Cosimo "Gus" Bruno was born in Pittsburg, California, on December 14, 1908, on an exceptionally dark and rainy night. In 1919 at the age of 12, Gus came to Monterey for the first time.. He traveled with his mother, Mary Balesteri Bruno, and his infant sister by train, an all-day trip on the Del Monte Express. They came because his Nonna, Giovanna Ferrante, who lived on Pacific Street was seriously ill and hospitalized; she would shortly be pronounced dead and then miraculously recover. While in Monterey, Gus had the chance to caddy and shag balls for Peter Hay at the Old Del Monte Hotel and Golf Course.
After the Del Monte Hotel burned down in that same year 1919, he returned to Pittsburg where he continued in school to graduate at the age of 15. Gus came back to Monterey in 1926 with his father Pietro Bruno to fish sardines using lampara nets for Benny Enea, owner of a 40 ft. boat named “Notre Dame de Africa”.
From 1927 to 1928 Gus fished the seasons with his father back and forth between Pittsburg, fishing the Sacramento River for striped bass, shad, salmon, etc., and Monterey, ocean fishing for salmon, sardines, squid, etc. They crewed for Genaro Riso, the Monterey based owner of the 44 ft. Belvedere and his future father-in-law. In the late 30’s Genaro had The New Belvedere built; this larger purse seiner was bought/confiscated by the U.S. government during WWII and later bought back by Genaro after the war ended.
In 1928 Gus went to Naknek, Alaska, for the first time with his father to fish for the Red Salmon Canning Co. The next year, in 1929, he fished for Alaska Packers, an association that continued for the rest of his Alaska salmon fishing years. These were the days of steamship trips out of San Francisco and when in Alaska using the company’s 32 foot sailing fishing boats. Although gone for 3 months each summer, the actual season was only 1 month long, with the rest of the time spent working extremely hard to load, unload, repair, etc. The work was always dangerous.
In 1930 Gus married Rose Mary Riso, the eldest daughter of Genaro. Rose Mary Riso was born in Pittsburg, California on April 6, 1912. After their marriage Gus and Rose Mary lived a life traveling between Pittsburg and Monterey, living in both places as the fishing seasons changed until 1938. Their son Peter J. was born in 1931, followed by their son Gus A. in 1942.
Alaska salmon seasons in those early days would officially close every 5 years because of “poor runs”, so there was no Alaska trip in 1930. This was true of 1935 and 1940. Gus returned to Alaska for the 1931 salmon season and these mostly annual Alaska fishing periods, using company boats, continued through 28 seasons and some interruptions, including WWII, until his last in 1973 when he retired , transferring his Alaska license to his son Peter.
Gus’ first boat ownership was in a partnership with 11 other commercial fishermen (many of whom lived in Monterey permanently) in 1937. They purchased a purse seiner using the newer nets and renamed it The Sea Lion and worked it for one year. In 1938 there was a long strike called between competing AFL and CIO unions, which put commercial fishermen along the coast out of work. It was during that time that Gus and Rose built their home on Larkin Street in Monterey with Gus helping with the actual construction. He still had the blueprints and continued to live in the home that he built.
As Gus said, “I have fished all my life”. His commercial fishing boats were: The Dove (30 ft., purchased in 1930) had formerly been a Sacramento River mail carrier. Then came The Gussy, a “pretty little Seeno boat” named for his younger son (27 ft., originally named The Bessie and owned by Jack Ferrante). Next he purchased his last ocean-fishing boat, The Swan (48 ft., built in Newport, Oregon). With these 3 boats he fished the open ocean going down to Mexico for albacore, had many adventures and in the early days fished those waters without anything more than a wristwatch and a compass, “and luck” he added.
In 1966 Gus bought his final boat to fish Monterey Bay, quitting the open ocean. That boat was The Debigus, named for his two grandchildren (Peter’s children), 30 ft., previously named The Phoenix, a little boat for which he had huge affection for, for many reasons. Gus and The Debigus were longtime fixtures at the Monterey Marina and selling that little boat was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
On June 19, 2002, when this interview was given, Mr. Bruno was 93 1/2 years “young” and had a prodigious memory and way of relating his life experiences. He was a Monterey original who enjoyed visitors and family immensely, and was very mentally active. Although officially named Cosimo, as recorded on both his birth and baptismal certificates, he became GUS P. BRUNO in 19____. The Martinez County courthouse and its records had burned in 1912, leaving no original papers from 1912-1915 available.
Interviewer: Linda Bruno, Daughter-in-Law, sincerely enjoyed this assignment