In Celebration of CIYC’s 50th Anniversary:
Random Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters
By: Ted Lyman
Everybody called him Catfish. He had a real name, we thought. But what could be a better nickname for someone who fished all the time and only for catfish. It was in the early 80s and Catfish had moved his beat up old houseboat to the outside of the Caliente Harbor’s south dock. This is where people of uncertain character, as viewed by club founder Sam Martini, often ended up back in the old days. Sam always welcomed new berthers, largely because they were paying him rent, but he generally saw in advance those new guys and gals (one of which comes to mind, an upcoming Caliente Character) who wanted to pay but might come up a “bit short” from time to time or be less than fully welcome by others in the marina (as some of you will remember, at that time all berthers were required to be dues- paying members of the club an arrangement that made both Sam and the club Treasurer very happy.)
As it turned out, in the eyes of most folks, Catfish wasn’t really a bad guy at all. He was just a bit rough around the edges, seriously overweight and fortunately endowed with large sad eyes—the kind that can get you out of a lot of tight spots in life. At that time there were a lot of kids active in the marina. They swam, fished and generally played around the harbor like kids do. Despite trying, not many actually caught fish--that is until coached by Catfish. He talked to them regularly about all the catfish out there just waiting to be caught. Soon he was showing them how to rig for catfish. He showed them how to make up his special stinky bait he said was irresistible to catfish. And he showed them where the catfish were hiding and how to hook and land them. Soon, most of the kids started to really catch fish. The kids were becoming increasingly wild for Catfish, following him around and asking all day long for help with their rig, how to put the bait on so it wouldn’t fall off or where to place their cast.
For the most part this was fine with the parents because in addition to helping the kids catch the fish, Catfish took the squirming, slimy and spiky things off the hook for them, a much welcome thing for those parents not eager to take on this thankless task. He also cleaned
many, another part of fishing not desired by most parents. And, because he was bit down on his luck and not everybody shared his tastes, he ended up getting them as gifts as food, something else the more squeamish parents thought fine, especially those that worried about what those bottom feeders ate themselves.
Catfish had lots of recipes for cooking catfish—fried, baked and all the other means of using heat to actually get the things into the stomach. As you can see, Catfish loved every aspect of catfish and he liked the kids who caught them for him. There can be no doubt that he had parents thinking that he was providing quite a desirable service in the harbor. To most, Catfish seemed a bit different but basically harmless.
Sam Martini, though, had some other thoughts about just how savory this guy was. Something wasn’t right about the electric meter reading for Catfish’s boat, month after month. It wasn’t way off the norm for a live-aboard but didn’t seem quite right. Now, Sam knew something about people who didn’t always play by the rules, as noted in last month’s Caliente Character story. It must have been quite a battle between those two guys, both of whom lived largely by their wits.
That winter, after he had won over his neighbors, Catfish just disappeared--boat and all. Not a word was mentioned. He simply vanished. But slowly the story came out for it seems that Sam had finally determined that Catfish was stealing electricity and he figured out how he was doing it--by moving his very long shore power cord around and plugging into other people’s meters nearby, probably every night and probably for just a short period of time. His big sad eyes weren’t going to save him because the jig was up, he hadn’t fully outwitted Sam. Catfish was left to history.
We never heard where he went or anything about him after that. But if you ask any kid who grew up on those docks at that time about the man they called Catfish, they would say “he was cool, he helped us catch fish.”