Record Cabezon — Bruce Kuhn

I received the following from Bruce Kuhn and had a nice talk with him about the fish and his efforts to prove his catch with the IGFA (with no luck). I then tried to get a picture of the cabezon from the Department of Fish and Wildlife but apparently most of the old files are missing; no picture and no documents. But, we still have the document from the California Fish and Game Department certifying the catch. Unfortunately no picture but an interesting read about a very interesting (and huge) fish.

Cabezon (Scorpaenicthys Marmoratus) — World Record Still Holding After 60 Years

It was spring of 1958 and I was just a few weeks from graduating from Loyola High School in Los Angeles. It was finals and I was tired of hitting the books so I decided to take a day off and relax fishing.

For years I had been fishing on the all day boat  Indiana out of Ocean Park Pier and Oren Winfield had been the Captain forever. When the Ocean Park Pier closed all the boats from Ocean Park Pier moved to Santa Monica Sportfishing at the Santa Monica Pier.

The morning I arrived at the pier they advised me that the Indiana wouldn’t fish that morning and they protected me on the Half Day Boat Kiora with Captian Jerry.

The morning run was uneventful. On the afternoon run we headed for Santa Monica Canyon located right in front of the Los Angeles International Airport runway.

After a few hours fishing Capt. Jerry gave the “Wind ‘em up, we are heading home.” Just then my rod bends double… my drag was locked down as we were bottom fishing and you really don’t let those bottom fish run… and I was jigging a Chrome Spoofer.

Holy Smoke ! I really have something “Big” on…

Of course all on board gather around and say “It’s a Shark, no bottom fish fights like that.” Captian Jerry was getting anxious to get back to the pier and kept saying, “Just reel the shark in and we’ll go home.”

Probably 20-30 minutes later someone yells “COLOR!.” The first cry is, “It’s a Big Lingcod!” Captian Jerry says, “Look at the fish, it’s a Cabezon.” The deck hand says, “Capt. have you ever seen a Cabezon that big?” “It must big a Big Ling. “

Capt. Jerry tells the Deck Hand to net it. “Don’t use a gaff, I want to keep it alive.” Once aboard they placed the fish in the bait tank and Capt. Jerry called the pier and told Versal Schuler, owner of Santa Monica Sportfishing, to call Calif. Department of Fish and Game and let them know we are coming in with the largest Cabezon he had ever seen.

The Game Warden showed up at the pier and drove the fish directly to The California Department of Fish & Game Marine Resources Laboratory on Terminal Island. In 1958 some of the state’s most respected Ichthyologists and Marine Biologists worked at the Marine Resources Laboratory. Included were John Fitch, Hal Clemens, Leo Pinkus, Anita Dougherty and more. One or more of these biologists examined the fish and found the weight to be 23 Pounds 4 Ounces, the largest cabezon ever recorded on Rod & Reel at that time.

Whenever I asked the guys at the pier, “What have you heard about my fish?” they would say, CDF &G said it was a big Cabezon. They never said it was a record.

That’s it. I was content in knowing I had caught a “BIG ONE.” The date I caught the fish was April 20 1958.

Now move forward 35 years in time to 1993. I was fishing Yellowtail on a panga off Loreto’s Coronado Island with Phil Friedman, Founder of 976-TUNA. He says to me. “Have you ever caught a big Cabezon?” I said, “Yes back In the day when I was in High School 1958.” He then tells me that he saw my name in the CDF&G Salt Water Records for a monster Cabezon. Remember, this is now 35 years later. I knew I caught a big Cabezon but I didn’t know it was a record.

Now someone tells me if I contact The California Dept. Fish & Game they will send you a Confirmation Certificate. (Attached).

Later, friends said, “contact the IGFA and let them know.” So first I contacted Biologist Ed Roberts at CDF&G Sacramento who told Biologist Steve Wertz. Biologist Wertz and the Director of the California Department of Fish & Game, Hon. Robert Hight, both wrote a letter to the IGFA.

