Moments in Time - A Fish Story
Moments in Time - A Fish Story
Can you remember the first fish you caught? A quick survey from our fishing club suggests that you remember the first fish as well as the second one. After that, it gets hazy and harder to recall.
Instead, you remember moments in time like a fishing trip where every cast resulted in a strike, or when you caught a personal best, or that quirky (safe word for a**) companion and the miserable conditions from a trip went bad!
But, to remember more than the first two fish leaves you feeling as if Alzheimer has set in. So, as a tribute to Fish Number One and Fish Number Two, I would like to share the moments in time when I caught my first two fish! (Also, I write this so as not to forget about it later when my memory fades with age).
Summer of 1974
It was 1974 in Texas. I had just completed the Second Grade and the Summer was in full swing with temperatures hovering in the 90's daily. The humidity made things worse because of the clammy, uncomfortable feeling it brought.
School was out though... which meant a solid three months of brainless, outdoor activity. Video games did not exist; games came in the form of sandlot football, pickup basketball, and little league baseball. Girls were a passing fancy. Us boys were still unaware of the female species; therefore, we were immune to their "deadly attractants" that would strike us as Teens.
Moreover, to a boy growing up along the Texas Gulf Coast, Summer meant fishing - fishing the Port Aransas' jetties, Horace Caldwell Pier, Bob Hall Pier, Corpus Christi Bay, Copano Bay, the Padre Island National Seashore,... for saltwater fish like Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, and Black Drum!
If freshwater fare was the goal, then a quick trip to several stocked ponds within a bike ride were available for frying-pan sized Bluegill. For Catfish, a short road trip to Lake Mathis (officially, Corpus Christi Lake) or the Nueces River was not a problem.
So, with many places to fish, I wondered why I had not caught a fish yet. I had gotten bites but set the hook too soon or too late. Or, I would not get a bite at all. Worse yet, I would get a bite; I just did not know it. I could see others - experienced fishermen, catching fish. So, there were fish to be caught; just not by me!
Not easily discouraged, I kept fishing throughout the Summer without success. Then, on a weekend trip to the Coast, my luck changed.
Preparations for a Weekend Trip
My dad decided to take a Friday off and plan a weekend trip to the Coast. The long three day weekend would provide an excellent opportunity to catch my first fish. At least, I hoped it would!
Like I did then and as I do today when preparing for a fishing trip, I would follow a routine - more like a ritual, to get ready for a fishing trip. The routine has changed over the years and is much different today. In the Summer of 1974, preparing for a fishing trip involved the following:
- A stop by the County Public Library to checkout a few fishing books (no Google Search back then) that would provide the key to success - rigs to use, preferred baits, what knots to use,.... Also, the Librarians kept the air conditioning running full blast, so what better way to brave the heat of the day tucked away in the corner lounge chair that sat directly below one of the vents - Frigidaire is the best way to beat the heat!
- Then, it was riding bikes with my buddy Sammy scanning the roadside for Coke bottles so we could return them for the deposit money. We would then use the money to buy essentials like the latest Outdoor Life Magazine (60 cents at the newsstand but 25 cents for us Navy Brats that shopped at the Navy Exchange Annex), Ice Cream Sandwiches (10 cents and eaten immediately before going home), and a fishing lure or tool that guaranteed to make the difference in catching a fish - we hoped!
- Finally, I would meticulously inspect, clean, and rig the Zebco 101 Rod/Reel combo rented from the Base Recreation Department (25 cents for the weekend rental). Since I had not caught a fish yet, I had not earned the privilege of my own fishing rod/reel. Instead, I would have to make do with the rented equipment. Of course, this would change once I showed my Dad that I could catch fish (but that's another story).
With the ritual complete, I was ready for the "grueling" 45 minute drive to the Coast.
The Road Trip to the Coast
Road trips always marked the start of a fishing trip to the coast back then. This meant a 45 minute drive. Today, 45 minutes seems like nothing. Back then, to a young boy barely able to sit still, 45 minutes was an eternity.
My dad drove a Chevy Malibu back then. It served as the family car for years and later was replaced by other cars to include a Dodge Van with "Mag Wheels" and "Wall-To-Wall" Carpeting and my favorite - a Ford Falcon Station Wagon, that was used as a second vehicle just for fishing trips. Loved the Falcon because you could lay out in the back and the all metal interior made you feel as if you were in an armored tank!
