The Family— Snaggin' the Snagger

Ken Jones

Staff member
Snaggin’ the Snagger

Alberto would show up most evenings around six o’clock and typically only work for a couple of hours. His work was snagging corbina and other fish in the shallowest waters of the pier. Armed with a heavy rod, a leader containing a trio of large treble hooks, and white (or red) cloth as markers, he would wait and watch for the telltale signs of fish in the surf. The goal was the large corbina and occasional sea trout (small, illegal white seabass) that brought top dollar at the small restaurants that he illegally supplied with fish. Valuable too were the halibut but of course they were harder to snag. Other species, a list including everything from perch to barracuda, were less valuable but still provided money in this his second job.

Alberto neither understood that what he was doing was poaching nor cared that others objected to his style of fishing. His job, as he saw it, was to bring home some money to feed his wife Guadalupe and his little ones—Michaela and Humberto. Paternal responsibility thus drove his actions and if it took working ten hours a day as a laborer, and another two hours as a fisherman, so be it.

Alberto was not the first of the snaggers to use the pier as home base, in fact there was a tradition going back several decades. However, the regulars at the pier, including the Family, had breathed a sigh of relief when a previous snagger—Joseph, had been arrested and removed from the pier environment on a variety of drug charges.

Joseph had used “snag” rigging that was almost identical to Alberto’s but had used it in a cavalier, careless manner, and he had nearly hooked several people in his pursuit of fish. Like Alberto, Joseph was stubbornly resistant to those who asked him to stop. However, the way they responded to criticism reflected the difference in their temperament and personality. Alberto would smile and feign a simple lack of understanding—“No Hablo English”—just to avoid the hassle. Joseph on the other hand simply laughed in the face of those who approached him. Alberto was at heart a gentle, caring soul, even if his practice seemed to argue against that assessment. Joseph was different; he had a choleric personality that combined with a billingsgate vocabulary to produce constant disputes and occasional fights. He also seemed to take an almost wicked glee in his snagging, a practice that infuriated the sportsmen on the pier. Sometimes it seemed that he was simply hanging over the rails and snagging the fish for his own cruel amusement. Some people just like to kill.

Such snagging was technically legal unless a sportfish was snagged but most of the regulars considered it unethical and a form of poaching. There was no debate that it was illegal to sell the fish without a license but several calls to the Fish and Game had failed to stir even a tepid response. Jasper had approached Alberto himself and, conversing in Spanish, had asked him to stop the snagging. Alberto refused, citing his family’s needs. Although Jasper disagreed, and knew that the poaching would have to be stopped, he understood Alberto’s obdurate position.

The next day the snagging was the main topic of the Family’s lunch hour break. Jasper explained the situation as a conundrum of sorts and while the family still objected to the actions, they pondered a way to stop the snagging while recognizing the needs of Alberto’s family. Jasper knew he didn’t stand a Buckley’s chance of stopping the snagging unless a creative solution was proposed that answered the needs of both Alberto and the Family.

Economics seemed to be a possible answer so George and Jasper visited Alberto at the foot of the pier. Would he be willing to stop his snagging if they could find him another job, a part time job paying him as much money as the snagging? Alberto in his own way was an honorable man, he wanted to provide for his family and he did not want to accept charity. As well, he enjoyed his time outdoors at the pier. What exactly did they have in mind?

Jasper knew that Alberto generally caught fewer than a dozen fish during the hours he was at the pier but also knew that his nightly take might translate into fifty or more dollars in the underground market that existed for such illegal fish. Thus it would take a good paying part time job to equal the money that Alberto would be forced to give up.

Luckily Jasper knew just about every business owner along the beach and would have little trouble helping him find a job. He also knew that Alberto probably did not have his papers and that a simple phone call to the appropriate authorities could probably also solve the problem. But though Jasper’s mind had been troubled by the dilemma, he retained a strong sense of equanimity and was cognizant that Alberto’s actions were motivated by need—the need to provide for his family. Jasper respected that need and he reasoned that a man who worked so hard to provide for his family was good at heart, a strength that warranted Jasper’s help.

