Fishermen lining King Harbor's breakwater were silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky at Redondo Beach.
Boaters motored slowly out to the bait receiver, filling their bait tanks before venturing into the open sea or settling down for a day of fishing inside the harbor, where warm water from a nearby power plant attracts a variety of fish.
It was all very typical, until Dick Thies, Roy Richardson and Dick Lange arrived.
They do things different. Their method of catching bonito--the resident game fish--is decidedly untypical for saltwater fishing. The "regulars" fish with either spinning or bait-casting tackle.
But there were Thies, Richardson and Lange, each in his own small boat, weaving about and circling the bait dock, tirelessly "painting the sky" with flimsy fly rods, then settling dainty flies on the water.
Curious onlookers were satisfied, however, when Lange's fly was hit with a vengeance by a small bonito.
His rod suddenly was bent nearly double, his line screaming off his fly reel.
The bonito circled the boat, fighting for freedom. The battle belonged to Lange, though, who caught--and released--his first fish, amid hoots and hollers from his companions and nearby spectators.
Shortly afterward, Thies hooked into a larger fish, which turned his boat around before making a powerful run, breaking loose in the process.
"It was a yellowtail," he shouted to Lange and Richardson, who both chuckled in disbelief.
Richardson, meanwhile, hadn't yet given it a serious try as he was attempting to teach a neophyte fly fisherman proper use of a fly rod, with painful results.
After dislodging the fly, cast clumsily by the beginner, from his head, he casually donned cap and glasses and decided it was his turn to catch a fish.
It took but a few casts for him to hook up, this time with a fish.
Alas, it soon became apparent that this would not be Richardson's day. While battling what he called "at least a three-pounder," a nearby sea lion made proof of that claim impossible, stealing both fish and fly.
Moments later, in another boat, a woman's fishing rod was snapped in half by another sea lion.
It is a common occurence in King Harbor, where sea lions can be seen lazily feeding on various species of fish, including bonito. They often wait for a hooked fish to tire, then grab it before the angler can lift it aboard.
"We've had days where we've reeled in nothing but bonito heads," said Richardson. "It just makes it more sporting. . . . It's become part of the game."
After a few such incidents, the group ventured away from the bait receiver. A stop at the nearby "bubble hole"--where the warm water enters the harbor--produced no results. But in the mouth of the harbor there were a few strikes and one small fish.
Eventually, though, the little flotilla returned to the bait receiver, by far the most popular spot.
"When the bait boat is docked there, it's even better, especially when it flushes its tanks," Richardson said. "The bonito like to gather there and feed."
Said Bill Welch, a landing operator at Redondo Sportfishing: "That's the best spot in the harbor for fishing because of the presence and smell of the bait."
A few trolling runs through the area proved them right. There were several more strikes, followed by successful hookups by all three fly fishermen.
"Sometimes you have to troll," Lange said. "If one method doesn't work you have to try another."
Said Richardson: "They're spooky, just like trout. You have to try a different fly if one doesn't work, or a different method."
All three tie their own flies and Richardson, who ties flies commercially, said the choice of equipment depends on the fisherman and the conditions.
A nine-weight sinking line with 18-pound monofilament on an eight or nine-foot rod is a good bet, with any sparsely-tied, brightly colored fly apt to do the trick.
Thies, Richardson and Lange, all members of the southwest council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, have been fishing King Harbor since about 1970. And although bonito is the prime attraction among fishermen, other species frequent the harbor as well.
"I've caught barracuda and calico bass here too," said Lange.
Added Welch: "We also get yellowtail, barracuda, sand bass and halibut."
And although summer does provide ample opportunity to catch fish, the best time is during the winter months.
"The fish are bigger and you have a better chance at catching other fish," Lange said. "One day, Dick (Lange) and I caught four- and five-pounders (bonito) all day."
Regardless of the time of year, however, the fly fishermen proved once again that they are far from out of place in saltwater.
"There's much more sport to it," said Richardson. "It's the only type of fishing we do anymore.
"We catch fish here every time. We've had days where we've caught 20 to 40 fish each here."
This particular day was "slower than usual," producing but a few bonito, in the two- to three-pound class, and several strikes and follows, but, as Richardson put it: "It's always good to come out here and sharpen our casting skills."