Profiles: Lauro Saraspe

Lauro Saraspe, Retired Fisherman and Local Legend 

Lauro Saraspe is the man who started it all. He built his first skiff here in San Diego in 1952. Lauro fell in love with the ocean fishing for lobster before class at San Diego State. Lauro continues to be a leader and visionary in the field. He also happens to be Andy’s father and our grandfather. We thought it was only appropriate to have the first of our profile series feature Lauro. 

Why fishing?

In those days, it was an easy thing to do and I made extra money, which you couldn't just go out and make easily. You know what I’m saying? And I was good at catching fish, and I was good at selling my product; mainly that was it. 

When did you know fishing would be your forever job?

I knew that it would be my forever job when I came back from the army, from Korea, and I was going to San Diego State (SDSU), and making more money working part time than my professors were working full time. This is a true story. I was making money before I went to school. I would fish before class because my classes would start at 9 or 10 in the morning. I would fish in the morning, bring my lobsters to school, and then at lunchtime I would deliver them down at the fish market downtown; Anthony’s Fish Grotto. Now in those days everything was handled in cash. So I would sell my lobsters down at the market during the week, and then on Friday they would pay me for whatever I had delivered. So, on Friday you would go in and they would hand you an envelope full of cash. 
At that point I was playing football at college and when we went on a trip, anything you had of value you had to turn into the coach’s office and they would mark down whatever you gave them for safety’s sake. I would just have an envelope in it with money. Cash. It was always quite a bit of money for those days (1955-56). When I handed them the envelope, they asked me,  ‘Saraspe what is this?’ and I’d say it was my wages from the week for fishing lobsters. They would count the cash and they would say, ‘Saraspe where did you get all this money?’ and I said I would make it before I went to school fishing for lobster.  And they would say, ‘you know what Saraspe this is more money than we make in a week or a month as professors.’ And then they said, ‘Saraspe what in the fuck are you doing here? Why don’t you go fishing? You are wasting your time.’ Because they knew I wanted to be a teacher. That’s how they’d talk to you. ‘Saraspe, what in the fuck are you doing here?’ 

What species did you start your career fishing?

Lobsters. After lobsters I fished white seabass and perch. Rod & reeling barracuda and yellowtail and all miscellaneous fish. And of course swordfish. 

Any advice or tricks of the trade on old fashioned rod & reel fishing?

No. None. It’s a hard go now because believe it or not in the last three years there have been no barracuda at all.  And I used to catch a lot; hundreds, even thousands, of pounds. They're just not here anymore and there's so many people that you just can't fish comfortably anymore.

Spiny lobster or Maine lobster?

Spiny 

Favorite thing to eat on the boat (out at sea)?

Abalone. Fried. We would dive for it, pound it, and fry it. Abalone were very plentiful then, and you could legally get them. We always had time in the afternoons when we were lobster fishing out at the island. Your lobster fishing would be finished by 11 am, so you had the whole day to go diving or to go rod and reel fishing or whatever you wanted to do. 
Of course you know we ate plenty of lobsters and abalone and fish. We had abalone and lobsters every which way. We had a four burner propane stove on our boat, The World Famous. We had a dinette that sat four people. We had a nice sink. We had a nice toilet. We had everything. The boat slept four people comfortably. 
We always carried a lot of food with us: hamburgers, steaks, chicken. We always ate a lot of spaghetti, but we made it with lobster, so it wasn’t just hamburger. Everybody liked to come to our boat because we cooked the best. If we were out there and another boat came up, people would say what’s for dinner. And you’d always have some kind of fish. 

Do you ever get tired of eating seafood?

No. Not at all. 

What does a typical day look like for you (then and now)?

It depends. Swordfishing started at 9AM and went until almost dark; especially when we were out at San Clemente Island, Catalina, and Dana Point. For lobsters and seabass we would get up early, go out and pull our traps. I was always in by 10 or 11AM, and then we would go sell our product. After that we would go to the beach with the kids or go do something at home. 
These days there is no more fishing, of course. I sold all my permits, sold my boat and everything, and I’m doing the retired life. Mostly working in my yard; 85% working in my yard. I’ll go out on the boat with Andy sometimes. 

How have you seen the business change over the course of your career? Do you think fishing is “cool” again?

I think fishing is cool again but it is real specified now. It’s not like it used to be. There used to be a lot of barracuda, yellowtail, mackerel. You just don’t see that anymore. There are so many boats now. It’s too crowded. You never have your secret spots anymore because people talk and there are cellphones. It’s all an information thing. If you find a good spot and tell your friends, then that’s the end of it. Unless you have a specified thing to go for like crab or like Andy with shrimp, and nobody interferes with that. And there’s so many guys now that fish crab, and take everything. They don't let the females with eggs go like we used to. We used to take just the hard crabs, and leave the rest. Now they want everything and they are wiping it out to be honest. 

What would you tell someone just starting out today?

I would say it’s a tough go. Number one you have to find a place to park your boat. The permits are so expensive now. Lobster permits are going to be $800 this year just to renew it. Last year it was $350. And for me, just to be a crew on a boat costs me $300. Just to attend on someone else’s boat. I can go out and catch $800 worth of lobster in one morning, but that’s me. That’s not everybody. Number one they have to have a permit to fish then you have to have all your marbles stacked the right way: you have to have a bait source, you have to have your traps, you have to have somewhere to park your boat, and that costs money. Not everyone wants a commercial fisherman parked on their dock. Even if you are clean as a whistle. Everything we have is from fishing. Everything. Everything, you know? Everything is from catching a fish right here. Right out in front, you know? Our house. Everything we have.  

What is your favorite fish to catch?

Swordfish. Harpooning swordfish because that was a challenge. It’s a real challenge to harpoon a swordfish if you're the harpooner, and I was 99% of the time. We didn't have an airplane. We just eyeballed the fish. We went out and hunted for the fish. And we were good at it. We were really good for it. Elizabeth, my daughter, found a lot of swordfish. She had good eyes. We had a good time. We’d fish at Clemente and then we’d head to Catalina sometimes. It was a good life. Summertime was a vacation for everybody, and me too. As soon as summer was over i'd usually quit swordfishing by September because that’s when lobster would begin. And I fished out at Clemente for 10 or 12 years, and locally. It was a free loving life. I never had to punch a clock too much.

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