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Catching more than fish

Angler who battled for an hour with black sea bass says he wasn’t aware that it is a protected species.

January 15, 2010|By Brianna Bailey

Amateur angler Jon Apothaker reeled in a lot more than a prize catch when he hooked a 5-foot-long black sea bass at Balboa Pier.

The fisherman could face up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail for unintentionally landing a member of the protected species off the pier Jan. 3. Apothaker’s struggle to reel in the massive fish attracted a crowd of spectators, and several videos of the incident have popped up on the Internet since.

“In hindsight, what I learned is that even if the fish is dying on the surface and has hooks on it, it’s best to leave it there to die,” Apothaker said. “Once the sea bass hits the sand, it becomes illegal.”

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On Friday, California Department of Fish and Game Lt. Dan Sforza said he couldn’t say much about Apothaker’s big catch, except that an investigation into the matter was ongoing.

“If we find there is a violation, then we will forward it to the district attorney’s office,” he said. “If caught, the law requires you to immediately release them.”

Using fresh mackerel as bait and a steel fishing line, Apothaker was hoping to catch a thresher shark off the pier that day. The small sharks make for good eating. Apothaker likes to cut them up into steaks and broil them.

He and a friend had driven down from Sherman Oaks to visit Balboa Pier because they heard it was a good fishing spot and, before long, Apothaker felt a sharp tug on his line.

He struggled as the monster on the other end of his line pulled back with all its might.

Apothaker was convinced he had hooked a giant bat ray.

“The thing just kept on charging,” he said.

Apothaker’s struggle with the fish began attracting a crowd that sunny Sunday. He estimated that a group of 40 or 50 people amassed on the pier, waiting to see what he would pull out of the ocean on his fishing pole.

“People were saying ‘oh, what is it?’ and sort of cheering me on,” Apothaker said. “I really didn’t hear anything. I was really focused.”

For an hour, he wrestled with the thing, eventually sitting down on the pier with the taut rod between his legs, to take pressure off his tired arm.

Apothaker tried to sink his hook into the fish by giving it enough slack to run and then abruptly jerking the line upward.

The fish floated to the surface, belly up and lifeless.

Apothaker tried to reel it in, but his line snapped.

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