Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Freelance Sportfishing At Davey’s Locker

Pulling up to Davey’s Locker, in Newport Beach, at 5:15AM, I was pretty excited…tired but excited. Excited, that I made the hour and ten minute drive, on 3 hours’ sleep, in the pouring rain and gusty winds alive. This was my first trip of the season, so I was not going to turn back just because I was tired and the weather was bad.

After everyone checked in and boarded the boat, we began making our way out of the harbor at a little bit after 6AM. This was soon after Capitan Norris Tapp made the call that the current weather was not going to stop the trip. The majority of the 20 other anglers aboard started mulling about, some getting their gear ready, some honing in on the coffee pot and finding a comfortable seat in the spacious galley (as I did.)

I have to say that the first hour or so was pretty rough. The sturdy, steel, boat was seemingly being toyed with by the sea, but Capitan Norris remained on course. After about an hour or so the weather “laid down,” the sun came out and everyone on deck had a great view of our destination for the day, Catalina. It took us about 3 hours to get there, but once we did, the weather was great and fishing seemed hopeful.

Our goal for the day was to fish for Calico Bass. After speaking with a few of the squid boats in the area, Capitan Norris told us that there had been talk of some nice White Sea Bass in the area and that we were going to see if we could land a few. The Capitan and his crew, Chuck and Chad (who have been working the Freelance off and on since 1985) instructed and assisted everyone with getting their gear set up to catch White Sea Bass. I was using 15 Lb test line with a 1 1/5 ounce sliding sinker and a # 2 hook. It was a basic set up. Chuck and Chad began scooping live squid into the bait wells and cutting strips of some dead squid.

At the first sign of the engine slowing, everyone aboard scampered about to grab their rods and find “Their” spot on the rail. Capitan Norris then stopped the boat and announced that he had a nice amount of White Sea Bass on the sonar. Chad dropped the anchor and once the boat was in place we all “let ‘em go.” It was about 9:30AM and everyone had their lines in the water. Some people were fishing with whole, live squid, some with strips, and others with jigs and plastic lures.

The anglers aboard seemed to be the usual mix of guys. There were a few guys visiting from out of state, a few boat regulars, Ronnie (of TV’s Fishing Expeditions - the local celebrity,) a father and son team and a family of four (2 sons, father and uncle.) Oh, I can’t forget to mention the Capitan’s trusty dog, “Snoozer” who made his rounds making sure that everyone was happy and then made his way back to a comfortable spot for a nap.

There were a few early catches, most of them too small to keep. We all continued throwing our lines out, changing up the bait and trying different tactics. The Capitan came back on the PA and announced that he was going to readjust and try another close by area. We all reeled in our line as we headed about ten minutes east along the south side of the island. Once again, the boat came to a halt and Norris and his crew quickly positioned the boat and told us to “go get ‘em.” It was not long before I started feeling some good bites at my bait. All of the sudden I felt “The Bite” and the tip of my pole bent. After ensuring that I had set the hook, I kept the tip of my pole as high as I could. Chuck rushed over to me and confirmed that I had a good “Fish On!” Chuck and Chad did a great job in clearing the way for me as I struggled my way, back and forth, around the back of the boat. At first it was just a tug of war. The fish would run and then I would reel in. Then, out of no where, I felt my line give. I knew that I had lost a nice sized fish. I was quite bummed as I began to reel in my line. Then my line started racing out again. I guess that the fish had just shot up toward the surface, which made it seem like I had lost it. After about ten minutes we could see glimpses of the fish. Chuck yelled up to the Capitan, “Color! White Sea Bass!” Quickly, Chad and Chuck were glued to each side of me, each with a gaff in their hands. As soon as the fish hit the surface Chad extended his gaff with precision and hauled my 20 pound White Sea Bass onto the boat. This catch seemed to revitalize the rest of the anglers. We all knew that they were out there and everyone wanted a taste of the action.

