S.D. Bay is his safe harbor | Fishing veteran finds exotics in own back yard
Excerpt from the San Diego Union Tribune Online Archives.
Written by Ed Zieralski 
STAFF WRITER Union Tribune

16-Aug-1998 Sunday

San Diego Bay was Bill Schaefer's day-care center, his youthful fishing
grounds where the world of angling unfolded before him like a plane leaving
Lindbergh Field or a Navy destroyer cutting past Zuniga Jetty. 

Schaefer, 40, remembers when he and his two brothers, Bud, 39, and Paul,
38, hitched rides on boats from the Shelter Island launch ramp to the bait
barge. They'd spend the day there, fishing and absorbing the wonders of the
bay. When they were older they loaded up a 14-foot aluminum boat with as
many gas cans as it held and motored 20 to 30 miles out to spots like the
302 for tuna and yellowtail. 

They became what Schaefer calls "a family of all-around fishermen." 

Schaefer hitched that first ride on this remarkably resilient bay when he
was 10 years old and never really dropped anchor. He took off on a fishing
career that included stints as a deckhand with legends such as Capt. Mel
Shears, as a rod builder and reel repair man for bait and tackle shops
throughout the county. 

On the water, Schaefer parlayed his success as a bass club fisherman into
professional bass fishing. And he was good, strong enough that Schaefer was
rated one of the top 100 pro bass fishermen in the country in the
mid-1980s, a rising star if ever there was one. 

But one day Schaefer decided he'd had enough of all that. He battled
through some physical problems, overcame them and changed careers. 

"I decided my future was more important to me, and I didn't see myself
fishing for a living all my life," Schaefer said Friday afternoon as he
worked a spotted bay bass out of his favorite fishing hole, San Diego Bay. 

"People don't realize the pressure in pro bass fishing," Schaefer added. 
"They see a guy in a fantastic shirt holding a bass on a fancy boat, but
what they don't see is that guy standing out in the rain, sleet and snow at
Lake Shasta for four days, or sweating four days of 120-degree heat at Lake

Schaefer still gets tempted to enter a big-draw bass fishing tournament
such as the upcoming U.S. Open at Lake Mead sponsored by WON BASS, but then
reality rattles him like a strike from a calico bass. 

Today he's an administrator in the Arts and Humanities Department at UCSD,
a man who, as he said, wears many different hats as an assistant to the
dean. Away from UCSD, Schaefer has fashioned a fishing guide service that
features bay, freshwater lakes and inshore ocean trips. His specialty is
San Diego Bay, the place where his father, the late Al Schaefer, used to
drop him and his two brothers off for a day of fishing on his way to work
for the Navy. 

"In a way, I feel like my fishing career has come full circle," Schaefer
said as he unhooked another husky spotted bay bass. "After 30 years of
catching everything from bluegill to blue marlin, I'm back here on the

Not that Schaefer still doesn't compete. He fishes WON BASS San Diego
Region Team Tournaments and his team (lately with Rich Swettenam) is a
regular qualifier for the WON BASS Tri-States Championships. Bill Schaefer
can fish with anyone, but more important, he can show others how and where
to catch fish. 

His fishing clients range from everyday anglers to television fishing
showmen to tackle company executives. When he brings them out on the bay,
he says one thing to them: "Do you know how to fish freshwater bass?" They
almost always say yes, and then he tells them it's no different on the bay
for spotties, calicos and sand bass. 

Schaefer uses the same kind of lures that fool freshwater bass. He uses
crankbaits such as the Bill Dance Fat Free Shad, the Flat A's and Fat A's,
in addition to Rapalas. He also baits Kalin's Lures, the 4-inch grubs and
swim baits. 

One element of bay fishing, however, separates this magnificent fishery
from a place like El Capitan. There are ocean-dwellers in this bay and
along its jetties, and on any given day Schaefer may hook a bonito,
barracuda, white sea bass, yellowtail or giant black seabass. He said there
aren't nearly as many of those game fish in the bay as there once were, but
white seabass and other species are coming back thanks to the removal of
inshore gillnets and the stocking program being done by Hubbs Sea World
Research Institute. 

And then there are the encounters with such rare exotics as bonefish. 
Schaefer has caught eight bonefish in his 30 years fishing the bay, but
he's caught three (and a client one) in the last 10 months. His most recent
bonefish was his biggest ever, a 2 1/2 -pound specimen. 

"This one looked like the ones they catch in the Flats of Florida,"
Schaefer said. "Usually the bonefish we catch are only a foot long, but
this one was longer and actually had blue stripes down the side. Some
people think they're mullet, but the telltale sign is mullet have two
dorsal fins; bonefish only have one." 

Schaefer has released every bonefish he's ever caught, but the next one is
going to Dr. Richard Rosenblatt, professor of marine biology and curator of
the marine vertebrates collection at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography. He promised Rosenblatt he'd take the next one to Scripps for
its collection. 

Rosenblatt said bonefish catches are still rare here, but he's seeing signs
that the fish are becoming more plentiful. He said biologists doing surveys
in the bay are finding them more and more. 

"It's not as unusual to catch them as it once was," Rosenblatt said. "But
it's certainly not a common California fish." 

Schaefer said he really enjoys catching different species of fish like
bonefish, and his next goal is to travel more and catch different species
around the world. 

For now, Schaefer is content to catch the exotic fish that come to his
favorite fishing grounds. 

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