The Newport Beach Dory Fleet — Looking Back #3 — 1969

 A Diminishing Breed: Dorymen of Newport

 Newport Beach (AP).— Times are tough for the Newport doryman. But a dozen or so still put to sea before dawn each day in tiny one-man boats seeking crab, lobster or whatever good-eating fish can be found as far as 30 miles from shore.

They are back at Newport Pier before noon. Scores of faithful customers are lined up waiting, lured by fresh fish at 30 cents a pound, lobster for $1.25 a pound or crab at 25 cents a pound. But, like the doryman himself, the customers are a diminishing breed. Not many of today’s housewives want to clean fish themselves.

Doryman—so named because of their boats—have been in these parts as long as anyone can remember. The Dory fleet of Newport Beach Pier was founded about 1906 and, due to the plentiful catch available, grew rapidly in size. For years now the Newport fleet has been regarded as the last of its kind in this country—the subject of numerous paintings, photographs and stories. Anyone who owns a dory boat and wants to try his luck fulltime at fishing is welcome to join.

Mel Fleener, 22, has been at it for four months now. He knows the discomfort of the roll of a small boat in open seas; the anxiety of bills that need paying while fish disappear for days on end; the arduous job of set line fishing at depths of 850 feet or more. Fleener’s fishing equipment, like most dorymen’s, is simple—almost primitive: Buckets of precisely coiled lines with hundreds of baited hooks and a rude windlass on the prow equipped with several thousand feet of line.

The technique is simple—and back-breaking, once you are far from shore. Slender, light-haired Fleener, peering through rim-less eye-glasses, begins by securing the line from the windlass to a crude float which has a flag attached. He fires up the outboard motor (dorymen haven’t rowed to sea in many years) and pays out enough line to correspond to the depth being fished. Stopping the engine, he then ties several weights to the line and wrestles the lot overboard. At this point things get tricky. As the boat moves slowly, Fleener gingerly throws out coil upon coil of baited hooks. More sash weights and more line from the windlass are attached, finally terminating in another float and signal flag. The sash weights by this time have sent the setline into the depths, where jagged rock formations take their toll in lines that can never be pulled up. Each tub of line costs about $30, says Fleener. Once the line is out, Fleener has his first moment to relax since setting out. He waits 45 minutes before pulling in the lines.

“Did you see what I was doing with the set line?” he asks a visitor. “Well, that’s one of the best ways for a doryman to disappear. All it takes is for a hook to wrap around your arm and catch the moving line, and you’re on your way overboard, and straight down.” At least two dorymen have disappeared in recent years, their empty boats found bobbing in the channel.

Hauling in lines is rough work. Swinging the boat past a signal float, Fleener grabs the line and hooks it to the windlass. He begins cranking methodically. Ten minutes later he still is cranking, more slowly now, for the line has fouled on rocks below. He finally unfouls the line but a 40-pound rock remains firmly hooked and has to be pulled by hand, along with a meager catch of fish that customers won’t buy and a few salable fish. Three set lines later, and after cranking up at least a mile of hooks and line, the day’s catch is in—about 125 pounds of salable sea trout and rock cod. It’s already 11 a.m., but the trip to the pier marketing point goes swiftly. “Would you believe,” Fleener asks warily, “that I won’t be finished until 6 o’clock tonight? First I have to sell these fish, then bait up for tomorrow’s fishing.”

Annual income from dory fishing runs from about $4000 to $7000. The venture for most is a family affair, with wife and kids on shore to help. It’s an independent life, of course, and, it seems for most dorymen this is its prime attraction.

Most dorymen complain of “junk fish” and blame water pollution and over-fishing. “Sometimes you make more money, some days less. But it’s what you want to do,” explains Al Knight. Knight has been putting out with his 12-foot dory for seven years. His catch hopefully will include crab and lobster but lately there’s been an increasing number of the “junk fish”—shark and skate. “They always come in when the good fish leave,” Knight says. He feel water pollution is responsible and says the best catch now is sea trout, rock cod and bonito but sadly adds “even they aren’t what they used to be.” —Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 2, 1969

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Additional articles 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—-looking-back-1/

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

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/

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






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