I met Larry not long after I’d been assigned to take over the dock operation of Lower Otay in 1967 when I was 19 and he was about 24 or a little older. I worked for the concessionaire who had taken over operation of the lake and Larry worked for the Department of Fish and Game while also working on his Masters degree at San Diego State.
My job had me on the dock Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from the time I opened the gate at least 30 minutes before sunrise until I closed and locked it long after sunset and the last rental boat was cleaned – all for $1.65 and hour and with no overtime. Those were long days, which is why I turned the boat house office into an apartment I could live in on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights at a minimum.
Larry showed up around noon to do his creel census work which kept him with me on the dock except for those times when he’d do a quick check of the shore fishermen.
My approach to doing creel census of those angler who departed early or when Larry was not present was based on how it had been performed at most if not all lakes by city personnel – which it was kind of an estimate or at best an educated guess as in: “Let’s see, there were 140 permits sold and I probably checked about 100. Seems like the fishermen I saw were averaging about two bass apiece, and there were a few panfish anglers who left with a mixed bag of bluegill along with a few crappie, white cats and bullhead (wheels turning in head and making sure not to round the numbers) so it looks to me like the totals for the day are around 203 bass, 461 bluegill, 8 crappie and 14 white cats.”
“Well,” he said; “those kinds of numbers are of no use for what I’m trying to do, so I want to offer you a deal. If you will do the creel census the way I need you to, I will stay every day to help you with your work until it is done.”
It was a deal, and I got the best of it when you consider that while all I had to do was an honest job of doing the creel census to keep my end of it while Larry helped with my duties which included issuing boats and checking permits, helping people with their motors and then cleaning every boat and gassing the motors at the end of the day. The seasons started with about 65 boats which would dwindle to 45 or 50 over the season as the leakers were removed and the motor fleet was about 25. We also helped fishermen get their gear and often their motors out of the boats, up the gangway and onto a loading area they could drive to for their gear.
Two things stick out from those two years in contrast to the present: launch ramps were nominal at best and often no more than submerged roads and there were few private boats – so the rental fleet was very important to everyone and bass anglers in particular. The other issue is that I was painfully particular and prideful in my work, meaning that every boat, visibly dirty or not had to be drug or rowed to the wash rack, hosed and if needed scrubbed out, and then again drug or rowed to a slip. Early in the season and during hot bites of bass or bluegill, the entire fleet went out and fishermen understandably stayed as late as they could past the siren at sunset. With sunset around 8 most summer evenings and a full fleet of late arriving boats coming in, we worked our butts off and worked together checking fish, putting away seat cushions, gassing motors and of course cleaning boats.
And yes dear friends – we drank them as we worked – sometimes until midnight and especially on Saturday nights when the boats and motors had to be ready to go six hours later on Sunday mornings. In short we worked hard and had a hell of time doing it.
Our work was such that I actually paid the Damkeeper’s son out of my own pocket to help us when needed. Bob Sandburg would stay to help some evenings as did a few kids who I’d comp for a boat in return for helping out.
It was a good time and a better time in my view and after two seasons I moved onto Humboldt State where I learned I didn’t have what it takes to be a Wildlife Biology student and Larry completed work on his Masters thesis on Florida bass on the way to becoming a preeminent fisheries biologist.
Come back next week for Part II of this tribute to Larry Bottroff.