The Amateur Actors of Orange County

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Great Uncle Donny's problem with the State of California Fish and Game Department.

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Great Uncle Donny's Problem

Submitted: September 27, 2016

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Submitted: September 27, 2016

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Great Uncle Donny’s Problem

Back in the summer of 1993 and even sometime before then, Great Uncle Donny had a problem.  His small time fish and chips operation could not compete on a level playing field with the big boys, i.e. "H. Salt", "Long John Silvers", and the then, but now defunct, “Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips”, which at its peek encompassed over 800 retail fish and chip outlets worldwide.  Donny’s tiny one location operation, on the Huntington Beach shore, was a guppy in the eyes of those three gigantic whales.  An operation so small, it is very probable that those three worldwide chains did not even know of his restaurant’s existence.  Nevertheless, Donny was expected to buy the same fish, usually Alaskan Cod or some other type of available white fish, from the same distribution sources that supplied his competitors; but never at the discounted prices that they could command, as they bid for their lots in bulk.  All Donny could hope for were the over priced leavings that his competitors did not want.  How was poor little Great Uncle Donny ever to compete?  Well, there was one way, albeit an out of the box unorthodox way he could.

In the 1950s, before the arrival of those three massive battered fish conglomerates, things weren’t so tough for Donny.  He could easily go around the various foot falls placed before him by others; as filleted white fish meat from one species looks and tastes pretty much the same as from another, that is once it was deep fried in Donny’s specially prepared beer batter.  Nobody much cared what kind of fish they were eating with their chips, i.e. potato fries, just as long as it was mild, white in appearance and deep fried in that delicious beer batter made with Donny’s secret recipe. 

So, then thought Great Uncle Donny, why not buy my ingredients from the local surf fisherman on the cheap.  Fish like the nice fat, larger sized barred surf perch that was always plentiful, along with the occasional corbina and seasonal halibut; when they were running.  They all tasted pretty much like Alaskan Cod; once they get fried up.  But this convenient and cost effective practice was curtailed by the “tyrannical” (at least in Donny’s estimation) State of California Department of Fish and Game.  Who impositioned a strongly enforced new law, passed by the State Legislature and signed by the then Governor Pat Brown; sometime in the early 1960s, making it illegal for individuals, i.e. non-commercial licensed sport fisherman to sell their catch to local restaurants, or to anyone else for that matter.  Even to harmless, small time operators like Great Uncle Donny’s.  In fact, they couldn’t sell to anyone period.  Which was quite a blow to Donny’s bottom line, when he could no longer supplement his expensive, commercially bought fish, i.e. the Alaskan Cod, with the inexpensive locally caught surf fish he bought form amateur anglers; most of whom were just looking for a few extra bucks to supplement their other sources of income. 

So what was Great Uncle Donny’s solution to this unfair dilemma, imposed upon him by that great evil and tyrannical regime, i.e. the State of California Fish and Game Department?  Ignore the law entirely, or at least skirt it a bit and do so quietly.  He couldn’t openly defy it.  That would be stupid.  From that point on, when the law was put into force, he would continue to buy his surf perch, Halibut and Corbina on the sly.  Very carefully on the sly and only by people he knew he could trust, i.e. local neighborhood children who loved to fish and appreciated the time Donny took in training them how to become successful surf fishermen in their own right; or fisherboys as it were, and as in the case of his great niece Abby, a fishergirl of fifteen years of age.  And like Fagan of Oliver Twist fame, he would have to indoctrinate his little confederates carefully, so they would not give him up to the game wardens, who loved patrolling the piers and beaches of Huntington Beach wearing civilian shirts over their uniforms, so as to calmly sneak up on any unwary suspects.  They weren’t allowed to patrol on foot out of uniform, but no one said they couldn’t cover up those uniforms, above the waist to catch a would-be poacher here and there and cite him.  And so Donny knowing this, as well as many of their other tactics, carefully taught his young accomplices how to avoid such pitfalls. 

Why only children?  Well, besides they being malleable and easier to train, manipulate and more naïve than their adult counterparts, they could also legally fish off the beach, without possessing a salt water fishing license; just as long as they were under the age of 16.  Anybody, adult or child, could fish off the pier unlicensed.  But just fishing off the pier drastically limits an angler’s ability to hunt down his prey; for that is all that fishing is really, the hunting of prey under the water with a rod and reel, instead of hunting for prey on dry ground with a rifle or a shotgun.  Not that there are times when a pier can be quite productive as a platform as well.  It just depends on the prevailing conditions.  And Great Uncle Donny knew all about prevailing conditions, well most anyway. 

