Wen Ming Li
When I think back to all the great times I had with Wen, it seems more like watching “Stand by Me” and seeing the adventures those kids had. Except we really weren’t kids, although if we had met when we were toddlers I’d bet we would have been friends right away. There were so many similarities in the things we liked, down to music, cars, people and fishing. Yeah, especially fishing.
Me and Wen with some barred surf perch, circa 1985
What brought us together originally was a service club we both joined at Gardena High School. We were both “prospectives” in Squires, I can’t remember the year but it must have been about 1984/85. I remember we both got kidnapped and hazed and that was probably the first I even talked to him. He was always so quiet, with a shy smile and a chuckle that would follow. The members of that club tormented us all night during that hazing and then took us out to eat at ihops afterwards I think lol. We were both freezing our asses off because it was probably four am and all we had on were t shirts. After that we were sold off as slaves to other members and they’d make us bring them lunch. Wen would bring these cool yummy sandwiches from his parents restaurant and I’d bring the worst peanut butter and jelly ones I could find, just so they wouldn’t make me bring lunch for them again :). We had to do some skit at the annual banquet and we did something like “soul train scramble board”, I don’t remember everything but I remember I got to whack him in the arm with my kendo sword and that later it left bruises on his arm. That might have been the only time in my life I ever heard him complain ;).
I think we were probably sitting around the traffic circle at Gardena High School and someone told me to talk to him about fishing, that was the first time we really started talking. I found out that he had fished pretty much the same areas that I had growing up. That pretty much immediately synced our friendship, we had our drivers licenses and Wen would drive his parents green Buick (I think it was a buick) and would head to Alondra park and fish for bass, and then moved onwards to trout fishing at the local parks and then once we got older even week long trips to the sierras. About that time he bought his first car, a white Mazda 626 turbo and man we drove that thing till it died years later.
I remember one time we were standing on the dam at South lake and I saw a nice 3 lb rainbow trout cruising along the side and pointed it out, before I could rig my gear Wen flicked out a jig and immediately the trout engulfed it and the fight was on. We laughed about that a long time, how he “stole” my fish and I’d bring it up everytime I could! We started fishing trout in the Sierras every summer, man one time we got into some trophy sized brook trout at this lake you had to hike into. It was a long 2 mile hike with float tubes strapped to our back. We didn’t catch jack sheeyet until Wen figured out the trout were in the middle of these lanes, he called them feeding lanes. We’d throw jigs in there and work them and had a ball catching some huge ones. We’d fish three or even four lakes a day and hit the streams in between. To this day I never met anyone who fished as hardcore for trout as me and he did. We had catch and release 50 fish days, it was incredible.
The funniest time was when we took this ferry waaaaay across the lake at Saddlebag. You had to sign up when to get picked up, the ferry dropped us off at like 8 am, and wasn’t supposed to come get us until 4 pm. We started flyfishing at the mouth of a river and then all of a sudden this big storm rolls through! It wouldn’t have been so bad but there was a lot of lightning around and man it was close, I’d say within five hundred feet of us or so. Its started striking the mountain side nearby and we threw our graphite rods to the ground and ran to this abandoned ranger shack, but there was no eves under it to hide. So we pushed our backs to the wall outside and it was pouring rain. We got soaked to the skin and then Wen says, “well at least it’s not hailing” and sure enough it started hailing on us too, what a guy ;). We took trash bags and poked holes in them to make ponchos but it was freezing cold and we were soaked like a couple of wet cats. All I could think was, we’ve got 7 hours until that ferry comes back, but luckily the ferry came back early and we only had to suffer three hours of that. We were still soaked but hit this stream on the way home anyway and the mosquitoes there were so mean they tried to bite us thru our hoodies so we ran back to the condo with bite welts all over our hands and faces. There was used to be a KFC in town at that time and we ran inside and got hot chicken and hot mashed potatoes and gravy, never did a meal taste that great! We laughed about that adventure for years, I still tell my friends about it.
