Thirteen-year-old Ethan Mayes of San Diego has become the first person to earn the title of Master Ocean Angler from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) California Fishing Passport program by catching at least 50 different species of saltwater game fish.
Mayes, an eighth-grade honor roll student, reeled in a black-and-yellow rockfish from the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey on Aug. 13 to record his 50th ocean game fish species.
Mayes’ exuberance at landing the smallish rockfish and scurrying to find a camera to document his catch left tourists and fellow pier anglers a little perplexed about all the excitement over catching a small fish.
“I was so happy to finally do it,” Mayes said of seeing his 50thsaltwater species on the end of his line. Mayes caught his 51stspecies – a cabezon – about an hour later from the same spot. The next day, aboard a Monterey fishing boat, he landed species No. 52 – a yellowtail rockfish – and followed that up less than a week later with species No. 53 – a 50-plus-inch, 15-pound dolphinfish caught outside of San Diego’s Mission Bay aboard a charter boat.
“Ethan has the adventurous spirit and determination needed to travel the state’s waters in search of new fish to catch – which are the hallmarks of a California Fishing Passport Master Angler,” said CDFW’s Mary Patyten, awards administrator for the program. “It really is an amazing feat, especially for such a young angler. He is an extraordinary young man.”
CDFW’s California Fishing Passport program was launched in January 2007 to encourage Californians of all ages and backgrounds to experience fishing for a variety of fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish. The California Fishing Passport booklet is the centerpiece of the program, allowing anglers to record the date, place and species of sport fish and shellfish caught within California waters. Each catch must be verified by a photo or a witness signature. Each catch can then be stamped by an official stamping agent such as a CDFW License Sales Office.
Fourteen different recognition awards can be earned – from the My First Fish Award to the Supreme Master Angler Award available to those who have earned a Master award in at least two other award categories – such as Warmwater Fishing (Inland), Coldwater Fishing (Inland), Ocean Fishing and Shellfish (Inland and Ocean). Mayes previously achieved the Ocean Angler Award – for catching 10 different qualifying species – and the Accomplished Ocean Angler Award – for catching 25 different qualifying species.
With a minimum of 50 different ocean species, however, the bar may be highest to reach Master Ocean Angler status. A Master Coldwater Angler, for example, needs to catch and record just 10 different qualifying fish. A Master Warmwater Angler needs to catch at least 25 different warmwater fish species.
No California angler has yet earned the Supreme Master Angler Award, though Mayes said his next goal is the Shellfish category. Catching at least 15 different qualifying inland and ocean shellfish would earn him the additional title of Shellfish Master and qualify him for Supreme Master Angler status.
Mayes was not born into a fishing family. He began fishing – mostly unsuccessfully – as an eight year old when a family friend gave him a fishing rod and reel for Christmas. His passion for fishing grew and he began logging his catches in the California Fishing Passport program in 2014. His parents have learned to fish to accompany him on his outings and support his passion.
Almost half of the saltwater species Mayes has caught – 26 of the 53 – have been taken off public piers, one of the most accessible types of fishing available in California as no fishing license is required. Mayes honed his saltwater techniques over the years at his home pier – the Shelter Island Pier in San Diego.
As he has gotten older, Mayes has broadened his interests and skillset to include more offshore species. His biggest catch so far is a 125-pound bluefin tuna he caught on an offshore trip with his father. Although saltwater fishing is his primary passion, he also enjoys sailing, tennis, surfing and snorkeling.
Becoming California’s first Master Ocean Angler didn’t become a goal for Mayes until he caught his 25th species.
“That was really a big turning point,” he said. “I was like, wow, this is really happening and I could get to 50 at some point.”