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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Catalina Island

Catalina Island
When I was between 5 and 8 years old, we lived in the LA, California area.  Pops bought a 32-foot wooden cabin cruiser and we took it to Catalina Island often.  Catalina was 26 miles from LA, and it took us about three hours to get there.  It took most boats an hour and a half or less, but most trips we made were with one engine acting up and Dad lying on his back and fixing it while we slowly chugged to the Island.  Good times!

On our way to Alaska this past week, we first stopped off to visit my oldest son in Santa Monica.  We planned to take a ferry to Catalina.  I was anxious to see how much it had changed in sixty some years.  I recall crystal clear water where you could see bottom and watch multiple varieties of fish as if you were at an aquarium.  My Dad and oldest brother, Jim, would skin dive and we often had a catch of rock lobster and abalone for dinner.

Catalina Island was paradise and we were in high clover to be able to visit it often.


We planned this recent trip months ago.  The brochure for the trip to Catalina recommended “Arrive an hour before the boat leaves to assure a seat.”  We arrived an hour and a half before the boat was to cast off and were asked,

“Do you have a reservation?”


“You really need a reservation; these trips are almost always sold out!”

We were told this with a look like we had two heads for not knowing a reservation was needed.

So, we missed out on a visit to this island which held such great memories from my youth.  We had months to make a reservation.  It would have been nice if the brochure on this service had said,

“Trips often sellout quickly, reservations are strongly advised.” 

I guarantee they would say that in NY; apparently in the friggin laid-back plastic-land known as LA, you are just supposed to know that! (Oh, was that a rant? Sorry, but it does feel good to get it out.)

We missed the boat which was disappointing, but we had a nice day at the beach instead.

Interesting story about our trips to Catalina in the 50’s…it may be a bit long; do you have time?

Well here it is anyway.

We moored our boat in a small cove far away from the only real town, on the island, Avalon.  My brother, Chris, ten and I, six would often fish off the stern of the boat.  You could watch the fish as they approached and took or ignored your bait. 

There was one fish we always wanted to catch.  These fish were about 10 pounds.  They were multi-colored, red and blue as I recall with white lips.  They were reportedly very good eating.  We called them Geribaldi, but having  Googled them I believe they were actually Sheepsheads. It has been a while, so my memory might be distorted.


The Geribaldi Sheepshead would never take the bait.  We were told to use mussels, or pieces of lobster, but they would never take the bait.  We would watch them come up to the hook, look and then turn away.  It was very frustrating.  In the four years we went to Catalina, we never caught a Geribaldi Sheepshead.

In 1955, my Dad was transferred back east, and we made one last trip to the island before the boat had to be sold.  Chris took the dingy to the beach as he often did and came back with a bucket of sand crabs.  He had the bright idea that maybe sand crabs would make good bait. 

We each put a sand crab on a hook and dropped it in the water.  No sooner did those crabs hit the bottom then the Geribaldies Sheepsheads fought over them.   We both had immediate hook ups of the fish we had been watching ignore our bait for four years.  We found the secret bait, and would never be able to use it again.  Only now am I giving up this fishing secret.

And yes; the fish was very tasty!


  1. Heh, heh! You keep a secret ALMOST as good as those Catalina Island ferry people.

  2. Haven't been to Catalina in years. Didn't realize it was so popular these days that reservations were needed. I do remember that everyone got around with golf carts at the time, no cars on the island, at least back in the 1980s. Too bad you guys didn't make it this time around back to visit, but enjoyed your fishing story!


  3. Catalina sounds nice and I'm glad you and Jim managed to finally catch that fish.
    As for the reservations, you should have shown him the brochure and asked where it says "reservations required". Or you could have offered to make the trip standing up. No seat required. Then someone would surely off you and Mrs C a seat when the water got a bit choppy.

  4. Sorry you missed the boat.
    I'm going to have trouble getting that song out of my head now. Um, thanks.

  5. It is interesting to hear about these places, we (UK people) hear names but have no idea about where or what they are. Thanks for that.

  6. Maybe they should put THAT on their brochure.

  7. That is disappointing about Catalina, but glad you were able to catch that fish once.

  8. Most everything we did for fun as children requires a reservation. Monticello, Mount Vernon and Montpelier, for instance.

  9. I didn't know you had to make reservations to go and see Catalina, Cindy talks of going there with her folks when she was a kid too, too bad you missed getting to go.

    Great memories of fishing with your Dad and brother, and thanks for the fishing secret, you can never have too many fishing tips committed to memory.

    Excellent post Joe.

  10. My mother lives in the north of San Diego County, and she and her husband loved to sail to Catalina. The first time we went to visit her, our kids found those sand crabs endlessly fascinating. . .

    We have a variety of sheepsheads here in the Great Lakes, but they're not nearly so colorful. And they're not generally counted as good to eat, either. . .

  11. What a bummer and I agree, the brochure should have made that point. I remember fishing like that in the keys when you could watch the fish critique your bate. If you ever get back, sheephead beware.

  12. So sorry you didn't get to go back and use your secret bait again!

  13. Sorry you weren't able to visit a place with so much familial significance. Maybe another time....

  14. My husband was born and raised in Long beach and has never been to Catalina! As a Nor Cal gal, it's on my bucket list. I've read a lot about the Island and have even dreamed about real estate there. NO CAN AFFORD!

    I agree about LA's one of those places where it's nice to visit, just don't want to live there.

  15. Aw, that's too bad that you didn't get to go to the island again. Loved your fish story and now I am adding Catalina Island to my "to do" list. :) Sounds wonderful.

  16. Going back to visit places from "way back when" is so much fun. Too bad you missed out.


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