And so slowly, beginning in the mid 1960s, Donny began recruiting a small contingent of surfing fishing, under aged poachers; many of whom would greatly come to appreciate Donny’s efforts in turning them into expert sport fishermen, if not also making them into a group of expert juvenile delinquent misdemeanors. The typical age range of this ragtag army of young poachers ran from about twelve to just under sixteen years.  For once they reached the age of sixteen,  it was understood and agreed by all that Donny could no longer use their services, for at that point they became subject to laws pertaining to licensing and also greater penalty impositions, should they be caught not obeying said laws by the wary eyed game wardens.  So when they reached the age of 16 they were given a special birthday party at Donny’s restaurant then mustered out of the service. 

Some of this former alumni, in Donny’s little school of poachers, went on to great success in the fields of sport fishing.  One even became a famous fishing guide with his own cable syndicated saltwater fishing show.  He once even produced an episode where Donny was invited to be a guest surf fisherman on the show.  The episode was filmed with Donny showing the show’s audience the ropes of surf fishing, similar to those tips that he had taught his young apprentices over the years, i.e. without any tips relating to poaching of course. 

In all fairness to Donny it is important to point out that it was not so much that Donny had no sense of morality, in regard to his attempts to encourage all his young surf fishing accomplices to subvert the gaming laws of the State of California; he did possess an ethic.  He actually wanted all of them to uphold all the laws regulating sport fishing; all except one.  That one he found to be completely unjust and repugnant.  That aforementioned law previously alluded to above.  To be precise the FGC, Section 7121 law, preventing fish, caught via a sport fishing license to be bought, sold, traded, or bartered.  It was a tyranny as Donny strongly believed and like all tyrannies it should be resisted.  It was his patriotic duty to do so; as it was with other American patriots when they resisted the Royal Stamp Act 1765, imposed on the American colonies by the British Crown.  However, this time it was not far off London throwing its imperial wait around, it was nearby Sacramento.

So he would carefully school his little army of poachers to always obey those laws he consider just and reasonable.  “For instance”, he would caution them, “when you haul in a halibut from out of the surf, or up onto the deck of the pier, measure it carefully.  If it is over 22 inches long from nose to tail, its fair game, you can keep it. But if it is undersized, carefully put it back into the Pacific.  And I mean ‘carefully’.  You don’t want to accidently split its tail with your fishing net.  No halibut can survive long with a split tail”.  He would also tell them this about releasing other fish, “If the fish is not within legal limits, carefully remove the hook if you have hooked it in the mouth and release it back into the water.  But if the fish has swallowed the hook and it is caught by its gullet.  Do not, repeat, do not try to remove the hook.  Leave it were it is.  Just cut the line as close as you can to the shank of the hook and then carefully put the fish back into the surf.  Don’t worry about the hook hurting the fish.  The salt water will eventually rust it into nothing, with no more harm done.  But if you try to remove a hook out of a gullet hooked fish, you will be dooming that poor creature to a slow and probably very painful death once you have release it back into the surf”.  So you see, juvenile delinquent creating miscreant though he was, Great Uncle Donny wasn’t all bad.  He did have some standards. 

When young 15 year old Abby arrived onto the scene, Great Uncle Donny had four other operatives working the surf that summer for him. 

There was ten year old little Bobby Nearman.  The kid was the youngest of the bunch, but compared to his counterparts, he was a protégée.  He had a real knack for working the surf.  One day he pulled in four nice sized corbinas.  Not monsters mind you, but definitely worth the 45 minutes it took him to land them.  Also on that same day he hooked into another five (one pound or better) surf perch.  He would have pulled in more, but Donny would not allow his little confederates to exceed their legal bag limits.  And as far as Halibut were concerned, when they were running, Bobby could read the flat fish like they were an open book.  Interestingly enough, when it came to that particular species Bobby preferred taking them from on high, 30 to 40 feet above, from off of the Huntington Beach Pier, instead of standing in the knee deep surf.  From high up he would bounce his lead headed lures up and down on the sandy bottom below to annoy the halibut resting and buried into the sandy sea floor below.  Usually after several minutes of this employed tactic, the halibut would get so annoyed at Bobby’s bouncing jigs that they would sometimes be triggered into a strike when they reached the end of their limited patience.  The sleepy halibut didn’t strike at his lures because they were hungry, they did so because they were pissed off.  A tactic like that is hard to accomplish while casting from off the beach, but not from a deck of a pier, while the halibut are stacking up in shallow water, laying in wait for the arrival of their favorite prey, the seasonal grunion.

The next best and a close second was twelve year old Randy Lawkins.  Nice kid, good student of all things pertaining to surfing fishing; didn’t much like lures though, always preferring live bait.  Oh, and although seemingly unrelated to this story, he earned a black belt in Karate at the age of eleven.  This accomplishment would later prove to be quite helpful on the beach one morning, while he and Abby Shields were fishing near each other, just north of the Huntington Beach Pier; more about that in a future sequel. 

