The word was passed among big game Pacific Coast anglers: 95-year-old James Gordon “Gordy” Bateman passed away on September 10, 2012.
Born in 1917 in Britannia Beach, British Columbia, Gordy attended medical school at the University of Minnesota where he met and married his classmate, Olive Lundgren, M.D., in 1941. He joined the Navy during World War II, went to submarine school, and became one of three medical doctors in the submarine service. He trained in hard-hat diving, reaching depths of 600-feet on helium – 300-feet on-air – and dove on the luxury liner SS Normandie, (re-named the USS Lafayette) after she burned and sank in New York Harbor in Feb. 1942. Stationed on the submarine tender USS Orion in the Pacific and cruising aboard Pearl Harbor submarines that became famous during World War Two, earning his “dolphins” as a medical officer. He was with the Pensacola Flight Surgeons for two years and earned three medical submarine awards.
After World War II, he and Olive moved to Minnesota for his residency at the Mayo Clinic. They subsequently moved to Long Beach where he launched his practice in orthopedic surgery with Leon Wiltse, M.D. Gordy and Olive and their daughters Jane, Karen, and Bonnie and sons, Harry and Jim, fished at every opportunity. Between raising a family and his thriving medical practice, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that he commissioned Dale Jefferies to build the Fighting Lady.
The first time I saw the distinctive profile of Fighting Lady was nearly four decades ago at Guadalupe Island. The 35-foot boat built by Dale Jefferies in the late 1960s had been cut in half in front of the windshield and lengthened to 47-feet. At the time, I knew who owned the boat, but didn’t meet Dr. Bateman, until the ’80s when I joined the Tuna Club of Avalon. I was introduced to Gordy, a member since 1961, who was serving on the Board of Directors at that time.
According to his close friend, Mas Itano, “Gordy believed that if fishing is good at 100 miles, it should be twice as good at 200 miles.” So the Fighting Lady was repowered to allow it to travel farther distances.
Several hundred miles down the Baja coast, tales of phenomenal fishing off Guadalupe Island were emerging from both the fledgling long-range fleet and the few yachts that ventured there. But there was little information other than it was remarkable fishing.
Fellow Tuna Club member Ralph Clock had made occasional trips to Guadalupe since 1967 with extra, deck-loaded fuel in 55-gallon drums.
The story of Clock’s first trip there was a tale of large yellowtail and numbers of hungry marlin near the south end of the island less than a half-mile outside the kelp line. The marlin action remained non-stop for two days until it was time to head north for home.
Clock’s trip convinced Gordy. In 1973, the Fighting Lady made her first voyage to Guadalupe Island. What he found was even better than what he had heard! There were yellowtail to 50-pounds, huge black seabass, and the kelp along the island was loaded with quality calico bass. More importantly, there was a school of bluefin tuna that seemed to make their home near the south end of the island surrounding Monster Rock.
The magic of Guadalupe, along with the remarkable fishing and uniqueness of the island, was enough to draw him and his family back often.
Fighting Lady had a fuel capacity of only 450-gallons, so deck-loading barrels of fuel was a must for the four- or five-day trip to meet the amount the boat’s pair of 471 diesels required for the 280-mile trips that took a full-day and part of a night in each direction.
The Batemans averaged four trips a year, and each trip broadened their knowledge of the island’s fishery. They discovered it fished equally as well in the winter as in the summer, making it convenient to plan a trip during the Christmas holidays when Gordy could take time from his practice, and the kids were out of school. The Fighting Lady always arrived with a boatload of gifts – food and clothing for the locals on the island.
The best results were produced by slow-trolling the large, live scad mackerel caught at the island. The catches were impressive! Son Jim landed a 269-pound bluefin on 80# Dacron – the largest ever caught by a Tuna Club member on 80#. Many other Tuna Club members also caught their button fish aboard the Fighting Lady.
Long before the long-range fleet began using kites, the Batemans discovered that kites, similar to the ones used in the early 1900s at Avalon, were very effective at catching bluefin. According to Gordy, “We should have used those 20 years earlier.”