The Director’s letter brought to life in detail the entire sequence of events related to the 23 pound 4 ounce record Cabezon and the fact it was examined at the State of California Department of Fish & Game’s Marine Resources Laboratory by one or more of the state’s most qualified Marine Biologists.

IGFA turned down the letters from Biologist Steven Wertz and the Director of The State of California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s as proof of the Cabezon’s Record proof.

So to me, I really don’t care. The State of California Department of Fish & Wildlife holds the World Record for the largest Cabezon ever caught on Rod & Reel and I Bruce Kuhn caught it. It doesn’t have to be an IGFA record to be the World Record. If it’s confirmed by the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Resources the biggest,  then it’s the World Record.

On April 20, 2018, it will be 60 years since the catch. I imagine the World Record Cabezon will still be 23 Pounds 4 Ounces—held by Bruce Kuhn in California. I am now 77 years old and can’t tell you all how great it feels to hold a World Fishing Record. For an Angler It’s “The Greatest Reward” for one Angler against one Fish.

I would like to thank Hon. Robert Hight, Director California Department of Fish & Game, Marine Biologists Ed Roberts, Steven Wertz and Bob Lee, all biologists at the State of California Department of Fish & Game, for all your efforts on my behalf. This is my fish story and I am sticking to it and I have the documentation to back it up—to say the least. —Bruce Kuhn, March 15, 2008

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The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #7 — 1989

Hunky Dory — Plucking Fish From a Dangerous Ocean in a Small Boat: ‘This, It’s Not Easy, You Know?’ Says One Who Does It

Onshore, the bright orange morning sun has just begun to show behind the towers of Newport Center, nearly 4 miles to the north, as Nick D’Amato falls into a relentless, flailing rhythm aboard his tiny boat. He exhales sharply and his features pinch as he jerks fish after thrashing fish from the rising line with his gloved right hand and flings them into the stern of his boat with his ungloved left. The winch pulling up the line grinds on and on.

Every minute or so, two or three hooks in succession come up empty, giving D’Amato a few seconds to sag back against the gunwale and make the most unnecessary pronouncement of the day. “This, it’s not easy, you know?” Hauling several hundred pounds of fish out of the channel that separates Catalina from the mainland and into a boat 18 feet long—and doing it nearly every day—may qualify as one of the least easy jobs in Orange County. In fact, from an outsider’s perspective, it looks to be slightly less cushy than dismantling unexploded bombs.


But for 14 years, it has been D’Amato’s bread and butter. During that time, he and his little boat have motored out into the channel in fair and foul weather, often working in darkness and fog and wet cold, in high waves and cutting winds and through hours of lonely, muscle-straining work. Still, D’Amato said, it would have been unusual if he had not turned to the fisherman’s life when he arrived in Orange County.

Born and raised in the Sicilian town of Porticello, near Palermo, D’Amato, 42, said that when he came to live in Costa Mesa with his American-born wife Julie, in 1974, he worked for a time for a local electronics company assembling computer boards. Then he discovered the dory fleet and his heritage was revived. His family, he said, has produced fishermen for many generations—“all of them, all the way back.” “When I saw they were fishing here, I said, “That’s what I do. That’s my job.’” And with that, he began his tenure as a doryman, giving up late sleeping, certain income, safe working conditions and unscored hands,

Abstractly, D’Amato’s job is simple. He catches fish and sells them. No time clock, no bosses, no one telling him how to run his business. In reality, however, D’Amato and his fellow dorymen must obey two of the grimmest taskmasters known—nature and public demand. Some days, the waves are too high, or the fish won’t bite, or they catch fish that won’t sell. And even if they have a good day, maybe the customers will stay home and opt for chicken, or they may not want the kind of fish caught that day, or they may not feel like coming out in the wind and the spray and the cold, gray weather, even if the dorymen did. But early in the morning, in the dark, when most people have been asleep for only 3 or 4 hours, D’Amato tows his dory, painted with the Italian tricolor stripes, down to the surf near the Newport Pier to begin another day.