The third on this list of unusual suspects, was fourteen year old Perry Jenkins.  Not much to be said about him, except he was a pretty good fisherman and unfortunately a bit of a smart mouth; which would later prove to be problematic.  That mouth of his would  eventually lead to trouble with the FGD, i.e. the Fish and Game Department.  You see game wardens, like all cops, don’t happen to care much for smart mouths. 

And finally, other than Abby of course, was thirteen year old Lewis, not spelled “Louis”, Bronk.  Lewis, the second youngest of the four boys, was also the smallest and the least adept at surf fishing, but he should be given an A for effort, spending many long and fruitless hours in the hot sun, even when the fish were not active, trying desperately to hook into something, anything, but not being able to.  Continually experiencing, what other fisherman like to refer to as, “being skunked”.  There were many reasons for his lack of success, one being that he had trouble associating his prey with the movements of the tide.  Lewis also had a knack for making everything he attempted in life ten times harder than they needed to be and surf fishing was no exception to that rule.  But at least all that time spent away from home, not catching anything, kept him away from a drunken, unemployed stepfather’s constant physical and mental abuse. 

Always a softy for the underdog, Great Uncle Donny spent many a long afternoon, away from his business, trying to coach Lewis to the point where he eventually started to catch something; mostly surf perch, they being the easiest of all the fish in the Pacific Ocean to catch.  Nevertheless, Donny paid him well when Lewis brought his hard fought, albeit usually meager catches back to the restaurant for a quiet under the table sale.  And Lewis would feel greatly accomplished when these rare transactions occurred.  Lewis loved “hanging with” Donny and wished in his heart of hearts that Donny was his stepfather, instead of that drunken monster his mother chose to marry, whom he dreaded facing when he eventually and reluctantly returned home every night.  In regards to surf fishing, he never let his abusive stepfather know what he was up to, or about the few extra dollars that he was occasionally making.  Had he done so, it’s certain that he would have been required to hand them over to the lazy man to help cover his liquor bills.  Lewis gave most of money that he made to his mother, to help with the grocery bills.  And she wisely elected to keep any knowledge of these extra little windfalls hidden from her drunken, dead beat husband as well.

When Abby Shields began her schooling in the art of surf fishing, Great Uncle Donny taught her firstly that it was very important to know and to obey all the laws prescribed by the State of California Department of Fish and Game that pertain to surf fishing; except that one aforementioned law, which Donny considered to be a gross abuse of governmental power.  But when that law was to be violated, it needed to be violated quietly, secretly and with great stealth, because game wardens were everywhere and as Great Uncle Donny liked to put it, “You usually never see one, until it is too late”. 

Back to the Present Day:

There were many thoughts now coursing through the minds of several young and in some cases, not so young, amateur thespians, as they sat upon Sam Witherspoon’s long, comfortable couch, with the overflow seating themselves onto his two love seats that accompanied that sofa.  Ten actors in all, as most looked intently upon the face of that famous western movie star, as he sat halfway reclined on his dark leather Barcalounger, with a glass of club soda in hand, because Abby Shields wouldn’t allow him to drink the hard stuff, while the troupe read through the libretto for a second rehearsal.  These actors were quite trepidatious at the prospect of the great Sam Witherspoon quietly watching them be put through their respective paces by a now equally nervous director, i.e. Darla Lankershim.  All of them were nervous, almost feeling as if they were about to be screen tested for the most important audition of their lives; all except of course Abby Shields and George Rook, as neither had any professional aspirations.  Abby had no desire to return to the career she given up and George didn’t give a crap about a professional career in anything.  He was now retired from the workaday world and intended to remain so.

What were those two thinking about?  Well for Abby’s part, she was hoping the rest of the cast would not be thrown by the presence of Sam Witherspoon being present in the room.  George was thinking, or rather hoping, that the rehearsal would somehow hurry up and get over with, so he could make the last 71 bus headed home. 

Now as for the great Sam Witherspoon, he was still ruminating as to how on earth did Abby Shields managed to land that monster Corbina and wishing very much that he had something stronger to drink than a club soda. So before the rehearsal commenced in earnest he asked Abby the following question:

“Darlin’ Abby?”

“Yes Sam?”

“What bait did you use to hook into that monster?  Was it a blood worm?”

“Really, Sam?”  Abby Shields scoffed, “What kind of an angler do you take me for.  There’s no challenge in using blood worms on corbina.  They make them stupid.  I might as well have tossed a stick of dynamite on top of them”.

“A soft shelled sand crab?”

“No”.

“Soft plastic on a lead headed jig?”

“Can we get the rehearsal started?!  I would very much like to make the last 71 bus home before it pulls out of the slip”, interrupted a very annoyed George Rook. “Interrogate her on your own time Witherspoon!”

 

 

 

 


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