Michael Farrior, Past President, and Tuna Club Historian told an intriguing story. “One of the two brothers landed a 10-pound yellowtail which they bridled and began slow-trolling along the lee of Monster Rock. A huge bluefin tuna inhaled the yellowtail in one bite and headed out to sea. The large Daiwa reel howled as more and more drag was applied, and the spool containing 50# Dacron grew smaller and smaller until the line snapped with a loud crack when the knot failed at the spool.” Both Gordy and Farrior believed that the fish was one of the giant bluefin exceeding 500-pounds rumored to have been seen over the years. It was confirmed that they existed when several commercial boats netted giant bluefin in 1988.
The Batemans and Fighting Lady logged approximately 30 voyages to the island, and it became clear over the years that even a few boats would affect the bluefin bite. As the number of visitors increased, the bluefin gradually disappeared, replaced by a great white shark population.
Guadalupe Island was just one of Gordy Bateman’s many destinations. He and the Fighting Lady always seemed to be where the fish were biting. It was never a surprise to see them coming over the horizon, whether it was Southern California or somewhere off the coast of Baja or Mainland Mexico.
“When I thought “ESPADON” had reached the ‘horizon,’ feeling pretty much on our own, I would often see the Fighting Lady heading in from places beyond … or when it was time to head for the ‘barn,’ Fighting Lady would often turn in the opposite direction to places unknown.“
Gordy was drawn to the prospect of the adventure, always optimistic that ‘looking around a little’ might generate some interesting results,” observed Tuna Club member and successful angler, David Denholm.
“One morning [circa 1985] as we were gearing up at dawn beneath the shadow of Guadalupe’s Monster Rock, who pulls up next to us but Gordy on his way into the anchorage having spent the night 20 or so miles farther southeast gathering giant squid under the lights for the freezer. A few days later, as we left Guadalupe, hugging the lee side in nasty weather for San Diego, the Fighting Lady took to the outside of the island, heading west to a reputed high spot in hopes of finding albacore. I don’t think it paid off, but the thrill of the hunt was enough for Gordy.”
“Gordy often said catching a fish was a bonus,” according to friend Danny Jones.
Several years ago, the Bateman family and friends gathered at Bonnie and Jerry Gantz’s home. Throughout the evening, the group of fishing companions regaled Yvonne and me with story after story of their fishing adventures and exploits. Besides visiting Guadalupe Island, Gordy took the Fighting Lady farther down the Baja coast to San Martin Island and usually kept the boat in San Diego during the summer to be closer to the fish.
In addition to his local fishing, he and his fishing partner, Dr. Tom Kiddie, a pathologist at St Mary’s Hospital, accomplished the remarkable feat of catching fish in six of the seven continents. This feat was only topped when the two of them (both Tuna Club members), caught their qualifying marlin on light tackle on the same day with two marlin – one weighing exactly 146 and the other 145.5-pounds!
During Gordy’s 51 years in the Tuna Club of Avalon, he was awarded many buttons, awards for himself, and for many of the anglers who fished with him over the years. He set a world record – 337-pound black sea bass on June 9, 1962, while fishing aboard the Sea Sport. He was also awarded several “first fish” flags.
His two sons, Jim with a 269-pound bluefin (1988) on 80# and a 230-pound striped marlin (1982) on 50# Dacron; and Harry with his IGFA World Record calico at Guadalupe Island; and three daughters, Jane, Karen, and Bonnie, along with wife Olive, were avid anglers in their own right. Bonnie Gantz, the third of his daughters, while 8 1/2 months pregnant, fought a marlin for 90 minutes before landing it.
Kathryn Kiddie said of Bateman, “My dad, Tom Kiddie, and Gordy owned two boats together. When my father was alive, every time my father came home from a fishing trip, we would hear him laughingly refer to Gordy as that ‘&#%[email protected] Gordy,’ though we knew they were great friends. After my father’s death, we came to know Gordy differently. He was a thoughtful, wonderful, sweet person, always a scientist, interested in, and curious about everything. He loved learning new things and even took online courses until near the end. We kids, the Kiddie and Bateman kids grew up together.”
