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Ed McEwen, 85; Party-Boat Captain Charted 77 Years in the Saltwater Sportfishing Industry

August 19, 2003|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Ed McEwen, a boat captain and pioneer in the saltwater sportfishing industry widely known for his ability to find fish, has died. He was 85.

McEwen died Sunday at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego of complication from lung fibrosis.

Though he sold his 85-foot boat, the Pacific Queen, five years ago, McEwen had maintained his captain's license and his grip on a career that began 77 years ago. He started as a kid spending his weekends and summers working for free as a deckhand just to be part of the party-boat scene.

"Ed kind of grew up with the industry, and literally generations of recreational anglers enjoyed fishing more simply because they were riding with Ed," said Bob Fletcher, a former captain who now serves as a representative of several fleets as president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California. "He loved the ocean and was so comfortable at sea, and loved fishing so much that he did it his whole life."

McEwen, who was born in 1918 in Lodi, Calif., and grew up in Long Beach, owned as many as five boats before relocating to San Diego in 1971. He was one of the first area captains to venture beyond coastal waters to Santa Catalina Island and even farther offshore to Cortez Bank.

"The normal fare in those days was $2," McEwen recalled in a 1994 interview with The Times. "We were going to charge $3 because we had a twin-screw [two-propeller] boat, the Sea Sport, and there was only two of them in operation [in Southern California].

"Everybody says, 'You'll never make it. People won't pay that much to go fishing.' But it was very popular. We caught lots of fish, including tuna. In those days, you could catch lots of bluefin right at Catalina."

McEwen, who captained his first boat in 1937 from the old Santa Clara Landing in Long Beach, operated nearby Pacific Landing with Pop Leavitt from the late 1940s until 1971, when the city needed the property to build the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

McEwen then brought the Pacific Queen to San Diego and began running out of Fisherman's Landing. There, he got his first real taste of the exotic fishing south of the border with Mexico, and also began running multi-day whale-watching trips to Scammon's and San Ignacio lagoons.

"He impacted not only hundreds of thousands of fishermen, but thousands of people interested in biology and the ocean," said Margie Stinson, who for years worked alongside McEwen as co-captain. "His impact was also felt in Baja California. He became el patron of several kids on San Benito, Cedros and Guadalupe islands."

McEwen's likable nature along with his uncanny ability to locate schools of nomadic tuna -- one of his nicknames was Capt. Bluefin -- were chief among reasons for his popularity, and that of the Pacific Queen.

Another reason, some former employees said, was the manner in which he conducted himself with his crew.

"When he told you to jump, you'd jump, and if you tied the boat up wrong, he'd make you tie it again and again, after the passengers left, until you got it right," said Don Ashley, a former deckhand of McEwen's and currently owner of Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach. "He ran the tightest ship on the coast, while at the same time giving the passengers 110%, and sometimes even 120%, of his attention."

Services for McEwen, who is survived by various nieces and nephews, will be at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego.

Donations in his name may be sent to the Capt. Eddie McEwen Fishing for Kids Endowment, in care of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, 1084 Banger St., San Diego, CA 92106.

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