Randy Fry Memorial Page

 

Randy Fry
(1954-2004)

 

Randy Powerpoint (by Larry Ankuda)

 

Fishermen Lose a Friend

by Jim Martin

My good friend Randy Fry, aged 50, died on Sunday, August 15th, in the
middle of the afternoon, on a gloriously warm day out on the Pacific Ocean.
He was killed by a great white shark in fifteen feet of water while diving
for abalone.

His death is so tragic and bizarre that it has riveted the west coast
fishing community's attention. When it comes to something like this, it
lands hard on anyone who steps foot in saltwater. Whether you are a
recreational diver, a sportfishing angler, a commercial fisherman, or just a
person who likes to look out at the ocean while walking the beach.

Randy was born in Tulare, CA. He attended schools in Sacramento City and San Juan school districts, graduating from La Sierra High School in Carmichael, CA. His father was President of the Sacramento Title Insurance Company until his death in 1985. Randy is survived by his son, Randy Jr., a grandaughter, Aubrey, his mother, Velora Fry, a brother, Dana Fry, and two sisters, Cheryl Clarkson and Dawn Mize.

Randy took the bull by the horns and started getting people organized to
fight fishing closures. He seemed to know everybody, and if he didn't know
them personally, he was buddies with someone who did. He was a former scuba
diver instructor, led diving charters in the Philippines, and became an
avid, free-diving spearfisherman who competed in club competitions. He had
been fishing up here in Mendocino County, in Albion and Fort Bragg, for
thirty years.

Fry was employed by the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a non-profit, grass
roots political lobby for saltwater sportfishermen and the recreational
fishing industry. This was our most important voice representing
non-commercial anglers and divers on the West Coast.

In 2003 Fry was appointed to a federal fishery management panel on
groundfish, including important species to the recreational nearshore
fishery. Randy was instrumental in the appointment of Darrell Ticehurst to
the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), the august body that sets
most saltwater fishing regulations.

Cliff Zimmerman, a Fort Bragg resident, met Randy when they were both living
in Sacramento in the 1970s. Cliff introduced Randy to Mendocino fishing and
Randy caught the bug.

Cliff owns the Beach House Inn and is well known in Fort Bragg as a
surveyor. He was diving with Randy Fry when Randy died.

These guys were not inexperienced divers. Cliff had a plan for what to do if
somebody got bit. Here's what happened, as best I know it:

Randy Fry was in town for the Fish Fry in Noyo Harbor for the Recreational
Fishing Alliance. We organized this event to raise money and join new
members for RFA. We had a great time, and signed up a bunch of new members.
We put faces to names. Many RFA-NorCal board members were there: Red
Bartley, myself, Randy Fry, Bob Humphrey, Steve Campi, Dave Whittington; all
my local fishing buddies were there and working the event. We had a blast
and put a bean in the pot.

On Sunday I found Randy Fry, Cliff Zimmerman and Red Bartley at Carine's
around noon. Red is the president of the California Striped Bass Association
and a board member of RFA's NorCal Chapter. These guys were my people. We
had lunch, and everybody wanted to fish but I felt obligated to clean up. My
friend Alex Hamann was there and considered going diving with them but had
to get back to Oakland. The last time I saw Randy, he was shaking Alex's
hand and thanking him for helping out so much with the Fish Fry. "I really
mean it," Randy said, and he left.

Randy and Red joined Cliff the DOLPHIN, Cliff's 28 foot Uniflite
sportfishing boat, and they decided to troll for salmon up by Ten Mile
Beach, in close. They continued to troll north and caught nothing but
lingcod, which they released. Once they reached the Kibesillah area Cliff
and Randy decided to pop some abalone. It was Randy's second abalone diving
trip of the year, to the best of my recollection.

They had been in the water ten or fifteen minutes and were about 150 feet
from the boat. Red Bartley was in the boat angling for rockfish. Before they
dove, the whole crew talked about the possibility of sharks. Red Bartley was
concerned about sharks in the area and Randy and Cliff asked him to watch
out for any sign. Seals suddenly beaching themselves; fins above water. Red
agreed to be a lookout.

They were diving in fifteen feet of water or so. They had been in the water
for about fifteen minutes. They chatted while hanging on to their diving
tubes, and Randy told Cliff to adjust his mask to get the fogging out. Cliff
turned away from Randy and was looking down to prepare for his next dive
when a big shark passed by Cliff and hit Randy with a clean blow. Randy just
had started a dive and was underwater. He was dead instantly and never came
to the surface. Cliff estimated that the shark was as big as his pickup
truck, and he got a pretty good look at it.

