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Fishing for Food!

By lajollahomes | April 7, 2009

Lifetime Thresher Catch on the ‘Charlie O!’ 371 lbs

San Diegans are blessed to live in an area with such an abundance of natural resources from which a limitless number of outdoor sports and activities can be enjoyed, but there is only one that brings the excitement and clout needed to rouse the five Noonan men before the crack of dawn at 4:00am on a weekend: offshore fishing. Perhaps one of the only sports where luck often beats out skill, boredom and frustration change instantly into total exhilaration and delight, and one can return home at the end of the day with enough food to last family and friends for months, deep-sea fishing is enjoyed by thousands of San Diego residents.


With the Pacific Ocean as its front yard, San Diego boasts some of the most accessible and diverse fishing grounds on the entire west coast. Whether you’re fishing the La Jolla Kelp beds for white sea bass and yellowtail, or roaming the numerous offshore banks for dorado, marlin, and the highly sought-after species of albacore, yellow fin, and blue fin tuna, great fishing is always just a short boat ride away. Even during the slow season of fall and winter, there are plenty of fish to be caught or speared. A morning spent fishing off La Jolla in January can yield calico bass, halibut, various rockfish, and if you’re really lucky, a yellowtail weighing in between 35 and 50lbs. Still, as fall turns into winter, most fishermen tire of telling old fishing stories and eagerly await the arrival of warmer summer waters that promise throngs of sport fish venturing into our local fishing grounds.


Having a fishing boat has enabled us to spend plenty of time on the water over the last few years in search of bigger and varied species of pelagic life.  But as we often learned, they call it “fishing,” not “catching,” for a reason. There have been days we‘ve traveled 70 miles south and come back with nothing to show but a ridiculously high fuel bill, and others when we’ve traveled less than 15 miles and returned with enough filets to fill a freezer. But perhaps the most memorable day spent aboard the Charlie O (aptly named after our grandfather, world-class fisherman, Charles Oclassen), began late last spring on a sunny San Diego morning, and ended with the catch of a lifetime.  Since our picture ran in a few local papers, many have asked about that day, so I am writing about it here.


Every spring, throngs of thresher sharks –known for their exceptionally long tails used to strike and stun unsuspecting prey– cruise through La Jolla canyon to feed on schools of baitfish that accumulate there.  So when the opportunity for us to fish for these tasty sharks came about, we jumped at the chance to land a big one. Accompanied by close friends and experienced fishermen Bob and Matt Palatella, we reached a spot about six miles off the coast of downtown La Jolla and began slow trolling mackerel, one of the threshers’ favorite snacks, and deep diving lures called rapalas. As the anticipation began to build, we all knew enough not to be surprised if the other 15 boats fishing within eyeshot succeeded first; we were new at this and the odds of us doing something to miss a bite or lose a hooked fish were up there. But again, fishing is often more about luck than skill—a lesson that was certainly reinforced that day.


After an hour of staring at the water waiting to hear that sound of line screaming off the reel, the port rig went off. “Hooked up!” my brother, Charlie, yelled as he grabbed the rod and reel and began fighting what we could only hope was a decent sized fish. Forty minutes later, with muscles burning, sweatshirt and shirt discarded, and three quarters of the line gone, he passed the rod and we all began taking turns at fighting the shark, as Dad (Greg) stayed at the helm to keep the fish in position behind the boat. Over the radio came calls from other boats, “Yea it looks like those guys in that Boston Whaler have a big one on.” 

Two hours passed before we had our first glimpse of the shark and seeing what emerged from the depths stunned us all. Not taking anything for granted, though, we saved the high-fives and any celebration until after we had successfully gaffed and wrestled that fish up onto the deck. We had done it! The excitement and relief that came from the unbelievable sight of a massive shark lying next to our feet, was closely matched by appreciation that we were able to experience the catch of a lifetime so close to home. 

After a 35-minute ride into Mission Bay, we reached the scales where our thresher weighed in at an impressive 371 lbs.  Our first and only thresher of the season yielded over 220 pounds of filets, which quickly found homes in multiple freezers of family and friends.


While these fish do show up in steady numbers, there is concern of over-fishing putting unsustainable pressure on thresher populations, and, because the thresher is usually hooked in the tail when it strikes its prey and dies as it is dragged in, it is not a creature one can easily catch and release. Most fishermen recognize the need for responsible stewardship of ocean life and limit themselves to one catch per season and are careful not to take identifiable breeders.            

For those who call San Diego home and have yet to experience the fun and enjoyment of local fishing, you are missing out. If your excuse is seasickness or an irrational fear of handling ‘slimy’ or ‘yucky’ fish, a couple of Bonine or a Scopolamine patch and an honest day on the water should do the trick and enable you to experience one of San Diego’s most enjoyable outdoor activities.  If you’re still not convinced, that’s okay—more fish for the rest of us!

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