EDITORIAL NOTE – Originally, I wrote this piece to appear in the print edition of Western Outdoor News.  As the print deadline approached, I wasn’t able to confirm with Tommy that this trip was indeed the last for him and the Freedom.  WON editor, Pat McDonnell, decided not to run the story.  This week, Tommy announced that he was moving on from being the skipper on the Freedom.

Several of you have asked whatever happened to that article.  I updated it a little bit.  Here it is… 


Tommy’s Last Trip Briefing Aboard The Freedom

Friday afternoon (October 25th), I received a text from one of the regular anglers on Freedom Sportfishing.  “Tonight is going to be the last ride for the Freedom.  Come out.”  Wow.  Really?  I didn’t even know where they planned to go, or the target fish, but I packed my gear and headed down to San Pedro.

I arrived at the landing around 8pm to comfortably make the 9 o’clock departure.  The regular crew was onboard – Capt. Tommy Lee, 2nd captains Butch Diaz and “Sal” Salazar, Ted, Chloe and Robby on deck and Greg in the galley.  Once we were underway, Tommy gathered the passengers into the galley for a trip briefing.  We’d be heading out to San Clemente.  We’d start out the day fishing Pyramid Cove, looking for yellowtail.  Then we’d head outside to rockfish, and maybe look inside again for calico bass to end the day.  After picking up anchovies at the bait receiver, we motored out to the islands.

Around 3am we stopped and made squid, then moved on and dropped anchor in the Cove before first light.  The action was lively right out of the gate.  Anglers immediately had success with hard fighting bonito biting on light slider setups with the live squid.  The steady staccato of bonito flopping around as they hit the deck was occasionally interrupted by big blue perch, some calicos and a barracuda.  As the sun was coming up one angler got a big hit that took him up the starboard rail.  His extended battle ended in disappointment.  Black seabass?  We’ll never know.  Shortly after another angler got picked up fishing the squid on a high dropper loop.  His battle ended successfully with a nice 12 lb. yellowtail.

Unfortunately, that yellow ended up being the only one for the trip.  After more bonitos, we moved outside to work some rocky spots in search of rockfish to fill the sacks.  Over several drifts, sacks indeed got filled…reds, chuckleheads, big groupers and whitefish highlighted the proceedings.  Most fished double droppers with strips of squid, but heavy jigs in combination with various plastics seemed to entice the bigger fish.  We made our way back in to the kelpline and found a few bass and sheephead to end the day.  It was a fun, if not spectacular, day on the water.

Over the course of the day, little hints dropped about the status of the boat.  On the way back, I talked to several of the crewmembers and regular riders aboard the boat.  Many of them reminisced about favorite trips and big fish they’d caught aboard the Freedom.  In terms of the boat’s status, the story that emerged was a familiar one.  The boat had a tough year economically.  In a year when we saw an extended white seabass bite in the Channel Islands and a year with big bluefin mostly south of the border, they didn’t see as many of their regular riders.  In the last week plus, the boat hadn’t even gotten off the dock.  It was said that the only reason they went out on this trip was it was crewmember Robby Ogden’s birthday.  As we neared the dock, Capt. Tommy seemed to confirm the status of the boat.  He thanked us for coming out and our support over the years.

Backed into the last JP

Backed into the last JP

I felt sad.  This boat was my go to overnight boat for fishing Catalina and Clemente islands.  In the Spring, they were often one of the first boats to score yellows and white seabass at the islands.  Late Summer, they would often venture long to the outer banks, Tanner and Cortes, in search of tuna.  When the Summer bite slowed down, Tommy would run out to seldom visited Santa Barbara or San Nicolas islands to find big rockfish eager to accept anglers’ offerings.  Wherever there was a hot bite, Tommy would find it.  I’ll always remember him as a fisherman’s captain.  It was clear to me that his bottomline was to put you on fish.  Along the way, there were probably too many times where he burned too much fuel, or left the dock with too few passengers.  As an angler though, Tommy’s zeal for fishing was very much appreciated.  Every trip I had with him, it was obvious that he and his crew were giving top effort to show you a great day on the water.  I enjoyed plenty of fun rides on the Freedom.  You all will definitely be missed.  I wish you the best and hope to see you again someday at the rail.  Tight lines!

Editorial Note

Recent announcement that the owners of the Ultra, Jeff Jessop, John Woodrum along with Mark Pisano of the Independence have purchased the Freedom, are in the midst of refurbishing the boat, and plan to have it online for the 2014 rockfish opener next March.  Great news!



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