Today, Fisherman’s Wharf is an obvious hub of tourist activity. Men in red vests stand on every corner, thrusting tour pamphlets in your face. Dozens of stands compete to sell you the same three t-shirts. Tourist traps like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Tussaud’s beckon the naive traveler.
But it hasn’t always been this way. As the name suggests, Fisherman’s Wharf was once the core of San Francisco’s commercial fishing activity. Many Italian fisherman immigrated to the Bay in the late 1800s to capitalize on the increase in population from the Gold Rush. They settled in nearby North Beach, and made a living by selling their catch to local restaurants.
One of these was the Rescino family, who settled the family boat into a berth in 1907 and decided they would never leave.
Mike Rescino, a fourth generation Italian fisherman, said his family has docked in the same spot on the wharf for the past 108 years. Both his grandfather and great grandfather operated commercial fishing businesses from the berth three spots to the right of Castagnola’s restaurant. As sport fishing boomed and Wharf tourism began to steadily increase in the 1960s, Mike’s father began using the family boat for “party fishing” — taking groups of people out on the ocean to fish.
Mike grew up on that party fishing boat, which was handed down to his father and dubbed Lovely Martha after Mike’s grandmother. He learned the ways of the water almost as soon as he could walk, and by the time he was 12, he was docking the boat alone and catching 53 lb salmon (okay, maybe that happened just the one time). He’s been captain of the boat alongside his dad since he was just 19 years old, and today the two of them take out groups of up to 33 at a time.
Almost every day, Mike and his father Frank are on the water operating fishing trips or bay tours for tourists. Frank, who has been on boats for “an honest 55 years,” said it’s been somewhat of a relief to relinquish some of the duties of captain to Mike. “I love this job. I’m very fortunate to have my son doing it. He’s very good,” he said. “I don’t have the energy that he does.”
Years ago, Frank was spending his days on the water with his own father. “I worked with my dad, and he was pretty tough,” he said. “It gets passed down through family, but the trouble is, there’s only one captain at a time on the boat … If he’s running the boat, he’s the captain. When I’m running the boat, I do what I want.” But Frank said he was grateful to work with family on the boat, because the demanding job often requires the Rescinos to spend weekends and holidays on the water instead of with the rest of the family.
Not too long ago, more than 30 party fishing boats lined the wharf ready to take groups on the water, but today only seven remain. The Lovely Martha is one of just three boats that still does regular fishing trips. On these trips, Mike and Frank give each visitor a pole and an equal opportunity to take their catch home for dinner. Mike said the fishing has been very good in recent years — he once took out a group who, collectively, caught 390 fish.
“I like to fish because it’s kind of a form of gambling,” Frank said. “Gambling and fishing are very similar because gambling’s not called winning, and fishing’s not called catching. It’s a sport.” Fishing also offers the Recinos an escape from the cluttered tourist traps of Fisherman’s Wharf. “Human beings are meant to roam around and have space. There’s no space there,” Frank said, gesturing to Fisherman’s Wharf. “Out on the ocean, you get lots of space.”
The Rescinos offer 1/2 day fishing trips ($100), full day fishing trips ($125), and deep sea fishing ($125) on the Lovely Martha daily, and are also available for private events.
Want to join Mike and Frank on a San Francisco fishing expedition? Ask your Scout to help you set it up.