Games and Things - Issue #5


Snookie and the Balboa Pier Gang
Recently we were lucky enough to get a reporter for the Balboa Pier -- Snookie.

To: Ken Jones
From: Snookie
Subject: Balboa Pier

I fish Balboa two times a week, every week of the year. I have done so for 55 years. Yes, I'm a fishing addict. I can try to give you the info you need for this pier... I look forward to reporting about Balboa Pier...I was raised on Newport Pier as well as Balboa. My mother taught me how to fish, and we loved the piers. There were many more people in those days. We used Balboa Pier in the winter months because the bigger halibut seemed to congregate there. Of course in those days in the winter months we had to get our own live bait. That was in the forties and the fifties. Most of the Newport Pier fishermen finally moved to the Balboa Pier. Most of my group are from Newport Pier originally. Balboa Pier gave us bigger and better fish plus the bait concession was later run by the Phoenix and Heiner families from Newport Pier. All in all it has been a nicer crowd. That was worth something...

One of the things I find most interesting about Snookie is the gang of regulars, "pier rats," that meet out at the pier every week, and have been doing so for many, many years. Many times in my book I talk about the bonds of brotherhood, and sisterhood, which are seen at the piers and this is a perfect example. Below are some pictures of her group and an interesting story which ran in the Orange County Register in 1997.

"Reeling in the years"

You should have been at the pier the day Warren hooked a near-keeper halibut.

Oh, Warren has hooked plenty of keepers in his time, but he'll tell you fishing isn't about what you take, it's about what keeps you coming back.

Anyway: This one halibut a couple of weeks ago--turned out to be 20 inches, two short of legal limit--had Warren moving.

Bad hip and all, dang thing, he raced that halibut, staying just ahead of the hooked fish's efforts to reach the pylons and wrap itself to freedom.

Thirty feet below Warren's bowed fishing rod, the young feisty halibut with the white belly challenged the 81-year-old fisherman, tanned like leather from so many long days in a sun that precocious halibut wouldn't survive a minute.

Noble had a line dropped several feet up the pier (toward Ruby's) and had to hustle to raise his rig to let Warren and the halibut scamper underneath. Snooky abandoned her reel and went for the drop met.

She lowered the net in sync with Warren raising the halibut. Reeling, lowering, reeling, lowering until the flopping captive popped from the water and into the wide, circular net fixed to a thick rope, Snooky's good with the net. Snooky's good with everything out here.

Out came the measure, up-short came the halibut, over the edge went the 20-incher and back for more bait went Warren, his old, small face lit as if a boy again.

Milton was there that day. Cass might have been. Bob wasn't though, he's off fishing his way toward Washington or something.

And Sunny. Well, she's not out much this summer. Came out a lot last year and fished from her wheelchair, but even the Queen of the Halibuts has to give it up at some point, and this may be the summer -- her 82nd -- marked as Sunny's retirement.

If it is Tuesday or Thursday, and if the Balboa Pier is standing, this bunch will be on it. Usually gathered near the second "T" with carts and coolers and buckets and memories that go way back, to the days, even, before sardines got fished out; back to when barges were anchored three miles out and a water taxi would take you to them for two bits and you could catch barracuda so big they called them logs. Oh, yeah.

This summer there are about five or six regulars: Snooky, Noble, Warren, Milton, Cass. They all have last names. But not out here. Snooky's thick photo book shows the whole gang that has grown over the years to about 20, sometimes -- if the scene of past Christmas parties is accurate. And, being that it's Snooky's book, you can bet it is.

She's got another book, without photos but with as many memories. It's the record book she keeps -- the one that cost $12.95 but is worth it because it has tide information for each day of the year.

Even shows what time of day is best for fishing, although as Warren says: "I've never seen a halibut wearing a wristwatch."

Every summer, Snooky records each halibut caught by her pier peers, and at the end of the season, the person who has caught the most keepers gets...nothing.

Midway into the summer Warren and Snooky have four apiece; Cass, two; Noble, three. Milton, mostly comes to visit.