Jasper thought long and hard as to the best solution and discussed it with the other members of the Family. Finally the entire group agreed upon a novel approach. Several of the businessmen who had businesses near or on the pier were also anglers. They knew the importance of the pier to their businesses, as well as the importance of fish to their customers and themselves. Jasper began a campaign to form an association of the owners who were also fishermen. Their mission was to help maintain the pier, and its fishery, and to do so in a manner that supplemented the work of the local authorities (who always seemed to lack adequate funding to do a proper job).

Each business would contribute an amount of money based upon their volume of business and Jasper would oversee the money. With the funds, Jasper would hire a group of the pier’s regulars, including Alberto, to clean and oversee the pier. One duty was to convince people to stop poaching and snagging. The people he chose might have seemed a strange lot for it included some who were considered derelicts on the pier but each gave Jasper their word that they would do as he instructed.

Although Jasper was retired, and didn’t need the job, or the headaches that he envisioned, he knew such help was needed. Within a month he had secured the backing of his friends as well as the local authorities and soon after he had chosen a crew of four part-time people to oversee the pier.

Each of the four had to agree to forgo alcohol or drugs while on the job, and each had to promise to quit whatever illegal angling they might be doing themselves. They also had to agree to work as teachers to help others learn how to fish correctly.

Jasper would teach each person—three men and a woman—the correct manner in which to clean the pier. More important, he would teach them conservationist ways to think and fish. Lastly, he and the Family would teach them how to be teachers themselves

In many ways the hardest to convince was Alberto, the person who had been the focus of the original discussion. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the job proposal, or Jasper himself, it was just a simple mistrust, or perhaps more accurately caution, combined with a feeling of inadequacy. How could he be a teacher with his personal lack of education and his limited English skills?

What it took was a slow walk one Saturday around the pier, a day when the pier was crowded with families, especially the Latino families that now were the majority group at the pier. At the end of their walk Jasper asked a few simple questions: “Alberto, can you speak Spanish?” Albert laughed, “of course.” “Alberto, are you a skilled fisherman?” “Yes, I think so.” “Alberto, do you think you need to have book learning or high education to be a leader?” “No.” “Alberto, wouldn’t you like to help out the pier and the fish while making some money?” “Yes.” “Then Alberto, give it a chance and see if you can do it!”

It was enough said and Alberto started the job the next day—under the tutelage of Jasper. Alberto learned quickly and within a short period of time he became one of the leaders on the pier, a devout conservationist himself, and a frequent visitor to the Family gatherings. Guadalupe and the little ones—Michaela and Humberto—also began to visit the pier and became part of the family fabric that was so important to the pier.

Once again the Family’s intuitions about people had proven to be correct in its assessment. The only question that remained was why they had not tried the “carrot” approach earlier rather than always threatening the “stick”—especially when the fool-hardy Fish and Game Commission refused to outlaw the practice of snagging.

Sometimes the best solution to a problem, in fact sometimes the only solution, is that offered up by individuals and groups outside of government. There are some problems that government, and the bureaucracy that accompanies it, simply cannot address in a timely or reasonable manner. Such was the “snagging” issue. And though the Family recognized the fact that more snaggers might come along and endanger the pier and its fish, they also realized they had made a start and that without such a start there would never be a solution.

Maybe they were just buying time until the regulations could be changed but for the time being Alberto and his fellow workers would improve the conditions at the pier and the Family would know that once again they had played a part in improving the pier and its environment.


Well-Known Member
Good writing can plant the seed of spirited debate and this might be an example.

I knew the regulations against snagging even as a kid. From where I fished, I regularly saw families snagging barracuda; many undersized. Though the authorities never came by to check it out, several pier regulars called them out with obscenities and racially charged slurs.

Even now, I'm struggling with how I view the matter. I have also been able to afford the cost of a license and related tackle. I imagine not every family head has the ability to afford to provide his or her young ones with the same. For many, I imagine the idea of fishing only for sport is as remote a reality as winning the lottery. I imagine many want to provide their families with the thrill a fried meal on a platter. Maybe I'm just romanticizing the crime.

That said, I think a more realistic approach is teaching the young ones by means of the kids fishing days like the ones I've seen here. The free prizes of terminal tackle and the instruction given could accomplish much.

In John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, there's a simple minded, homeless character known as The Seer. His crime of stealing Baby Ruths is overlooked by the local police until his thievery escalates. I'm hoping that Alberto in this chapter can avoid the same thing.