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A Class Act: The Life of James "Rollo" Heyn - Written By: Michael Towle

The man in the crow's nest was glued to his binoculars, scanning the horizon. Nothing; only water, and other boats. As he looked through the other boats he saw it; yes for sure he had seen it. But why had none of the other boats? He spoke into the intercom, to alert the captain. The captain fired up the center diesel, and brought it up to speed. He then throttled up the two other diesels. The boat slowly gained momentum. In an area where the other boats were milling around at 7 or 8 knots, this boat was fast approaching 13 knots. The diesels clattered. The wind picked up. How had no other boat seen what the man in the crow's nest saw? There were plenty of other boats closer. The captain did not hesitate or question this; he only strained the limits of his boat's engines. He had to be the first one there.

He was. He made it. No other lookout or captain had seen it. It was a school of breezing Bluefin tuna. Captain Frank LoPreste brought the Royal Polaris up to the school, which yielded a good catch of quality bluefin, some up to 150 pounds. All thanks to the man in the crow's nest: James "Rollo" Heyn.

Five years later I stood on the sidewalk in silence, looking at my feet, then around at the various other mourners standing in little groups, then at my feet again. I had arrived several minutes late; by that time there was standing room only on the sidewalk and out into the street. The sunny February morning was still and not yet warm; I could not hear what was happening inside the small church building. A hymn began, and several people moved out from the back door. I looked up toward the side door; people were beginning to exit the small building. I could see Buzz Brizendine and his wife walking down the sidewalk in my direction, followed by Butch. As I turned my attention to the back door again, I saw young Pat Cavanaugh walking down the walk towards me. I looked past Bryan Haslam, to see the pallbearers slowly make their way out of door and down the stairs towards a waiting hearse. By this time, the street was filled with people; traffic could wait. I looked around and realized something: "I am standing among the "Who's who" of the Southern California sportfishing industry." Captains, deckhands, and passengers alike: I don't recall seeing more than a few dry eyes. These were the most hardened men that I knew: weeping and sobbing.

James Michael Heyn was born on August 5, 1959 in Santa Monica, California. His mother died when he was six years old, leaving his father to care for young James, and his brother Tim. James' grandparents stepped forward and took on the responsibility of raising him. At the age of nine, James' uncle introduced him to sportfishing -- an activity that would eventually become a passion and a way of life for James. As a young kid, James was a little heavier and somehow picked up the nickname "Rollo" a moniker that would stick with him to this day.

As a student at Santa Monica High School, Rollo spent his weekends and summers fishing the local boats in the Santa Monica Bay area. High school buddy, Mike McCormick recalls working a few summer days on the Kiora at Santa Monica Sportfishing, agreeing to clean the boat in trade for a free fishing day. During his high school years Rollo also held a job at Jerry Morris' tackle shop in Redondo Beach. It was here that Rollo gained experience with rods, reels, and tackle.

As Rollo's love for fishing grew, in his late high school years Rollo began to fish in the San Diego Fleet. Buzz Brizendine, owner/operator of Prowler, was working as the second captain aboard the long-range sportfisher Qualifier 105 around this time. Brizendine recalls fishing with Rollo, remembering the young man's skills, and his "general love for the ocean, and a love for fishing." Rollo fished aboard several of the long-range boats, including the Searcher, with Captain Frank LoPreste.

Upon graduation from high school, Rollo followed his passion for fishing to San Diego, California, with the intention of finding a crew position in the sportfishing industry. Rollo went to Frank LoPreste in search of work. LoPreste, owner of the world's premier long-range sportfisher Royal Polaris was able to find Rollo a position as cook aboard the Cortez. Rollo spent two years behind the grill, as a quiet kid who did not care a whole lot for cooking. Leroy Shintaku, second captain of the Cortez recalls, "Rollo really hated making pancakes. [We] used to get a kick out of telling our passengers that the pancakes were the best on the menu."

After two years of cooking aboard the Cortez, Rollo came back to LoPreste; he wanted to work long-range. LoPreste gave Rollo a position as a deckhand on the Royal Polaris. Rollo loved it; it was a dream come true. Every minute that he was not working, Rollo was fishing.

Royal Polaris' Captain Steve Loomis recalls when he first met Rollo 18 years ago: "My first impression was favorable. I liked him right away, he was a good guy, a good fisherman, he was really eager. He liked fishing; he was into it, he was good at it." As a fisherman Rollo was above average, and he was only about 21 years old at this time. According to LoPreste, "We went through the normal things; as a youngster, he was a very good deckhand, but he had a lot to learn. He became better, better and better; his love of the sea just kind of evolved. His abilities were very natural, he skills kept improving exponentially as he was exposed to the people who know and his skills and talent just surpassed a lot a people." Rollo was loving life. He was working on the world's premier long-range boat, fishing, and just having a great time.

