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A deep-sea fishing trip that's sure to leave you hooked

June 05, 2008|Pete Thomas

Ominous black clouds roil the heavens as the fishing boat New Del Mar plows ambitiously to the west, with 67 passengers crowding its rails.

But spirits soar. Blue patches are widening and this half-day fishing excursion out of Marina del Rey, like all such outings, promises adventure, camaraderie, mysteries of the deep and a peacefulness only the ocean provides.

"It's how I get away from my hectic life," explains Magdi Salib, a dentist from Culver City. "I spend my free time on this boat."

Anticipation is boosted by the recent strong run, before the late-season storm, of voracious barracuda.

"We knocked 'em dead," boasts Capt. Danny Ericson, specifically citing a single-day haul of more than 500 of the lightning-swift game fish.

The aluminum vessel cuts a foamy swath as the clearing sky reveals a powdery blue ocean spanning forever away from the bustling city that now seems so distant.

Deckhand Robert Carbajal peers through binoculars, searching for diving gulls and pelicans. They are telltale signs that large predators have corralled baitfish into "meatballs" close to the surface.

But Carbajal can find no crashing birds.

Small talk centers on the recent bite. Russ Mancini tells another angler he will not eat barracuda because their flesh is oily. "But my wife's cats love 'em," he adds, prompting laughter.

Alas, Ericson must resort to other methods to find the fish. He drops anchor, and anglers send chunks of squid 200 feet below.

Minutes later, brilliantly colored denizens are hauled over the rails, bug-eyed, and stuffed into sacks.

"I just love deep-sea fishing," Morgan Graham, who runs a talent agency in Nashville, says after reeling up a redbanded rockfish.

Graham is in Southern California with a group that includes Justin Prentice, 14, a promising actor now playing the role of patient young fisherman who can't catch a darn thing.

"But something big did just take my bait," he claims, displaying a bare hook as evidence.

The bite slows and Ericson, though he remains on barracuda watch, pulls anchor to find a known sculpin haunt off El Segundo. "We've got to get these people some fish," he says.

The scent of grilled burgers wafts through galley windows. Soft drinks and beer are passed over the counter. A half-day trip is not complete without such elements.

Soon, however, it's back to the rails, lines to the bottom, rod tips twitching and hooks being set.

Sculpin begin flying over the rail and Ericson rushes to the wheelhouse and announces, over the loudspeaker, "These fish are poisonous. Please let the deckhands handle your fish."

Sculpin are small, colorful fish whose spiny fins have made grown men cry.

At the stern, a man known as L.A. Littlejohn pulls up two sculpin on one line. On the port rail, Jeff Spence, a boat regular, hoists a plump sculpin aboard and grabs it by the mouth with his thumb and forefinger. He unhooks his prize with his free hand and calmly walks it to his sack.

Not everybody is catching them -- young Prentice has yet to master the subtle art of hooking them -- but action is steady for a fish whose flesh, unlike that of barracuda, is tender and white.

Mancini is among those who'll enjoy a fresh fish dinner. Whether his wife's cats get any remains to be seen.

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-- Pete Thomas@latimes.com

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DEEP-SEA FISHING

WHERE: New Del Mar runs from Marina del Rey Sportfishing.

WHEN: New Del Mar runs from 7:30 a.m.-noon and 12:30-5 p.m. (Note: half- and three-quarter-day trips are available throughout the Southland.)

PRICE: $35 for adults, $25 for children under 12. Tackle rental is extra. Half-day trips are kid-friendly.

INFO: (310) 822-3625, marinadelrey sportfishing.com

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