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Fisherman’s Nott: Strong to the End

These are high times for fishermen. That annual rite of near-spring known as the Fred Hall Western Fishing Tackle and Boat Show is in full swing.

People are flocking to the Long Beach Convention Center by the thousands, eager to be part of the frenzy, buzzing about in search of that perfect fishing rig and the perfect place to give it a try.

But this is also a sad time for many in the sportfishing business. They are mourning the loss of one who was instrumental in building up the saltwater industry after World War II and helping to keep it afloat.

Bill Nott, who in 1972 founded the Sportfishing Assn. of California, died last Saturday after a long illness and recent, debilitating stroke. He was 80.

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The last thing he would have wanted was for his death to put a damper on the Fred Hall show. But this being one of the biggest fishing-related events of the year, show-goers should know that were it not for Nott, anglers probably would be spending much more for saltwater fishing trips, and those trips might not be nearly as rewarding.

Through the sportfishing association, Nott gave member landings and boat owners a voice in Sacramento and Washington. Today, battles are fought in the interests of fishermen in Mexico as well, to keep that country’s waters open to our fishing boats.

Nott fought tirelessly to minimize taxes and regulations. Trust in him became such that the association’s membership today includes 200 boats operating out of 23 landings from Morro Bay to San Diego.

“Together [with his wife, Winn], they did more to promote, preserve and improve the qualities and standards of sportfishing in Southern California than any other two individuals ever have,” said Michael Fowlkes, a longtime skipper turned producer of Fox Sports West’s “Inside Sportfishing.”

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Nott was an excellent athlete as a child and probably would not have developed an intense interest in sportfishing had he not been stricken with polio when he was 17. He spent a year in the hospital and emerged with a limp that would be with him the rest of his life.

“I got into the fishing business because it was the only thing I knew how to do,” he said during an interview two years ago in his Wilmington home.

He became a deckhand, a commercial fisherman and then a boat builder who, after World War II, gained access to surplus vessels and diesel engines that were the beginnings of modern-day fleets. Nott co-founded the now-defunct Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach.

After organizing the sportfishing association, one of his first accomplishments was winning the right for crews to fillet passengers’ fish at sea. Before that, the Department of Fish and Game had required fish to be brought in whole for identification purposes, and the fish were usually cleaned at the landing or brought home for someone else to clean.

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The change in the law enabled underpaid deckhands to pick up a few spare dollars in tips and enabled fishermen to bring home fish ready to toss in the frying pan.

Nott also successfully fought for the elimination of the property tax on fishing boats weighing 50 tons or more, which paved the way for the construction of bigger boats with greater range.

“Bill had a charisma and ability about him that few other have,” said Bob Fletcher, who took over as the association’s president after Nott suffered a heart attack in 1988.

The heart attack triggered “post-polio” syndrome, which led to a collapse of Nott’s respiratory system and left him confined most times to a wheelchair. Still, with a respirator, and his wife always by his side, he remained active in the association, mostly as an advisor to Fletcher.

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Last September, Nott suffered a stroke that left him unable to recognize his family members at times, and had him in and out of hospitals.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle,” Winn Nott said Thursday. “And, yes, I am relieved and feel better knowing that he doesn’t have to struggle like that anymore.

“He has had to battle adversity ever since he was a little boy, from the rheumatic fever he had as a child to the polio that he somehow managed to overcome. He was one strong man, I’ll tell you that. And you know what, he never complained, not once in all the time I’ve known him.”

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Nott will be missed not only because he was a powerful force for the industry. He spun one heck of a yarn.

On one of his most memorable fishing trips, he said, he was fishing off the east end of Santa Catalina Island, with his wife and his son, Steve.

“Historically, on his mother’s birthday, Steve would catch her a big fish,” Nott said. “Well, we’re miles off Catalina and we see this free-swimming marlin, and this is at about noon. Steve hooks him right away and we end up horsing around with this fish for two or three hours.

“After that, he came up and we thought the fight was over, but that fish jumped 30 times. So Steve says, ‘What do we got a hold of, Dad?’ I said, ‘Boy, we got an ornery fish, that’s for sure.’ Well, the wind came up, it’s blowing about 20 [knots] . . . and every time I’d close with him, he’d light up and take off again. And now it’s late in the afternoon, starting to get dark.

