A good marriage takes love, devotion, and patience. Catching a white seabass takes pretty much the same. But who knew that both things could happen in one glorious week?
To be clear, it wasn’t me and Marta who got married, so you can wipe the Pepsi off your screen. The lucky groom was Jeff Kerr, longtime friend, fishing buddy and hockey teammate — and I had the honor of being best man.
That’s Jeff in the gray sweatshirt. Yes, there’s a story here, but we’d better skip it for now.
It’s not often that I get to be best man at a wedding. Usually, the bride recognizes the risks of handing me a microphone in front of 300 guests and shunts me off to other important duties, like feeding the organist’s cat. I was honored, but Marta added some perspective: “You got this gig because you are Jeff’s only friend who can speak in front of a group without burping.” Pretty much true. Most of Jeff’s good friends are fellow hockey players, and while I trust these guys with my life on the ice, we aren’t so adept socially.
I met Jeff Kerr about 15 years ago, probably by crushing him into the boards from behind, stealing the puck, and scoring a breathtaking goal. (Or not.) We were fierce opponents.
That’s Jeff in the yellow, lower right – making friends in his own shy way. This particular event started in the handshake line after a game.
After a while, the league got sick of us fighting and put us on the same team; we’ve played together ever since. He’s reliable, tough, and most importantly, he owns a boat.
We’ve done a lot of fishing together, and he has skippered me for three world records around San Francisco. If you ever fish with Jeff, don’t leave your camera unprotected — he has a habit of leaving “art photos” on it for you to find later. Imagine my surprise, when trying to show Marta a picture of a world-record southern rock sole, to discover something far more anatomical staring back at me. Of course, Cousin Chuck and I did the same thing to my aunt at Thanksgiving, 1981. When those lunar landscapes were discovered at a family slide presentation some months later, my mother called to yell at me but she was laughing too hard to be convincingly angry.
The wedding took me down to Los Angeles twice at the end of June, and I snuck in a day of fishing both times. By now, Ben Florentino had become a good buddy and he moved his schedule around to accommodate both trips. You might remember Ben from http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/duking-it-out/ or http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/the-five-gram-rule/.
Ben Florentino, ace Southern California guide – 310 779-0397. Forget Disneyland – go fishing with Ben instead.
This is the other reason not to go to Disneyland. The rides are scary and cause nausea.
On June 23, we made the run out to Catalina. It was a gorgeous morning, flat and calm, and we got over to the island in less than an hour. We streaked around to the back side of Catalina and set up for white seabass. It’s a waiting game, and to pass the time, I set up a lighter rod and fished some bottom baits to see what I could pick up — perhaps some odd creature would bless us with its presence. And it did. After two or three false alarms, I got a hard strike and set the hook on something that pulled line — not a bunch, but it certainly wasn’t tiny.
The fight went on for a minute of two, and I could see silver flanks in the water as it came up. I got it to the surface and announced, “That is the biggest yellowfin croaker I have ever seen.” Ben, who had not been following the fight all that closely, looked over the side — and his eyes bugged out. He snatched the net from the back of the boat and, with surprising agility, ran down the opposite side of the boat, jumped across the seat, and landed on the back platform where he scooped up the fish.
“Dude! That’s a #$%^ white seabass! You did it!” I looked at it closely, too stunned to move. It was a croaker alright, but no yellow fins, and it had faint bars down the sides. I had caught one – at 7 pounds, it certainly wasn’t the beast I had wanted, but it was a solid, legal fish, and I was thrilled to add the species to my total.
Yes, I know they get much bigger. But I am glad to start with this and build. At least I won’t get those awful emails from Jim Tolonen every August with a picture of a 40 pounder and a note like “Hey – ever caught one of these?”
The great fishing continued all morning. We worked around the kelp beds, enjoying the clear day and catching all manner of local critters – opaleye, kelp bass, and a wonderful surprise — a rock wrasse, which gave me two new species for the morning.
An Opaleye. These fish are largely vegetarian, and are commonly caught on frozen peas. They would never survive in Serbia, because there are no vegetables there.
A solid Calico Bass. These things hit lures with abandon.
The Catalina scenery. I never get to enjoy much of it, as I am always looking at rod tips, but in retrospect, it does look like a nice place.
The Rock Wrasse. I knew they existed, but I didn’t expect one here.
On the south part of the island, we pulled up a halfmoon which finally, finally broke my 16-ounce barrier for that species, and became the first world record submitted for halfmoon.
The current world record Halfmoon. My standard disclaimer — world records are not necessarily the biggest fish people have seen; they are the biggest fish someone has gone to the trouble of catching and certifying by IGFA rules. There are MUCH bigger halfmoons out there. As long as you aren’t Jaime or Marta, I’ll be thrilled if you get one! Well, maybe not thrilled.
Late in the afternoon, we pulled anchor and headed for home, across what looked like another flat sea. But the Fish Gods apparently felt my day had been too good already. Less than a mile out, the wind hit us. Unrelenting gusts up to 30 knots, straight out of the northeast, for the entire ride. Much like Cousin Chuck on his wedding night, we got beaten up and soaking wet. We took our punishment silently, and I focused on that marvelous seabass in between teeth-rattling bounces. Sometimes, the Fish Gods test your love of the sport.
I figured there was no way to top a White Seabass, but when I went back to LA for the ceremony the following weekend, I set up another day with Ben. We worked our way around Long Beach harbor, fishing bottom baits for the assorted species he likes to call “googly gobs.”
