You know you’ve had a great day when you’re tired, sunburned, coated in fish slime and still grinning. Last week my agent wrote and asked me to come up with paintings for a fish restaurant. The next next day I was invited to go fishing on a friend’s boat. Who would believe it? Who would say no?
Fishermen leave at the crack of dawn, which strikes me as malfunctioning DNA over anything to do with fish habits, but I’ll always get up and go. It’s an excuse to be on a boat for a day, whether or not the fish bite since the ocean is the finest place to be, ever. That is part of my DNA. We launched the boat and motored out of Morro Bay to the fishing grounds where boats were anchored anywhere people thought there were fish. Plenty of sports fishermen had gotten out of bed long before we had and were hunkered on their boat seats in lumpy down jackets with lines in the water waiting patiently for fish to bite. Fishing doesn’t actually look fun. Woody switched on the fish finder and clouds of green things flashed on the screen. Squid apparently, schooling in huge numbers, like billions of them and at least a million right under the boat. Larger fish hang out on the edges of the ball of squid to feed on them as if they are candy and not a raw squishy thing filled with vile black ink. Since I don’t get to go fishing very often and rarely go with someone who knows what they’re doing I didn’t understand why Woody handed me a pole and told me to catch as many squid as possible. I don't ask enough questions. There is something to going through life without clarity until the answers just smack you in the face, but I don’t recommend it. I finally caught a few squid after many lame, useless attempts. Woody was reeling in squid three and four at a time and throwing them a live bait tank. Not catching squid turned out to be more fun. The crafty devils shoot a jet of cold water and indigo ink in your eyes, nearly without fail. I worked it out though, we weren’t fishing yet, just catching live bait. They were cute, like pets, so I stuck my underwater camera in the tank for pictures just in case I ever wanted to paint a squid portrait.
Several boats over someone screamed like a girl. I’ve heard that exact high octave hollering before and it usually means a monster fish is on the line. When guys scream in pain they still sound more or less like men, but hooking big fish clearly puts them in touch with their feminine side. It was a forty one pound sea bass, exactly what everyone on every other boat sitting in the fog since before dawn wanted. The guys in skiffs who were not catching anything lowered their heads in renewed prayer or abject envy, I couldn’t tell which. I had to man up to put a live squid on a hook. Of course it's much easier to buy frozen fish fillets and never kill a fish, but I eat meat so I looked the squid in the eye and appologized. I wasn't brave enough to say it out loud though.
We caught a few mackerel for the bait tank, but I'm glad Woody threw the baby sea bass back. Then we did what everyone else was doing. Dropping lines in the water and waiting. I watched the seals play, the light sparkling on the wave tops and enjoyed the gently rocking boat with zero adrenalin to muddle random thoughts. But Woody actually knows how to catch fish. He moved the boat and changed the strategy. He quickly showed me how to tie a knot with seven loops and five twists, explaining how easy it was. Right, like speed reading quantum physics. Hope I’m never tested.
Bouncing weights off the bottom with live squid on a hook had us a screaming like girls in no time. We caught one fish after another and couldn't reel them in fast enough. Mostly rock fish and several Ling cod. A few unhooked themselves and got away, which was only fair. Then Woody caught a good sized halibut and I tried to gaff it while he begged me not to miss. I held the fish up for a photo Christening my jacket with fish snot. Halibut skin is slimier than a bucket of banana slugs.
Then I caught a shark and was all for cutting the line and letting the hook go, but that's not what happened. Woody got it on board and I took pictures while the shark wound itself up in all the gear and twisted around the rod. I should have been helping, but I was still thinking about the restaurant commission over doing the right thing for a guy with shark problems. I'm still a little sorry about that, but he did get the hook out of the shark and let it go. I quit taking pictures or I might have had to swim home.
The fish were all eaten by Woody's family and neighbors. Deep fried in Heidi's beer batter cardboard would taste great, but the fish was mighty fine. We ate like deprived pelicans and lay around moaning.