Byline: Brett Pauly
Like a football player taping his ankles before battle, Dave Oshima carefully sharpened the treble hook of his trusty green iron lure on the eve of the great fish-off.
After several passes of the file he tested the point on his thumbnail.
“It’s the ritual of getting ready,” said the veteran Mount Washington angler.
It was clear Oshima and the other eight members of the San Fernando Valley Saltwater Fisherman club had an ax to grind. Though it had been held years ago and the details were sketchy, the outcome of the last angling tournament between the Valley team and the Los Angeles Rod and Reel Club was clear.
“We got creamed,” said Rob Di Gioia, president of the Saltwater Fisherman.
The rematch was dubbed King of the Calicos, a catch-and-release challenge in which the team with the heaviest amount of bass wins. This time the Valley club was serious.
The sober determination to even the score was evidenced in the final words of team captain Dimitri Peros as his team descended into the belly of the vessel that would take them to the playing field at 5 Sunday morning: “Don’t Super Glue me to the bunk.”
Peros was all business earlier when he called a strategy session at the stern of the Seahawk LXV at Santa Barbara’s Sea Landing.
“Let’s all use different lures and see what’s hitting, but don’t yell out, ‘Hey, olive plastic’s working.’ Don’t let them see what you’re using,” the Westlake Village angler said.
“And be observant. See what’s working for them, too,” Sylmar’s Rick Naber chimed in.
Perhaps it was the lack of such a pep talk, or overconfidence or plain bad luck that was the undoing of the Rod and Reel Club in a contest that was decided by the slimmest of margins. In the end, after some six hours of angling produced 82 fish, the scorecard revealed the Saltwater Fisherman prevailed in “overtime” by a mere 11 ounces – or less than an average-size calico bass.
Bob Selvin blamed his team’s defeat on an emotional letdown. “We got too cocky,” said the West Los Angeles fisher.
Although it was competing an angler short, the L.A. team was a picture of poise in the first half after skipper Merit McCrea anchored at Naples Reef. (To even things up, the Valley platoon would subtract the fish count of its least productive fisherman.)
The weather was beautiful, but the warmth was deceiving. Selvin and his cronies quickly figured out that the recent storms had left the water too cold and murky for the lethargic calicos to chase anything that wasn’t a sure bet. Normally deadeye plastic lures and “fresh dead” squid were ditched for live bait. Anchovies – to this point used only as chum – soon yielded prizes.
Rod and Reeler Tim Vowels of North Hollywood hooked three bass early, including a nice 2-1/2-pounder, before anyone else had a pair. Then teammate Joel Zide of Northridge quickened the pace to reach the five-fish plateau first.
Bill Alpert of Woodland Hills boated another couple, including a 2-pound, 10-ouncer that would net him top fish of the tourney for the L.A. squad. The size of the prize was a pretty sorry testimonial for these grizzled anglers, but what can you do when the big ones won’t be fooled?
Wily bass man Rick Estrada of Sunland paced the Valley team with six first-half fish, but, overall, the members of the 10-year-old Saltwater Fisherman looked like an expansion team compared to the Rod and Reel Club, a granddaddy among area fishing clubs, founded in 1950.
“We felt like the Buffalo Bills this morning,” Di Gioia said. His team trailed by nearly 3 pounds when the captain moved the operation 7 miles up the coast to Tajiguas for the second half. It was here the Saltwater Fisherman players finally got cracking.
Estrada continued his hot streak by boating two fish before anyone else. Later Zide and Rod and Reel teammate Hal Clark of Westlake Village combined to snare six bass, all over a pound.
As a pair of poles thwacked against each other in the heat of a run, deckhand Mike Winn blurted out a well-rehearsed “en garde.” Anchovy scales littered the deck – and the backsides of the anglers – as he chummed the bait fish in the baking sun.
The Saltwater Fisherman crew got back on track with a six-fish roll, led by Moorpark’s Tom Gutting, whose four-bass second half – all over 1 pound, 4 ounces – helped to close his team’s deficit to only 7 ounces.
“I’m a slow starter,” said Gutting, who nailed a 355-pound halibut, a world record for the 80-pound-test class, in Alaska last year.
Dan Fink had appeared to ice a win for Rod and Reel with a huge pull. But he fumbled at the stern and the bass prevailed.
“I hate to admit it, but it looks like line failure,” said the former Eagle Claw sales rep from Woodland Hills. “It took me to the weeds, and I should have landed it.”
Skipper McCrea questioned the assessment. “Dan Fink maintains it is good line, but I happen to know that line has been on that reel for five years,” he said. “And now he’s tying irregular knots ”
McCrea called the contest too close to judge. A third stop, this time at Elwood Pier, would produce a victor in overtime. Calicos love to hold around the submerged oil-drilling pier, but the fishing is tricky because the bass dive straight for the gnarled structure when hooked.
“If you’re not losing lead here, you’re not fishing it right,” said Mike Grossman of Tarzana, who holds a boat record for surrendering 28 leadheads here in a single afternoon.
His Rod and Reel teammates didn’t appear any luckier; the Saltwater Fisherman took four bass in OT for the win. Gutting, who earned honors for heaviest stringer, proved the hero with a 2-pounder just before the whistle.
The final tally: Valley – 43 pounds, 6 ounces; Los Angeles – 42 pounds, 11 ounces.
“An 11-ounce difference. Unbelievable,” Peros exclaimed.
Both sides had struggled. Many participants were used to fishing primarily with plastic; some brought regular bait hooks and sinkers as an afterthought.
“I don’t know what happened,” Vowels said of his disappointingly slow finish. “My rods just shut off, put out a bad vibe.”
“It was tough,” Di Gioia noted about his squad’s triumph. “We feel great, but we would have felt good if we lost.”
That’s what friendly competitions are all about.