Snooky, Sunny's daughter is the baby of the bunch. She's 60. Warren, you know, is 81. Milton is 80. Noble is 71.

Most are retired: from real estate, insurance, nursery management.

They get here about 10 a.m., break for their lunch precisely (well, as precisely as retired fishermen) at noon, stay sometimes till late afternoon.

This is not a hobby for any of them. Hobby? No. Something else. Something more life-giving. Or so it seems.

"The camaraderie," Snooky says she comes for. Which is something, considering how much she likes fishing and how good she is at it. Can't remember a time when she didn't fish. Goes to Vegas for international fishing conventions. Said Milton: "I come down to see the gang as much as anything." Among the gang there are about 300 years of fishing experience, gathered on piers from Belmont Shore to here at Balboa, where they are a well-known sight. After all these years, a pool of anchovies can still excite them. Like last week, when the waters near the pier were darkened with thousands of the smelly bait fish.

Milton and Noble and Warren and Snooky left their main rigs propped on the pier railing and gathered their bait-catching lines, aiming leaded monofilament laced with tiny hooks into the school and yanking up cigar-shaped silver that shot sharp reflections at the midday sun.

See, game fish like anchovies best, it seems. Better than smelt, anyway. Maybe, Snooky figures, because anchovies have a softer scale.

So, when the anchovies come through, the excitement of getting bait is nearly as good as the thrill of a keeper catch. Nearly.

You need a lot of bait out here. Not that it's anything like it was 50 years ago, mind you, but a person who knows what he's doing can keep busy, This pier fishing is not as passive as you might think. There's bait to be caught, leaders to be strung, territory to be guarded against the occasional fisherman who wanders out here not knowing that the second "T" is the crowd's unofficial squat.

"If you want nuts," Warren says, "come to the pier." The deranged come here, the drugged, the street preachers claiming to be fishers of men. The ill and ill-intentioned and the ill-conceit of the well-intentioned mix with those who fish for fun and those who fish for food and those who fish because it's what they've always done. They watch after one another in this group.

A few years ago, Snooky says, it got so that if you didn't keep an eye on your equipment, it would disappear. So now, they all look out for one another and take lunch at the same time so they can watch their gear while they eat.

Things change.

Things don't.

Warren's been fishing these waters 72 years and says the thrill at 81 is the same as when he was 9. The same it'll be at 90. He's seen a lot out here. Still, he dreams.

"It's always been a dream of mine to go to the Florida Keys and fish for those big tuna," he says. "Man, to get ahold of one of those big things, boy, oh boy..."

Man, Boy oh boy.

Warren says he wants to die fishing. Almost did. In 1993, he'd just landed a 27-inch halibut, and Snooky was taking a picture when Warren collapsed.

Noble and Snooky took him to the hospital. Heart attack. He was back in two weeks, more convinced of how he wants to go out. "I want to die with a 100-pound fish at the end of the line," Warren says. "For a fisherman, that's the way to go out... "But I'd be happy to get a 10-pound bonito out here."

Fishing, fishing, fishing.
Tuesday, Thursday. Tuesday, Thursday. Toss, reel, bait, clean, eat.

John Hughes
The Orange County Register, August 2, 1997

Interesting Fish!
Snookie also figures into the next story with her capture of a bonefish.

Date: February 21, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: Snookie
Subject: Bonefish at Balboa Pier

Dear Ken,

Here's one for the books. Thursday, February 18, I caught a bonefish at the Balboa Pier. I was fishing the surf area with bloodworms when I caught him. He is definitely a bonefish (Albula vulpes). My pictures have yet to be processed. I have the fish in my freezer. None of my fishing friends ever remember a bonefish being caught locally. They are listed in my books. According to the books they only grow to one and a half feet here.

I will send you my full report on fishing at Balboa Pier next week, but I thought you would like to read this right away.


Hi Snookie,

What a fantastic catch -- one for the books. How long was the fish? Be sure to send me a picture if they turn out good; people deserve to see the fish.

By the way, I've never seen a bonefish at a pier although I've heard of a few being caught in San Diego Bay (at the Embarcadero Marina Pier).

Best wishes, Ken