Dory fishermen have been performing this ritual since 1891, when a Portuguese fisherman began selling fish at the beach out of his dory, rather than having them hauled to market. The only substantial difference over the nearly 100 years is that oars have been traded for powerful outboard motors on the boats. Currently, there are 16 fishermen in the dory fleet, and they are likely unique in California. Don Schultze, a marine resources supervisor for the state Fish and Game Department, which licenses the dory fleet, said, “I don’t believe there’s a comparable fleet elsewhere in the state. It’s a pretty unique operation, launching directly off the beach like that.”

On this day, D’Amato’s lines have been set only about 3 miles off the Newport Beach shore, and it takes less than 10 minutes to motor out to the marker buoy he has left the day before. (Depending on the season and where the best fish can be found, the dorymen sometimes venture 20 miles out to sea.) However, he must first launch his craft and drive it through the shore break at the pier. This morning, the waves are slight, but D’Amato said larger ones do not keep him and his colleagues from their business. Ask about them, though, and you get a quick shake of the head and a groan.  “Pretty big,” he says.

His flat bottomed dory is a quick boat in the calm water, making an estimated 22 knots. D’Amato stands holding the wheel, steering into the gentle oncoming swells, immobile, as if he had been nailed fast to the deck. He wears a knitted cap to keep the wind off but keeps his face into the spray. His hands are so cracked and calloused from years of handling lines and knives and gaffs and fish that a hook wouldn’t dare to try to lodge in them. Several hours of exposure to cold and seawater can soften them and turn them raw, however. The palms and fingertips will soon turn nearly ivory white, especially those on the ungloved left hand.

Today, D’Amato must retrieve only two lines and one unbaited anchor line (other days, he said, he often sets more). But, each line, he said, is about a mile long and is set with about 600 hooks. Also, at intervals along the line are tied both empty glass bottles and half bricks, in order to keep the line relatively stationary in the depths. At today’s spot, the lines are trailing down into about 1,000 feet of water. To raise the line, a hydraulic winch is used, powered by an inboard gas engine. D’Amato stands next to the winch as the line feeds through it, controlling its speed with a short handle. He rarely touches the handle, however, preferring to pluck the fish from the line as they rise to the winch; the line is allowed to trail into a plastic bucket. As the bricks and bottles appear, he quickly unties them or, if the knot will not yield, grabs a nearby knife and cuts them free of the line, tossing them into buckets for use the next day.

For the next two hours, D’Amato’s gaze is focused not on the spectacular dawn or the lovely, glassy sea or the gulls wheeling overhead, but over the starboard side of his boat, about 10 feet below the surface of the green water, where the fish on the line are beginning to appear from the depths.  “Look at this, look at this,” he says, beckoning. “Come here, you got to be quick.” A large red snapper, perhaps 3 feet long, is coming up. For this prize, D’Amato stops the winch, wrestles the fish off the hook and deposits it in the place of honor, on a thwart next to the inboard engine. For the rest of the morning, most of his catch turns out to be sea trout, with a smaller haul of red snapper. As the catch changes, so does his mood.  “Another whitey,” he grumbles as he slings another haddock into the boat. “The people don’t but as many of them. They want the red snapper.” And there are periods when hook after hook rises with the bait nibbled or snatched away cleanly, or with the remains of a fish that has taken the bait only to be mostly eaten or mauled by a still-larger fish.

D’Amato holds up one sea trout that has been almost cleanly bitten in two, nods at a pair of sea lions feeding nearby and shakes his head. “This is what they do. A lot of people out here don’t like them. They’re good animals, and I would never kill one, but sometimes I feel like they cheat me.” Things look up, however, a few minutes later when the second line brings up a steady stream of sea trout.

