Charles Frederick Holder.

Life in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California online

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fect ; indeed the climate of Santa Catalina Island is
worthy a treatise by itself, so peculiar is it, so perfect
from the insular standpoint.

Hunting is what it is made. One may coop a jack-
rabbit in a large corral and watch greyhounds run it
down, and imagine it sport ; so, too, the hunter may at
times corral the goat of Santa Catalina in some corner
and slay it without trouble with the aid of a guide, who
is also seeking minimum physical exertion ; but the
hunter who will go out into the open and climb the crags
of the big mountains or peaks will, I venture to say, in
the majority of instances, have hunting and climbing that
would be considered all-sufficient if for " wild goat " had
been substituted the term " bighorn," " What 's in a

The Wild Goat on Orizaba

2 33

name?" Some of the heads that are brought into
Avalon by goat hunters are remarkable for their spread
of horn, and there are several patriarchs that have for
years defied hunters of high and low degree.

In riding over the island after wild goats or quail,
one occasionally sees foxes, while the whir of the valley
quail fills the air at times. For years there was a herd
of mysterious burros that had run wild and defied cap-
ture. This may seem incredible, but those familiar
with the gentle burro of the mainland have little or no
idea of the speed attained by the same animal when he
returns to nature.

I once rode upon these animals on the west side of
the island, and, mounted on a good horse, made the
attempt to catch them. There were three, one taller
than the others. They stood and looked at me for a mo-
ment, the next we were in a whirlwind race over a bad
country strewn with rocks. I certainly gained on them,
but I was surprised to see how long it took. In the end
I ran the burros down, and could possibly have roped
one, when they dashed headlong down a steep cafton
and disappeared, relieving me of the embarrassment.

To see this interesting island with its rare flora, in
some instances unique, its wealth of archaeological lore,
its wild and attractive scenery, one should become a goat
hunter, take a man like Mexican Joe, the oldest guide
and inhabitant, who knows the island thoroughly, a
good saddle horse, and a single burro, and make the
trip from one end to the other, sleeping in the open.

234 Life in the Open

Two weeks or more can be spent in this camping trip ;
typifying the attractive life in the open on the Channel

Chapter XVI

The Rise of Don Antonio

WITH few exceptions the coast of Pacific
North and South America is protected by
a fringe of peculiar seaweed known as
kelp, a long, rich, olive-green marine laminarian vine
which rises from the bottom to the surface, in thirty or
forty feet or more of water, and droops or hangs in
festoons, forming a beautiful floating garden with a life
peculiarly its own. On the rocky islands of the Pacific
Coast from San Clemente to the Farallones this vine
is particularly abundant, and on the lee shores it may be
examined with ease from the glass-bottom boat.

At mid-day, at half tide, is the best time to visit these
hanging gardens of the sea; then the bottom can be
seen plainly, the water a vivid turquoise blue, gleaming
brightly through the interstices of golden branches,
which, when illumined by the sun, take on hues of
old gold and amber. The leaves are twenty or thirty
feet in length, about twelve inches in width, richly fluted,
and hang in a thousand positions of grace and beauty,


23 8 Life in the Open

so that in peering down from above one looks through
innumerable halls, arcades, and parterres that extend
away to infinity.

In South America, especially about the Falkland
Islands, the kelp (Macrocystis) attains enormous pro-
portions, sections estimated at one thousand feet in
length having been taken up and used as anchors for ves-
sels, which thus were saved the trouble of lowering and
hoisting anchor. On this desolate coast the kelp forms
a protecting fringe for fishes which otherwise would
be unable to exist, owing to the constant and heavy
surf that is always piling in, and thus incidentally the
miserable Fuegians are saved from starving, subsisting
almost entirely upon the fish, the barren, half-frozen land
producing little or nothing. Everywhere along-shore
this forest of hanging vines constitutes shelter for many
animals. It is a forest of seaweed rising from great
depth, rolling over and over in strange but graceful
convolutions in the surf or tidal currents, a menace to
swimmers and often to vessels.