Pretty much almost everytime I’d fish with that guy he’d outfish me, it was so freaking annoying! He was really keen on observing where the fish were and how to catch them and I’m talking freshwater and saltwater, that guy could REALLY read the water. I remember us going to the Redondo Breakwater in the middle of the night, like three am and fishing for calico bass. We’d use little plastic grubs and 6 lb line, every once in a while we’d hook a monster and would be running up and down the rocks and then PING the line would snap and we’d laugh. Wen always said “fish the foam”, because there was this foamy area of dead kelp and crap and we’d cast into it and that’s where the fish were hiding.
Wen and some Kelp Bass we caught off the redondo breakwater
We spent a lot of time fishing in the Redondo Harbor, Wen and Dale had a small 16′ aluminum boat with an outboard on it. Every year right before college started me and Wen would head out and fish for bonita, back in those days the harbor was full of them. We started tying our own bonita feathers and Wen made this big fluffy one, it was WILD colored, fluorescent green with yellow and white. He called it “the bunny”. I laughed at him, that was until he started outfishing me with “the bunny”! After that we pretty much all fished with the same style, I still probably have a couple in my fishing box and everytime I pulled one out he’d point at it and laugh and say, you know the bunny works! We caught so many fish that the next day it was hard holding the pen in our hands because our arms were so stiff!
We’d go everywhere the fish were biting, in the winter it was trout at the local lakes, then big barred surf perch in malibu/ventura. In the spring it would be largemouth bass and trout in the sierras. And if it was summer it would be calico bass or open ocean fishing. We even made it out to La Paz and fished tuna and dorado one time. Before I bought a boat we started fishing in float tubes, Wen bought me my first float tube for Christmas one year. Then we got tired of that and both bought a couple of fishing kayaks and rigged them with fish sonars, rod holders, and all kinds of other stuff. We’d spend hours fishing for spotted bay bass in the harbors and calicos in the nearby kelp beds and even trout in the local lakes.
Here’s a letter I dug up from Wen when he was fishing from his kayak:
Toughed it out at Malaga today… got there at 6, overcast off color water, 2~3 ft swell at about 7 seconds.which means getting WET…
Fugg, I am out of shape, by the time I got the kayak to the beach, I wuz huffin and puffin, it seems much tougher than it should have been…I still need to get the hang of attaching the cart that you’ve made me. The yak fell off as I was cornering downhill, pretty funny sight, I think all the locals were laughing inside…
Anyways, started to paddle out, and got hit wave after wave, but finally made it thru, I think I’m a chicken shit or sum thing, because the swells look big, not powerful but just big, 2~3, not sure if there are reefs or something, but the wave were rolling pretty far out..I paddled for about 20 minutes, and wuz tired….made my first cast and a 3LBer!!! Welll pretty much all pooped out, so paddle in, got hit by many waves in the back, but got in OK….now the tough part…getting the yak back to the top…..I just carried all the crap to the car first and then came back for the yak…it worked out pretty well, when I strap the cart to the middle of the kayak, it is really easy to pull it, actually it felt easier than coming down… Thanks for the cart I think it made all the difference…
Talk to u laters,
If I remember correctly his parents had owned some sort of shop at the Redondo Pier and that’s where he started fishing as a child. They bought a pizza shop in Hawthorne soon after that and Wen spent a lot of time working there as well. He could throw a mean pizza in the air, I couldn’t believe it because I had never seen anyone do that in person. I remember one night me, him and Sho went on a grunion run at Malaga Cove, the fish ran thick and we scored like 4 bucket fulls of fish! We had so many that we ended up taking some to Raes house and put them on her grass and car (sorry Rae, I know we denied it for years but I guess since he passed we can finally tell you) and we’d howl with laughter.
We’d spend a lot of time hanging out at the beach during the summer, usually 22nd street in Hermosa Beach. We’d haul down there and take our boogie boards and spend time riding waves and eating crap from the Green Store, we’d be there all day long. One time we had just gotten out of the water and Wen started hauling ass towards our towels, some seagulls had raided his chips and had opened up a closed bag and everything, those were some smart seagulls! He loved milk and would always be drinking a pint of it, like every single day.