Finally, the entire available bottom of the boat, along with two plastic tubs, is piled ankle-deep with fish, and D’Amato turns the dory for hoe. The laden boat moves more sluggishly this time. It is about 8:15 a.m. Reaching the shore break in front of the dory fleet’s beach, he guns the motor at the crest of a wave and rides it smoothly in, the boat scraping to a stop in the sand.

His son, Onofrio, 17, arrives quickly with the trailer—not to pull the boat onto shore, but to cart tub after heavy tub of fresh fish a few yards up the beach to the D’Amato family fish stall where, beneath Perrier and Cinzano umbrellas, customers wait. The stall, as well as other dorymen’s stalls, opens for business immediately after the boat returns. While D’Amato weighs the fish and talks with customers, Onofrio cleans the fish at an adjacent cutting board with a flashing knife, turning whole fish into table-ready fillets in seconds. His wife wraps them in butcher paper and newsprint. The selling will go on into the late afternoon, when the other two D’Amato children, Veronica, 15, and Giacomo, 11, often arrive to help wrap fish and attach anchovy bait to the lines to be set for the next day’s catch.

The haul this day, Onofrio said is better than average, perhaps 1,000 pounds of fish. Those that the family does not sell to Oceanside customers will be offered wholesale to restaurants and markets. Income, D’Amato said, is never dependable, and, because competition between them is keen, he and other dorymen are reluctant to discuss it. What with boat repairs, the price of bait and other continuing overhead costs, there are lean times as well as relatively prosperous ones. A good catch, he said, can be followed by several bad ones, and vice versa.

After years of fishing in both Sicily and California, D’Amato has no romantic illusion about his work. He says he believes that the labor has aged him beyond hi years. He does not want or expect to fish into his later years.  However, the family tradition is not likely to end when he hangs up his knit hat for the last time. Onofrio remains excited about the life.  “Onofrio would go out with him when he was about 7 years old,” said Julie D’Amato. “A couple of years ago, he started going out with him all the time. Six months ago, he started going out by himself.”

Today, D’Amato and his son will sometimes spell each other, one setting the lines, the other returning later to haul in the fish. It is a schedule that required special accommodations for the high school-age Onofrio. He attends Back Bay High School in Newport Beach and is enrolled in a program that allows him to attend classes once a week, at which time a week’s worth of homework will be assigned for him to complete after working hours. “I like fishing,” he said. “I’ve liked it since I was real young. It’s a real challenge to see how much fish you can actually get under all conditions.” He has had close calls in his young career, “Oh, yeah, plenty in bad weather,” he said. “It’s scary. Sometimes, you wonder if you can make it in. The winds get so strong and the swells get so big. But you feel like you’ve accomplished something; that’s for sure.” —Patrick Mott, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1989

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Additional articles on the history of the Newport Beach Dory Fleet

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Through The years—-through-the-years/

 The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #1 — 1934—-looking-back-1/

 The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #2 — 1950—-looking-back-2-—-1950/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 — 1969—-looking-back-3-—-1969/—-looking-back-3-—-1969/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #4 — 1971—-looking-back-4-—-1971/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #5 — 1973—-looking-back-5-—-1973/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #6 — 1988—-looking-back-6-—-1988/

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The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #6 — 1988

Dory Fishermen’s Catch of the Day Is Certain to Be Fresh

Want to know if Nick D’Amato’s fish are fresh? Shake hands with him. One solid grip will tell you that he pulled his catch of red snapper and sea trout out of the Catalina Channel maybe three hours before. They are the hands of a fisherman, a man who brought his trade from his native Italy to Newport Beach, who sails on the sea each day in his tiny dory as other Southern Californians negotiate the freeways.

Every morning, nearly every day of the year, around 4 a.m., D’Amata and several of his fellow Newport Beach dory fishermen motor their little craft 14 miles out into the channel to cast their hooked and baited lines for their livelihood. They haul in dozens of red snapper, sea trout, mackerel bonito, and the occasional yellowtail and other exotic Southern California catches, bring them back to their sandy workplace on the beach next to the Newport Pier and make their living as modern-day fish-mongers, providing seafood lovers with the freshest of the fresh.

