in the past.
My story today is based on the experience of a day we took a bus- man’s holiday from Seaway to go fishing, as proclaimed by Bob Stapp himself. It started while working on a Sunday on the New Hustler II as a relief deckhand, (when Stapp built the boat it was named the New Hustler II, but many of you today will recall its name as the New Hustler). We were at Catalina with a charter group and we scratched out a fair day of fishing with limited bait. The fish were there, but hook bait was small and tough to get. A guy that could cast a jig and work it right would get a bass only now and then. The signs were good, but not for a boat anchored with limited bait and a large group of 20 anglers patiently anticipating a catch.
Later that same night, I called Stapp and told him we had some good signs of fish busting all over chasing bait, but no hook bait to be had and squid were in short supply. He asked me what we used that day, and I said the guys with jigs did well if they had a long cast and knew what they were doing. Right away, Bob was enthusiastic about getting on the water in his boat called the Jigstrike. This is where the busman’s holiday began. He asked me to meet him at his boat in San Pedro the next morning.
We were going fishing for the day instead of going into work. Then he proceeded to call a cohort/master shipwright/fellow employee of Seaway Boat Company, Martin Reid, to join us at the boat to go fishing, come bait or no bait. Stapp knew Martin and I could chase and sling jigs well, and he sounded excited about the prospects of spending a day on the water.
That morning we left the dock at 7:00 a.m. for the Isthmus of Catalina Island. I told Stapp we should start at Indian Rock and Lion Head Point as there were fish to be caught in that area, bass to be lured in using a jig. The Jigstrike was a sleek 22-foot boat built for jigging barracuda with a lobster- boat look that many of the famous and productive Seaway boats had as a profile. It was powered with a 327 Chevy blocked Volvo engine with a shaft-drive propulsion, half-inch fiberglass over plywood sides, 5/8-inch fiberglass over plywood bottom in moonlight grey with a fairing for a cockpit to drive from, and the boat was very fast. The Jigstrike could make it from the dock in San Pedro to Catalina in approximately 40 minutes.
We soon spotted the Isthmus and Bird Rock on the orange-red horizon with a blue-background sky above the island, with not even a breath of wind. We had the jigs tied on our rods in seconds. Bob chose a Putter, Martin had a Schnabel and I went with my trusty no-paint-left-on-it Candy Bar 150. which I have owned since I was 12 years old. I bought this go-to jig at a small sporting goods store in Lomita, across from the elementary school I attended as a child. I would save my lunch money in order to get a couple of these prized jigs.
Once we got to Indian Rock, we decided to run-and-gun to find the best bite with the limited resources we had. After all, we had a fast boat and fuel was not what it is now.
We got our drift set up so we could all cast near the rock and ledge off the reef, and after a few casts, we had a couple of 14- to 16-inch bass with many follows on the jig. Even a small 10-pound yellowtail sniffed Stapp’s jig to no avail. He had some older Putters and he used these as his choice for the day. After about 25 minutes near and around the reef, we went to Lion Head Point to try our luck. Our luck and current were non-existent.
Therefore, we went to Bird Rock Reef and spotted many bass and garibaldi swimming around with a small meatball of anchovies swimming on the edge of the reef. The bass and mackerel were picking them off as they swam near. Each of us caught some smaller bass in the 12- to 14-inch size, maybe about 8 or 10 between the three of us.
After another 45 minutes of fishing, we agreed that this spot was not very productive. I told Reid Stapp that the day before, we had seen more life west of this area, so we fired up the engine. I suggested we try our luck at Black Rock since we would be driving by it on our way home. There was a lot of afternoon bird life and many meatballs of bait outside the rock the day before, and I was hoping it would be the same.
As we approached the east end of Black Rock, there were many terns and seagulls pummeling bait as it neared the kelp lines in the coves east of Black Rock. Huge meatballs with bonito and mackerel on the deeper edge pushing the bait to the kelp where the bass were flipping and chasing bait to their demise as they feasted on the corralled bait. We slid on the first bunch, and we all had hookups.
When we started to wind our jigs in with our various winding techniques, we felt comfortable with the jigs we had chosen. After all, they were all working well. The bass were all over 16 inches and up to 7 pounds. You could see a ball of bass behind your jig, some with dorsal fins sticking up like that of a billfish following a trolled lure before they ate it. Reid would get bit, then Stapp would get bit as well, then it was my turn. We had our rods bent with several triples that went on and on.
There was not another boat around, and now it was 1:00 p.m. or so and we had this glorious bite all to ourselves. To have no bait and have a bite like this was incredible. I kept hearing Black Sab- bath’s Iron Man playing in the back of my head as we were constantly hooked up. We chased the bird schools near the kelp line at Black Rock and the nearby cove on the east end where there was a pocket between shore and the rock.
There is also a distinct horseshoe-shaped kelp cove where the hungry bass were feasting on the captive audience they had trapped in this cove. Boiling masses of bass with some larger boils appeared as the jigs would only get a couple of winds on the reel, then we were pegged with a nice 3- to 7-pound bass. We continued to cast as fast as we could to get the fish off and get the jig in the zone.
My 540 Sabre with a Penn Jigmaster and 40-pound Ande mono directly tied to my Candy Bar was launched into the feeding frenzy. I felt just like I did when I was 12 years old and fishing the islands along the coast as I cast the Candy Bar into the water. It was my go-to jig that caught many species and won a few jackpots along the way, a true friend to have confidence in when using a jig. It caught enormous amounts of bass, maybe 30 or so yellowtail, an 11.5-pound barracuda and maybe a half dozen seabass. We all have a jig like this in our tackle box which holds special fishing memories.
My biggest fear was to lose it. Well, that’s where I am going with this. On a cast into the mass of bass, I could see fish following my jig. A big boil was behind the jig, and a large black shadow came behind it. Low and behold, it was a black seabass over 150 pounds, it ate it and took off with it. As Stapp reeled in a bass, he turned to me and said, “Wow! What do you have on your line?” I said, “A huge seabass just ate my jig.”
The reel had line peeling off as the parabolic 540 was bent to the hilt. The fish ran towards the kelp bed as if running back into its residence with authority. Stapp fired up the boat, and we tried to stay on top of the fish. I had the feeling it was in the kelp as the line had that dragging-across-something feel with the line pulsating through the kelp forest. Stapp was masterful trying to give me a chance at getting it out, but my gut felt otherwise as I knew the fate. I just wanted my trusty go-to jig back. The fish was secondary at this point. As fate had it, I felt one big run and could feel a rock rubbing the line, and then the line went slack.
My jig was gone.
An exciting moment as fishing goes, but my jig was gone — the one that swam great and caught so many fish over the years. Stapp turned around, looked at me and said with a smile across his face, “That wasn’t a calico bass.”
I sat down, looked at the frayed line, then looked in my tackle bag and tied a Schnabel on to use the rest of the day. It caught fish, but not like my old friend. That day we caught maybe 150 to 200 calico bass between the three of us. We kept a limit for a fish fry with friends, and we decided to head the boat back to the barn as we all fished hard with good results that day. Stapp asked me to take the wheel and he proceeded to scrub the boat. We all had satisfied smiles heading back to San Pedro.
We talked about that trip often in the shop, as we well should have. This is a great memory we share as coworkers, friends and fishermen. Black Rock was a day of the Schnable wobble, Candy Bar cadence and the Putter putt that the bass could not resist even with us having any bait to use.
Again, casting back for memories which bring smiles is good for our well-being and should be shared. Who knows? That old jig grandpa gave you, might, as Clint Eastwood once said, “Make your day.”