When Cliff saw the shark, and then the pool of blood in the water, he
screamed out, "Holy shit! Shark!" He dropped his weight belt and swam
furiously back to his boat. Red grabbed him and pulled him into the boat.
They looked around all over for Randy, but he was nowhere to be seen. They
called in a "Mayday" on the VHF radio, and an angler in a small aluminum
skiff came in and started patrolling the scene, looking for Randy. The
DOLPHIN was anchored up but Cliff was ready to lose the anchor as soon as
they saw Randy.

Cliff and Randy were always playing tricks on each other, and Cliff was
hoping this was a good one. Maybe Randy brought a red dye bag and popped it,
then swam off underwater. Maybe a seal was hit by the shark and Randy was
able to get out of the area. The whole thing is so unbelievable, your mind
races to find an explanation.

The Coast Guard cutter arrived on the scene, along with their helicopter.
They searched the area to no avail. After about two hours, they returned to
port. The truth had finally sunk in.

I just can't get my mind around the fact that Randy Fry is dead.

I was working down in the harbor at 5pm, cleaning up after the Fish Fry,
when Don Akin and Kevin Browning came over and said there was a missing
diver up by Orca Inn. My heart went up in my throat because I knew Randy and
Cliff Zimmerman liked to dive there.

I started driving up to Orca Inn but realized I couldn't even get to the
water there to find out what was going on. I just had a really bad feeling
about this. I drove back to the harbor and Cliff's boat was tied up at the
Coast Guard Station. I went over there and I saw Red Bartley being
interviewed by the sheriffs. He looked at me and said, "We lost Randy. A
shark got him." I broke down and cried.

I can't tell you what it felt like to take Randy's Grundens and clothes off
Cliff's boat.

This is a guy I talked to almost every day, and he came up to Fort Bragg
every chance he got to go salmon fishing or diving. We battled together for
five years against those who would take our fishery away from us. This
leaves a hole that can't be filled.

Good-bye, Randy, my good friend.

A lot of people are asking what they can do, about funeral arrangements and
donating to a memorial. In dealing with the press, I tried to get the
message across that this was a very special guy, a indefatigable warrior for
all our best hopes for our fishery.

Red Bartley and I had the sad duty to identify Randy when the Coast Guard
brought him in this morning. Fortunately we did not have to make a visual
identification, which would have been very traumatic for me. We were able to
describe his dive gear and fins and that was enough.

Red Bartley has been like a rock through this whole thing. He's been through
it before and I can't say I have. This is new territory for me. I've never
lost a closer friend. I also want to thank another RFA stalwart, Randy's
friend Milo Vukovich, for being there and doing what needed to be done or
said.

Randy was wearing an olive camo wetsuit that made him blend into the rocks.
Cliff was wearing an all-black wetsuit and the shark passed by him, close
enough to touch, and went for Randy. He could have had a bangstick, a
Mossberg Mariner shotgun, an AK-47, but if you don't see it coming, none of
that does any good.

Randy had said to Cliff many times: if he had to go, he wanted to go in the
water.

After the shock and denial started wearing off, I started to ask myself what
Randy would want us to do. The first thing he'd tell me: DON'T DROP THE
BALL.

The only reason he was up here last weekend was to sign up new RFA members.
He understood that the problems we face are political in nature. We both
went through some hard times when we had the best evidence, the best
arguments, and the biggest crowd in the Commission hearings and we still
lost. It's political. Shit happens in Washington DC, and shit flows down
hill. All the rest is monkey talk. Randy had a knack for figuring out who
had the power, identifying them, befriending them, and making things better
for recreational anglers and our fisheries.

He had the perfect personality for this work: he liked the limelight, he
liked people, and he loved to talk fish politics. He was willing to make the
sacrifices necessary and we cannot replace him.

A few days ago, before the Fish Fry, I left a message on Randy's phone
saying that "I needed a pep talk" because of some setbacks I had in
organizing the Fish Fry. I can't even remember what it was about now but I
wanted to whine. A few minutes later he called me and said:

"Oh, Cowboy Up, Pardner."

I bust out laughing. It was perfect Randy, short sweet and to the point. It
was all the pep talk I needed. Four words, and he set me straight. A lot of
people have been asking me what they can do and I have two words:

Join RFA.

Make a check out to "RFA", mark it to the "Randy Fry Memorial Fund" and send
it to

c/o Jim Martin
POB 2420
Fort Bragg, CA 95437

I promise you, and I promise my loyal friend, this money will be used as
Randy wanted it to be.