Knothole-fishing on the pier 

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Tustins only policeman, Big John Stanton, was an avid fisherman. He used his police car parked at the northeast corner of Main and D (El Camino Real) to proudly show off this prize catch, a marlin bluefish.

My father and mother loved to fish. Consequently, I spent a lot of my childhood on the Newport pier. Newport offered four types of fishing, five if you counted drop lines, which kids suspended through knotholes in the pier deck. In addition to fishing from the pier, a fisherman could try his luck in the surf, leave the harbor on a deep sea fishing boat or board a water taxi headed for the fishing barge off shore.

Because Mother and I liked to tag along, my dad usually opted for the pier. On days when Dad had no orchard work, hed check the tide book, load the poles and tackle box into the car and wed take off down Newport Boulevard, through Costa Mesa, to the bluffs above Newport Harbor where we always vied to see who could spot the ocean first. Across the bridge, in the small town of Newport, it became a challenge to find a parking place. With luck wed find a spot near the pier.

Carrying our poles and tackle box, wed stop at the bait shop to buy a dimes worth of salted anchovies or mussels. This was for me (my folks used live bait from the tank on the end of the pier) so I got to carry the smelly package as we trudged the length of the pier to the spot where halibut were frequently caught. Halibut, barracuda and even some yellow fin were often hooked, as well as the easy-to-catch perch and mackerel. Once in a while a shark or scorpion would be pulled in.

Until I was old enough for a pole, Id find a knothole near my parents and drop my baited line through it into the water. Id squat there for hours, waiting for the bite that rarely came. Somehow I never figured out that any fish I caught would have to be very skinny to pass through the knothole.

When I advanced to a pole and reel, I spent hours learning to cast my line out into the water. I finally mastered the technique and actually caught a few fish.

The pier in those days was basically the same as the wharf built by the McFadden brothers in 1888. It had no railing. Rough, backless benches running along the sides near the edge provided the only safety barrier. Fishermen cast out their lines, then settled down, waiting for the bobble signaling a fish nibbling on the bait. Poles were often wedged under the seat while the owners dozed or chatted with friends about the big one that got away.

Kids were every where. Sightseers and swimmers sauntered up and down, crowding around anyone attempting to land a fish. Fishermen could count on these spectators to admire any catch, large or small.

The level of excitement rose in the late afternoon when the boats bringing people from the barge began to unload at the landing below the pier. Fishermen and spectators alike lined up to ooh and aah over the number and size of the fish brought ashore.

We usually took home a fish or two for supper, but we sometimes ate scrambled eggs.

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