Captain Stagnero

Fishing Tour Guide Joe Stagnero wants you to experience the drama and beauty of the Monterey Bay.

By Neal Kearney
August 3, 2023
Captain Stagnero, at your service!

If you consider yourself lucky enough to call Santa Cruz home you’ve got access to  a plethora of pleasurable activities to engage in. Hiking. Live music. Breweries and beaches by the score. Strolling by the cliffs during sunset. All of this is fun and entertaining but what people often forget about pr overlook are the opportunities for adventure offshore? After all, Santa Cruz is situated in the Monterey Bay Wildlife Reserve and boasts some of the most beautiful and wildlife rich waters on the West Coast.

I’m a Santa Cruz native, and I’ve been blessed to grow up surfing, spending hours gazing upon the shoreline in between waves, marveling at my good fortune. Yet even with that experience, full of wildlife and ocean energy, isn’t quite the same as taking a proper offshore excursion with a knowledgable guide. Someone like second-generations Italian fisherman Joey Stagnero.

A whale rears its head from the ocean
Fishing with Joey is a Whale of a time

“There are people who’ve lived here their entire lives without getting out there says the 49 year-old fisherman. “It’s one thing looking out to sea but it’s another to see Santa Cruz from eight miles out. It’s truly special.”

There are a number of fishing and whale watching tours that operate out of the Santa Cruz Harbor. For a reasonable fee you can charter a voyage led by experienced captains who will take you out on their sturdy vessels, point out scenic attractions, help you catch fish, and, if you’re lucky, bring you within yards of majestic sea creatures such as humpback whales and Orcas.

Stagnero has been fishing these waters for decade the thrill never seems to dissipate, and he’s in the rewarding position to share that stoke with someone else.

“It’s a spiritual thing for me man. I get to do this everyday for free. I can’t take anything for granted. When we’re out there and we spot some whales, I get excited.” And if he helps his customers pull a 25-35 pound salmon over the rail, “I’m high-fivin’ and huggin’!”

Joey Stagnero
All smiles with fishing for miles

If the Stagnero family name sound familiar, it should. Their story began in the small fishing village of Riva Trigs, located in the northern Italian province of Genoa. In 1913, Matteo Stagnaro left Italy to start anew in the New World. Eventually, he found himself in Santa Cruz where he joined a group of fellow Italian immigrants who made a living fishing the Bay Area waters, from San Francisco to Monterey.

Eventually, more Stagnero’s immigrated to Santa Cruz to help out the family business, which grew to include a small seafood market and restaurant, Gildas, both of which are open to this day. The family tradition was carried on by Matteo’s descendants, and over time the family thrived, taking advantage of the bounty of resources found just off our coast.

Joey Stagnero is the youngest of three siblings. Although he was introduced to the Monterey Bay fishing at the tender age of six, as the baby of the pack he didn’t get much time with the men of the family. He spent more time on land in the care of the women, including his aunt Gilda, who worked in the family restaurant and market. While his life still revolved around the ocean, he wasn’t fully immersed in the world of a commercial fisherman like some of his brothers and cousins.

Out in our beloved Monterey Bay experiences like this are far from Flukes.

“I wanted to be just like the men in my family, but seeing as I was born so late in the game, I didn’t really get that. Instead, working at Gilda’s, I learned early of the importance of customer relations.”

In the fishing and whale-watching business, the experience of the customer is paramount, so the people skills he sharpened on that storied wooden wharf have served him well out on the open sea. He’s honoring his family’s legacy, and doing what he loves, providing an opportunity for visitors to Santa Cruz and locals alike to appreciate the beauty and recreation opportunities afforded by the Monterey Bay.

“I get the biggest boost from seeing little Johnny and Grandpa getting on the boat and Grandpa is trying to teach little Johnny how to fish. I come over and give a few tips and pointers and help him catch the biggest fish of his life. To see that everyday, I would do it for free if I could.”

Joey Stagnero