Friday, September 4, 2015

Gone Fishin

I've gone fishin most of my life.  Never really gone catchin, pretty much just gone fishin.  There's a difference, you know.  I can be standing next to a buddy, using exactly the same everything he is, and I will watch him pull out fish after fish while I meditate upon still waters. Cast my fate to the loons.

I have caught a few fish over my lifetime, just enough to keep me coming back for more.  Kind of like the frequency of jackpots at any casino out there.  But a big part of the deal for me is just getting out in the wilderness and leaving my obligations behind, if only for a moment or two.  And if you're minimally Type A like I have a propensity to be, having a line in the water means I'm actually doing something. Then I can almost convince myself to relax. 

I guess my fishing preoccupation all started with Dear Old Dad.  I can remember tossing a line out in the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe when I was an elementary school lad.  I also remember trying to toss a line whose hook was then piercing one of my cousin's ears.  I was yanking like hell while she was screaming like hell.  I thought it was caught in the bushes.  It was actually stuck in her ear.  Who knew catching a human being with rod and reel could be so loud?

We also rented a small outboard motor boat a couple times and tossed a few lines out in Lake Tahoe trolling for the famed and elusive Mackinaw Trout.  Used all kinds of fancy and expensive jigs and lures and down riggers and such.  Had rods and reels and nets and all sorts of other specialized trout weaponry.  Sandwiches and soda pop.  Beer. 

I like boat ride picnics, especially on one of the most beautiful lakes on the planet.  I don't think anybody else caught anything either.

Then there was the time we went up to Southern Oregon on our summer vacation.  I was ten.  We went to a lake appropriately called, of all things, Fish Lake.  And it was.  We rented a small motor boat and DOD, my older brother and I chugged out to a snag in the middle of this little lake.  And we limited out on Rainbow Trout.  That was one of the only times I really went a catchin.

There were a few times in my late teens and early twenties I went out with DOD on an ocean vessel to go salmon fishing out of the Golden Gate.  Out of a half dozen trips I think I brought home one salmon.  But the boat ride and beer were always a grand part of the scheme.

We also went Striped Bass fishing in the San Francisco Bay one time.  It was ridiculous.  We were a party of eight out of about twenty fisher people on the boat.  As we left the harbor, just for fun, half the folks had their lines in the water.  The other half, which included me, were getting a good pregame beer buzz going.  Besides, the Captain already said it'd be about thirty minutes before the real fishing began.  He had a plan, and apparently a map.  He was gonna scoot over some little shoal or big rock.  Maybe an enchanted city or Big Bass Hall.  Whatever.  When we did that, he said, we'd be catching some fish.

When zero fish thirty arrived, we cruised over the underwater Bass Basilica.  Every single person on board got a bass on their line.  It was a frantic ten minutes for the deck hand.  When he recovered we made another pass over the forbidden city.  Every single person got a bass on their line again.  After another ten frantic minutes we went back to port since everybody had limited out.  

That was a quick trip, we barely got our beer buzz on.  But it was on enough when I got home.  My lovely wife's Grandparent's were over for dinner at the little just after marriage house we were renting and I arrived a few minutes late.  Late and half lit.  Not a great start.

But Grampy was a fisherman and appreciated my predicament.  Plus after we poured him some wine I enlisted his aid in cleaning the two fish I brought home.  Had I not been half lit, or maybe if I had been more of a catcher than a fisher, maybe I would have thought my next move through a little bit better.

Nevertheless, off to the bathtub we went.  I won't go into extreme details here, but let me say this: NEVER EVER clean a fish larger than a guppy in your bathtub.  EVER.  It may seem like a good idea at the time, but trust me, it isn't.  I was picking up scales for months afterward.  And they weren't the kind scale that usually sits in the bathroom either.  The bathroom also smelled like the inside of a fish monger's locker at the Santa Cruz Wharf for about the rest of the time we lived there, which fortunately was not too much longer.

There was only one other time I was out on the ocean in search of fish.  OK, two times, same trip.

Back in the early 1980's I embarked this lovely foothill locale with my erstwhile brother in law, who, for the sake of this story, we'll call Chuck.  He was living with my lovely wife's twin and he was an avid hunter and fisherman.  So avid, as a matter of fact, people paid him money to take them hunting and fishing.  He was a guide!  Surely I would have good catching fortune on this trip.

