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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Young Men And The Sea

Crespi High Fishing Club Answers Call of the Wild

April 01, 1999|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — Steve Greanias enjoys fishing. A lot.

He hooked his first fish at age 3. At 18, the Crespi High senior owns seven fishing rods and says he goes fishing about 50 days a year.

Greanias enjoys fishing so much, he dropped a line to his friends at school. Now the Crespi High Fishing Club, a school of young fishermen under the guidance of Greanias, is getting its sea legs.

And so are some of its members.

A band of 18 Crespi anglers braved choppy waters last weekend en route to the Anacapa Islands on a 50-foot boat chartered by Greanias. While several of his classmates appeared a tad green around the gills during the two-hour journey, Greanias, clad in T-shirt and sandals, relished the rolling waves and salty breeze.

"Only a few of these guys have ever gone fishing before or even been out on a boat," Greanias said. "Me, I don't ever get seasick. I got my sea legs at an early age."

Greanias isn't the only experienced fisherman among the crowd, just the most passionate. He organized the club's inaugural excursion a year ago and chairs on-campus meetings in which members plan trips and share their zeal for sport fishing.

Sport, indeed.

The boat was crowded with Crespi athletes, including a shotputter, a distance runner, a golfer--even quarterback Robert Muller.

"We're pretty tight at Crespi," Muller said. "There's a lot of camaraderie. This is a great experience because we're all friends. It's just like a ski club or chess club. I know I'll be doing this when I'm older, hopefully with these guys."

Catching a fish may be an entirely different ballgame than catching a football. But for Greanias, a former Crespi lineman who no longer plays football, it's a challenge worth tackling.

"You have an idea what you're trying to do and what fish you want to catch," Greanias said. "But you never know how it's going to go. You never know if it's going to happen, if you're going to get that big one."

*

The "big one" on this day is yellowtail, a fish common to the Southern California coast. Three-foot-long and tasty, the yellowtail reportedly had been biting heavily in the shallow channel between Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands, 16 miles off the coast.

The boat nears its destination, the Anacapa passage, and slows to a crawl. At least one novice fisherman lost his breakfast during the voyage and several huddled in the galley of the tiny vessel.

But as the winds calm and swells subside, the anglers begin to stir.

"Last year when I came out, I didn't take any Dramamine and I vomited eight times," said Alex Aftandilians, a shotputter and an experienced fisherman. "It was horrible. I didn't have any fun at all."

A competition is in place. The fisherman with the biggest catch of the day will pocket the modest pool of dollar bills stuffed inside a bottle, a tradition on fishing excursions. The captain instructs anglers to drop their lines and the waiting game begins.

"I don't like to eat fish," said Nick Zarro, a senior wide receiver. "But I like coming out here and catching them. I give them away. About 20% of the guys in the club fish. For the rest, it's a chance to get out on the ocean."

Muller, who guided the Celts to the second round of the Southern Section Division III playoffs last fall, caught more than a half-dozen fish on the first Crespi trip.

"The part when you begin to fight the fish is the best part," Muller said. "The yellowtails fight the most. It's mostly experience, like in any sport. You can't get better unless you practice."

The first fish is caught, but not by a high school student. Edmond Aftandilians, Alex's father and one of three adults on the trip, wrestles for several minutes before reeling in a 2 1/2-foot yellowtail.

Moments later, Marty Swartout, a computer science teacher at Crespi and the trip's unofficial chaperone, lands another yellowtail, but only after a 10-minute struggle.

"Well, it's bigger than the usual trout I catch," Swartout beamed. "It's the biggest fish I've caught."

Swartout's yellowtail, one of only three caught on the trip, measures 30 inches and weighs 16 pounds, 7 ounces--ultimately earning him catch-of-the-day honors.

What's the secret?

"If I caught 20 of those, maybe I'd tell you I have a technique or something," Swartout said. "Maybe I was a little more aggressive than the others, I don't know. We all have our lines in the water and only three were caught."

Last year, George Greanias, Steve's younger brother and a Crespi defensive back, landed a 30-pound yellowtail on the trip. The fish was labeled "Catch of the Season" by a charter crew.

"That was the catch of my life," he said.

It's a different story this time. None of the students caught a yellowtail. But nearly everyone bagged their share of red rockfish, including Steve Greanias, whose fishing time was curtailed severely by his duties as charter master.

Greanias, who awoke at 3 a.m. at his home in Granada Hills to place signs along the pathway to the Channel Islands harbor landing, spent much of the day coaching classmates and untangling lines.

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