When we were in high school we’d play volleyball and basketball, he was a great athlete and picked things up quickly. Even when he started the business in China he’d play the guys there on the courts and would school them. He had a hoop at his house in Torrance and when I visited him we’d play one on one and he’d school me too. One time I complained that his rim was stiff, if you hit it on the edge with the ball it would boomerang really hard backwards. He said “dude you are supposed to put it in the hoop, not on the outside” and laughed. What a smart ass 😉! We learned how to snowboard together, it was me, Wen and my coworker Patricia. We hit snow summit and our lessons didn’t start until 8 and we were there at 7 so we figured, heck we all could ski how difficult could it be? After catching edge time after time and having our heads whacked on the hard ice we gave up and smartly decided to wait for lessons!
I fondly remember hanging out with all the older guys in Squires when they were seniors and I was still in the 11th grade, we’d stay out really late just talking and telling stories and eat dinner at Carrows in Gardena and watch the street races in Carson sometimes. There would be a big group of us, Liane, Rae, Scott, Wen, Terri, Charmane, Kim, Bryan, Sandy, Nina, Rik, Allen, Tracey, Darren and probably a few others that I’ve forgotten. Those were some of the best days of my life, I’d come home at like 4-5 am and one time my dad was still up worrying about me. After that I called them when I was going to be late, which was pretty often when I was hanging around my high school friends. Most of the guys I hung around with in Squires were older, so I remember how sad I was when Wen and them all graduated before the rest of us.
Note that says “stripers” and not “strippers”, one “p” makes a whole different word!
I think when I met him he was still working at Rays liquor off Normandie/El Segundo with Dale and Dale’s father Ray. He loved working there and would save up his money, he was the first guy I knew in High School that had his own credit card, lol! He was so smart too, he spoke English, Chinese and more Japanese than I did. He was a natural in computers and got his degree in Engineering at CSULB. After that he started working in the mechanical engineering (I think) field at Miller Dial, and eventually took off to start his own business at a place called Kee Interface or something like that, they built membrane switches for microwaves and different parts for cell phones. I always called him when I had some computer technical question because he knew so much more than I did.
He was spending so much time in China and Europe I’d rarely see him after that. I shoot him an email and he would drop by to see me but man he was always swamped. I was always telling Wen to hurry up and make his millions so he could retire and enjoy it and that I’d teach him how to freedive once that happened. He had plans to buy his folks a house in China and a big boat for himself. He was probably close to retiring when he passed but I can tell you this: Wen loved his work and probably had no regrets about his life. He loved dogs and had two rottweilers when we were in college, a female named Bandit and a gigantic male named Nitro. After they passed away he got a couple more in China at the place he was staying.
I remember when he told me he had a lump in his leg, it turned out that one of the many times we had gotten sunburned as kids that he actually had skin cancer. Since it was rare in Asians it was a big concern and they started treating it aggressively. For a few years it was under control and in remission. Then when I saw him a few years ago it had returned in some lymph nodes. He shrugged it off and told me it wasn’t a big deal and it was under control and it was responding to some clinical trial he was on. I should have known better when he didn’t answer my emails the last year or so. That’s how Wen was, he never wanted to be the center of attention or to cause any sort of fuss. He didn’t want me to worry about it, that’s why I loved him like a brother, he was just a down to earth guy.
Wen was my best man at my wedding the first time I got married and he was there for me when it didn’t work as well. He never got the chance to meet the love of my life and it’s going to hurt me to know he won’t meet my son in a month or so when he’s born either, but you can bet your ass I’ll tell him about Wen, the uncle who taught me so much about fishing. I’m guessing he’s up in the great blue sea with a rod and reel in his hand watching over everything and will get to see my son grow up from there. I’m hoping he is looking down right now as I type this to know that I miss him and I know he’ll be watching over me when I’m diving to keep me safe.
Man Bro I am really going to miss you, I really wish I could have seen you before you left but I’m glad to have spent all that time with you when you were still here. Congratulations on the billion things you worked on so successfully, I’ll always be proud of you.
Wen Ming Li
June 19, 1966-December 3, 2012
I’m going to put some pix of Wen below this area. If you’ve got any others you want to include email me the jpegs at email@example.com.
There’s also some great ones that his family put up at:
and there’s a guestbook for him here:
Before you give me a lot of shit for the way we looked, remember these pix were mostly from the 80’s. It was okay back then ;).