An Interesting Letter ref MTM- # 003 -Jon Wagner
Posted on February 12, 2010
AN INTERESTING LETTER REF MOGGY’S TUNA MANUAL – # 003
from Jon Wagner, retired dentist, former tuna fisherman, and current philosopher
July 17, 2009
Francis, I share your awe of the behavior of tuna. Others look at me like I’m nuts when I get totally stoked at spying a breezer or foamer or the action of a wide open bite when bait fishing. The fish go crazy gobbling the chum. It is a lot like throwing corn to a bunch of chickens. As the chum hits the water you would see a half dozen fish darting up to the
surface racing for the anchovy. With albacore you see a bunch of big eyeballs coming up.
Your description of breezers and foamers is outstanding. Foamers were not all that common in the areas I fished albacore in, just an occasional one, except south of Guadalupe island, when I fished Yellowfin and Skipjack. Awesome site.
What always fascinated me is how dead the ocean can be at times, and at others just teaming with life everywhere you looked.
Here is a short video of the type of commercial albacore fishing I worked at in the mid 50’s. I only worked at it for short time but look back at it as one of the most interesting periods of my life.
The boat at the start is exactly the type I worked on.
Basically there were 2 types of fishing when I was at it in the mid 50s.
1- Bait fishing: with cane poles standing in racks over the stern while the fish are chummed with live anchovies from a large bait tank behind the fisherman. I was a skinny kid and worked as a chummer. Working in the racks was for the bigger guys but I did get to do a bit of work handling the “jack poles “..( in the attached video you can see the chum being thrown from above into the water in front of the guys fishing with “jack poles “). Very exciting and furious fishing. A jack pole is only about 8-10′ long with a 6-8′ line with a weighted, about 4 oz., heavy chrome barbless hook on a piano wire leader with a few feathers called a “Squid “. When the line is slacked the fish falls off on the deck and the squid is whipped back into the water for another. I only made one trip on a bait fishing boat.
2- Trollers or “Jig Boats “: The second part shows working the hand lines while trolling at about 6- 8 knots. Most of my fishing was on a 55′ jig boat the “Gremlin ” with an old Norwegian, Finn Guldjord. We trolled 12 lines off of outriggers with just me and the skipper. The inside or short line was only one fathom, 6′, behind the boat. When a big school was encountered we would just drag all the hooked fish on the longer lines and work the short lines throwing on the fish one after another with one or two pulls on the line. The two of us caught 225 fish in about one hour one evening just off the north end of Guadalupe Island about 300 miles SW of San Diego. We fished as far south as Cedros Island off of Baja starting in June following the migrating fish north out around Tanner and Cortes Banks about 50 miles outside of San Clemente Is. and as far as Morro Bay late in the season. Trips were usually about 3 weeks until we filled the 15 ton refrigerated hold.
I quit after the Morro Bay trip. Much too windy and always rough north of Point Arguello. The fleet followed the migrating albacore all the way up to Astoria, OR. when the fish headed west on their great circular migratory route towards Japan and the Western Pacific to pop up again the following year in mid June off of Baja off of Bahia de Tortugus, San Benitios and Cedros Islands about 400 miles south of San Diego.
In bait fishing they would locate a school by trolling in the same manner but stop and throw a lot of chum in the water and work from the racks with the poles, usually with 3-4 guys in the racks on the smaller 50-60′ boats 15 to 20 ton, and 6-8 on the bigger 75′ boats 60 ton. The big long range tuna clippers out of San Diego would fish 12 guys in the racks on 120′, 250 ton boats on 3-4 month trips as far south as Ecuador
At the time I was fishing there was a commercial fleet of about 25 boats operating out of Newport. About a dozen smaller 30-40′ jig boats that fished locally out around Catalina and San Clemente Is. on 2-3 day trips for the fresh fish market with non refrigerated holds, only crushed ice.They gutted and bled the fish right after catching There were about 6 longer range 45- 55′ jig boats with larger 12 -15 ton refrigerated holds @ 0 degrees F. that froze the whole ungutted fish solid on three week longer range trips. The Newport bait fleet amounted to five 55-65′ 20-30 ton boats and one large all steel 75′,60 ton boat, the “Native Sun ” with brine tanks to hold the fish and six guys fishing in the racks with poles.