Gordy and Olive could always be counted on to help in a crisis. While on vacation in Florida in 1976, a devastating earthquake struck Guatemala, resulting in more than 20,000 deaths. Aborting their vacation, they grabbed what supplies they could and promptly flew down to assist the victims. After days of non-stop working/surgery with no facilities and living out in the open, they returned to Long Beach with Gordy nursing a bad case of pneumonia.
“While serving on the Tuna Club Board, Gordy, Charlie Davis, and Al Herbold traveled to Sacramento to influence California State Officials to designate the Tuna Clubhouse a Historical site,” according to Farrior, a new member at the time.
It was a two-year process guided by Gordy, who enlisted the support of Avalon’s Mayor Bud Smith. The massive effort coordinated with the assistance of Past Presidents, B.G. Williams (’88), Jim Martin (’89), Albert Herbold (’90), along with Farrior (’99) made numerous presentations and held open houses for local groups to garner support. In 1991, Dan Lungren, California’s Attorney General, along with Mayor Smith attended the unveiling of the bronze plaque confirming that the Tuna Club of Avalon was designated as California Historical site 997 as President Gordy Bateman accepted the certificate on behalf of the Club.
One of the last long-range trips aboard the Fighting Lady was down to Socorro and San Benedicto islands in December 1990.
Following his death, a memorial was held at the Southern California Tuna Club House in Long Beach in mid-October. Tables were piled high with Gordy’s favorite foods – sandwiches, boiled eggs, and peanuts – supplied by Joe Jost’s a Long Beach institution, along with a keg of Gordy’s favorite dark beer from BJ’s Restaurant.
His five children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, along with friends, family, and fishing buddies joined together to share their memories and offer their measure of the man. Sadness wrapped in cheerful chatter filled the room as his friends celebrated the long, prosperous life of this much-admired man.
Tuna Club Past Presidents Dewayne Brown (’94), and Doug Daniels (’97) said of Gordy, “He had the most infectious great, belly laugh that we have ever heard!”
Wild and woolly, Moose Halbin commented, “Gordy was one of the finest gentlemen and one of the best fishermen (as well as pretty lucky) that I ever met.” It was apparent Bateman’s family history is immersed in fishing and boating.
The parade of admirers to the microphone continued with words such as “excellent human being who enjoyed people,” “renowned surgeon,” “humanitarian,” a “wonderful parent who raised great children,” “humble,” “intelligent” and “a true gentleman.” These were just some of the words used to describe Gordy – drawing knowing nods and smiles from the crowd.
Once I asked Gordy about his fishing exploits. His reply was what I came to learn was his customary, self-deprecating response. “We just fished and had fun.”
But Gordy was about more than “fun.” He often extended a helping hand. Once in a Tuna Club Tournament – the Avalon Benefit Tournament, as I recall – I misjudged the distance I had to run for the fish and needed fuel. Side-tied to Gordy, he graciously refueled me. I repaid him with a case of rum. He did like his rum, mixing it up with a batch of Bacardi dark and some other brand to get the taste he liked – a recipe that was something like 25% Bacardi dark and 75% Castillo rum.
Underscoring everything said that day was a note from the family of the former head of SAC, Bill Nott: “Our father, Bill Nott, was a long-time acquaintance of Dr. Gordy, both being boat owners and sport fishermen. Upon our father’s passing in 1997, Gordy graciously took many of the Nott family members to Catalina aboard the Fighting Lady to spread dad’s ashes. We did this, but we also made an outstanding catch of yellowtail and calico bass – just as if dad were looking down on us.”
One of the last to the microphone, Tom (Tommy) Kiddie swore that as Gordy’s ashes fluttered down and spread out on the waters of the Pacific where he had spent so much of his life, a large fish could be seen cruising through them.