As Rollo continued on with his career aboard the Royal Polaris, he began to build a name for himself. This was partly due to his many appearances at fishing shows throughout the region, where he and Frank LoPreste would give seminars. Unknown to many, Rollo was not always a good public speaker. LoPreste accounts "He wasn^(1)t that great of a speaker, but because he wanted to get involved with me doing seminars, he paid attention. He honestly became every bit as good a speaker, if not a better speaker, than I am. We became a very good team. We did a lot of seminars together. In fact when I go to shows, I miss Rollo more than I do anywhere else. I really miss him. The Long Beach show really tears my heart apart."

It was giving seminars at these shows where Royal Star owners/operators Captain Randy Toussaint and Captain Tim Ekstrom believe that Rollo had his greatest effect on the sportfishing industry. According to Toussaint, "He promoted fishing a lot, he was doing the shows and he was doing a very good job at it. Rollo had a gift of talking to people and making them want to go fishing; long-range fishing. That was a big part of what he did for the industry. He got people excited about long-range fishing. He got people to come out long-range fishing that normally would not have gone. You would go out on the boat with him and have a blast. He made us all realize that it isn't just about going out there and catching a ton of fish. He turned it into a more of a nice vacation; a bunch of guys having a great time, the fishing is bonus. Rollo was key in turning the industry into that." Tim Ekstrom, also credits Rollo for this impact on the sportfishing industry: "His biggest advantage, aside from fact that he was just the most unbelievably charismatic individual, that alone was a big advantage in giving the seminars. His enthusiasm was just undeniable, it was contagious. That was a huge part of his appeal for everybody on the boat. The guy's enthusiasm not just for fishing, but his enthusiasm for this business, for sportfishing, for the Royal Polaris especially. He was into it. His ability to convey that enthusiasm had a big impact."

In early 1991 Rollo married Leslie Trebon in Las Vegas, Nevada with close friend and mentor Captain Frank LoPreste as the best man.

In 1993, after being influenced by LoPreste and Loomis, Rollo earned his United States Coast Guard 100-ton master's license. Royal Polaris Captain Steve Loomis recalls that "he was excited when he got it." Loomis further remembers "when he got his captain's license, that didn't change him. It wasn't like he put on the stripes and hat and went into the wheelhouse. He didn't mind getting dirty, even when he got his license he was still one of the crew. It wasn't like he was above everybody." Within several years of getting his license, Rollo was running the Royal Polaris as relief captain.

Rollo was an incredible fisherman. A fishing rod in his hand has been alluded to be a magic wand. From the time that Rollo came to San Diego as a kid, his fishing savvy has always been extraordinary. Ekstrom looks up to Rollo^(1)s talent: "He was just an exceptional fisherman, the guy always exhibited tremendous fishing savvy. Not just being able to handle a rod and reel; there is nobody better with a rod and reel than that guy as far as I am concerned. Rollo just savvied fishing. To define that term: savvy fisherman. He understood conditions. He knew when to pick up a rod and throw out a bait, or pick up a long rod and make a cast. He picked up the rod and made a cast, he got bit. It wasn't a coincidence. It was like time and time again. The guy just understood it; in my opinion, at the highest level that one could. As far as a fisherman goes, there wasn't anyone better."

Rollo not only understood how to handle a rod and reel, but he could put the Royal Polaris on fish. He understood the currents and conditions; he just knew what the fish were doing, and where they were going next. He was always in the right place at the right time. According to Frank LoPreste "There are a lot of skippers in our fleet, there aren't very many fisherman. Rollo was a fisherman, he had that extra sense." Rollo not only had that sense; he had the confidence to go by what he felt. It paid off; time and time again. Rollo was known throughout the industry as a captain who returned to port with exceptional catches, just as LoPreste and Loomis were both known for. These three incredible fishermen were the reason that the name Royal Polaris is synonymous with large fish counts.

Another interesting, and somewhat unknown fishing fact about Rollo, was his eyesight. It was exceptional. LoPreste said about Rollo: "He happened to possessS( the best set of eyes in the fleet. Nobody had a set of eyes that were as good as Rollo Heyn's." Loomis added, "There are a lot of people that have great eyes, but don't see. They don't know what to look for. Some people get it and some don't. He knew what to look for." Rollo would frequently be in the crow^(1)s nest spotting. He was good at it. According to LoPreste, Rollo could see breezing fish at a greater distance than anyone else in the fleet could. This attribute is key in being a good fisherman. LoPreste went on to tell the story of Rollo spotting the breezing Bluefin among the rest of the fleet.

Through his first wife Leslie, Rollo met Stephanie. After his breakup with Leslie, Rollo began to date Stephanie. Several days before Valentines Day of 1998, Rollo asked Stephanie to marry him. That Valentines Day, five pounds of chocolate, and four dozen red roses were delivered to Stephanie at work, courtesy of her new fiance: Rollo Heyn. The day that Rollo's divorce with Leslie was final, September 11, 1998, Rollo and Stephanie were married at Bali Hai, on Shelter Island in San Diego, California. Frank LoPreste stood by his protege as best man. A two-week honeymoon to Kauai followed.

