Thinking back...

Ken Jones

Staff member
From the autobiography I am writing for my children/grandchildren —

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Fishing — By ‘75, things seemed to be running smoothly at work and I felt for the first time in a long time that I actually had some time for myself. One thing I had missed was fishing. With the moves, changes in job, young children, and long hours, I had only gone fishing eight times between 1970 and 1974; two years, ’72 and ’73, had seen no trips.

It was a little strange given that we lived in Pinole and its location on San Pablo Bay, which connects to San Francisco Bay. The local area offered up several nearby fishing spots (from Vallejo to Rodeo to Richmond to Oakland) that I would soon begin to visit.

The year would see my return to fishing. As always, trips to piers led the numbers. I began to make regular trips to local Bay Area piers, but the year would also see trips to piers in southern California, central California, and two far more distant spots in Washington and British Columbia.

Surprisingly, I would also make several trips out on Sportfishing boats (even though every trip risked mal de mer—seasickness, and most trips saw me get seasick). The year would see me venture out on boats from San Diego, Sausalito, British Columbia and my favorite departure spot, Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz might seem strange given its 90 mile distance from our home in Pinole, especially since I could have chosen the boats at Berkeley Marina or Emeryville Marina, both a mere 15 minute drive from our home in Pinole (at least in the very early morning hours).

However, I had discovered that the trips out of Santa Cruz were better for me. The boats out of Berkeley and Emeryville needed to make a long, roughly 12 mile trip across San Francisco Bay before finally heading out under the Golden Gate for an additional 30 mile ride to the Farallon Islands. The long ride meant that their boats left at 5 a.m. and typically returned around 3-4 p.m., right in the middle of work traffic. Plus, the waters at the islands are rough with a different drift, one that almost always resulted in me getting seasick.

The boats in Santa Cruz left at 7 a.m. We were usually fishing by 7:30-7:45 and were normally back around noon. Given the 90-minute drive early in the morning and 90-120 minute drive back in the afternoon, it meant I could leave later and still be home sooner, usually before 3 p.m. Plus, the Stagnaro trips cost less money than those out of the Bay Area ports. Even the additional gas was not a problem since I was using the company car and gas. More important, the waters out of Santa Cruz were different and I rarely if ever got seasick on their boats. The final selling point, and it’s a pretty important one for fishermen, is that I caught fish. I averaged just over 21 fish per trip and the deep-water reefs would sometimes produce a sablefish or two, one of my favorite fish.

My first trip out of Santa Cruz was on June 6, 1975, my birthday, and I caught 24 fish including some BIG rockfish and a sablefish. Three more trips that year on the Stagnaro boats, each with good loads of fish every trip, and it was easy to see why the landing’s two boats, Stagnaro#1 and Stagnaro #2, would become my favorites until we moved from the Bay Area.

Three additional habits were formed during those trips. The first was watching the fish being filleted when we returned to the wharf. A hoist would haul the heavy gunnysacks that were filled with fish up to the wharf. Once on the wharf, Stagnaro men would ask who wants their fish filleted? Those who did would see their fish dumped onto a large fillet table and the work would begin. The workers with their razor-sharp fillet knives were fast and efficient. The anglers wanted to head home and the quicker the workers filleted the fish, and the better job they did getting the most meat on their fillets, the bigger would be the tip from the anglers. The remains of the fish would be dumped over the side of the wharf, which always created a noisy mélange, a medley of barking sea lions and squawking seagulls. It was always a question of who would get to the carcass first. Added to the group of anglers awaiting their fish would be an additional group, onlookers checking out the action, and they would marvel at the fish and bags of fillets. The fish cleaning was undoubtedly one of the best advertisements to attract people to the Sportfishing boats. For me, it was one of the classrooms of the sea. It’s where I learned how to fillet fish and I am pretty decent today with a fillet knife. People over the years have wondered where I learned my skills at filleting fish and the answer is simple—Stagnaro’s.

A second habit was having a bite to eat at “Gilda’s Restaurant” that was located across the wharf from the Sportfishing landing. It was run by a sister of the boat skippers, Gilda Stagnaro, a lady who over the years gained the title “Queen of the Wharf.” Her restaurant, more of a coffee shop, was a great place for an early morning breakfast before a boat trip (if you didn’t fear seasickness) and a great place for an “after fishing” lunch. You would almost always be greeted by Gilda herself, which was to be expected since she only took one day a year off—Christmas. I had many a lunch there. Apparently she had worked in almost all of the family’s businesses on the wharf and had even been a fish filleter herself at one time. But, she was prone to seasickness so she left the skippering of the boats to other family members. Gilda died in 2008 and to me the restaurant hasn’t been the same since.

