Boat Captains

Meet Our Boat Captains! The Best In The Business!

All Dana Wharf Captains are Certified Marine Naturalists by the American Cetacean Society

Captain Don Hansen

Founder of Dana Wharf

Don Hansen’s love for the Gray Whale inspired thousands to come to Dana Point each year for the annual migration, the longest migration of any living mammal on earth! Today his children continue the tradition of offering Whale Watching from our large comfortable boats.

Read more about Don in this Pacific Coash Sportfishing article

Captain Brian Woolley

Feature writer for various publications
Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Brian is a native of San Clemente and still lives in the beautiful city with his wife and 3 children. He joined Dana Wharf in 1997 as Captain of the Sum Fun and continues to captain that vessel today. The Dana Wharf family shares his sense of community pride. He volunteers in the community independently and as part of the Dana Wharf family. Captain Brian, loves getting kids off the video games and out on the water reminding them of the wonders of the ocean that is our backyard.

Captain Brian loves catching Rock Fish, Yellowtail and Dorado the best, though he admits anything that’s biting is fun to catch! One of his favorite things about being a boat captain is watching a new angler catch their first fish. “It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, seeing the excitement on their faces when they reel in their first catch is thrilling for me.”

Catch and Release is one of Dana Wharf’s core corporate responsibilities. If anglers do not intend on consuming the fish they catch, Dana Wharf Captains encourage them to release the fish back into the ocean. This gives the anglers a sense of pride and is good for the environment and fishing industry.

Captain Corey Lieser

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Corey,  is a resident of San Juan Capistrano and has been a part of the Dana Wharf family since 1998. Born in Ohio, the Captain of the Clemente has taken out thousands of anglers over his 15 years with the landing. Although there’s no special trick to finding fish, he watches the conditions, water clarity, wind and weather and uses his gut to find the ripe spot. “When the fish are biting and everyone’s happy, I’m happy.”

The Captain is usually busy navigating the boat and doesn’t have much time to actually fish, but when he does and he hooks up, he hands over the rod to a young angler or someone who hasn’t been having much luck and lets them reel it in. He recalls an elderly gentleman who caught a nice Tuna. “He shook my hand and said thanks – that’s probably the last fish I’ll ever catch.”

As a certified naturalist, Captain Corey loves observing all marine life, particularly the Pacific White Sided Dolphin. He feels grateful that Dana Wharf’s family atmosphere provides an environment that is not only great for customers, but nurturing for employees. “The Hanson’s have a great business and I enjoy working for them,” he says.

Captain Chad Steffen

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Chad was born in San Clemente . After getting his captain’s license in 2005, he became a certified ACS naturalist and loves exploring and sharing the many wonders of the Pacific Ocean.

Captain Chad is passionate about fishing, especially aboard the Clemente. The Clemente is a perfect fishing vessel, nimble, fully equipped and the perfect size. Dorado is his favorite fish to catch because they put up a good fight making them really fun to catch. The Dorado jump and put on a great show, their vibrant colors sparkle in the sun and they are a great tasting fish.

The best part of working on the ocean is that it is ever-changing; no two days are the same – ever! The weather is up and down; fish bite feverishly then they just quit; whales and dolphin are everywhere, then the ocean can become as quiet as a desert. We run such a variety of trips and service locals and tourists with the goal of each trip providing an experience of a lifetime.

Steffen is credited with finding the wreck of the A.C.E., a 58-foot drum seiner, en route to the Dana Point Harbor after a night of bait fishing. Click here to read more: Solving the Mystery of a Sunken Fishing Boat

Captain Corey Hall

Board of Directors, Gray Whale Foundation

Operations Manager

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Corey has loved the ocean since he can remember. He was born in Laguna Beach and got his Captain’s License when he was a young man of 19. He’s been on the water ever since, sharing and educating locals and visitors on the marine life here in Dana Point.

He loves both whale watching and fishing equally, especially when there are first-timers or kids on board. Captain Corey enjoys catching Calico Bass because it takes skill and finesse. There are several ways to fish Calico Bass and they can be caught year round here in Dana Point.