Along the California coast at extreme low tide the
kelp lies in such thick masses that it forms an almost
impassable barrier ; so much so that once in making a
port we found it almost impossible to force a sixty-ton
power yacht through it. The entrance of the harbour
was made ultimately by stationing a man on the bow-
sprit to pass the word how the helmsman should steer
to avoid the enormous leaves that, in tangled masses,
blocked the way. These huge vines do not indicate a

The Rise of Don Antonio 239

rocky coast, but fasten themselves to small stones any-
where in water of medium depth from a few yards to
half a mile from shore, and when thrown up show the
short roots coiled about small objects with a vise-like

These hanging gardens of the sea afford a home for
a multitude of strange animals, which have a singular
protection that of mimicking the tone or colour of the
leaf. These animals include crabs, shell-less mollusks,
and fishes. One of the crabs, which is nearly two inches
across, is so perfect an imitation of the kelp that when
lying directly before the eye, it is difficult to see, unless
it moves. It has peculiar points and spikes which
further intensify the resemblance. Lying on the great
leaves are numbers of slug-like creatures, " shells " with-
out shells, tinted a rich green, safe in this protection
from nearly all intruders.

But the most remarkable resemblance is seen in a fish
called the kelp-fish. It is about a foot in length, of the
exact colour of the kelp, with a long continuous dorsal
fin frilled exactly like the edge of the leaf. Did this
fish dart about or comport itself as other fishes, it would
be observed at once, but it does nothing of the kind ; it
lies at the bottom or near it, standing literally upon its
head, with its tail extending upward, with the shorter
kelp leaves, and in this position, hanging in the gardens,
waves to and fro with every surge that sways the ocean
forest. I have looked for these fishes for a long time,
watching every leaf, and finally found that the elusive

240 Life in the Open

creature had been under my eye all the time, but had
escaped careful scrutiny. I have examined dozens of
them through a water-box or glass-bottom boat, and in
every instance they were holding themselves in some
peculiar position which made it almost impossible to
distinguish them from the green masses of weed that
folded and unfolded in the mysterious currents.

In calm weather the kelp leaves lie dormant like sea
serpents upon the surface, unfolding and folding list-
lessly ; but when the wind rises and the sea comes in, it
appears to be filled with waving monsters that, gripped
in fierce embrace, are rolling over and over.

The waves are coloured a deep golden-brown hue by
them ; they fairly fill the water, and coil and re-coil in a
manner particularly dangerous to an unfortunate swim-
mer thrown among them at such a time. Often in fierce
gales the entire kelpian growth of a locality will be
wrenched out and cast ashore to form a pile or windrow
for miles along the beach ; but in a marvellously short
time the kelp again appears in luxuriant growth.

These gardens of the sea have proved so interesting
that a so-called glass-bottom boat has been invented at
Avalon, Santa Catalina, where a fleet is in daily opera-
tion. Almost every visitor to the island goes out to
drift over the floating gardens of the sea and gaze down
through the big glass window at the strange animals of
the kelp. Among the fishes is a giant bass six or
seven feet in length, which occasionally swims across
the window which recalls to some anglers along the

Catch of a Black Sea -Bass with Rod and Reel by Ernest Follon. George Johnson, gaffer

Santa Catalina.

(r) Playing the fish. (2) Gaffing. (3) Hoisting the 35o-pounder aboard. (4) Hauling
the bass to the scales. (5) The proud moment.

The Rise of Don Antonio 241

channel the incident of one Tony Oromo, now the
captain and proud owner of a glass-bottom boat.

He was a very superior person, this " Don " Antonio
Oromo, and interest in him was accentuated by certain
legendary wraiths, possibly of the imagination, that
drifted in and out, and were common talk about the
gaily decorated boat-stands of Santa Catalina. Don
Antonio certainly never claimed to be a descendant of
Montezuma, or that his ancestor was a great captain of
Viscaino's fleet, which visited the island in 1602 ; in
fact, nothing could be traced to him except a statement
that his grandfather once owned the island and traded
the property, now worth millions, for a white horse ;
why white no one knew. I had fished with him, as the
guest of a friend, on divers occasions, and the only
words he uttered were, " Si, senor," in a mellifluous
voice, in response to the stern demand for more
" chum," when possibly he had fallen asleep. Yet
despite this, Don Antonio had "an ancestral reputa-
tion," which a certain manner, suggestive of romance,
lent colour to. No one had ever heard of him as a
boatman or fisherman until my friend discovered him ;
indeed, a Mexican rival in the gaffing line, of no par-
ticular ancestry, laughed loud and long when he
learned that " Tony " was going to row during the tuna

" What, him !" said Nicola. " He never see a gaff
in he life. He fish ? Why, he don' know a tuna from
a skip-jack. He mak' me tired, he do, there 's a fac'.