A third discovery during my visits was the slightly more upscale “Stagnaro Bros. Seafood” restaurant (and fish market) that sits near the end of the wharf. It became a favorite and remains the same to today. Their menu is fairly traditional in style but good seafood at a reasonable price and one of their specialties is cioppino, which just happens to be a personal favorite. The spicy, tomato-based stew, first developed by the Italian fishermen who had come to San Francisco from Genoa in the late 1800s, is filled with a variety of seafood’s—fish, crab, shrimp, scallops, and mussels, and unlike some restaurants, they don’t skimp on these ingredients. And though a little too pricy at many restaurants it’s more affordable here. Even better, on Tuesday nights it’s their special so offered at an even lower price. Some crusty sour dough bread, a bowl of cioppino, and your favorite drink is all you need for a satisfying meal. At least half of my trips to Santa Cruz over the past 45+ years have included at least one meal at Stagnaro Bros and it all started with those trips on their boats in ’75. But I digress.

Jaws — June would also see the release of one of my favorite movies—Jaws. It was a classic in many ways and engendered much discussion about sharks. In response, several Sportfishing boats began to run special “shark” trips to various areas and given the population of great whites at the Farallon Islands, it was one of the hot spots (and at the time it was still legal to catch a great white).

I decided to join in the fun and in September booked a spot on a boat out of Sausalito, the Rayann II. When I made my reservation it was suggested that each person try to bring a bucket of blood with them to help attract the sharks. Where would I get a bucket of blood? I talked to Del Garcia, the manager of our warehouse and it turned out he had sources so shortly before the trip I had a five-gallon bucket of blood—from somewhere.

We took off on a windy morning in Sausalito, heading under the Golden Gate, bumped our way over the Potato Patch, and set our sights for the islands, a nearly three hour trip away. Upon arrival the deckhand began to ladle out the blood chum and the anglers began to wait.

As was common whenever I visited the islands, I soon got seasick. That day though was rougher than usual. I don’t know whether it was due to the boat or simply the conditions, but I got even more sick than usual. All I could do was go inside and try to sleep. A Raider game was on the radio but I really didn’t care, I just wanted to sleep. I would wake up a couple of times, and did witness the capture of our one lone shark, a beautiful blue shark, but probably didn’t have my line in the water more than a total of 30 minutes. When we arrived back at the dock at 4 p.m., I still felt sick and took my time gaining my “land legs” before heading home.

I guess when I got home I still looked a little green and Pat asked why I continued to make the trips out to the Farallons given that I almost always got sick? It was a fair question but at least I usually brought home a BIG sack of fish. That day I brought nothing home but a worn out, sad sack of a body.

But, it could have been worse—Quint in Jaws: “Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all the pounding’ and the hollering’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces.”— Jaws

Red Fish

Senior Member
-Ken... you ended that passage on JAWS. Of course, those in the know realize that Quint was the embodiment of Frank Mundus, legendary shark fisherman from Montauk.
-A real JAWS story from the Bay Area. When I was just out of high school, or maybe a senior, my parents had our '76 Datsun station-wagon redone by the Narasaki Bros. of Richmond. Now, they did the worst job ever of rebuilding that engine. But that's not the story. I was at the shop on San Pablo and McBryde to pick up the old yellow lemon one day and up on the wall of the converted gasoline station was a picture of about 4 great white sharks (circa 1981) lying on the pavement beside one another. The smallest 1 was 10' and the greatest, about 16'. I looked at this picture at, at about 17 years of age, and exclaimed, "Did you catch all of those?!" One of the brothers replied, "Yep, outside the Gate and there was 1 as long as the boat that got away." Their boat was a 26' Sea Ray (which I believe they still have at their shop now in Industrial Richmond off South Harbor).
Great stuff, Ken! I used to stave off seasickness by making sure I had a box of raisins with me. Also, no booze or smoking of any kind since they affect blood sugar and contribute to general wooziness. I was always told to look at the horizon, but this advice is easier said than obeyed when one is watching his lines.

Also, I like Monterey Bay fishing in a boat because it is considerably less choppy and you have deep canyons close by. So less nausea and more quality fish. Santa Cruz and Capitola are great!
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Ken Jones

Staff member
The one thing that I have found that has, so far, always prevented sea sickness are the ear patches. Unfortunately, you have to get them with a prescription from a doctor so they require a little planning and are a little more expensive. But, I do not mind spending a few dollars to avoid sea sickness.