Rollo was in love. As LoPreste remembers: "Madly in love." LoPreste and Stephanie both recall Rollo's interest in finding a job on the beach, in order to be able to be with his wife. Rollo could not give up fishing though, and Stephanie understood. Stephanie stated of her 'soul mate:' "We had a great love, I fell in love, some people never find it in a lifetime, at least I had it for a little while. I know what it is like." Rollo was always doing little things for Stephanie to show his love. She told of how he would leave love notes for her hidden around the house, then call on the satellite phone from the Royal Polaris and tell her where to find them. She would do the same, putting notes in his seabag with the date that he was to read each one printed on the envelopes. She remembers how excited Rollo was in anticipation of the date on which to open the next note.

Rollo is probably best known for his sense of humor, his upbeat attitude and his general love for life. Rollo was always making sure that everybody was comfortable and having a good time. LoPreste related that, "Rollo had a wonderful sense of happiness, of always really having fun, he loved to see other people happy. Whenever he was at the dock, and he wasn't at the dock that often, it wasn't often that he ever forgot the secretaries. He would go out and by them a box of candy; not only just to make them smile, but to let them know that he appreciated them. With the passengers aboard, he also had something positive to say. Whenever he could teach, he taught; he taught very well." Rollo enjoyed going to the shows where he spoke at the seminars. He loved sharing his passion with people.

Everybody loved Rollo; his personality was just that magnetic. "Magical" as Ekstrom put it. Ekstrom explained: "[Rollo] was the most charismatic individual that I have ever met in my life, no doubt about it. There was something about that guy^(1)s personality that just made you want to like the guy. It made you want him to like you. That was his gift, with all the passengers. Everybody would strive for that recognition from the guy. Just him even giving a little bit of it, it would just brighten peoples' day, you could see it in their faces. They were just stoked, because they shared that moment with Rollo. That was even before the guy reached living legend status. He was always that way, The guy was invaluable. He set the tone of the whole trip, the guy literally did, and he did it single handedly. That guy was king, hands down, without being a spooner or a goof or a bafoon, he wasn't like that. He didn't have to do that. Just by being himself, He loosened everybody up. He softened everybody up. A huge part of Rollo's personality, a huge part of his character, a huge part with us, his friends, was the fact that the guy was a fun guy to be around. He was constantly upbeat, and always having a good time." Rollo loved life.

There was never a dull moment with Rollo; if the tempo slowed down, Rollo found a way to pick it up. He was always up to something. Rollo was a prankster, and everybody loved him for it. Rollo could get away with anything. "Whatever the guy came up with, he could pull it off, and nobody would get angry. They just thought it was hilarious." Ekstrom explained.

Ekstrom went on to tell of one of Rollo's favorite antics: Rollo would take a spray bottle, fill it with water, and set the nozzle to fine mist. He would then walk out on deck and find an unsuspecting angler. Rollo would stand next the angler, talking (usually about fishing) with the angler for several minutes. All the while his hand was around the passenger, misting the back of the passenger's shorts. All the others on deck would see what was going on, except the poor victim. The light misting usually would not be felt until the passenger would sit down. Everybody would get a laugh out of it. The thing is, Rollo wouldn't do this once per trip; when the boat reached port in San Diego after a long-trip, it was not uncommon for almost all of the passengers to have 'been wetted' at least once. This is just one of the antics that Rollo used to break the peace.

Rollo was at the apex of sportfishing. He wasn't working his way to the top; he was at the top. He was a captain on the world's premier sportfisher Royal Polaris. He was married to his `soul mate.' He was fishing. LoPreste remembers one night on the bridge of the Royal Polaris. Rollo asked LoPreste to pinch him. "I am so lucky, I can't even believe it. I can't believe that I am here" Rollo said to his mentor, whom he referred to as "Dad." Rollo was a living legend.

On February 4, 1999 James "Rollo" Heyn died in an accident at sea aboard the Royal Polaris. Rollo's last words were: "Tell Frank not to blame Steve;I want you to tell my wife that I love her; I'm the happiest I've ever been since I've been with [Stephanie]." It was discovered shortly after his passing, that Rollo, before leaving on the trip, had ordered 10 dozen red roses, for Stephanie to be delivered on Valentines Day.

The Royal Polaris was met at the dock by one of the largest crowds to ever meet an incoming sportfisher. Rollo's funeral was the largest funeral that anyone can remember to ever take place at Saint Agnes' Church in Point Loma.

Within days of his passing, a fund was set up in memory of Rollo. The Friends of the Rollo Fund is a foundation set up to give underprivileged and inner city youth an opportunity to experience fishing.

Rollo Heyn cannot and will not be replaced. It will be years, if ever, that someone comes along that even has the ability to impact the Southern California Sportfishing Industry in the way that Rollo did. A living legend is no longer with us. "Rollo Heyn is a class act."

West Coast Angler would like to thank to following people for taking the time to share with us their experiences & lives with Rollo:
Captain Frank LoPreste
Captain Steve Loomis
Captain Tim Ekstrom
Captain Randy Toussaint
Stephanie Heyn
Robert Fletcher
Scotty Shintaku
Captain Buzz Brizendine

For more information or to make a donation visit their website at http://www.friendsofrollo.com/

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