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
Because Mother and I liked to tag along, my
dad usually opted for the pier. On days when Dad had no orchard work, he’d
check the tide book, load the poles and tackle box into the car and we’d
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 we’d find a spot near the pier.
Carrying our poles and tackle box, we’d stop
at the bait shop to buy a dime’s 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, I’d find a
knothole near my parents and drop my baited line through it into the water.
I‘d 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
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.