I have to say that Capitan Norris Tapp was far from a lazy Capitan. He did not waste any time in deciding when to reposition the boat or move to a new location. The “Tapp Attack!” He genuinely seemed to know the waters, know the fish and take pride in doing everything he could to ensure that everyone on board had a chance to land fish. Norris, fishing since the age of 3 (with his father) has been fishing out of Davey’s Locker since 1982 and has been a main, full-time, Capitan of the Freelance for 17 years now.

Before long I heard it again, “Fish On!” This time it was 14 year old Alex, from Los Angeles, who was there on the boat with his older brother, his father and his uncle. From the look of his rod tip, it looked as though it was another big White Sea Bass. Holding his own, this young angler fought his way around the boat with grand plans on landing this beast. Again, with gaffs in hand, the deck hands, Chuck and Chad skillfully plucked the second big fish from the water and laid it out on the deck for Alex to admire. Alex, who fishes with his family once or twice a moth, claims that this is his biggest fish ever.

By about 2:30PM the catch totals were somewhere in the area of; two 20+ pound White Sea Bass, and a few Calico Bass, Perch and Sheepshead and one small Halibut. The bite laid off and Capitan Norris announced that he was going to the front side of the island, near Avalon, to look for the Calicos. Everyone found a seat, reorganized their gear and set-ups, had a burger and a drink and relaxed a bit before we got to the next spot.

Once we were positioned near Avalon, there was not much action. Capitan Norris skillfully moved the boat from one place to another, looking for the right spot. After a few short fish were reeled in and the sonar looked bleak, we all realized that the Calico’s were just not biting that day. It was around 4PM and we were told that we’d hang in there for another 30 minutes or so to see if anything bit, but then we would head for home.

We motored away from Catalina at 4:40PM. It was time for the jackpot. We all knew that it was going to be close. Alex and I were the two in the running. Chad gathered our fish and put them in the scale……..WOW, was it close. When all was said and done, Alex beat me by about 2 ounces. Chuck and Chad asked Alex and I if we wanted our fish filleted. I told them that I did. Out came their knives! It was almost like being at Benihana’s with them flipping the fish around. A cut here and a slice there and the 20 pound fish was quickly reduced to some nice, grill-ready, fillets. After filleting my catch, Chad cut out the “stones” from the head of the two White Sea Bass and offered them to me and Alex. He told us that they were actually treasured trophies found only in White Sea Bass. He continued to tell us that some people made jewelry from them, some kept and souvenirs and some as good luck charms.

Upon my researching, these “stones” were actually the ear bones of the White Sea Bass. They are called otoliths and have long been considered good luck charms and were used as wampum by early California Indians. Otoliths have been found in Indian middens throughout California and even to this day many fishermen save these large calcareous ear bones for ornamentation and good luck charms.

The ride home was about 3 hours, but it was a smooth, uneventful, (restful for me) trip into the harbor.

If you are in the Newport area or looking for a great open party boat to go out on, I recommend the Freelance. Both the Capitan and the crew are a top notch bunch and I hope to be able to go out with them again soon
“We really like kids (due to their enthusiasm and desire to learn about fishing) and ladies who come out after determining that sportfishing is fun, wholesome and for everybody,” says Capitan Norris Tapp. “The other Captains on the Freelance and I are concerned about catching whatever type of fish is's all about the passengers catching and learning how to catch fish. “

The Freelance is a 80x24 foot steel sport-fisher which was custom built in Wilmington in 1985 for owner Don Brockman, who was the original Capitan for it’s first 10 years serving anglers of Southern California. The Freelance operates out of Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach CA and offers ¾ day coastal and Catalina trips. There are also 4 other boats that operate out of Davey’s Locker; Western Pride, Tide Change, Caliber and Bongo’s offering anglers everything from ½ day trips to overnights and 6-Pack charters. I can’t wait to get out on those boats – if they operate anything like the Freelance.

For further information and reservations, visit their website at or call them at (949) 673-1434.


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