Since being a member of the Dana Wharf team of Captains, Captain Corey has a lot of good memories, but perhaps the most memorable was hosting the world’s tallest man on a whale watching trip. “His shoes were as big as many of the fish we catch,” explained the Captain.

Captain Todd Mansur

Director of Marine Mammal Education Programs

Board of Directors, Gray Whale Foundation

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Todd was born in Laguna Beach and for the past 32 years has had a career on the ocean. Through a variety of experiences he has had the opportunity to observe hundreds of different marine species, both fish and mammals.

At the impressionable age of 13 he was the only crew member for a 20 passenger operation that fished during the spring, summer, and fall. During the winter he crewed for a whale watching operation. This early exposure to Mother Ocean had a huge impact on Todd.

In 1992 Captain Todd became Dana Wharf Whale Watching’s lead naturalist and conducts all of the pre-excursion in-classroom education for Orange County’s schools. This is also a major role for Todd as a Board Member of the Gray Whale Foundation.

Todd does pubic speaking engagements on the topic upon request.

Todd worked as a writer, editor and photographer for the film “Sharing the Shores off Dana Point: A Whale and Dolphin Exploration.” Click here to read more

Captain Dustin Mayo

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

New Jersey native Captain Dustin “Dusty” has traveled on some rough seas while in the US Coast Guard, but now prefers the calmer seas of South Orange County. He’s crossed the equator on a ship, spent a year in Alaska and lots of time in South America navigating some very rough seas.

Yellowtail is his favorite fish to catch because they put up a good battle and are good eating when grilled with garlic and a little lemon. He enjoys helping kids learn to fish and watching them become ‘regulars’ at Dana Wharf. The Dana Wharf Kids Club has helped get kids involved in fishing and they usually like it so much they come back almost weekly.

Captain Dusty lives in San Clemente with his wife and daughter, spending most of their free time, you guessed it…in the ocean! “Fishing, surfing and going to the beach is our favorite family activity,” laughs Dusty.

Captain Tom White

Captain Tom White is a native of San Clemente. He began his Dana Wharf career as a fishing deckhand in 1977. He became a captain in 1981. White comments, “Obviously, I love the ocean! From fishing to whale watching and surfing. I know for sure if it wasn’t for the Hansen Family making Dana Wharf such a great place to work, I would not have received the experience of what this ocean has to offer.” Over the decades, he is witness to the ocean constantly changing.

Tommy is currently the primary operator of our flagship, the 95’ Dana Pride. This vessel runs our whale & dolphin watching adventures in the winter and spring and fishing in the summer and fall. As the captain, he strives to make sure every one of his passengers has a chance at a great experience on the water, just like he has been given. Whether it be catching their first fish, trying to cast a bait, seeing a whale or just sitting down relaxing and enjoying the ocean. “Nothing is better than watching customers have fun and leave with a smile.”

Captain Chris Pica
Captain Chris Pica

Chris grew up in San Clemente Surfing and Fishing. Back in 1989 after graduating from college and landing a job as Vice President of production at Glass Tech Industries, Chris decided to give it up and work out on the boats at Dana Wharf Sport Fishing and Whale Watching to pursue his passion and purpose out on the Ocean. In the last 28 years as a licensed USCG Captain Chris has had the privilege of working on every boat in the fleet Experiencing the best and worst of the local Sport fishing industry, his favorite fishing in the summer is the local offshore Tuna, you never know when you will get HOOKED UP.

Chris also has had the opportunity to help set the bar in today’s modern Whale Watching, Gray Whale is his favorite Whale to watch and teach the public about. In the past 5 years Chris has had the privilege of working with NOAA’s Orange County Entanglement Response Team and have helped with several disentanglement responses. Read why they call Captain Chris the Shark Whisperer

Captain Steve Burkhalter
Captain Steve Burkhalter

Captain Steve was born in Cedar Rapids Iowa. He grew up fishing and spending as much time on the water as possible. He moved to Southern California at the age of 11, and immediately fell in love with the ocean. He was a Newport Beach lifeguard and played water polo at UC San Diego, where he graduated with a degree in Biochemistry. Working on the water was way more appealing than working in a lab… so he decided to leave a Ph.D. program and move to Hawaii, to begin his professional career on the water. In 2007, he got his captain’s license and he absolutely loves operating a boat for a living.