There are about a dozen dory fishermen who inhabit the tiny, ramshackle, beachfront stalls immediately west of the pier, and D’Amato says that at least a few of them set out into the ocean nearly every day of the year, sputtering off into the early morning darkness to bring back their catches to sell mostly to the cognoscenti who crave only the fish that have been landed that morning.

Many of the insiders, said D’Amato, are Chinese, who not only prize fish as entrees, but “mostly they like everything fresh.” Others, he said, are regular customers who wander by to say hello and pick up their evening meal. Occasionally, passers-by are pressed into service as a dory returns, and both the fishermen and the potential customers shove the little boat up the beach on portable rollers.

The dorymen’s operation is perhaps one of the smallest fish markets any Orange County resident is likely to see, but it may be the fastest. If a customer wants a fish filleted, it is done in seconds, and wrapped in butcher paper and newspaper outer wrapping. The knife work may be slightly more primitive than at Benihana—only slightly—but it is no slower and no less effective. The only element that keeps the market from opening every day is the weather, D’Amato said. Because the dories are small boats, high winds or waves or heavy rain keep them on shore. The best days, D’Amato said, are in the summer, when catches will occasionally yield such delicacies as yellowtail, bonito “and swordfish once in a while.” Most of the dorymen’s sales are to individual customers but, said D’Amato, they make regular sales to local restaurants that prize the quality of the catch.

D’Amato, 41, who lives in Costa Mesa, said he sells an average of 200 pounds of fish a day. “I’ve been doing it all my life, really,” he said. “I started when I lived in Italy, and I’ve been here since ’73. It’s a lot of work. But you’ve got to have it in your blood. I was born to this. —Patrick Mott, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1988

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Additional stories on the history of Newport’s Dory Fleet 

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Through The years—-through-the-years/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #1 —1934


The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #2 —1950—-looking-back-2-—-1950/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 —1969—-looking-back-3-—-1969/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #4 — 1971—-looking-back-4-—-1971/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #5 — 1973—-looking-back-5-—-1973/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #7 — 1989—-looking-back-7-—-1989/


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The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #5 — 1973

She Doesn’t Crab About Fishwife’s Life

Newport Beach—Carrie Beck was born to the good life. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a stable in the backyard. She grew up in relative luxury in Fall River, Mass., and once rode her way to a first-place ribbon in a horse show at Madison Square Garden. But today you can usually find Carrie Beck standing in a fishing dory below the Newport Pier, barefoot, bellbottomed, hawking red crabs and an occasional filet to tourists and passer-by. “No,” she concedes with a quick laugh, “never in my life did I dream I‘d be putting boats in the ocean and cleaning fish and selling crabs.”

A cheerful, good-natured woman, she takes a long pull from an unfiltered cigarette and pauses for a moment, a wry smile crossing her lips as she weighs what life has been… and probably will be. “I don’t think I could do anything else,” she says finally, in such a way that you know she means it. “I love this life. It’s a challenge, and when you live and work in the outdoors it’s hard to get closed in again.”

It is more than a few miles and two marriages down the road, now, and Carrie is one of the fishwives of the rag-tag dory fleet of Newport Beach. “When I was a kid my Daddy wouldn’t let us work. He was a gambler and had… a lot of money. If we worked it would have embarrassed him. “Then he came out here about three years ago and when he saw what I was doing—selling fish—he couldn’t believe it.”

Her life-style has changed, and like most of the family in the fleet she relies on fish heads as a staple for soup, but despite the 19-hour days and bare-boned budgets she not only enjoys the role of a fishwife—she thrives on it.  “I like it because you get to work all day with your husband,” she explains. “You’re not in an office somewhere or waiting on tables. Sure, you get on each other’s nerves once in a while but that’s to be expected. You can do that at home.”