We arrived in the South Bay Area the evening before our plane's early morning departure from the then very small San Jose airport.  Our final destination was Mazatlan.  We were going to hook up with two other guys the next morning at the airport.  These were the guys that were paying his freight.

In the meantime, we had a pre-vacation night to contend with.  So we landed at a country rock bar in Woodside, CA, a popular establishment where Chuck used to tend bar.  As it happened, some old friends were playing music that night, friends that had played at our wedding and I hadn't seen in a half dozen years or so.  It was old home week and great to catch up.

As the night progressed, we found ourselves losing energy yet still in full blown alcohol blossom.  OK, we were raging degenerates.  As it sometimes would happen in the early 1980's from time to time, when this sort of situation developed we'd go off in search of an illegal energy elixir that was generally imported from Columbia.  Fortunately Chuck was still well connected in the area, and once that elixir set sail we stayed up all night, continued to drink copious amounts of alcohol and solved most of the world's problems.

Five AM always comes way too early when one has been up all night dancing with the devil.  When we lethargically meandered into the very quiet and non-crowded airport, we found two male humans, our future traveling companions, much in the same sad deteriorating condition we were rapidly becoming.  They had been up all night too, dancing with that same nasty fellow.  I also discovered I knew one of them, we had been all star baseball teammates when we were fifteen!  We miserably kibitzed along, that horrible feeling of insidious overindulgence slowly consuming my core.  It felt like I was beginning to simmer in a steeping cauldron filled with pickled pork intestines and dirty socks. 

As we sat, it was becoming more and more apparent that I was fighting a losing battle of consequence.  I was but a steaming pile of obnoxious vapid vapor.  I felt like it too.

It was about this time in my slow death spiral that a true miracle occurred.  I first heard the clip clop of shoes on the polished floor of the very quiet airport.  Then I witnessed what could only be considered a Saint in casual middle age male clothing walk over and unlock a metal gate.  Without saying a word he lifted it and pushed it open, the doorway to Nirvana.  Angels began to sing.  My heart skipped a beat.  Hallelujah brother, it was 6 AM.  I was saved!

Without saying a word I rose, left my reeking brethren and ambled into the bar.

"Bloody Mary," I said, sitting down on a stool.  Soon I was sipping a little lifeblood.  The vapor began to dissipate.  As did I.  But boy oh boy did I ever begin to feel better.

Chuck was only a couple minutes and half a Mary behind.  He was followed by our other two companions shortly thereafter.  Soon we were all joyously laughing with four full cocktails on the counter.  The first round was already gone.  Rather than go for BM3, Chuckadoodle and the All Star switched to Seven and Sevens.  A couple of those later and we barely made the plane.

This part of the story gets a little sketchy.  I vaguely remember Big C flirting with the stewardess, but my only solid memory of the flight was viewing the magazine pocket on the seat in front of me, which was filled with empty little vodka bottles.  Fifteen or twenty of  'em.  Maybe more.  While the other two traveling companions smartly slept soundly all the way down, we endeavored, apparently, to get higher than cruising altitude.

We arrived in Mazatlan and they found our hotel.  They also found us dinner I'll assume.  Because that's what arrived in the bottom of the toilet bowl a few hours later.  Whatever it was.  I have no idea.  The last thing I remember, after imbibing about 20 or 30 Bloody Mary's throughout the day, was walking down a side street near our hotel with a warm Tecate beer.  I think that put me over the edge.  My eyes started to spin and apparently so did I.  Somehow the boys got me up to the room where I briefly passed out before puking most of the night.  I didn't drink a Bloody Mary again for over a decade.

The next morning, one of our big bill fishing days, we all accidentally slept a little late.  Can't imagine why.  It was fine with me.  I felt like death, or a boiled fish head in a dirty sock.  Once we got marginally rolling, we took a taxi down to the harbor where there is usually a big fleet of beautiful fishing vessels.