242 Life in the Open

Tony rowin' ? Eh ! who say he 's a Don ? He better
be up Middle Ranch grubbin' cactus ; there 's wha' he


Don Antonio must have heard these and other
criticisms, but he said nothing, and whether deep in
his Aztec heart he was determining to give back these
taunts, blow for blow, no one could tell ; but the fact
remains that he was another example of what oppor-
tunity will do for latent genius. He was born to fame,
and at the end of the season, not long after the mid-
summer solstice, still silent and imperturbable, he stood
a prominent figure in one of the greatest feats in
the world of angling, overshadowing and silencing all
his critics among the boatmen, gaffers, and chummers of
the island.

It came about as follows : The tuna season at the
island closes for some mysterious reason on or about
August first, though specimens have been reluctantly
caught in the middle of that month, and their high and
lofty tumbling may be often witnessed far into the fall.
The ending of this season of muscular conclusions with
the greatest of game fishes finds a small army of expert
anglers, who delight in the excitement of this big game,
with summer but partly gone and the tuna retired from
the field, its season being May, June, and July. It is
now that the resources of nature, so far as they relate
to big game at the Southern California islands, become
apparent, and instead of putting away the split bamboo
and green-heart rods and big tuna reels,, the angler,

The Rise of Don Antonio 243

who perhaps wears the blue button of the Tuna Club,
turns to the black sea-bass, that giant of the tribe, that
is peculiar to the Kuroshiwo, where it flows by the
kelp-lined shores of Southern California. A fierce war
has always raged in the vale of Avalon, where it
opens into the summer sea, over the respective qualities
of this bass, ponderous enough to be the Atlas of the
fishes and

Sustain the spacious heavens

of the sea.

A few choice spirits, doughty knights of the rod
and I will not gainsay their skill and prowess, bear the
standard of this fish on their escutcheons and claim
that it is the hardest-fighting game of these waters, the
superior of the tuna or any of the great conquistadores
of the angling arena. In the Tuna Club they have
their black sea-bass cups, on which their winning names
and the ponderous weights of their catches are en-
graved ; their linked gold badges, worn proudly at
annual banquets; and, like all minorities, they claim the
world as theirs. As each season larger fishes in both
classes tuna and black sea-bass are caught, the ten-
sion becomes more acute. The boatmen side with their
employers, and so, by virtue of his patron, Don Antonio
became an advocate of his big bass, and in his way
fought its battles with the tuna gaffers, and bore their
gibes and scorn with easy philosophy. " Los paises del
sol dilatan et alma," he once retorted to his disputant,

244 Life in the Open

whereby Don Antonio implied that those born in this
land of the sun-down sea, as Joaquin Miller has it, have
so much expansion of the soul that such things do not
worry them ; and so he met the knights of the tuna,
held his peace, and blew the blue smoke of his cigarettes
out over the vermilion-tinted waters of Avalon.

If one were to take a small-mouthed black bass,
build it up until it was six feet long, and stuff it until it
weighed anywhere from two hundred to five hundred
pounds, some conception of the appearance of the black
sea-bass (Stereolepis gigas) of Santa Catalina might be
formed. It is nearly a perfect bass in form and feature.
Its eyes are blue ; its upper surface tinted old ma-
hogany, and its under surface gray a mighty creature
of solemn mien.

Deep in a cavern dwells the drowsy god,
Whose gloomy mansign nor the rising sun
Nor setting visits, nor the lightsome moon;
But lazy vapours round the region fly,
Perpetual twilight, and a doubtful sky.

Ovid might well have had the great bass in mind
when descanting upon the home of the god of sleep, as
while the tuna frequents the high sea, now blazing
its way into the sunlight, the black sea-bass lives in
the canopied forests of kelp, whose long leaves form
caves and retreats of fantastic shape, ever changing
with the current that sweeps along the rocky coast in
whimsical and erratic measure.

