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Captain’s Log: Fishy Relationships — And That’s No Line

'Billy Badbass' just one of many fish with which I've had, er, a connection

I have relationships with fish. Whew! It’s good to get that off my chest.

It is not uncommon, really. Most folks who have an aquarium at home or at work have relationships with fish. Anyone who feeds a fish develops a relationship. I feed fish, too, come to think of it — but there’s a catch!

“Billy Badbass” was one fish with which I had a long-standing relationship. Billy lived at the west end of Santa Cruz Island in a lair to die for. Positioned in a rough patch of water, it could only be fished maybe one day in five days due to sea conditions.

The angle of Billy’s lair made it so easy for him to bite a bait or lure, move over about 2 feet and saw off the fishing line against the rugged rocks at the entrance to the lair. That bass was big, tough and smart. As far as I know, Billy Badbass is still out there dominating that choice lair and laughing at silly fisherfolk.

I have caught and released the same fish numerous times. It happens when a person fishes an area as many years as I have. In some cases, I’ve known it was the same fish because of a unique scar pattern (fish collect scars in the mean streets of the sea). I can recall a time or two when I’ve caught and released a fish enough times that I suspect it worried about other fish talking about our relationship.

One day I was fishing a structure spot in shallow water near Santa Barbara. I kept getting bit in the same spot and then deftly taken under a part of the rocks where I’d bust my line trying to free it. After five identical incidents, I changed my position and set the hook in a different direction and did a better job of keeping the fish away from the line-hungry structure.

I brought up a feisty cabezon with five new hooks in its mouth, with each hook sporting a short length of fishing line. It was a legal cabby, and I could have taken it for dinner (they are great tasting), but instead I carefully removed all of those hooks and let the critter go. Yup, that constitutes a relationship.

Divers are known to have relationships with fish. I’ve heard stories from urchin divers about playing with lingcod the size of the diver’s leg — jigging a shiny urchin rake in front of the lingcod until the fish is annoyed or intrigues enough to bite it. Also, stories about individual sheepshead following a diver around and making friends to get first dibs when an urchin was accidentally broken.

How about you? Anyone have any relationships with fish to share?

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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