Francis Meyrick

An Interesting Letter ref MTM – #001 – Jon Wagner

Posted on February 12, 2010


from retired Dentist, current philosopher, and former tuna fisherman Jon Wagner

Feb 9, 2010

Hello Francis,

I was reading your Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual Ch.1-E. Again.

You have some great video clips in that Chapter

1- “The Iron Men of Tuna Fishing ” is an outstanding portrayal of bait fishing aboard the old San Diego Tuna Clippers of the 50s

That particular clip is excerpted from a feature film, “The Naked Sea ” which made the rounds of the movie theaters around 1954 or 55, at least in Southern California.
The film was shot aboard a trip on the 125′ vessel “Navigator ” which as I recall was a wood boat but one of the ” high liners ” of the San Diego fleet.

I have been looking for years for a VHS tape or CD of the feature film but apparently it was never recorded. At least the video clip is on Youtube.

The guitar music was performed by the famous Brazilian classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida who in the early 50s played with several U.S. jazz groups, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz and others.

I guess the they chose his music since he was of Portuguese as were the skipper/owner. And most of the crew. I think, but don’t remember for sure, the skipper was either Joe or Manuel Madruga. Most, but not all, of the San Diego tuna fleet were Portuguese.
I had a good friend, a strapping big kid, Tommy Allen, that made two three month trips to the Galapagos Islands as a 1/4 share rookie fisherman aboard the Navigator. Tommy had a lot of fascinating tales of his experiences. Tommy is now a lawyer in Newport Beach, CA.

Tommy said it was feast or famine, sometimes weeks of boredom alternating with just a few days of wide open bites. On his second trip they were gone for eight weeks before they even “made ” bait. They filled up ,180 ton in ten days at Galopagos, fishing one, two and three pole Yellowfin and a lot of Skipjack. With twelve guys in the racks they would put on a ton per minute. Skipjack bites would be so intense they would have to stop and rest, and stow fish in the brine tanks from over-flowing decks while the chummer kept the school at the boat until they resumed fishing, on occasion over night.

As I recall it was around 1955 when the power block and large nylon nets came along and most of the San Diego fleet began converting their boats from bait fishing to purse seineing. That began the end of the era of the correctly dubbed “Iron Men of Tuna Fishing “

2- There is another video in there of a smaller purse seiner, maybe a 125′ boat, with a full net alongside to braile out the tuna. I assume the school went down and pulled the boat over to a very severe list and it capsized. I had heard of this happening with some tuna but had never seen it., usually with albacore and also with sardines. I was told by some of the old timers that’s why they didn’t normally net albacore and netted sardines at night with a bright light flashing to attract the fish to the surface so they didn’t all dive at once and pull the boat under. Have you ever heard of this?

I couldn’t conceive this occurring with the huge modern vessels now fishing.

Photo: Richard Gillis

I loved the excitement of albacore fishing; so I quit my factory job and worked at fishing for about three seasons, the first year on sport boats then commercial. I worked as an apprentice painter in the off season. The skipper on the sport boat I worked on was a painter and painted in the off season too and got me in the union.

I made quite a few 3 to 4 week trips on commercial albacore boats fishing from as far south as Magdalena Bay in Baja, a lot around Cedros and Guadalupe Islands on up the coast to Monterrey in the late part of the season. It was a lot of fun and the money was really good at the time. I would make around $500 per trip which was twice what my factory job paid and much more adventuresome.

The movie “Naked Sea ” was a huge motivational factor for me, making me pursue the adventure of commercial tuna fishing

Most of my trips were on 50′-60′ 15- 18 ton jig boats, all were old “ice boats “. We trolled 12 lines. I made three bait fishing trips where we fished with jack poles, I was a little skinny kid and worked as a chummer. Working in the racks takes big guys. I made one trip way south near Cabo fishing Yellowfin and Skipjack on an all steel 70′, 60 ton vessel, the “Native Sun “. My sport boat skipper and friend, Jim Schaefer, that I painted with, got me on with him; a high school pal of his owned the boat. The “Native Sun ” was what they called a baby tuna clipper, with eight guys in the racks, a smaller version of the big San Diego Tuna Clippers with brine tanks. Very exciting fishing, we would put on as much as twenty tons in a really good bite. My last commercial trip was north of Point Argeullo on up to Monterrey, always windy and rough up that way, absolutely miserable to work in, always hanging on.

So, that about did it for me and my fishing career. I enrolled in college and became a dentist. I retired in 2006 after forty years in private practice. As I look back I’m really glad I did it, going to sea was a great adventure and experience.

Keep up the good work, Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual is outstanding


Jon Wagner

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on February 12, 2010, 9:19 am

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