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These Folks Fish for the Halibut


Vernona (Snooky) Fath has been fishing off the Balboa Pier since 1945, when she was 9 years old, dropping her line from the pier two to seven days a week in pursuit of her favorite, halibut.

Fath was taught to fish by her mother, Sunny, who is now 76 but still never misses an outing. They are both a part of the regular Balboa bunch, a cooperative crowd that works together in keeping the bait buckets filled and netting their neighbor's catch.

"Our group tends to share," Fath says. There are about two dozen regulars on the pier, folks who, like Fath, have been fishing there much of their lives. "We have a terrific camaraderie," she says.

It's been a tough year for halibut, largely because of the cool weather and rough waters, and Fath has yet to catch a halibut legally big enough to keep (at least 22 inches) this season. But her mother caught a 12-pound keeper last week. Fath might catch three legal halibut in a typical season, although she can bring in as many as 15 undersized halibut in a single outing.

"Here in recent years," legal halibut "come few and far between," says Ed Dillon of Baldy's Tackle Shop at the foot of the Newport Pier.

Besides halibut, fish caught from local piers can include mackerel, bonita, sand shark, sculpin, surf perch, corvina, herring and jacksmelt, and a few rarities such as barracuda, yellowtail and even salmon. Some fish appear only seasonally.

These days, many people on the piers are lower-income families fishing for food rather than sport. They tend to go after such plentiful fish as mackerel and herring.

Dillon said a good basic outfit might include a medium-weight rod ("You do have to lift the fish 15 to 20 feet up out of the water"), 20-pound test line, and a shrimp fly for most of the common fish. The equipment can be rented at tackle shops. At Baldy's, rental for a rod, reel, line, hook and weight runs $2 an hour, $7.50 for the day.

Fath has her own recommendations, which include a lighter line (12-pound) and live bait such as sardines, which she catches herself with a "snag line," a line with a series of small hooks that is bobbed up and down in the water.

A license is not required to fish from public piers.

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