A typical day for the Becks begins at 4 a.m., with cups of steaming hot coffee in their Costa Mesa home. On this particular day Vern Beck is not well. A daughter arrived on vacation from the East Coast the night before, and celebrating with two six-packs of beer on an empty stomach has put aspirin at the top of his breakfast menu… It is a dreary day, matched by a dreary catch for the fishermen, and knots of tourists gather around the few boats that are in dickering for the meager haul. “I had a big yellow grouper,” complains one man, “but a shark hit it on the way up.” Bonito, a few rock cod, some red snapper—it is a lean day for the men who fish with hand-lines. One boat hauled in less than 40 pounds. Another has hooked only a handful of fish.

“It gets nerve-wracking,” Carrie says. “When the men come in they’re tired and can’t even get the boat set up, there are so many people pushing and shoving. “You won’t believe the questions some people ask. They want to know how much fish is he going to bring in—they really do ask that.

Real Fresh—”One man watched the boat come in and asked if the fish were fresh and they were still flopping. Then they don’t understand we have to fill our phone orders first. They scream and argue and, of course, everybody is here first.” By 10:30 a.m. Vern has rounded the pier and comes crashing through the waves, dodging swimmers and body surfers, running full bore onto the beach. It was a strong current, he says, and he could find marker buoys for only 12 traps, but still it is a good haul with 400 pounds of crabs. Eventually other fishermen come to his aid, pushing and setting the rollers and, with Carrie heaving on the rope, they drag the dory about 30 yards up the sand. Instantly a crowd appears, gray old women and young girls in hip-huggers, men with cameras around their necks and eager boys pressing in for a better view.

Carrie’s Turn—Vern has taken a well earned break, and it is Carrie’s show, now, digging into the pails, fingers darting, carefully—watch those claws—dancing around the metal compartments of the dory and occasionally hoisting a hefty specimen high for the admiring audience. Working quickly, retrieving change from a worn leather purse she skirts the pails like a dervish. “I can’t believe the prices down here,” says a man in shorts. “Just 35 cents a pound for crab?” “That’s right.” “I’ll take five pounds.” She whirls and picks, bags, weighs his order.  “Make it 10 pounds.”

For some it is more than a bargain, more than just a purchase; it is a trip through the byways of nostalgia, a religious experience. “This is terrific,” beams a man in sport shirt. “I haven’t bought fish off a boat since I was a kid up in Washington. I never realized all this was here.” “Where do you live?”  “Huntington Beach,” he says. “New here?” “No,” he admits sheepishly. I’ve lived here 22 years.”

Big Purchase—For an hour it is a scene of frantic, barely controlled chaos. A man in a straw hat buys 100 pounds to take to relatives in Hawaii in the morning. A woman buys five pounds of claws for hors d’oeuvres. From Riverside, the Simi Valley and throughout the Los Angeles Basin they come, prowling the boats for bargains, savvy seafood shoppers jockeying for a place in line. “Does he go out again?” asks a woman.  “No, Ma’am,” says Carrie, weighing a 10-pound bag of male crabs. “Once a day is enough.”  “Oh,” says the woman, incredulous. “Is it that hard?” “You caught these?” questions a man in a flower-print shirt.  “No, but I showed him where to put the traps,” Carrie says.

A distinguished-looking old man is amused.  “Is this your only job?” “That’s right. This is the way we make our living.” “Have you been at it long?”  “My husband’s been doing it for 12 years.” “Is it a good living?” the man wonders.  “We get by.”  “I’m just an old school teacher,” he says wistfully, leaving and shaking his head. A chic, middle-ages woman talks with a friend.

