The Family – Chapter 12

Barndoors and Hollywood

Piers serve as one of the most romantic settings for movies, television shows and commercials in Southern California. It’s a simple fact, and it has been true since the earliest days of Hollywood and the black and white silent films.

When the movies are filming there’s always excitement among the pier regulars along with a certain dread in anticipation because there is almost always interference of some type to the pier. The Family had learned to live with those interruptions because they, like most, were hooked into the excitement of the filming process itself. It was unbelievable the amount of time and attention a 20-second sequence of film might require and of course the fact that the filming was taking place outside on a pier slowed the process even further. The light had to be just right, the angles needed to insure the proper background, even the stillness of the wind and noise from the beach and waves had to be considered.

Usually Jasper would go down and in his indomitable way find out the details. What was being filmed, were there any “stars” involved, were extras needed? Several times the Family had been invited to the catered lunches and the food was almost always impressive. Several friendships had developed over the years and one of the strongest was with a “star” that wanted nothing more than to be able to fish the way he had done when he was growing up near the pier.

Unfortunately that “star” with his aquiline features and dark, intriguing eyes, was now far too recognizable and would have a constant group of fans asking for autographs if he showed up at the pier. The solution would seem to be a boat where he could fish away from the crowds. However, from an early age he had suffered through a litany of upchucking, puking, vomiting experiences. It had happened in cars, on trains, in planes, and worst of all, in boats. The episodes tended to be embarrassing but even worse left him physically in pain. His worst experience happened on a twenty hour “albacore special,” a trip that left him so physically drained that he had to spend a night in the hospital. The trip was sheer hell with the occasional sleep interrupted by the need to throw up. Unfortunately the stomach contents had gone over the railing in the first hour of the bumpy ride and dry heaves were the unpleasant and debilitating result the rest of the day. The newspaper had advertised “A Trip To Remember” and he had certainly never forgotten it. Those days were over, there would be no chumming excursions camouflaged as fishing trips.

A second solution was one he finally adopted, the use of disguise, and it seemed a natural considering his profession. He had further help from the Family who had met him at an earlier filming at the pier. In fact, Jasper had become one of his best friends even though Jasper spurned most of the Hollywood invitations he received.

Perhaps their friendship developed in part because of a small secret that Jasper had not shared with the Family. Among the many endeavors that Jasper had experimented with when young was life as an actor and he had been successful—to a degree. Although Jasper had never climbed the ladder to stardom, he was considered an excellent actor and one who could play a variety of roles, all with seeming ease and assurance. Jasper though was a little too independent to be controlled by the studios and a little too weary of the whole Hollywood scene to continue acting after discovering his true vocation in life. Why he held back this information from the Family was unclear.

Still, the times he had spent in a studio allowed him to understand the demands, insecurities, and mood swings of his friend. Jasper demanded little while offering a lot and that was a trait uncommon to the ostentatious glitz and charade of Hollywood, perhaps even in the bigger city itself, the city that calls itself the City of the Angels.

The visits were infrequent but when they took place the Family would welcome him with open arms and try to help him remain anonymous to the others on the pier. His favorite fish, much like of the Family, was halibut. Many who visited the pier sought out halibut; the Family caught halibut. It wasn’t complicated but you needed to catch the live bait and then know how to hook it so that the fish would attract the attention of the halibut that hung out in the depressions between the pilings. Rare was the day when the Family didn’t catch at least a few of the feisty flatfish. The same was true of their friend.

Most memorable though was the day when “Chuck” hooked the barndoor that had been teasing the family for months. The Family had seen it plainly in the shallows several times, a female that had to be over 30-pounds in weight. But the old lady halibut that make it to that size are smart and not easily hooked—although many have survived being hooked at an early age.

The day of the barndoor started much like any other with the exception of the arrival of their friend. His disguise that day was middle age hippie with long hair, a pretty good stubble of a beard, and echt ‘60s hippie garb. No one would recognize him. In fact, the Family itself had to take a second before they recognized him. His voice on the other hand was instantly recognizable and that was why on many days he was fairly quiet, or at least quiet if other people were around. That day the pier was semi-deserted so the Family could enjoy their usual banter and the sharing of stories; both the Family and the star seemed to have an unending chronicle of interesting tales.

