My new copy of Pacific Coast Sportfishing arrived, and when I opened it to the back page and the “Looking Astern” column I saw the news I’ve been dreading for many months: Ed Ries has passed on.
He gave me a grizzled, salty stare the first time I met him aboard one of San Diego’s half-day boats. He could see I wasn’t a regular, my gear was too shiny, like my face. But five minutes of conversation left us feeling like fishin’ buddies. I saw right away that Ed understood the meaning of the word sport in sport fishing.
His many years of commercial fishing (he was a licensed skipper) meant that Ed didn’t care to lose fish, but on those rare occasions when he found himself overmatched on a fish he never complained. When he lost a fish for whatever reason, he’d try to learn something from the experience and then let it go. He released hundreds of inshore fish like calico bass and spotted bay bass.
We fished together over many years, when Ed was still able to clamber aboard the Daily Double or The Dolphin to pluck calico bass from the kelp or jig for barracuda. He came to Cabo San Lucas with my wife and I to try some tropical offshore fishing. We fished the Coronados and Catalina and for local rockfish, too, and for albacore aboard the Cat Special and other boats chartered by South Coast Sportfishing magazine.
Ed would fish with any method, though he liked bottom fishing with heavy sinkers the least. “Plungers,” he called anglers who fished that way by choice. He showed me how to vertically lip-hook sardines and anchovies in order to fish them in thick weeds. As often as not, Ed was the best fisherman on the boat.
Much has been written about Ed Ries over the past couple of decades, about his commercial fishing days, his service in the Navy during WW II, his paintings and his writing afterward. The obituary on page 98 of Pacific Coast Sportfishing is as complete and accurate as anything that’s been done, and anglers should read it. For a better sense of the man that was Ed Ries, I’ve included some of his most recent letters and notes to me. I’m already missing him deeply.
“Hey Bill,” wrote Ed June 17, 2011, “It was good to see your name back in the pages of Pacific Coast Sportfishing with your roundup on yellowtail fishing. It reminded me of my first San Diego yellowtail catch in 1935 on the original Sportfisher. It also reminded me of a fond memory of our trip to Cabo some years ago. I dunno how the term ‘paddy’ became applied to a kelp mat, but according to Webster it is from the Malay word for rice field.
“Anyway, I wanted to thank you for all the videos, calendars and Christmas letters over the years. The doctor has placed me on hospice care due to a growth in my left lung so I am finishing out my days at home as long as I am able. Fortunately, I have no pain at present, but am on oxygen 24/7 and get by ok as long as I don't exert myself. I find an incredible amount of chores to finish up while I can and my days are very full. My dear wife of over 65 years is now in a board and care facility as I am no longer able to look after her as she deserves. My kids are a great help with it all.
“With 92 years I have had a good, long run and experiences that can never and will never be repeated. I am glad I lived when I did and knew the kind of abundant life flourishing in our ocean before it dwindled away. My third and last book is now at the printer and you will receive a copy in due course.
“So, all best to you and yours, and if my columns cease to appear in the mag, you will know that I have joined my generation of shipmates and fishermen who are now passing away at the rate of 1, 800 a day, so they say.”
On July 7, Ed wrote to me about dogtooth tuna:
“My first encounter with doggies was about 1944 at Eniwetok Atoll. There was a flat barge assembled by the CBs anchored out about 200 yards from the beach. I knew it would be a good fishing platform if I could get to it. I visited the parachute rigger's loft and he had a small one-man inflatable aviator's life raft that he had patched up and he gave it to me with a short metal paddle.
“I had no snag line or sabiki for catching bait, but I made one by taking about 8 spare hooks of different sizes and tying them about 3" apart on a piece of line. I bummed a can of peas from the cook and with the rod and reel I had bought from a departing Airedale, I paddled out to the barge and tied up to it and climbed up to the deck. I spied some small fish under the barge and chummed with the peas and got them concentrated enough that I was able to snag a couple of caballitos.
“I transferred one to my hook on the rod and reel. I tossed out the bait and it was almost instant fish as a dogtooth about 10 pounds gobbled it. When I wore him out, I didn't want to try to lift him up to the barge deck, so I eased him over the low rubber side of the life raft. There I admired him, marveling at his teeth when I carefully unhooked him. I had read of dogtooth tuna in Zane Grey's Tales of Tahitian Waters and I surmised that was what I caught and later research proved I was right.
