The Happiest Place in Town?

In today's bustle and bump world, the serenity of an outdoor sport like fishing is more than just appealing. For some, it's a much-needed excuse to get away, relax, and recenter themselves.

Published : Saturday, August 22, 2009 | 12:14 PM


Warren, Itsy and Bobby Ota

There is a store on North Lincoln Avenue which gives Disneyland some real competition when it comes to being “the happiest place on Earth.” 

At Johnny’s Sport Shop, three generations of a single family have served several generations of fishermen and women learn the art and craft of fishing and – apart from stories about the “big one that got away” – pursue the happiness and tranquilty of one of the world’s oldest sports.

“We do have lot and lots of old customers that come here,” says Isuko “Itsy” Ota, who opened the store with her husband Johnny in 1958. 

The store has evolved and grown over the decades (from six types of reels to its current 240!) but its cheerful atmosphere hasn’t. From the homemade cookies on the counter to the infectious laugh of son Bobby Ota, one can’t help but feel comfortable even if the incredible quantity of fishing gear is a bit intimidating to the uninitiated.

Newcomers are welcome, Bobby says, and he relishes helping a man or woman who comes in to the store, interested in reacquainting themselves with a pasttime they remember enjoying with their father or grandfather.

The store is well known among longtime aficionados. Ota says that Johnny’s sends gear around the world, from commercial fishing tackle up to Alaska, to a sports fishing resort down in Brazil – even to a client on board a United States aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean!

“Southern California predominately sets the standard throughout the country now on different styles of fishing,” Ota says. ” Instead of fighting a big fish in a chair, you’re standing up, no more chair, and you’re more mobile… Actually, it’s more fisherman against fish, as opposed to having a skipper run the boat, back the boat down right on top of the fish, all you’re doing is keeping up with the fish and it’s the boat that’s doing alot of the work. Now, we’re on an anchored up boat, and it’s fisherman against the fish.”

Leave it to Ota to know. He’s virtually grown up at the shop, and he’s learned the lessons passed down from Johnny and the legions of great fishermen who have passed through the door. You probably can’t find more knowledge and experience about fishing in Southern California.

“One reason we survive is because we fix rods and reels,” Ota says. “We build custom rods, built for the physique of the customer.  A six foot guy will have a different fishing rod than a five foot tall guy.  The factories don’t do that, but we’ll do that here for them!”

Given the staggering range of inventory lined up floor-to-ceiling, that professionalism and vast experience are what so many fishermen have come to rely upon. Ota and his team not only know the equipment, the latest techniques, and how to fix rods and reels, but they also know the best local fishing spots.

What’s the closest local spot?

“The Arroyo Seco behind the Jet Propulsion laboratory,” Ota says. “There’s a stream back there called the Arroyo Seco.  Every winter and spring the Department of Fish and Game stock it.  That’s right at the end of Altadena Drive.  That’s the closest place to fish around here. Since I was a kid I’ve fished this stream!”

Ota says that local fish and tackle shops are very interested in keeping natural fishing areas “pristine.” Ota points out that fishermen and hunters actually pay for a license for the right to use public lands, and that license money goes into those areas to preserve and protect them.

In the end, it seems that fishing is nothing more than an excuse, Bobby says. An excuse to get away, to get back to nature and away from the stress and pressure of the professional world.

Johnny’s Sport Shop
1402 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena   (626) 797-8839
Open Spring/Summer/Fall: Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. They are closed Sunday.

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