Catch Is Sold—“It’s a neat life,” she is saying, watching Carrie. “I told my husband, Gary, it’s a shame you get seasick or we could try that.” In an hour the catch is easily sold out, but Carrie waits until noon for several customers who have placed phone orders. Those left over are sold quickly and she prepares to clean the boat for the ride home. Soon it will be back to making traps with a fast break for dinner—spaghetti tonight—then maybe squeeze time in for housework and running a few loads of laundry and tending the vegetable garden. Vern will probably fall asleep watching a ball game, but Carrie’s day will go on until 11, perhaps 11:30, on some days longer when the kids have to get ready for school. “You can always find something to do, something that has to be done,” she says, “and a lot of times you get so tired you can’t sleep. “Some days we’ll make $100 and others we won’t make anything—it’s chicken today and feathers tomorrow.” Then she finishes hosing down the gear and leans against the dory, enjoying a cigarette and cup of coffee as she waits f      or Vern. “No,” she says, amused at the thought. “I never imagined I’d learn how to clean a fish, or sell a crab. “But it’s a good life… and I wouldn’t change it.” —Steve Kline, Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1973

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Additional stories on the history of Newport’s Dory Fleet 

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Through The years—-through-the-years/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #1 —1934


The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #2 —1950—-looking-back-2-—-1950/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 —1969—-looking-back-3-—-1969/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #4 — 1971—-looking-back-4-—-1971/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #6 — 1988—-looking-back-6-—-1988/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #7 — 1989—-looking-back-7-—-1989/


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The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back # 4 — 1971

A Line to the Sea—and the Past: Newport Beach Dorymen Like Biblical Fishers

Newport Beach—The dory fishermen of Newport Beach have been likened to the fishermen of biblical times on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Poems have been written about them. A restaurant, The Dorymen, has been named for them. Books and magazine articles have praised their courage in facing the ocean’s good and bad moods in small boats, and their independence in shunning the 9to-five way of life.

Their “office” — a patch of sand next to the Newport Pier where their boays are pulled from the surf and their fish sold in open-air market fashion-has been made an official landmark by the Newport Beach Historical Society.

“What a great life,” said a pink-faced, overweight touris standing toe-to-toe with a rubber-booted doryman. The smell of fish and bait was thick in the salty breeze. Sun glinted on the ocean and the gentle surf made soothing sounds. “I bet there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather be doing,” the tourist went on. Try me on beer drinking,” the doryman answered and turned away.

Carl Marberry is 43 years old. For 20 of those years he has fished with the Newport dory fleet, and he knows that the sun is not always sparkling on the small friendly waves and that the surf is not always gentle. He knows that even on a day of beautiful weather the fish might not bite, and when the fish aren’t around, he knows for sure that the bill collectors and the hungry mouths at home are.

Carl Marberry

Don (Red) Zeitler is 20 years old and has been a dory fleet regular for only two years. During a spell of good weather a few months ago, Red fished every day for 20 days, caught 2,3000 pounds of mostly rock cod and took in $800.

‘End Up With Zero’—“But then,” he said, “you can go another 20 days and end up with zero.” Like several days ago, when he rowed his dory through the surf, started the outboard engine and headed seaward on a course of 240 degrees, roughly southwest. It was a thick, gray day, and within minutes the coastline had vanished in the mists and the 18-foot dory was alone. The breeze, blowing from the southeast, was picking up. “Southeasters bring rain or fog,” Red had said earlier, “and the sea gets all sloppy.” He was steering by a battered old compass fastened to the bottom of the boat. His other navigating tools were a wrist-watch and an inexpensive fathometer. He knew the speed of his boat, about 15 knots, and he knew that in almost an hour he should be over Dago Banks, a submarine mountain whose peak is 110 fathoms (680 feet) below the surface, halfway between Newport and Catalina Island. He was looking for a little red flag marker he had rigged on a float some days earlier when he had found fish on the banks. The southeast wind was getting colder, and a fine drizzle of rain was coming out of the fog. Red’s running time was used up. He slowed the engine and began searching for his red flag marker.

