Wheelhouse Tales: “Captain Shark Bait”

I could go back through my old log books and find the exact details of this adventure, but it’s still fresh in my memory.  I was running the RailTime, a custom 35′ Radovcich 6-pac charter boat that Gary Adams had built, and hired me to run.  It was early in that operation, so lets say 1999 (ish).  It was spring time, and still lobster season.  I remember that because it’s a major part of this story.

I ran the boat to San Clemente Island for the day, and set up on the front to fish yellowtail.  I do not remember who was decking for me, but one of the clients on the boat became one of my full time deckhands after this trip.  It’s what happened that had a big part in him wanting the job.  My old friend Reed Davidson was on the trip too, and he just passed away.  (Goodbye old friend).   Thinking of Reed and his recent passing, reminded me of this story, and inspired me to write it.

Okay, back to the story.  The current was ripping up the island hard, and the yellows wanted to bite.  Problem was, everytime we’d hook one, it would wrap around a lobster pot marker buoy and break the line.  The entire school would leave with the fish that broke off, and I’d have to chum harder and harder to get them back.  The RailTime had a garbage disposal in the  cockpit sink, and it would grind dead or live baits into slime, and spit it out the starboard side and into the water.   At the dock I’d grind up leftover bait  and fill buckets and put them into the in-deck freezer.  We had lots of chum out that day, a full blown “shark slick” I later came to realize.

We hooked a handfull of yellows, and still had not landed a single fish.  We then hooked one fish that wrapped on a pot, but did not break the line.  I’d had it.  I pulled off my tee shirt and grabbed a fillet knife and did a full blown Crocodile Hunter off the side of the boat.   I began to swim towards the lobster buoy with a knife clenched in my teeth.  The buoy tugged from side to side with a yellowtail still wrapped around the rope attached to it.  About 1/2 way there I started to smell something fishy.  “Whew, it’s like I’m swimming in…….AWW MAN!”  Here I was, 50 miles from shore and swimming in a huge shark chum slick.  Suddenly, I felt really small.  I had paying passengers rooting me on, and my ego was too strong to let me turn back.  The stench of pulverized fish filled my nose, and the oily slick stung my eyes.

I continued on, and finally made it to the buoy.  The yellow was still attached.  I started to cut the buoy line but realized it was being pulled from my hands as I was cutting.  “What the…”  I’d forgotten that the current was ripping, and it seemed much stronger now that I was in the water.  I could see the yellow just below me, and a school of many more under that hooked fish.  When I finally cut the rope, I could see the yellows swim out into open water, and the passenger on board the RailTime was still pulling on the fish I’d just cut free.

As I swam back towards the RailTime, I figured out that if I didn’t swim as hard as I could, I would continue getting further and further away from the boat.  I began to consider swimming to the island.  I watched from afar as the guys gaffed the yellow, and thought to myself “I never showed anyone how to pull the anchor, yet alone start the boat.”  I had to get back to the RailTime.  I dropped the knife and began to swim freestyle.  Looking down into the dark water below between breaths didn’t help.  I was scared shitless, and I’m certain the whole group could see it on my face, though they never said a word about it.

After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the swim step, and grabbed on with what little strength I had left.  Fear still had it’s grip on me, but I was amazed at how easy it was to pull myself on board.  It was almost like I could “feel” a shark coming up to bite me from the depths below.  I knew it was just my imagination, but I still flew out of the water.  The charter group cheered and we did the traditional round of “high fives”.  One of the passengers, a young surfer kid named Taylor Evans came to me and said something to the effect of:  “That was awesome!  You’re one crazy son-of-a-bitch!  If you ever need a deckhand, I’d be happy to work for a lunatic like you!”  “Your hired.” I told him.

We enjoyed a decent pick on the yellows, and somewhere I have some great photos from that very day.  Big yellows, smiling faces, and lots of deep blue water in the background.  “Sharky” looking water.  Even today, just the memory of that day is like someone telling me there is a spider on the back of my neck.  (shudder)  “Never again” I tell myself.

Taylor and I became close friends, and he did deck for me for a long time.  He loved to jump in the water whenever he had the chance.  Once offshore to untangle a couple of tunas under the boat, and another time during a full float of squid, with porpoise and blue sharks swimming through it.  I wrote his Sea Time letters and he got his Captains License, then got hired with the Santa Ana Fire Department.  We are still close friends today.  It was a long time before I confessed to him how scared I really was out there.  He now surfs giant waves, free dives alone in crazy places, and is pretty much fearless in the water.  I hope I didn’t have anything to do with that.

2 thoughts on “Wheelhouse Tales: “Captain Shark Bait”

  1. Awesome awesome story bro. I know Taylor very well,as I also worked for Santa Ana fire. As a matter o fact he tipped me off to you.. Haha good times good people
    God bless

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