Most fishermen had already returned from their day at sea but, with the sun glowing a soft orange through the evening haze, those aboard the Queen of the Sea were just setting out.
Skipper John Dipley set his course from San Pedro's 22nd Street Landing for an area about three miles away called Horseshoe Kelp, a popular spot, although one that had not been producing as it generally does during the waning weeks of spring.
But the passengers were in good spirits, regardless of the prospects. It was, after all, Saturday night, and this was a party boat.
"We get a lot of people that can't fish during the week," said Dipley, a skipper in local waters for 20 years. "They come out mostly to drink a few beers and relax."
There was the first-time fisherman from Pasadena who talked about scuba diving as he gazed out over the swells toward Santa Catalina Island, where he had recently been diving. He saw plenty of fish, he said, but had yet to catch one.
There were the Phillips brothers, also from the Pasadena area, out with friends on this semi-annual escape. Bob talked over old times with a friend. But Mark, stepping up into the wheelhouse, had more pressing matters.
"Think we'll catch any barracuda?" he asked Dipley.
"No," the skipper said. "Mostly sand bass."
"Any barracuda at all?" he persisted, hoping the skipper might change his mind.
Dipley just shook his head. "Sand bass," he replied.
Then there was Marvin Bendalin, a fishing lure manufacturer from Northridge and a regular on this boat and others. Dick Aker and Leroy Janulewicz, both in the fishing industry, were among other regulars.
"During the day we get all fishermen," deckhand Adam Beck said. "But at night we get about half who can fish and half who don't really know what they're doing."
It was still dusk when the boat stopped, and the passengers wasted no time getting started. But, as Dipley had predicted on the way out, the fishing was slow. The current was strong and reaching the bottom 75 feet below--where fishing for sand bass is generally best--was difficult. Once there, the general lack of cooperation by the fish made things particularly frustrating.
"The sand bass generally spawn from June through August," Dipley said. "But the bite's been down lately. . . . We were doing real well for a while, but things just stopped last night."
One sand bass weighing about three pounds was landed, and a few mackerel were caught. But Dipley figured it was time to try another spot.
The galley served up more refreshments and the move to Huntington Flats, another popular location a bit farther south, was completed just as the sun was setting. As the sun appeared to dip into the ocean, the boat's deck lights flickered on and penetrated a few feet below the surface. The only visible sights were the lights of the bustling coastline and the brightly-lit oil rigs.
Bendalin lifted the rubber-tailed fluorescent green Worm King at the end of his line up under the lights, pausing for a few seconds before casting it out a short distance. It had absorbed the light and, glowing a bright green, was easily visible a few feet from the surface.
"Good for night fishing and for fishing in deep water," he said. "(In tests) it has outperformed others, 8-1."
Janulewicz hooked a strip of dead squid onto his rubber-tailed lure and squirted a product called Glowbait onto both before casting. A bright yellow stream followed the bait into the depths.
"The stuff really works," he said.
But nothing seemed to entice the sand bass--a popular and tasty summertime catch--that showed on Dipley's meter.
"Last year at this time, everybody caught their limits for six straight weeks," he said. "In fact it was on about the exact same night and under the exact same conditions (that the bite began)."
The absence of sand bass didn't seem to bother anybody, although there was the usual grumbling among the few who "paid $15 for this ?"
Janulewicz suggested: "People come out because of the fishing, but also to enjoy the company of friends and to have a good time.
"If you don't catch fish you don't catch fish. It's called fishing, not catching. You don't go catching! One day you might not catch anything and the next day you might catch fish all day long."
Or, all night long.
Under the cover of darkness, the fishing slowly improved, because hundreds of small sharks had congregated below. Although not targeted by Dipley, the sharks provided steady action for a couple of hours, most being tossed back or kicked out of the way of the hustling fishermen. Mackerel, considered pests by most, quivered about the deck as they were bounced aboard at regular intervals.
Then, to the delight of the one-track-minded Mark Phillips, a school of barracuda moved in to feed on the anchovies thrown over as chum.
Because most were fishing the bottom for sand bass, not many were catching barracuda. But in the closing minutes of the excursion, Phillips' Krocodile lure with a strip of squid enticed a big barracuda.