He spent over six years on Maui working on whale watching, snorkeling, and sailing boats. After moving back to the mainland to start a family, he ended up back in Orange County where we has been working out of Dana Point since 2011. He started working at Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Sept 2016, and he loves the professionalism and history of the Wharf. The myriad of different reactions of his passengers to all the wonders of the pacific ocean, is what keeps him passionate about his job. He looks forward to getting out on the water each and every day for both work and play!

Captain Frank Brennan

Frank Brennan began working at Dana Wharf in 1996 as a fishing deckhand. He quickly became a captain and operated our fishing vessels to include San Mateo and Reel Fun. Frank has fishing experience on both the east and west coasts. He grew up in South Florida, fishing the Gulfstream and Florida Keys. It was there that he learned a myriad of universal fishing techniques. His favorite thing about fishing is that anyone can do it. He appreciates working with young people and showing them special tricks. His best advice: “Think like a fish and you will catch more!”

Captain Frank now primarily operates our luxury catamaran, OCean Adventures, taking guests whale & dolphin watching. His favorite thing about these trips is showing his passengers a whale for the first time.

He was the first to introduce a drone to film cetaceans. He is credited for much of the aerial photography in Dana Wharf’s recent award nominated film, Sharing the Shores off Dana Point. Frank considers himself a diverse waterman. In additional to fishing and whale viewing, he is an avid scuba diver and surfer.

Captain Shane Mansur

Shane Mansur was born and raised in Capo Beach. His great grandfather, Carlton, moved to San Clemente in the 1950s and started a generation of fishing. His grandfather, Jon, ran the Sum Fun off the San Clemente pier in the late 60s. After the harbor was finished, his father, Todd, ran the Sum Fun in the 90s. Now Captain Shane is the second captain on the Sum Fun.

The ocean is mysterious, intriguing, and full of opportunity which is why Captain Shane finds his career so rewarding. He has been a licensed captain for almost 9 years, and he’s been on the water his entire life. The knowledge he’s gained from his grandfather and father is priceless, and the things he’s had the privilege to see have been extraordinary. Captain Shane’s family has done everything from commercial harpoon sword fishing, to marlin tournaments, running sport boats or whale watching boats. Captain Shane feels it’s been an honor to carry on the family tradition.

Captain Shane has a loving fiance, that supports his long hours of work, and a two-year-old daughter named Piper that already enjoys fishing.

One of Captain Shane’s favorite things about his job is working with the younger generation of upcoming fisherman. Captain Shane says there is nothing better than putting a smile on some youngster’s face.

About Dana Wharf

Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching is dedicated to helping locals and visitors alike enjoy the unique wonders of Dana Point Harbor and the Orange County coastline. The warm waters right out of Dana Point Harbor are flourishing with sea life including whales, dolphins, harbor seals, and California sea lions. Our thriving coastal waters provide bountiful fishing of sand bass, calico bass, halibut, bonito, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, and dorado. Whether you’re looking for boat rentals in Dana Point to enjoy a private boat charter, sailboat or catamaran, coming for an awe-inspiring whale watching cruise or wanting to create memories onboard our sportfishing charters, one thing is for certain: your trip through the beautiful and scenic Orange County coast will be unforgettable. Dana Wharf is conveniently located in Dana Point, Orange County, just south of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach – about 30 minutes south of Disneyland, an hour south of Los Angeles and an hour north of San Diego.

World Cetacean Alliance logoProud Partner of the World Cetacean Alliance
The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is the world’s largest Partnership working to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans). Partners of the WCA aim to conserve and protect cetaceans and their habitats in the world’s oceans, seas and rivers, to ensure their continued survival.