Widening Circles—Visibility was less than half a mile. He cruised in widening circles, standing upright in the rear of the dory, a lonely figure in big boots, yellow oilskin overalls and a  dirty visored cap from beneath which his shoulder-length red hair flowed and whipped in the wind. He had sufficient gasoline on board to assure his return to Newport—but not enough to waste in a long search for the small red marker in the gray wastes. He switched on his fathometer to see if he could locate the 110-fathom peak of the ridge somewhere below him. The fathometer wasn’t working. He circled some more, looking for the flag. No luck.  In the slim hope that he was over Dago Banks, he stopped the engine and streamed the long line of baited hooks that had been coiled precisely in a wooden tub. When he came to the end of the line, he held it for a few minutes and suddenly smiled a little. “They’re chewing at it,” he said.

He tied the end of the line to a float, threw it overboard, started the engine and prepared to fish another spot a few yards away with a rod and reel. A half hour passed. He reeled in the line on the rod, straining at the 6=pound weight he had attached to carry 25 baited hooks several hundred feet down. The first two hooks held two small sharks, about 18 inches long. Red flipped them off and threw them back in disgust. The third hook was empty. The fourth had a dark gray sea trout. All the rest were empty. “One fish,” Red said.

He stowed the rod, started the engine and searched out the float to which he had attached the other line, the main line  with 50 hooks. He found the float, but there was no line attached to it. In some way, it had gone adrift. Red threw the float into the bottom of the boat, started the engine, took a quick heading from his compass and felt the freshening southwest wind driving the thin rain and the spray from his bow against his right cheek as he steered northeast to take him home to the Newport Pier. “Twenty dollars,” Red said. “That line and hooks and bait cost me $20… for one fish.

It was past noon. He had come out through the surf just after dawn. He would get back somewhere around 2 p.m. With the help of other dorymen, he would drag the 1,000 pounds of boat, motor and gear on rollers up the beach. He would work until after dark overhauling his tackle, getting a new trawl (line), baiting the hooks and coiling them in the tub ready for tomorrow.

Some of the other dorymen would have had better luck that day. They would have hauled their boats up and opened bright umbrellas over them, creating instant open-air markets on the sand.  The some, with the help of their wives, would have cleaned and sold theirnewspaper-wrapped fish to beach visitors. Some—as Red would have done on a better day—would have taken their catch to nearby restaurants which are regular customers for fresh seafood.

Dory fishing can be dangerous. Two men have disappeared in their small boats. Red himself was rescued by a Navy ship 14 miles offshore after he drifted for 7 hours. And Carl Marberry, burly and tough, with tattooed arms, admits to a strange mishap 8 years ago. “I was about a mile off shore,” he said, “I came on a big ball (school) of anchovies and I got greedy. I was scooping them into the boat with a long handled net. “I got about 1,6000 pounds of ‘em in with me. And then I put one more anchovy in, and we sank.” He was rescued by his father-in-law, Paul Phegley, another doryman. The boat was recovered, after his engine broke down too, and is the one young Red uses now.

Marberry says he didn’t know until recently that all dorymen were invited to be honored guests at a banquet given by the Newport Beach Historical Society two years ago. It was the occasion in June, 1969, on which the fleet site was declared a historical landmark, and all the 15 fishermen were supposed to be in the dining hall of the Balboa Pavilion  to receive formal praise for their courage, their independence, and “their contribution to the colorful history of Newport Beach.” Three or four of them, including Red, showed up. “Did you have to pay for the dinner?” Marberry asked Red.  “Hell no. It was free. We were guests,” Red answered. “What’d they serve, steak and prime rib?” Marberry asked. “Rock cod,” said Red. “Rock cod that was caught that day.” Marberry stared at him, turned and clumped away in his hip boots.

“You have to be like a squirrel and save up for when the weather’s bad.

Me, I don’t save mine. We eat chicken one day and feathers the next.”

—Carl Marberry, Dory Fisherman

—Gordon Grant, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1971

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Additional stories on the history of Newport’s Dory Fleet 

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #1 —1934


The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #2 —1950—-looking-back-2-—-1950/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 —1969—-looking-back-3-—-1969/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #5 — 1973—-looking-back-5-—-1973/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #6 — 1988—-looking-back-6-—-1988/

The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #7 — 1989—-looking-back-7-—-1989/


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