Fifteen years ago, John Doughty helped my then 3-year-old son pick out a small fishing pole and just the right lure to catch a halibut in Newport Harbor. As my son walked around J.D.'s Big Game Tackle shop on Balboa Island, he was spoken to by Doughty with kindness, enthusiasm and genuine respect. For 35 years, this kindness toward people and knowledge of the sea has made Doughty the "go-to" authority on fishing in Newport Harbor and along the coast of Southern California.
I asked Doughty if he was going to have a party in October to celebrate 35 years in the same business location.
"Oh, I have a party every day," said Doughty. "Could you ask for a better location to go to work? And everybody's in good spirits. They're happy. They're going on an adventure."
Doughty grew up in Orange and Tustin, but his parents would rent a place on The Little Island for a couple of weeks in the summer. When he was 5 or 6, his father taught him to fish.
"I was on that public dock every day," said Doughty. "I kept telling myself, 'I'm going to have a fishing tackle store here on Balboa Island ... that's my goal in life.'"
"I think fishing involves an appreciation for nature," said Doughty, "to be able to touch, feel, be a part of nature. Any more, you don't see that so much with kids. They're at their computers or texting."
"But when you fish, he said, "you get your hands wet ...slimy ... might have a fish bite you. It's just natural. And you don’t know where the experience will go from there. Maybe a kid might go into biology, you just don’t know. Why limit it?"
Doughty has written a daily fish report for 30 years that he now calls his blog. It can be found on the shop's website. He reports on the ocean, weather or environmental conditions. He also offers fishing tips and posts photos submitted to him by friends.
"The fish report helps people with their game plan," Doughty said. "It’s just too damned expensive to go boating to make a mistake and go 30 miles out on the wrong course."
Doughty has noticed that people today have a greater appreciation of nature and respect for the environment.
"Used to be," said Doughty, "there was no limit to what you could catch. Today people are more aware of the environment, and rightfully so. They catch and release."
Doughty said, "To me, the harbor is like a park and those [fish] are ‘my squirrels.’ Don’t eat ‘my squirrels,’ just play with them and let them go.”
And Doughty has seen the result of animals who are left to grow in the harbor for 15 years or so. He has seen thresher sharks, leopard sharks and 45-pound halibut caught in the harbor. He's also witnessed dolphins swimming after smaller fish just outside his shop.
He has seen nature take many forms in the harbor. He has watched a "beautiful white sheet of sea water" spill over the top of the sea wall in front of his shop, the result of a high tide and a big storm. He has witnessed tornadoes on the harbor and he observed the effects of the recent Japanese tsunami.
"We could see the tsunami from Japan coming through here," said Doughty. "You could see the waves. The tide was coming in and then it would stop, and then it all went back out again—come in, go out, and do it all over again. That was pretty cool."
But the most pleasant thing about working at J.D.'s Big Game Tackle for 35 years is "watching the parade."
"A young couple walks by with a couple of little kids," said Doughty, "and this is their chance to talk with one another. Or there’s an older couple going by here and they’re still holding hands. It’s so cool to see those relationships."
Doughty said: "I think that’s the most important thing I see when I’m here is the ambience, people being able to relax and talk and be with family—not having to worry about the negative things in life. It’s all positive here. I’m very fortunate to be able to look at that. I'm helping the grandchildren of the parents I used to help.
Maybe he'll help my son's children one day. I sure hope so.