The Fishin’ Lumberjacks

These alumni are hooked on fishing…

By Desiree Perez

Being called a “fish-head” would be an insult to most people, but not to a special group of HSU alumni. These Fisheries grads have been coming together for the past decade to share their love of fisheries, Humboldt State and fishing on the open sea. They affectionately dub themselves the HSU Fishin’ Lumberjacks.

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The Lumberjacks reel in their catch

They call their outings “pelagic surveys,” which is a technical way to say “searching for fish in the open sea.” And it’s true, there’s certainly a technical angle to what they do. It’s not uncommon to catch them comparing professional notes as well as personal tips out on the deck. In addition to their commitment to sustainable fishing methods, they pay attention to weather patterns, the color of the water and general oceanography. If one of them hooks a unique species, all hands are on deck examining the catch, trying to figure out what it’s been eating and more. But for the most part, these voyages are about friends, fun and building community.

Chris DeWees even made the gyotaku ink print of the squid on the back of his collectible Fishin’ Lumberjacks shirt.

The idea for the group came when Fisheries alumni Craig Heberer (‘85), Dave Itano (‘79) and Eric Pedersen (‘84) were working together studying tuna. As they got to know each other on the job and during fishing trips to the Sea of Cortez, they realized their shared ties to Humboldt State and to the call of the open ocean. From there, the trio teamed up with Dave’s brother Glenn Itano (‘77), and Ben Meyer (‘78), all HSU Fisheries grads, to plan their first pelagic fish survey.

“We decided it would be fun to go out together and do what we love to do—fish,” Heberer says. The four decided to call as many Fisheries alumni as they knew and invite everyone on a weekend-long outing for deep-sea fishing. At the time, they had no idea they would create an enduring tradition that would bring together generations of Lumberjacks.

Since their first outing, the Humboldt Fishin’ Lumberjacks have grown to a core group of about 15 anglers and a total of about 24 alumni each trip. Despite the limited space, a handful of newcomers are still able to join in each year.

Before they set out to sea, fishers and their families attend the annual pre-trip barbeque. There, they get the chance to catch up with old friends and relive past trips through the group’s important and lush oral history. The telling and retelwling of their adventures is an important tradition for the Fishin’ Lumberjacks and just one way they like to “solidify the brotherhood”—and they’ve got some pretty good stories like “The Night of the White Sea Bass.”

“Tim Eckstrom, our captain, had us anchored up on this spot near the Cedros Islands with a couple bites while we settled in for dinner. We were fishing yellow tail,” Heberer recalls. The anglers had to eat dinner in two shifts due to the group’s size. While the first group set into their meals, the second group stayed out on the deck to fish leisurely.

During the meal, Mike Shugars caught a white sea bass. Then another angler reeled in another sea bass. And another. And another. As the excitement mounted, those at the dinner table were drawn away from their half-emptied plates onto the deck. That night, the Fishin’ Lumberjacks fished through the night, laughing and telling jokes. “The captain said it was the best sea bass bite he’d seen in 20-plus years,” Heberer says.

Even when the fishing isn’t that exciting, the quality of the company keeps the anglers content. “We get five or six days, with no distractions, to develop our relationships in deeper ways,” Heberer says. To many Fishin’ Lumberjacks, the group feels more like family than a group of old college friends. It’s a bond they share in both the good times and the bad.

When Humboldt grad and returning angler Carolyn Parker passed away from a sudden illness before their 2011 trip, her brothers and sisters in the Fishin’ Lumberjacks came together to celebrate her life. They helped support each other, through their grief. Near the Cedros Islands, one of their favorite and most fruitful fishing spots, the group had a memorial at sea for Parker, toasting her and remembering the impact she had on each of their lives.

Above all, it’s that spirit of community that makes the Fishin’ Lumberjacks a unique and close-knit crew. “Gregg Koonce has to be one of the best anglers on board,” says Heberer, “but he gets more pleasure out of showing someone how to tie a knot or putting his arm around someone who just lost a fish. There’s a Zen to this trip that no one really expected when we started.”

Article courtesy of The Humboldt Magazine.

Check out this footage to see just how many fish are in the water:

See more photos from the Fishin’ Lumberjacks’ adventures: