GAYS MILLS - It must be because I recently heard ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ being read on Chapter-a-Day. That is a great book by Ernest Hemingway and it was made into a very good movie back in 1958. Hearing the book took me back to my ocean fishing experience–limited as it is.
We moved to California in 1951. On a couple of occasions, we got visitors from Wisconsin who were into fishing. So, my dad arranged to take them and my brothers and me deep sea fishing. We didn’t do ocean fishing on a regular basis, or really any kind of fishing in California. But, we did quite a bit of bobber fishing when we visited Wisconsin. So, this ocean fishing was a new experience for all concerned.
To go deep sea fishing, you pay a fee that includes a one-day fishing license, tackle, bait, and of course a boat ride out into the Pacific. The boat ride starts at zero-dark-thirty, middle of the night to us boys, and departed from Long Beach. The boat was about 50 feet long and carried about 30 fisherpersons semi-comfortably. Several landlubbers got seasick of course. You could get a half-day trip or a full-day trip; we took the half-day trip, which turned out to be plenty.
How the captain knew where to finally stop and try our luck was a mystery. It all looked the same to me. We motored down the coast for over an hour until our first stop, which was maybe a half-mile off the shore. Crew members started throwing a lot of baitfish overboard and we baited up our rigs with the same bait and hung lines over the rail. The boat looked like a porcupine with all the closely spaced poles sticking out and the fishermen standing almost elbow to elbow. There was no casting or fancy maneuvering or skill involved, just watching the bait disappear, as it sunk out of sight.
A few people caught fish, but apparently not enough for the captain. We reeled in and he moved a half mile further down the coast. This time, more people were catching fish so we stayed there quite a while. Mostly we caught barracuda, a strong, meaty, predatory fish with a mean look about it, similar to a muskie. The fun began when someone hooked a fish and it dodged around other lines and sometimes under the boat as it was being reeled in. There were some real tangled up messes involved in the process. Crew members were quick to help us landlubbers sort things out and get back ‘on line.’
The fish all went into wet burlap bags we had brought along. I don’t think anybody on board got skunked, at least no one in our party did. As I watched my bait sink away almost out of sight, I could see silvery flashes around it as it got down to where the barracuda were. Then you’d feel the strike, set the hook and start reeling in. They put up a good fight and weighed six or eight pounds each so it was an exciting thing to land a barracuda. Gaff hooks were used by the crew to make sure the fish got on the boat.
Soon enough, we headed back to Long Beach with our catch of the half-day. The crew cleaned our fish on the way back and were tipped liberally for that service. A couple of counter-like boards were propped over the rail and a stream of water sluiced the offal overboard. A large number of seagulls followed the boat, scarfing up on the fish remains.We had grilled fish that night and for the next few nights. The Wisconsin visitors had stories to tell back home and we all had pleasant memories of deep sea fishing.