It has been my fortune to take many of these fishes

The Rise of Don Antonio 245

weighing from one hundred to three hundred and fifty
pounds, with a hand-line, to have lost many with the
rod, and once to have been fairly beaten in a short-rod
trial of twenty-two minutes. Taking the fish on the
hand-line (though I would not be understood as com-
mending it) is not without its excitement, as my capture
of a three hundred and forty-seven pound specimen off
the rocks may illustrate. We rowed around the south
end of the island, passing the long Pebble Beach, by
the sea-lion rookery, whose inmates stared at us lazily,
roaring and barking hoarsely, by the Sphinx's head that
gazes eternally into the west, where

Tempestuous Corus rears his dreadful head,

then turned to the north-west and, over the long ground-
swells, moved up the island to the restless kelp beds,
the home of the bass. The shore here is precipitous
and wild, beaten by the winds of centuries, and coloured
with all the tints that mark the sunsets of this isle of
summer. There is no shore line in rough weather ; the
pitiless sea piles in, buffeting the very base of the
mountains, and is tossed high in the air in white floccu-
lent masses amid the booming and crash of contact with
seen and unseen rocks.

Directly back of Avalon, a half-mile offshore, in
sixty or seventy feet of water, lies a vast submarine
forest of kelp, for which the bass invariably make when
hooked inshore. Within one hundred feet of the beach
is another kelp bed, whose leaves lie along the surface

246 Life in the Open

and repel the waves, the feeding and spawning ground
of the bass. In one of the little bays formed by the
kelp we anchored, hauling aboard one of the great
leaves for the purpose, which could be tossed over at
short notice. It is a sport in which the angler must at
times let patience possess his soul, and I have sat for
hours feeling the throbbing line without a strike ; but
this is the exception. Our line, baited with a seven-
pound whitefish, was tossed over and allowed to sink
within four feet of the bottom, and with a turn about
the rowlock we waited, fishing betimes for sheepshead
with the rod, a gamy creature ranging up to fifteen

So engrossed were we in this sport, taking the big
red- and black-banded fellows as fast as they could be
fairly and honestly played, that the object of our trip
was all but forgotten. But suddenly the sheepshead
ceased biting, there was an ominous pause ; it was
either sharks or bass, but which ? I reeled in my line
and took the bass line in hand. The current running
to the south played upon the line with a gentle musical
rhythm. Now a marvellous jellyfish fouled it, and was
rent asunder, or a mysterious olive-green kelp frond
swept along like a living thing, its dim shape faintly
outlined against the blue.

The ocean was as smooth as glass, the wind gods
were resting, and the only break on the clear surface
were the fins of yellowtail, that glistened in the sun-
light as they patrolled the kelp, or the fairy sails of the

The Rise of Don Antonio 247

silver and blue velella as it rose and fell, an idle ship
on a windless sea. Suddenly I felt the line tauten, as
though the coming flood had increased in intensity.
How it thrilled and imparted to the nerves a tingling
sensation ! Greater and greater came the tension. I
dropped over the anchor of kelp and paid out a foot of
line, then two, very slowly, gradually increasing until it
was gliding rapidly over the side. The boat, that by
actual test weighed but 125 pounds, whirled gently
around ; then, having given the unknown ten feet of
line, I stood up and struck home. Down on my knees,
almost overboard I went, jerked by the fierce response,
and through my unyielding hands hissed the line, churn-
ing and cutting the water, slicing it into great crystal

I had the coil amidships, and it fairly leaped into the
air as the fish made its rush, twenty, fifty, one hundred
feet. I seized it and braced back. Nearly elbow deep
went my arms in the water ; down went the boat, my
companion sliding into the bow to offset it ; down until
the water was dancing at the rail ; down until the man
in the bow seemed to be up in the air ; down so deep
that my face was so near the surface that I could hear
the mysterious crackling sound against the keel. I was
about to give way to this doughty plunger when he
turned. I sprang to my feet and took in the line. In a
great circle he surged around the boat, and I gained by
desperate hauling, not moving the fish, but pulling the
light boat to him, in this way making thirty or forty

248 Life in the Open

feet. Then, without warning, he jerked me to my knees
again, and with steady lunges strove to take the boat
under water, and I was content to give, inch by inch,
foot by foot, until he calmed down.

