A sportfishing boat is a man's world: The comforts are minimal, the company is rough, and the bacon cheeseburgers are grand. Understand that women aren't unwelcome; they just don't often care to go twice. But even if you only go once, there's nothing quite like a deep-sea fishing trip to bring an overstressed urban family closer together. And aren't rites of passage supposed to be somewhat grueling?
For all the sport's authenticity and none of the attitude, there's no place quite like Capt. Hook's Sportfishing in Channel Islands Harbor. Capt. Hook himself, owner Kenneth Kohr, didn't lose his hand to a sea creature (it was an electrical accident), but when he and his wife, Debra, opened shop five years ago, finding a name was easy. "We even had a guy working for us who had recently lost an eye," Kohr says with a chuckle, "so he had the patch, I had the hook, and we'd hobble around the office scaring the customers. It was fun!"
Despite the grisly elements, Capt. Hook's is a very friendly place for women and children to dabble in male bonding rituals of the sea. All summer long, mothers drop their kids off to spend the day fishing at the bait dock. "It's cheap baby-sitting," Kohr says. But the real experience can only be had by taking your boy (or girl) on an overnight trip to the fishing grounds off the outer islands.
The Pacific Dawn leaves at 10 p.m. The tables in the galley of the 60-foot boat are carpeted to keep cups and plates from sliding around. Along with the maple syrup and Tapatio sauce, each table's condiment rack holds a deck of cards and a set of poker chips. An urn of coffee brews perpetually. Beer is in the cooler. Down below, the main cabin is divvied into upper and lower double bunks for 24 fishermen.
Ah, there's nothing like sleeping with one's head next to a pair of 600-horsepower diesel engines to relax the overtaxed city dweller. But neither is there anything quite like the smell of grilled onions wafting over the deck of a quiet boat that's afloat on a dove-gray ocean, 50 miles from the mainland, with dramatic island cliffs slowly resolving into view out of the dawn mist. Before the sun is up, every man (and the two women) on the boat has a line in the water. Steve, the ship's cook, calls out your number when your magnificent meat-and-potato-laden breakfast burrito is ready.
Capt. John Shull, who was a high-powered salesman until a fit of soul-searching led him to buy the Pacific Dawn 13 years ago, darts among the amateur fishermen, baiting hooks, untangling snarled lines and giving succinct but effective fishing lessons. By the time the boat heads for home at 2 p.m., the catch includes 140 rockfish, several ling cod--their bodies a startling bright blue--and a few small brown fish that Capt. Shull calls "chuckleheads."
But the highlight of the trip is when your cold, tired, cranky 10-year-old son finally gets a fish hooked. Capt. Shull races to his side and exhorts him to "Bring it up! Keep reeling! Breathe through your ears!" And the jaded city boy finally cracks a smile.
Capt. Hook's Sportfishing, 3600 S. Harbor Blvd.,
No. 1150, Oxnard. (805) 382-6233, www.captnhooks