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“Well, Winn, without my knowledge, went to Steve and asked him to break the fish off. Steve said, ‘Dad never deliberately broke a fish off in his life, and I’m not going to start now.’

“The sea grew rougher, it’s dark and we’re still heading for San Nicolas Island, and all of a sudden there’s a big searchlight--Wham! And a voice on the loudspeaker: ‘Are you in trouble? Is there anything we can do to help?’ It was a torpedo retriever boat. I said, ‘No, no, no. . . . We’re just battling a big fish here.’

“Eventually, they took off. . . . No starlight and we’re just out there fighting the sea, going on another half-hour or so, when, Wham! Another big spotlight. A submarine, with five guys in the tower. ‘Can we help you? Are you broken down?’

“I said, ‘No, thank you, we’re hooked to a big fish, and we’re going to land him.’ So they stood there and watched. Then they went off into the darkness. So eventually Steve works the fish alongside the boat. And the tail came up out of the water. Well, Steve is 6 feet 6, so he grabs the tail and, with the surge of the boat, he throws the fish into the cockpit.

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“Now the fish really lit up [became angry], and chased Steve and Winn up to the bridge. Well, Steve had the butt of a cue stick that he had drilled out and poured lead into. And he got a hold of that and hit the fish between the eyes and that’s all she wrote.

“He says, ‘Mom, here’s your birthday present, a 160-pound marlin with a 1,000-pound heart.’ ”

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Bill Nott is survived by Winn Nott, sons Michael and Steve, daughter Kathryn, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. A memorial service has been scheduled for March 22 at 10:30 a.m. at California Heights United Methodist Church, 3759 Orange Ave., in Long Beach.

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THE SHOW GOES ON

The opening-day line began forming in front of the convention center doors at about noon Wednesday. By 2 p.m., it had snaked around the convention center, some 2,000 strong. By closing time at 10 p.m., about 10,000 fishermen had come to check out the latest in products and fishing destinations around the world, to meet their favorite TV and radio personalities, or merely to take part in the chaos that is the Fred Hall show.

“It’s not a show, it’s a happening,” Fred Hall, 77, said of his 51st extravaganza, which runs until Sunday at 6 p.m.

Practically anyone who is anyone in the world of fly-fishing is at the fly-fishing expo, including renowned fly-tier Bill Blackstone, whose bugs are realistic enough to demand as much as $300 each; and guides Terry and Wendy Gunn, among the many who will be showing off their talents in the casting pools.

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In the convention center proper, the largest tackle display has been set up by Turners Outdoorsman, which might as well have moved an entire store into the building.

Perhaps the most visually impressive display is that of Roberts Fish Mounts, which set up an ocean-colored wall and lined it with lifelike mounts of everything from rainbow trout to a great white shark. Crowds also gathered for seminars at the freshwater Bass Bin and the new saltwater mobile aquarium, filled with white sea bass, calico bass and halibut.

SIERRA TROUT

Representatives of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce are on hand at the Fred Hall show to remind fishermen they can get a jump on the Eastern Sierra trout season general opener by taking part in the “early opener,” which begins Saturday on waters south of Independence west of U.S. 395.

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To kick off this event, Lone Pine is sponsoring the Diaz Lake Early Opener Trout Derby, during which anglers will fish for not only DFG-stocked brood stock in the two- to four-pound range, but much bigger Alpers Ranch-raised trout.

For details on the derby and the opener: (619) 876-4444.

WHALE OF A DAY

Thousands are expected for activities Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. In addition to the California gray whales passing beneath the bluff on which the center sits, other activities include booths, an arts and crafts fair and games for children. Details: (310) 377-5370. . . . It has been a near-record season for southbound whale sightings from the peninsula. Alisa Schulman-Janiger said that as of Thursday afternoon, volunteer spotters for the California Gray Whale Census Project had counted 1,019 whales migrating toward Baja and 69 whales traveling back home to the Bering or Beaufort seas. In 1987, 1,300 whales were seen making their southbound journey.

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