Catch of the Day

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Darren Keaster and a 25-Pound Sea Bass

Just like on any ordinary Wednesday morning in Malibu, Darren Keaster parked his camouflaged van near Pacific Coast Highway, watched the waves for a few minutes, grabbed his longboard and fishing pole, and hit the water to catch lunch for his friends at Surfrider Beach.

That’s when this ordinary story takes an extraordinary turn.

“On this particular day, the water was crystal clear and I decided to swim up to the Point on my board,” Keaster said. “I had just put brand new line on my reel and everything was tuned up, ready to go.”

Keaster has fished off of his soft top longboard for more than 25 years in Malibu, paddling out past the surfers near Malibu Pier and First Point with his fishing pole in his mouth, finding the right spot, and dropping a line for the day’s catch.

“I cast out and I caught and hooked this Calico bass,” Keaster said. “Then, the sun got in my eyes. I dipped my rod down a little bit, loosened my drag and then the rod kind of bent over.”

Keaster knew something was different about this catch even before he could see the bass. From fishing on boats with his father Robert at a young age, to turning his favorite hobby into a career as a butcher, he’s had his fair share of experiences trolling waters. 

As he slowly reeled the small, six-pound line in, expecting to see a two-pound fish hooked on his lure, he tightened his grip on the pole for an entirely unexpected ride. 

“This fish steadily started pulling me on my board,” Keaster said. “I had to swim over a couple of waves, lay down and hold the rod. I had to ask one surfer to scoot over. The whole fight in total was about 20 minutes.”

Friends noticed the show from the shore and started congregating near the beach to watch the local angler grab a 25-pound white sea bass from the water, hold the fish to his board and make his way back to the sand. 

“What’s Darren doing? Why’s he pad-dling all weird,” Keaster’s friends wondered from the beach.

“I swam around the outside where it was all nice and calm, and I’m paddling with one arm and holding this 25-pound fish with my one hand,” Keaster said. “I stepped on the beach and I held this thing up and started screaming. Tim [Hazelip] with the Malibu Underdogs was taking video and a bunch of people came up to take photos. [Malibu surfing legend] Allen Sarlo looks over at me and said, ‘Hey, nice fish, stud!’ It was exciting to just get that thing and swim through the line up, have all of those people there for you.” 

From the beach, Keaster and friend Dan Carr carried the massive fish over to the pier to be cleaned, and when the former butcher cut open the 25-pound bass, the two-pound Calico slid out and into his hands, to the joy of his friends and the growing crowd.

“Have you ever heard of a white sea bass eating a Calico bass?” Carr said. “Rare — so rare. Not to mention, he was able to be dragged around in the water through a gnarly fight on a six-pound cable. If he would have had that from the beach, he might not have got it — especially on the six-pound line.”

The licensed fisherman and self-titled “half-loc” (Keaster lives in Westlake, but spends his days in Malibu) practices catch and release methods often, and has notched out regulation lengths on his pole to easily gauge the keepers from his surfboard. 

“Fish responsibly,” Keaster said. “Learn. Buy your license. Learn about what fish you’re able to catch and size regulations.”

Aside from strongly encouraging legal and smart fishing practices, Keaster is also known for bringing out a small traveling barbecue from his van, cleaning the days’ catch, and serving grilled fish and fish tacos to his friends.

“I always have my barbecue there and whenever I catch something, we’ll go down to Ralphs and make guacamole, salsa and fish tacos,” Keaster said. “We surf and we fish; we have fun down here … that’s what we do. It’s a good life.”

Keaster’s had a year full of ups and downs. His mother, Janice, was diagnosed with cancer almost exactly a year to the day of the incredible catch, his 20-year-old son Logan was involved in a dangerous accident in January and Keaster turned 50 earlier this year, refocusing on his own health and losing 50 pounds. 

“I’ve been blessed,” Keaster said. “I have a dad that liked to fish and it pushed me into the direction of what I did for a living, working in different fish markets and butchers. I made a good career for a long time, but I was laid off when the economy went sour. I’ve been happy getting by, with a smile on my face. And, something will come along for me. Only the best can happen.” 

Spending his days by the beach, surfing, fishing and being surrounded by friends that have grown into a family may just be the best part of this angler’s tale. 

“Malibu’s a special place, and I really respect the place,” Keaster said. “I just want people to come there to do the same — respect it. Be kind to others; say hello and try to have a good day in Malibu. We are truly blessed to have this place.”