First published online on April 16, 2010
The first time I decided to go fishing, I was about 28 yrs old. My boyfriend at the time was a former boy scout and an avid fly fisherman in his youth. We had been dating for about six months, and as a wanna be Girl Scout, the thought of catching fish was exciting to me. You see, I grew up in a port town in South America. My childhood is full of memories of my grandfather, a fisherman who I imagined to have wrestled magnificent fish from the ocean with just a hook, line and his bare hands -daily- to provide for my grandmother, my mom and her five sisters.
I had always begged my grandfather to take me fishing with him, but he would smile and say in between chuckles, “You will not only beg I didn’t but also be chumming the fish from the side of the boat.” I imagined that maybe I would fall off the boat and in my thrashing, sharks would come around and scare off the good fish and upset my grandfather. He did take my older brother George fishing when my brother was about 18 years old. George is four years older than I. Grandpa told the story year after year of how my brother had packed himself a nice breakfast and lunch for the fishing day with him. How they got out to sea at 4 in the morning when it was still dark, and they pulled away from the port on his “Chinchorro,” a 20 foot row boat with an overboard engine, humming past the commercial fishing vessels, then past the cargo ships and finally the herculean Peruvian navy war ships and into the open sea.
They kept going and going for a few miles until they could not see the shoreline. No instruments, no charts, and not even a radio. All grandpa needed was just the open sea, the sky, the birds and a watchful eye for the right current. Grandpa always talked about currents in the ocean as avenues and streets. How certain fish can be found in certain areas because of this current and that current. Nowadays we know that fish are all part of the food chain that starts with the type of plankton that grows in certain given conditions that feed certain organisms that feed certain fish. So, some fish prefer to eat certain organisms just as we do and follow their food as it is carried by the currents. He learned this through keen observation of fish behavior over the decades starting in the 1920′s. His observation served him well as grandpa always managed to come back to port with a boatload of fish. Many fishermen tried to follow him and fish off his trail, and he was always willing to lead other fishermen and their boats to where the fish were when they asked him. But there were those who would be sneaky and tried to just tail him; grandpa would tell us in between chuckles, yes, always in between chuckles when he was proud of himself, how he always managed to throw them off his trail.
My brother said that on the day grandpa took him fishing, they saw sharks, “lobos de mar” (sea lions), porpoises and sea turtles. That day seemed unusually long for me, as it would seem to anyone waiting throughout the day. Our apartment’s front stoop and front window faced west, so the setting sun always came through the front window at the end of the day. On most days grandpa would come home around 4 pm from that general direction because he would get off the bus about a block away and almost always stop at our place on his way home which was around the corner. He would be wearing a broad brimmed straw hat to keep the sun away and carried a heavy bag on each hand. He would have all his fishing gear in those bags: large spools of heavy duty line, hooks, knives, weights, etc.; but he always made room for a few fish, or large crabs to bring home. When he would stop by our place on his way home, he would drop off some fish for dinner. Sometimes he would only make it to the corner because the bags were very heavy, so he would signal for me to come over and he would hand me a small bundle of fish wrapped up in newspapers. Sometimes, when he gave us too much fish, mom would share with some of our neighbors. Yes, we learned from grandpa to be generous with our good fortune.
When it got close to 4 pm on the day my brother went fishing with grandpa, I sat on the chair next to the front window waiting and watching the clock on our wall. There were times when it was so quiet I could hear the seconds ticking away. Finally, I saw the familiar silhouette of grandpa against the setting sun and then that of my brother next to him. When they finally came into our apartment, I took one good look at my brother, and he looked so sick, I wondered whether he ate something that made him sick. In between chuckles, grandpa told the story of how somewhere around noon time after they ate the hearty lunch George had brought, my brother had ended up losing lunch and breakfast over the side of the boat and “chumming the fish.” We all had a good laugh and I was very glad, then, that my grandfather never took me fishing with him. As usual, the fishing had been good for grandpa, and they brought home a nice big fish for dinner.
I found it very ironic that although my grandfather had been a fisherman for most of his life in my native Peru, and I had lived near the ocean for most of my life, I had never had the experience of catching a fish all on my own. So there I was, three thousand miles north of my native seafaring town, on my first fishing lesson off the pier in Avila Beach. I learned about lines, hooks and sinkers. I learned how to set the bait and most importantly how to cast a line. As I learned all these things from my then boyfriend, I reflected on the weathered calloused hands of my grandfather who hooked and reeled the fish with his bare hands. He would tell us how with certain fish, he had to wrap the line around his waist once, and brace himself against the boat so as to not lose the fish or the line, altogether, and wear out the fish before he brought it on board. He would mainly catch “Corvina” (White Sea Bass), “Bonito” (Tuna), “Lenguado” (Flounder ) and a small shark or two. The Bonito is a fine fighting fish, and would be the one who would give him a run for his money. I remembered sometimes seeing his hands bandaged, and I would ask him what had happened. He would tell me that sometimes he would hook a small to medium fish only for a bigger one to come along and try to take it from him, so the line would go flying out of his hands “burning” along the way because of how fast the fish would take off. Sometimes, it was evident to him that the fish was much too big to wrestle without capsizing, so he would simply cut the line, but only after a burning line had already created another groove in his heavily calloused and weathered hands.
Today, I am close to turning 49, and although I have not done much fishing in the last 20 years, I decided that I would go fishing for a friend. A companion. A mate. Yes, I am looking to reel in The-Beeeg-One. But, honestly, I do not know what “The Big One” really looks like, but I am confident that he would be the one to make me put away all of my fishing gear accumulated over the years. The one who would make me smile inside and say every time I look at him across the room, you are such a great catch! So, I just started casting my line –again- a couple of months ago. There have been some nice ones, but after a few dates I have decided to throw most of them back in the water. Hence the name of this blog “Catch and Release.” There is one I am still wrestling with. No hand burns yet, but we will see how he does. And there are the ones that fall in the category of catch, kill and feed-to-the-birds! I have to say, though, that I am having the time of my life. I never thought that fishing for a mate could be as much fun as fishing for the real thing. My hope and prayer is that this blog helps my readers navigate those treacherous waters of life and love.
Ahoy, girlfriends, sisters, wives, mothers and grandmothers… let’s see where this Chinchorrito will take us! The fun part is that there is plenty of fish in the sea!