By DAVE HURLEY
SAN RAFAEL— Few individuals can positively influence others in multiple fields, but Keith Fraser has made his life about creating opportunities for others. As a coach, teacher, bait shop proprietor, fisherman, conservationist, athlete, and lover of birds, Fraser has continuously made life better for others. I had the opportunity to sit down with 86-year-old young Fraser for a couple of hours recently and learning from those who have made such a difference is a rare gift.
San Rafael’s Loch Lomond Bait and Tackle has been under Fraser’s guidance for over 50 years as it was purchased in October 1972 by Fraser and his late partner, Art Donati, for $6700. Fraser said, “Art was my best friend for 71 years before his passing, and we purchased the dilapidated hut that resembled an abandoned outhouse you might find on the Oklahoma plains. We inherited Big Ernie (Great Egret); Little Ernie, (Snowy Egret); a couple of potential Shiner Patrol boys in Martin and Tom Miller, a few headaches, some neat customers, and a 50-year supply of good vibes. Miller ended up being a famous sea captain, bringing the Queen Mary into San Francisco Bay.” While bait and tackle shops come and go, 51 years under one ownership is a testament to Fraser’s dedication and resolve. Over the years, many shore birds have adopted Fraser after Big and Little Ernie through many others including the current Snowy Egret ‘Pee-Wee’ and ‘Great Egret’ Emma. ‘Loch Lomond’s birds have been featured on ‘Bay Area Backroads’ three times and on every major Bay Area channel at least twice. The ability to tame and treat wild birds as partners says a lot about Fraser’s inner character and love of life. Speaking with him, you hear the devotion and dedication to ‘his’ birds, especially when they hop onto the live bait deck outside the shop.
The birds are only an introduction to his personality as Fraser has been instrumental in stemming the tide against development harmful to fish and wildlife along with advocating for regulation changes enhancing fisheries. The organizational meeting of United Anglers was spawned Fraser’s living room with John Buettler, Ed Ow, and three others. Through their advocacy, the annual bay closure of white sturgeon in the Tiburon/Belvedere region of San Francisco Bay from January 1 through March 15 was put into effect to eliminate poaching during the vulnerable period within the herring spawn. Fraser organized a demonstration in 1983 with 160 private boats to bring attention to the dumping of dredge spoils at Alcatraz Island along with stopping the development of a large pit at China Camp for dredge spoils in 2009. Night fishing in San Pablo Bay and increased enforcement for poachers for sturgeon were other changes developed by Fraser and the United Anglers. Fraser said, “We do everything we can to enhance this magnificent estuary that we have at our doorstep. We preach catch and release to our customers, and many of them buy into this practice. Keep an occasional fish for the table, we say, and release the rest. It will make you feel good all over.” His popular book, ‘Keith Fraser’s Guide to Sturgeon Fishing,’ first published in 1983 is on its 6th edition.
Prior to and while operating the bait shop, Fraser taught middle and high school in Santa Rosa and San Rafael public schools, coaching varsity baseball for 40 years. During his extended time as a coach, Fraser’s team won 16 league titles with multiple players making it to the minor leagues with Jerry Goff, Max Venable, and Jessie Foppert making it to ‘The Show.’ Fraser’s biggest thrill as a coach was when Goff called him to let him know he was elevated to the major league club. While during Fraser’s third year, Goff was a member of the first championship team at San Rafael in 20 years. The former Marin Independent Journal scribe, Ralph Chatoin once wrote, “Fraser was the most active sports personality in Marin history. Not necessarily one of the best, but just incredibly active.” Fraser’s former players still refer to him as ‘Coach,’ – one of the most prestigious titles in which a person can be known.
In addition to his coaching years, Fraser also participated in several sports as a young man and an adult, once playing in a combined 5 basketball, baseball, and softball games on one weekend in the 1960’s, going 4 and 1 over the competition. Sports have always been a major part of his life, and he still religiously pays attention to the scores of all major level sports.
For his devotion to the fishery, Fraser was in the first class of living inductees in the California Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2023, following John Muir and Ansel Adams in 2002. In the coaching and sports world, he as recognized as the California Interscholastic Federation Coach of the Year in 1998, followed by the San Rafael High Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Marin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
The ability to positively influence others in multiple fields takes a rare human being, and Fraser can only be described as once-in-a-generation. Unfortunately, in the interim period from the interview to press time, Fraser has experienced a significant health setback, and he is working hard to recover to get back to his beloved birds and bait shop.