Since we were so late, instead of the big lovely fleet Mazatlan usually boasts to take tourists bill fishing for such trophies like Marlin, Swordfish, Dorado, Tuna, or Anchovy, we discovered there was but one sorry, sad, floating piece of shit remaining.  It was unkempt tub.  The Captain and his mate could have been Laurel and Hardy, only they were tan.  Didn't have a lot of teeth and didn't speak English either.  It all looked sketchy, especially the boat, but fishing was the reason we were in Mexico.  Chuckster made the arrangements and we were off.

It's been over a couple decades since I've had a hangover, but if I recall, generally speaking, a loud engine boat ride on the rollicking ocean is usually not conducive towards overall well being.  I was still dry heaving, only instead of a reasonably nice hotel toilet seat on which to rest my cheek I was dealing with a scrap metal hunk of unclean junk that I wouldn't even want to put either one of my other cheeks on.  Ewww.  I was  miserable for hours.

The other boys were up on the deck drinking beer and pretending to fish.  When I wasn't dry heaving into a metal rat hole I was in the cabin, laying down on the stained vinyl seat, my head about six inches from the reverberating and incredibly LOUD sound of the engine.  It was not purring like a cat, it was screeching like a barn yard owl.  It seemed like it would blow a rod or piston at any minute.  Sleep was not an option.  Neither was vertical.  For a while.  After a few hours I slowly began to massage my beleaguered system a cold Modelo or two and I began to feel partially alive.

I eventually clambered up deck to find my compadres hanging out and drinking beer.  It's what fishermen do. Four lines were in the water and the boat was loudly trolling along.  Suddenly one of the poles bent sharply, a fish was on!  Laurel ran over to the pole and set the hook.  Then he brought the pole over to one of the two captain type chairs with the holder thing in the middle.  Crazy Bob was first up and away he went.

Here's the deal with these party boats.  You pay them money and they take you for a boat ride.  There's no skill involved.  Just blind luck.  The Captain's are supposed to know where to go.  What to do.  The deck hand baits the hook and lets out the line.  When there's a bite they set the hook. Then they bring the pole over to whoever.  In our case, we drew lots.  Crazy Bob was number one, I was two, the All Star was three and Chuckarooni, since he was getting paid, was drinking beer.

It was a battle and a fight, a good thirty minutes, but Crazy Bob finally and triumphantly brought the Marlin aboard.  Then he threw up.  See how much fun bill fishing can be?

When we got back to the harbor most of the berths were already occupied by much nicer boats.  They were already back in from their day's voyages, probably because they left hours earlier than we did. When the boats come in they usually proudly display different colored flags representing the fish that were caught that day.  Blue for Marlin, Yellow for Tuna and so on.  Obviously you want to go out with a boat that hoists a lot of flags, but most of them only had two or three flying.  Chuck found what he considered a good one and made arrangements to take it out the next day.  Then we went back to the hotel and actually behaved ourselves so we could make the 5:00 AM departure time.

Next day out, I was first up and got to reel in a Dorado, which is like a snub nosed tuna only different.  The Bass I caught were larger, but the Dorado, by far, put up a much bigger fight.

That was it as far as the fishing was concerned.  We caught nothing else.  I probably brought my usual good luck along for the trip, totally usurping Chuck's usual good guide juju.  We went back to the resort and then out to Carlos and Charlies for dinner.  Dancing on tables and drinking Tequila.  Not us, but it was fun to watch.  We had to blow off a little steam, we were leaving the next day around noon.  Yeah, it was a quick two day fishing trip to Mexico.  Whose idea was this anyway?

The next morning before the flight left I wanted to go into town to find a present for my kids.  Chuck and the All Star accompanied me.  Somewhere in the shopping experience, around 10:00 AM, we stopped in at the Shrimp Bucket for one of their colossal Margaritas.  When it was time for the third, Chuck and the All Star switched to 7 and 7's.  Again.  Detect a pattern here?

We decided, after three cocktails, that we had been too busy since we got to Mexico and we needed to stay a couple more days.  The other two started laughing, they both knew our other traveling companion.  Crazy Bob was beyond type A.  They figured it would take immense conversation and a head lock to convince him to stay.  They said he was so type A that he would have all our bags packed and would be at the front desk waiting for us since we were then running late.

