Ask any restaurateur along the coast from here to San Francisco who Travis Meyer is, and they’ll likely tell you he’s the halibut whisperer. He supplies restaurants from Isla and Crudo e Nudo in Santa Monica to Loquita in Santa Barbara, Industrial Eats in Buellton, Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos and several in Paso Robles. His halibut, sea bass, and bluefin tuna are the stuff of legend in an increasingly competitive world of commercial fishing.
“Travis has connected us directly to the pristine marine life that surrounds the Channel Islands,” Jason Paluska, executive chef of The Lark in Santa Barbara tells L.A. Weekly. “For a chef, that’s a dream come true. When we first met, he delivered a beautiful California halibut that was dispatched using the ike jime method. It was hands down the freshest and cleanest bite of raw fish that I had ever tasted.”
That all changed about a week ago on a midnight run to Hollister Ranch, when Meyer lost his boat, his livelihood and nearly his life.
Here, the seasoned fisherman tells the tale in his own words:
I worked super hard through the summer, several long days in a row trying to raise enough money to get a bigger boat. My market was starting to need it. I got enough funds together and went to the East Coast to shop for a second boat. I found the Obsessed in Newbury, Massachusetts, and had it shipped across the country to California and started to customize it to fish on the West Coast. There were a lot of accessories I had to add on over two months. I wasn’t completely finished but was at the point where I could take a few test runs. I ran it once and found a few little problems. I got it back on land and continued to work on it.
Some information came my way about some white sea bass 35 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara and, given the weather was so good, I took the new boat for another test run.
I took off solo and left Santa Barbara in the dark on Halloween night around 7:30 p.m. I had a pretty smooth first night with enough live squid bait for a couple of nights. I looked for fish throughout the night and fished the following day from sunrise to sunset for local halibut. I was pretty successful, pulling in about 140 pounds for the day.
I anchored for the night and made more bait for the next day. The squid came up into the lights in fairly large numbers, they really wanted to spawn. Typically we use our lights to bring them up to the surface and it induces a somewhat artificial spawn. They mate, they lay an egg and they die. It’s an eight-month to a year lifecycle. That‘s the reason why a lot of the fish come into those areas, because of the natural die-off.
The squid that I put in the tank that night all laid eggs after I fell asleep, I was exhausted from being up. Because it was a new boat, I wasn’t as familiar with the bait tank setup as I should have been. I wasn’t able to put it exactly where I wanted it and had it on deck. The eggs have the consistency of a hard jello and eventually plugged up the outflow of the bait tank and water started to spill into the boat onto the deck. I had pumps in place, but no floats on the pumps.
Over three hours, the boat filled up with about 2,000 gallons of water. There was air in the bilge and so much weight on deck that the buoyancy of the air in the bilge finally overcame the weight of the water on deck. I woke up just as the boat was rolling over. As soon as the corner of the boat dipped within seconds of me walking out of the cabin, the boat rolled. I had just enough time to grab the radio, call a friend and say Mayday twice. Luckily he woke up, not entirely sure of what was going on and couldn’t get me back on the phone or the radio.
He grabbed his fishing gear and raced over to assist, which took a minute. In the meantime, I had crawled up to the bottom of the boat and was yelling to a nearby boat for help. It was about 2 a.m. at this point and thankfully he woke up quickly and got his anchor up pretty fast. He was already lit up for the squid, so we had a lot of light in calm conditions. He started grabbing whatever things he could salvage that were floating around the boat. My friend arrived and got me off the boat while we tried to save whatever we could.
I lost all of my better fishing rods and the new equipment. The salvage alone cost $9,000. I’m not the type of guy to leave something out there like that to sink into the channel. I just had to get the boat out of there.
I may be seasoned but still make mistakes, always trying to learn and stay three steps ahead of this one. Despite the material loss, I made it out with my life, morals, and family intact. My family has grown and become closer. People I’ve never met have become friends and old friends reaching out truly is a beautiful thing.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help raise funds.
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