Local fishermen remember 95-year-old Nat Johnson at the end of the dock, surrounded by a cloud of seagulls as he fed the birds. Likewise, boat dogs came to him for the biscuit treats he seemed to always have in his pocket.

Johnson will be recalled in the minds of local anglers as "one hell of a guy." Johnson died earlier this month. This winter was the first crab season in about 70 years that Nat Johnson didn't set his pots.

Nonetheless, Johnson's affinity for fishing was alive and well through his last days. Local commercial fisherman Jim Anderson visited Johnson at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City earlier this month.

"Nat asked me how the crab season was going," Anderson wrote in an email to the Review. "I told him, and he talked for a bit. It was hard to understand everything he said. A short time later he went back to sleep."

For years, Anderson had been trying to record Johnson's life story. It took bringing in two young women from Half Moon Bay High School to finally get him talking. The students were helping San Mateo County Harbor District interview local fishermen to create signs to highlight the harbor. Squeamish at first, Johnson finally opened up, according to Anderson.

During the interview, Johnson spoke of his decades of fishing. During some seasons, he and other local fishermen survived off as little as 40 traps.

"During those times, we were gentlemen," a harbor sign quotes Johnson saying. "If you had 70 pots and everyone else had 40, you would only set 40."

Born in San Francisco and raised in Half Moon Bay, Johnson was a local guy through and through. As a young adult he traveled all around the world transporting lumber. Later, he lived in Woodside with his family and commuted over to Pillar Point every day.

He was a quiet, gentle man who kept to himself, explained local commercial fisherman Geoff Bettencourt, who grew up around Pillar Point Harbor. "But if he didn't like you, it wasn't good," he said.

"Up until his 90s he'd tell you the name of a restaurant he went to back (as a young adult)," Bettencourt said.

Perhaps the best testament to Johnson's characteristic mental and physical strength, through his 90s the crabber was running the power block, a notoriously strenuous piece of machinery that pulls crab up from the bottom of the ocean.

A witty guy up to the end, Johnson was respected around the docks as a smart man who paid a lot of attention.

Manuel Martins, who fishes off the Maggie, recalled Johnson trying to speak to him in his native language, often firing away with the Portuguese equivalent of colloquialisms like, "Oh, boy!"

(1) comment


I remember the dog treats he always carried and at some point, he always had a little candy bar or two in his pocket that he would give to my then young son -- my condolences to his family.

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