After four cocktails we moseyed back to the hotel.  It was, after all, almost noon.  There, as anticipated, was Crazy Bob, pacing back and forth in front of all our packed bags.  It looked like he might explode.  He came running up to us, three happy, hapless drunks in full relaxed and give a shit regalia.

"Where have you guys been?" he cried, "You're late!  You're late!"

The All Star looked at him and said, almost laughing, "We've decided to stay a couple more days."

Chuck and I were chuckling.  And leaning.  It was all we could do.  It was almost noon and we were already turning into puddles.

Crazy Bob immediately deflated.  He looked at us, and we definitely looked happy, shrugged his shoulders and said, "OK."

That was it.  Easy.  No fight, no argument.  Total capitulation.  We found a suite for the four of us instead of two double rooms and played for a couple days.  Which means we drank.  A lot.

Four guys on a fishing trip to Mexico can be a dangerous thing.  But somehow we all survived.  We made it all the way back to the airport, where we sat, half lit and a lot disheveled.  Four monkeys on a bench, laughing all the way. When nicely attired arriving travelers glanced us a look of concern, we assured them not to worry.  They'd look just like us in a couple days.    

Except for the aforementioned ocean excursions I have mostly fished lakes and rivers.  Streams.  Ponds.  Puddles.  My most memorable lake catch didn't really even involve me actively fishing.  But it did involve me actively pursuing that other most sacred fishing activity, drinking.

It happened one weekend some forty years ago.  A loud and boisterous crew of about twenty-twenty somethings from the bay area converged on Fuller Lake, a lovely little lake in the high sierras.  We were camping and we were playing.  Getting out of the big metropolis.

My lovely wife and I with two others had arrived on a Thursday, assuring the best campsite right on the shore of the lake.  And then the hordes descended.  Four or five tents.  Coolers, ice, beer.  And just for good measure so it wouldn't look like we were too citified, we also had a half dozen lines in the water pretty much all the time.  Then we went back to partying.  Every once in a while one of us would get up and check the lines.  And one of those times I heard an almost angelic male voice, "Dave, you've got a fish on your line."

I scrambled over, and much to my surprise I actually reeled in a nice eighteen inch German Brown Trout.  He sizzled quite nicely with a little butter and lemon over the fire that night.  And that's my most memorable catch.  Pathetic, huh?

There are literally a hundred places within an hour of our location here in the Sierra Nevada foothills to go fishing, Fuller Lake is one of them.  When we first moved up here in 1979, every once in a while after work I would take an evening drive up to Scotts Flat Lake. which is closer.  Toss in a line, smoke a cigar, sip a couple beers.  Those beers and cigar were good.  Never caught a fish.

A few years back my lovely wife wanted to learn how to fish.  From me, I inquired?  I knew she couldn't be too serious.  Part of the deal is just getting out in nature, right?

So one weekend a decade or so ago we went way up high, rented a cabin out of Sierra City high, Yuba Pass type high.  The tippy top of the Sierras high.  And Saturday morning we drove over to Packer Lake and rented a row boat.  Besides having facilities to rent a boat there, Packer Lake also boasts a charming restaurant, lodge and cabins.  The lake itself is small and charming, no motors allowed.

We gathered all our gear into the boat, and as we were rowing out in the small lake another fisherman was coming in.  He had limited out.  He said, "Salmon eggs over by the dam.  It drops off, that's where they're biting!"

We rowed over to the spot, tossed out the anchor as well as a couple salmon egg laced lines.  Within minutes my lovely wife had her first trout on the line.  She was exhilarated with her first catch!   I don't think we limited out, but we did catch five or six, and yes, I caught one or two of those.

We went up to Packer Lake another time later in the fall.  It was bitter cold.  Not Wisconsin ice fishing cold, but high Sierra Nevada Mountain Autumn cold.  Which is cold enough.  We started rowing out, and after we were out about a hundred yards I looked back at the dock and started laughing.

My lovely wife asked, "What's so funny."

I pointed back at the dock where our all our gear and poles still lay.  The boat was empty save for us.

"That's funny," I said, laughing, turning the boat around.