An animal that lives at the bait store. I am not sure what it is.
The morning started well. In between big sand bass, I got a powerful strike on a whole squid and hung on while something ran up and down the rockwall. Moments later, I landed a brown smoothound shark. A big one. A world record one, at 6.5 pounds, which shattered my old record on the same species by a factor of 4. (Interestingly — or not — the old record was caught on Jeff’s boat.)
The mother of all Brown Sharks. This species is generally considered a pest, so it’s not exactly a glamor record, but then again, neither are any of my other records.
Later in the morning, we pulled up off Huntington Beach and put down a couple of baits. To pass the time, I picked up a heavy spinning rod and threw a swimbait. On the second cast, I got flat-out, freight train crushed. Something big smashed the lure and headed for San Diego, and suddenly, my 30-pound leader didn’t seem so heavy. I knew I had plenty of line, and Ben told me that the structure under us wasn’t too bad, so I just let the fish go. And go. And go. I guessed bat ray, but Ben didn’t think so.
After 20 minutes of long runs, the fight settled into a stalemate. Whatever it was swam slowly along the bottom, not all that impressed with the pressure from my doubled-over spinning rod. There was only one thing that could be this big in the area, but I didn’t dare say it out loud. I cursed my relatively light leader, and I couldn’t imagine it was going to hold out. I backed off as much as I could, but I still expected that sick feeling of a breakoff. Thirty minutes went by, then 40, and every second put the odds more in the fish’s favor. At fifty minutes, I started getting him off the bottom. He was heavy – the Loomis rod was bent over at 90 degrees, and I couldn’t believe it didn’t break. At the one-hour mark, he was just out of sight, slowly finning in the current. Oh, why didn’t I use a heavier leader?
At an hour and 5 minutes, he started moving out of the midwater. After two powerful head shakes, a huge shape came in to view. My heart jumped — it was a giant seabass, a type of grouper that grows to well over 500 pounds. This one was about 70 pounds, and I had dreamed about catching one ever since my first visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium in the late 1980s. Gently, we maneuvered it next to the boat, and I reached out and touched it. Completely out of the blue, I had realized a lifelong angling dream.
70 pounds of giant seabass. This is not a particularly large one. We ordinarily would not have even taken it out of the water, but it swallowed the swimbait quite deeply and I had to lift it on to get the lure out. We got this picture as I was lowering the fish back into the water. It swam off just fine and is out there waiting to surprise some other lucky angler.
Later that afternoon, in the shadow of the Queen Mary, Ben had us fishing a shallow channel.
The Queen Mary, Long Beach Harbor. It’s big.
He mentioned there was a small skate of some type he had seen here, but me, Captain Ichthyology, just had to tell him that there were no skates in water of this depth. My lecture was interrupted by a bite from a skate. To be specific, a California skate, which lives in shallow water in Southern California , and (that fish) is now the world-record California skate. There’s a reason they give the guide credit for world records also.
The California skate. Who knew?
Ben got me back to the Sheraton in plenty of time for the rehearsal, and indeed, despite all of the wonderful surprises in the past six days of fishing, the most intriguing and indeed charming surprise was yet to come.
You couldn’t have chosen two more different groups to attend a wedding together. On the left side of the aisle, Sharon’s family and friends — a quiet, respectful Korean group, largely immigrants and their first generation children. On the right side of the aisle, Jeff’s family and a bunch of, well, hockey players. Sure, we can shower, put on clean underwear, and briefly behave ourselves, but asking all this for three hours is a bit much.
The wedding party. I guess we clean up OK, but Jeff’s false teeth almost fell out during the “I do” part.
We managed OK during the vows, but when the reception started, we noticed Sharon and Jeff had gone missing. Rumors flew around that they were going to do a traditional Korean ceremony.
Without much warning, the couple showed up in full Korean wedding garb. Sharon looked lovely, but I was not prepared to see one of my best friends in a bright blue robe with a red emblem on the chest, and some sort of traditional headgear that at least hid the point on his head. The hockey guys at my table tittered, but Marta offered some gentle advice like “Quiet, you idiots.”
You can just about hear what her parents were thinking — “How could our daughter marry a center? Right wings are so much more prestigious.”
The ceremony was beautiful and wonderfully foreign to us. Sharon’s family and friends were beaming – I am sure the earlier western ceremony had seemed just as strange to many of them. As soon as it was over, we didn’t miss a chance to quietly give Jeff a hard time. “Dude, you look like Korean Superman.” “Dude, that’s a dress size too small.” One of my favorites was from Brian Compani, a wild-eyed defenseman who Marta believes has killed someone. “Dude, if I was dressed like that, I’d kick my own @#%.” Marta chimed in with the occasional “Quiet, you idiots.” But Jeff was serious about this, and while he took our ribbing good-naturedly, he handled himself with maturity, respect, and quiet dignity, which is more than I can say for the rest of us. You have to love someone to marry them, but you have to REALLY love someone to put on that outfit in front of your hockey team.
Apart from catching a white seabass and a giant seabass in the same week, there is nothing more touching than seeing two friends truly in love. Before I gave my best man toast, which was quick and tasteful because Marta wrote it, I shared a private moment with the happy couple. With the microphone off, I told them, just between us, to take a moment and look into each other’s eyes. They did, totally in the moment. Then I said “You’re about to embark on a new life together, and Jeff’s fly is down.”
And Marta thinks I don’t have a gift for romance.
Jeff and Sharon’s wedding, June 30, 2012.