“I never ate one. They are very aggressive and will attack something as large as they are. They have a body shape like a big bonito without stripes, but with larger eyes and the mouth full of big ripping teeth. I caught them on live bait and trolled lures. The smallest was one that hit a Wilson spoon at Guam. The little tuna was hardly bigger than the spoon. Dunno how he got it in his mouth. The live bait ones were 10 to 20 pounds, mostly caught on small jack mackerel I chummed up with canned peas and then snagged and free-lined for almost instant strikes from the doggies.
“I didn't have a gaff, so had to slide them into the aviator’s life raft I was using to paddle out into the lagoon at Eniwetok Atoll. (Later the site of the first hydrogen bomb explosion.) Any small live fish such as grunts or goatfish would do as bait as long as it was active. Wire leaders were mandatory.”
Ed wrote again August 21.
“I am almost bedbound now and can't answer most of my email, but glad I checked this one. Price of my new book “Looking Astern,” is a modest $19.95 and I cite the publisher because I don't know exactly who is carrying it and who not. I am only up for about an hour in the morning and then my caretakers insist I get back in the sack where I can breath better just lying flat. I have a ton of projects I wanted to get done, but the book is the only one I completed. As long as I am lying immobile, I can breathe ok, but if I get up and move around I don't get enough oxygen even with the machine pumping it 24/7. Nuff of that stuff. I know the new calendar will be great, as usual. Thanks for your help.”
In honor of Ed Ries and his final achievement, his third book about fishing in the old days, “the Golden Years,” as he called them, here’s the review I wrote for Ed just before he sent his letter of August 21.
The View Aft: Legacy Of A Fisherman
Ed Ries’ new book is his third in the series published by Monterey Publications in Laguna Hills. The first two were immensely successful, early sellouts. This one may be the best of them all, titled, “Looking Astern,” and subtitled “More Historic Tales of California Ocean Fishing.”
The book’s cover is graced with a shot of Ed after a day of albacore fishing. He poses at the stern rail of the Cat Special on a trip with the staff of South Coast Sportfishing magazine, the one he continues to write for, now named Pacific Coast Sportfishing. Ed has a grin befitting his catch of fatso albies. Very few anglers can match his 80 years of fishing.
Inside, the new book offers 12 chapters spanning 149 pages crammed with lore, old photos and advertisements. Many nice shots of fishing boats, anglers and tackle give this coffee-table book a special interest that all anglers will appreciate. I learned things I hadn’t known before about cedar plugs, circle hooks, albacore and salmon fishing in the old days, as well as species seldom seen locally in modern times.
Having fished more than a few times with Ed on San Diego boats, I know how meticulous he is regarding tackle. His knowledge of the old ways of making and using tackle is a precious legacy. Writing about sand dab spreader rigs, Ed said, “Number six or eight hooks were hung on a variety of spreaders including barrel hoops, bicycle tire rims, wire coat hangers and handmade wire contraptions.”
In his tackle and gear chapter, Ries has pays homage to the original bone jigs, and presents photos and stories to tell about old lures like Baldys, Spoofers, Vivif rubber Toads, Dodgers and trolling jigs like Hetzels and Catalins. Ed also discusses the introduction of mono fishing line, which changed sportfishing forever.
Ed knows as much about commercial fishing as he does about sport fishing. He’s done it all, been just about everywhere on the Pacific. He fished the South Seas, Central America and caught dogtooth tuna during WW II. Locally, he commercial fished from Pt. Conception to Ensenada.
Ed Ries had a wealthy fishing career. He caught swordfish, tuna, blue marlin, sailfish, black sea bass, halibut and just about any game fish you can think of, including bonefish in San Diego Bay. He fished for mackerel and barracuda, white seabass, bonito and dozens of different kinds of rockfish. He knows about every sportfishing boat, barge or pier south of San Francisco, and in his day was a respected marine artist. You’ll see some of his artwork in this book.
Fishing books are common here in southern California. A book like “Looking Astern” (also the name of the column Ed produces for Pacific Coast Sportfishing) is extremely uncommon. This is an excellent book, full of information you couldn’t get any other way. After reading it through I’ve got to say it is truly special. Buy it. Every angler should have a copy in his or her fishing library.
“Looking Astern” by Ed Ries, © 2011 Printed by Monterey Publications, 25572 Sarita Drive, Laguna Hills, CA 92653 Retail price: $19.95
Right now, you can get all three of Ed’s books from FishingVideos.com. The first two will be gone soon, however, as there are only a few copies left. The southland lost a great fisherman in Ed Ries, but his work will live on in the libraries of anglers who own these great books.