I think we caught two or three trout that outing, but more importantly my lovely wife learned about one of the more subtle and sacred attributes of fishing.  There we were, very early in the morning, bundled up and casting our lines.  There were also about twenty or so other small boats, rafts and canoes dotting the lake.  Shoreline anglers were also scattered here and there along the beautiful, tree studded shoreline.  It was a high sierra morning, quiet and serene.  Then, magically, around 7:30, as the morning sun crested the surrounding peaks, the lake was awash with sunlight and a foreign sound like a lot of tires losing air pressure fast.

"Phissh. Phissh. Phissh."  The parade of sound was bouncing off the granite peaks.  It was the only phish I caught that day.

'What's that?" inquired my lovely wife, looking all around at the surrounding community of anglers and the popping of phish.

"Why darling," I responded, "That would be beer."

Fuller Lake is still a favorite place to go.  It's easily accessible and also on a road that leads to many other high sierra lakes.  If the fish ain't biting at Fuller you can head on up the road.

One memorable excursion and now hallowed family tale involved Fuller Lake and my wonderful father in law.  We two ran up there and had our usual no luck.  But rather than come home empty handed we stopped at the Grass Valley Safeway.  There we bought three two packs of already cleaned Rainbow Trout, a total of six fish.  Making sure to cover the tracks of our ruse, we un-packaged the fish in the grocery store parking lot and put them on a stringer, much to the amusement of several passers by.

When we got home I hosed them off before presentation to the women folk just to top the icing on the lie.  Then we proudly displayed our ill got catch to oohs and ahs of amazement.  Dad and I never caught anything.  Ever.  A complete BBQ trout dinner was almost beyond belief.  Unfortunately the story got stretched too far later that night when "uncovering bark beetles and using them as bait" entered the equation.  Neither Dad nor I could keep a straight face and it all unraveled.

Another time my son and I took our grandson up there to go fishing for his first time.  I think he was four.  Yeah, a little young, but what the hell.  I packed a goody bag which included some yummy hot chocolate and we were off.  My son got in some good fishing, I was pretty involved with our grandson.  It was freezing cold and way early in the morning.  He had an accident and a melt down.  We spent a lot of time in the car with the heater on drinking hot chocolate.

When we returned home my lovely wife inquired how the trip went.  I gave her a skeptical look.  While he had played with rod and reel briefly and had brought in a bit of algae, he had tripped, had an accident and a meltdown and had spent most of the time in the car.

But when he was asked how his time went, he excitedly said, "Great Momo.  I even caught some seaweed!"

Ah, perspectives.  It was on that excursion I learned from a couple avid looking fishermen that if there are Osprey present then the fish are surely biting at Fuller.  If they aren't present, not so much.

The next time I was up there with my lovely wife and our son.  Not only were there a couple Osprey in surrounding pine peaks, we witnessed a Bald Eagle dive bomb and yank a trout out of the water.  My lovely wife and son each caught a few fish, I got to watch a Bald Eagle catch one more fish than me.  But I'll tell you what, catching and keeping that vision was better than any old trout might taste.

We were back up at Fuller a month or so ago for my lovely wife's birthday.  Fortunately she caught the first and only trout out of the three of us.  It's in the freezer now.  There were no Osprey or Eagles present.  No wonder we only caught one.

We were using worms for bait that day, and since I wasn't catching any fish I started thinking about this post and a day in the life of one of those worms.  At least that day in the life.  It wasn't pretty.

I mean, first off he was prepackaged in a little Styrofoam cup with eleven other like species.  I mean, what if he didn't like one of his new cell mates?  There was no where to go. 

Then, all of a sudden a couple fingers root around in the cup, eventually pulling his wriggling, slithering body out of the mix.  Next, as he's being ever so roughly handled, a hook gets jammed up either his ass or head, depending on if he's upside down or not.

If that ain't enough, then a little needle gets inserted in whatever end wasn't hooked and air gets blown in so he begins to look like the Nutty Professor.  Only smaller.

Obviously that has to feel remarkably uncomfortable, but the fun continues.  He's then hurled through the air, probably the only true fun of the entire ordeal, but that ends quick when he smacks into the water, eventually getting drawn deep by lead galoshes.  Then he gets to hang there, holding his breath, writhing in agony, until a fish first nibbles and then devours him.

Next time you think you're having a bad day...