My only bait fishing trip was as chummer on the Native Sun on a one month trip fishing yellowfin and skipjacack as far south as Cabo San Lucas after the albacore season was over in October. My skipper, Jim Shaeffer, from the 65 ” sport boat the “Westerner ” that I had worked on running off the Newport Pier before I went commercial was a high school buddy of the Native Sun’s skipper and got me on as a chummer for very little pay. I was thrilled as I wanted to experience bait fishing. The pay on the jig boats was quite good, around $4-500 for a 3 week trip with albacore selling at $525/ton.. Big money for a kid in 1955. We unloaded fish in San Pedro at the Franco-Italian Cannery right next to the huge Van Camp(Chicken of the Sea) and French Sardine Co (Star-kist) canneries at Terminal Island. They are all gone now.
On the jig boat we had to go down in the icey hold at the end of the day and stack the fish like cord wood between layers of crushed ice in bins.The big boats like the Native Sun and the big San Diego clippers had combination fuel , bait and brine tanks as well as the main deck bait tank that all had copper refrigeration coils. The boats were always loaded, riding low in the water at the stern. On the way down the forward tanks held diesel fuel. in addition to the main fuel tanks. As the fuel in the forward combination tanks was used up the tanks were flushed with seawater and used as “slammers ” to store live bait which was transferred to the main tank for chumming. Heading south we had to “make ” bait after the combo tanks were emptied of fuel. This involved catching live anchovies with a seine net and skiff and filling all the tanks with around 6-800 scoops of bait. As the bait was used up in the forward tanks salt was added to make a saturated brine which was chilled to 0 degrees and stayed liquid. the fish were dropped into the chilled brine shortly after being caught and frozen solid rather quickly and excess brine pumped out when the tank was filled with fish. Much less work than shoveling ice and stacking fish. When unloading at the cannery the frozen fish were thawed by flushing with sea water for 24-36 hours.
The entire West Coast commercial albacore fleet was around 120 boats, most out of San Diego but some large Northern boats from Seattle and Oregon would come south to fish albacore after the Salmon season up north had ended and follow the fish up the coast.
As far as purse seiners go there was a fair sized fleet of boats up to around 80-90′ operating out of San Pedro, mostly Italians and Yugoslavians, in the 50s. They had fallen on hard times after the sardines vanished in the late 40s and fished anything they could catch. Anchovies and mackerel for cat foot and fish meal, squid and some small bluefin tuna. Thery never had much success with albacore, too spooky of the net. Some of of the big San Diego Tuna Clipper, mostly Portugese owned, bait boats were just beginning to make the conversion to purse seiners as the power block and large nylon tuna seine had just been introduced.
By the mid 60s most of the bait boats except for the smaller albacore boats were gone.
In the early part of the 20th century, sardines were so plentiful there seemed to be no bottom to the supply. In 1937, California fishermen caught more than 700,000 tons. A little more than a decade later, the fish began to disappear and, by the mid-1960s, the total catch for the entire West Coast was less than 1,000 tons. Just as folks were beginning to talk about sardines being fished to the brink of extinction, they returned.[…] Despite all of the fish’s unpredictable comings and goings, sardines helped build San Pedro. The Yugoslavs from the Dalmatian coast and Italians from the southern island of Ischia founded the fishery at the turn of the last century with their innovative purse seine nets, and to this day they dominate the fleet.
The San Pedro fishing fleet, which numbered nearly 500 boats in 1937, is down to fewer than two dozen today. Of the 16 canneries that once occupied San Pedro and neighboring Terminal Island, none are left. The last closed in 2001.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on February 12, 2010, 9:00 am