And, it was a good storytelling day since the fish were being uncooperative. Even bait was missing. George, Martha and Jasper jigged their bait rigs up and down seeking out smelt, sardines or anchovies but to no avail. Ellen lowered the umbrella drop net while Cassidy sprinkled some pizza dough into the net; the net yielded a lone shinerperch. Although halibut can be caught on frozen bait, or with an artificial lure, the Family’s way was live bait and it almost always produced a few fish. But, the large tub with aerator set mostly empty; the single shiner swam circles around the tub.

In honor of his visit the Family suggested “Chuck” use the small bait and he accepted their gift. Soon after, the hot chocolate was ready. Cassidy opened a jar of miniature marshmallows, George unveiled the box of Danish he had purchased on the way to the pier, and all set down for some fellowship and food. It didn’t take long for the stories and jokes to take over and all were having fun when “Chuck,” noticed the tip of his rod begin to wiggle. He dashed over to the rod, carefully felt for the halibut, and gave the rod a jerk. Halibut on!

But this was a big one and some luck would be needed. The favorite spots to fish for the big flatties are the depressions that develop between the various pilings. The halibut lie in the sand partially buried and then swiftly swim up and grab fish they come into their range—and they have a surprising range. Halibut are classified as ambush predators and they’re fast, strong, tenacious, and have a mouthful of teeth to hang onto their unlucky victims.

Trouble is that most of the Family, as well as “Chuck,” used fairly light line and tackle, rarely anything above ten-pound test. You just didn’t need it because even most of the legal fish would only weigh a few pounds. The fish classified as barndoors though may reach into the fifty-pound range and that fact, when combined with the narrow space between the pilings, meant trouble.

Many of the large fish hooked on piers are lost for the simple reason that the pilings are covered with mussels and their almost razor-sharp edges. Allow a fish to wrap your line around a piling and you’re almost assured the loss of a fish.

Luckily for “Chuck,” this barndoor decided to head out away from the pier. That was the good news. Allow a fish to play itself out, get it tired, and then bring it in and net it. That’s the modis operendi expected on most big fish. Only problem was that there were a few rocks on the bottom not too far from the pier. Everything was fine at first but then the line seemed to stop. “Chuck,” said, “she’s wrapped on something, I can’t tell if it’s a piece of kelp but it feels more like a rock.”

“Chuck” could feel the fish on the line but it wouldn’t budge so finally he took all of the pressure off the line. If the fish couldn’t come in maybe it would somehow go out. Nothing happened for half a minute or so but then amazingly the line once again began to stream off the reel. Now “Chuck” tightened the line and once again began the rhythmic pumping that would tire out the fish.

A few minutes more and the fish was headed toward the pier and the drop net that Jasper had lowered into the water. More fish are lost at a pier when people are trying to net them than at any other time but here were two experienced anglers, one who knew where to lead the fish, and was ready to release pressure if needed, the second an expert with a net who netted several hundred halibut a year. Only problem was that the fish was almost too big for the extra-sized, small-meshed net the group used. Almost, but not too big, and as soon as the halibut headed face first into the net Jasper began to pull the line and the barndoor was headed to the surface.

The final question was what to do with the fish? Some of the halibut the group caught were returned to the ocean but this was a prize, a once in a lifetime catch for a pier fisherman. Chuck hesitated but said we’ll return it as soon as it’s weighed. On the scale it weighed 36-pounds, 10 ounces. Martha said, “quick, let me take a picture” and so it was that the Family and “Chuck” forever after had a picture of their favorite pier, a huge “momma” halibut, and a strange-looking hippie dude that no one could identify. No one that is except for the Family.

As for the halibut, it was placed back into the net, lowered down into the water, and then seemed to glance up at the family before thumping its tail and heading back down to the bottom. It’s still occasionally seen but hasn’t been hooked since that day.

As for “Chuck,” he still continues to visit the pier whenever he has the chance and has gained a Lon Chaney-like reputation for his disguises. Different clothes, different wigs, and even different accents at time, but to the Family he is just “Chuck,” an accepted member of the Family and the one who had the good fortune to catch the “barndoor” the day she decided to bite.