The other day, I looked in the mirror and saw a man who isn’t the same fishing nut he was when he was young.
I still enjoy fishing, but it no longer dominates my life as it did for 50 or 60 years. I’ve become picky about the “when,” the “where” and the “who” of my fishing.
How did my obsession with fishing begin?
As a boy, I thought of little else. My father couldn’t understand it. He enjoyed the outdoors, but would rather take photos or climb mountains than go fishing. In my mind’s eye, I can see him watching me fishing in a mud puddle with a stick and a string, sadly shaking his head and wondering what’s wrong with me.
Strangely enough, it was Dad who not only introduced me to fishing, but sowed the seeds of what would become an addiction.
Once or twice a year, Dad would launch his 14-foot boat into Puget Sound. He’d run five miles out to a reef, where he’d jig up a gunny sack or two of lingcod, rockfish and whatever else he could winch up with his Calcutta bamboo rod, Cuttyhunk line, and homemade jigs. The old man would fillet those fish, and Mom would take them to the community meat locker for storage.
Trouble is, the old man wouldn’t get the urge to fish again until we’d eaten every one, so he didn’t go fishing often. What’s worse, when he’d take me along on one of his rare fishing trips, he wouldn’t let me fish. He figured — and rightly — I wouldn’t be able to handle the big lingcod. He also knew I’d get seasick and spend the day hanging over the side of the boat, moaning.
Those trips with Dad could be taxing, but they were always exciting. I remember one day when a heavy fog rolled in through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It felt otherworldly, floating through that eerie fog with no land in sight. The only sound was the doleful bong of the bell buoy marking the reef.
The old man would tie up to a stem of bull kelp, lower his jig to the bottom, and start jigging. Back then, in the late 1940s, there were so many fish on that reef, one usually grabbed his jig before it hit bottom. He’d rear back and yell, “Fresh fish!” and the fight was on.
Lingcod don’t fight very hard, but any ling over 30 pounds usually has at least one good, long run in it. When a big one would make its run, the old man’s corroded old single-action reel would let out a screech, and he’d come about as close to cussing as he ever did. Accompanied by the sound of reel handles rapping on knuckles, he’d say, “Great Caesar’s ghost!” Eventually, a big, lingcod would loom from the depths, all snake-toothed mouth and malevolent glare, and the old man would pull out his .22 pistol and shoot it between the eyes. Bam! Then he’d gaff it and pull it over the gunwale, and it would hit the floorboards, “ka-whump!” The “high five” hadn’t been invented yet, but we grinned a lot.
That was heady stuff for a kid. Funny, but that kind of fishing, the kind that involves a sense of adventure, a hint of danger, and taking home something good to eat, is the only kind that still sets my heart to racing.
Les Palmer can be reached at email@example.com.