The bass was now headed for the offshore kelp bed,
half a mile away, towing the boat so rapidly that the
foam rose under the stern in an ominous wave. The
secret in this fishing is to fight the game continually, for,
does the man at the line rest, the bass recovers in an
equal ratio and the contest may be kept up until the
bass reaches some retreat offshore and plunges into the
kelp, breaking the line. To prevent this I played it
constantly, hauling when I could, and slacking only to
prevent foundering ; now flat on the bottom, bracing to
withstand a desperate rush ; now taking in the line,
receiving savage blows, never stopping, until, fifteen
minutes from the time of the strike, I saw a gigantic
black and gray form coming slowly out of the blue.
When the fish saw me it plunged down in a vicious
rush, but I turned it up again, and by strenuous effort
brought it near the stern. The boat was so small and
light that my companion lay in the bottom to preserve
the equilibrium, and I attempted to gaff the monster by
holding the line in my left hand, gaffing it amid a ter-
rific flurry. Once the iron in, it was jerked from my
hand repeatedly, and I nearly followed it overboard.
For half an hour I manoeuvred, and every time the fish
was brought within five feet it either plunged down or
rushed around in a manner that boded ill for our safety ;

The Rise of Don Antonio 249

indeed, twice the boat almost foundered. The wind
was now blowing fresh from the north-west, and the sea
had picked up in a surprising fashion, adding to the
difficulty ; but the bass was brought alongside, and
after many efforts a rope was passed through its gills
and mouth and lashed. Then we sat back to breathe
and eye the rising sea. The boat, instead of rising on
the swell, was held down by the fish, and it was evident
that a breaker might sink her.

It was impossible to get the fish aboard, and to tow
it around Church Rock, where there was a heavy sea,
seemed inviting disaster ; but we attempted it, and after
running the gauntlet of the Sphinx, in an hour's pull,
had the fish in smooth water. Five miles we towed it,
finally meeting some fishermen, whom we hired to aid
us in hauling the fish aboard. It almost filled the boat,
and I sat on my game while my companion rowed. But
we were so low in the water that the least sea would
have foundered us, so we engaged the men to convoy
us in, and finally entered Avalon Bay masters of the

Similar experiences characterised other catches, and
induced the belief that the big bass could be caught
with a rod. It remained for General Charles Viele to
demonstrate that this could be accomplished. I accom-
panied him to the same locality one morning, anchoring
undoubtedly over a school of fish, as they bit fast and
furious. The launch was anchored inshore, and the
General opened the campaign by casting from the

250 Life in the Open

small boat alongside. The moment he hooked the fish
the boatman pushed off and rowed after the game,
adopting the method so successful in tuna fishing. The
bass took him one hundred yards or so to sea in the
first run. In the meantime I had cast from the launch,
and hardly had the bait reached the bottom before my
reel began what proved a requiem for lost tackle. I
was firmly anchored, and the bass took my line and
tip ; then more line and two tips, and after I had
hooked four fish and used up my rods, demonstrating
that I could not stop them from an anchored launch,
I threw over a handline and presently landed a bass of
100 pounds ; then one of 248 pounds, the latter with
the aid of the General, who, singularly enough, left his
fish after two hours' fight and came aboard for lunch
and reinforcement. The bass had towed the boat about,
giving them a battle royal, and had finally reached
kelp and fouled, but it was still hooked. The line was
tautened and the rod lashed to a tin oil-can and left
floating. Later a grapnel was successfully used to tear
away the kelp, and in half an hour the bass was gaffed,
and with two other large fish we steamed for port. The
General's bass weighed 227 pounds, while my hand-
line catches weighed respectively looand 248 pounds.
I had timed him at the strike, and he brought his fish
to gaff in two hours and thirty-eight minutes.

This was in 1894. Then came the catch of Mr. S.
M. Beard, of New York, who took several large fish
with rod and reel, and finally that of Mr. F. V. Rider,

The Rise of Don Antonio 251

formerly of New York, now of Pasadena, who in 1898
startled the angling world by landing in fifty-five min-
utes with rod and reel a bass weighing 327 pounds a
feat accomplished only by a determined and continuous
fight. During this time the fish towed the angler sev-
eral miles, making a series of furious rushes before it
was brought in, giving its captor the record of the
largest fish ever taken with rod and reel. During the
Tuna Club tournament every effort was made to break
the record. Col. R. A. Eddy, of San Francisco, an en-
thusiastic member of the Tuna Club, took five black
sea-*bass weighing respectively 240, 246, 322, 227, and
196 pounds. Mr. F. V. Rider landed three fish weigh-
ing 175, 182, and 151 pounds; Dr. Bently three of 150,
184, and 165 pounds, and Mr. George B. Jess one of
145 pounds. These catches are quoted here as being
very remarkable when it is remembered that each was
made with a twenty-one-thread linen line, little larger

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 13 of 21)