Epic fail and solo success for surf seabass

Yard sales and one happy ending marked this kayak attempt at Malibu.

Yard sales and one happy ending marked this kayak attempt at a beach near Malibu.

Happy Ending

Team Sewer, seabass and 10-foot surf. What could go wrong?

By Tony Park

It's early, pitch dark at a famous surf beach a few miles west of Malibu. Team Sewer—that's me, Greg Andrew, Stinky Matt, Roby, and Minh—is chasing a hot rumor. They're here, beyond the breakers, furtive broom tails a powerful 50 pounds or bigger. We are sick with white seabass fever.

The surf is crashing. We can't see what we're up against, but I can hear it. It sounds intimidating.

No pain no gain, I figure as Greg and I push off into the darkness. The breakers are big, larger than I imagined, overhead. Wait … wait … paddle like crazy! I take a big one to the face. Straighten out, here comes the next one. SLAM. I'm spitting water and considering a new hobby. I'm starting to doubt we'll make it when Greg finally crawls past the kill zone.

I turn on my radio to learn if the other guys made it. Not so much. Stinky Matt flipped. Minh broke a paddle and busted on home. Oh well, let's go fish.

We find the beds of spawning squid, seabass chow. Hook up! It's a long, skinny snaggle-toothed fish, a barracuda and large for its kind, a log. More follow, stacks of cordwood, but the seabass we hunger for never show.

Buttchaser John paddles up, undaunted. On his first drop, he connects with his namesake, a huge halibut that will later peg a scale at 40 pounds. Scratch one, flatty!

Time to go. Surfers are stacked outside, catching rides on huge swells. No pain no gain, again. I'm chasing a giant set toward the beach when my momentum slows. I'm sucked back. A 10-footer rears behind me. Crap!

You can brace into a wave no matter how big, or so they say. I turn broadside and tuck in, leaning as far as I can into the freight train crashing on my head. Everything goes black.

I'm underwater in waders and no lifejacket in huge surf. I can't touch bottom. Waves pound me one after the other. I'm screwed, but manage to swim up for a breath. An eternity later, I feel sand beneath my feet.

My kayak is there in the slosh, upside down. I'm missing a rod, a Calstar 800M with a Daiwa Saltiga 30T, worth a cool $1,000. Another kayak washes in, with Roby's bait-tank bobbing behind. Buttchaser John's kayak follows, topsy-turvy. But not Greg Andrews'. He slides his in perfectly like there's no surf at all. Back at the truck, we total the damage. An old phone, some rod leashes, a rudder, my Calstar. Team Sewer is out $2,500 in gear. Stupid white seabass.

When it comes to seabass, to this day nothing stops Team Sewer from paddling out—they'll fish anywhere. They burn with the fever. Author Tony Park readily admits he wouldn't have swallowed so much seawater if he'd worn his PFD during his crash landing. "Maybe someday I'll learn my lesson, but not yet," he says with a laugh. (This story ran in the 2013 debut issue of Kayak Fish Magazine.)