For this road trip to the Coast, the Malibu did its job and got us to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station without an issue. My dad liked fishing the jetties at the Naval Air Station because they were easy to access, had great campsites, and produced fish consistently throughout the year. Moreover, it was centrally located making it easy to hit the flats on the Intracoastal or the T-Head Piers like Bob Hall on the Gulf Coast or the ones in Corpus Christi Bay.
The Bait Store - Sidebar
There was one stop my Dad always made before proceeding to the Naval Air Station. He would stop at Ed's Bait and Tackle in Flour Bluff. It's long gone today but back then it carried all the gear you needed to fish. In my Dad's case, he would buy sinkers, extra hooks, and bait - always fresh shrimp. There was so much other gear but my Dad liked that the store was open all hours of the night for that "emergency bait run" that always happens when the fish are biting!
When you think of an old school bait store, Ed's Bait and Tackle was clearly one. It was made of cinder blocks, was not air conditioned, and had Cyclone Fans blowing constantly to cool things down. Long, Calcutta Cane poles stacked vertically and tied fast to pillars marked the entrance to the store and (I think they were the Owner's) a dog and several cats were always lurking near by.
You could see old fishing nets and floats hanging along the ceilings, trophy fish mounted on the walls - all of which were caught locally in the area further fueling my hopes that my first fish would be had this trip, and the standard tourist fare of postcards, refrigerator magnets, and knick knacks.
I will skip the details of setting up camp and go directly to the fishing. Bottomline: We would choose a camp site that was nearest to the restroom/shower facility and had electrical outlets and running water. Like I mentioned earlier, my Dad liked the campsites at the Naval Air Station. I think having electricity on site was why. Something about watching TV with an electric fan while laying in a hammock appealed to him.
The jetty we fished was made of concrete except for the thirty foot section nearest the parking area. That section was made of wood and allowed the tide to flow in/out of a small protected cove on the right side of the jetty as you faced the Bay. It was lighted and made for a great place to fish!
On the left side of the jetty was a large, protected area made calm by several breakwaters. The protected area was fairly large and was once used by Seaplanes as a landing area/runway. All along the quay wall were old ramps where the Seaplanes would enter/exit the landing area. No longer used as a landing area, it became a great place for catching Perch, Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder!
The right side of the jetty, past the protected cove, was exposed to Corpus Christi Bay. Wind waves and tidal currents constantly kept things moving, making for a constant flow of food, baitfish, and fish!
So, with a calm, protected area to shelter fish and an open area with plenty of water movement to funnel fish within casting range, I had my pick of areas to fish. The next step was mine, choose one and get to fishing!
Fish Number One
Not sure what area to fish, I chose the calm area on a whim. Next, I baited my hook, carefully threading a shrimp tail on to the Size 2 Aberdeen Hook (I know this because that was the only hook my Dad bought back then and not because I have a great memory).
And then, with a cast that a veteran surf fisherman would envy, I sent the rig as far as I could. Too bad I did not know that fish tended to lurk close to the jetty. So with my line in the water, I prepared for the battle. The battle not to keep "checking my bait". Fighting a fish was the least of my concerns; fighting the urge to reel in my line was torture!
But something was different this time. I had decided to leave the line in the water. Regardless of how painful it was not to reel in my line, I was going to leave it alone. Why,...???
- Most times, I would immediately reel in my line soon after the bait touched the water. I would use any excuse. The line moved, the rod moved, a fish took the bait, the bait fell off, check the reel,... any excuse would trigger a water churning, reel busting retrieve!
- After many failed attempts at catching a fish, I noticed that my bait stayed out of the water more than it stayed in the water. Since the fish tended to be in the water, I had a better chance at catching one if my line stayed in the water. Pure genius for an elementary school kid!
My plan worked... my first fish was an Oyster Fish. It was brown and covered with bumps and looked ugly. I would have liked to say that I felt the fish as it nibbled the bait, and then expertly set the hook when it began to run. Followed by an intense "man versus fish" struggle like Santiago was dealt in Hemingways' Old Man and The Sea.
Instead, the Oyster Fish hooked itself, tugged on the rod, and I reeled what I thought was a snag. Oh the memories, oh the moments in time, oh the "lies" I will tell my grandchildren someday!
Fish Number Two
My second fish was a Whiting and was caught on the same trip that I caught the Oyster Fish. I also caught the Whiting from the same jetty as the Oyster Fish but from the side that opened to the bay.
Although it was my second fish, I considered it my first "real" fish because it was edible... in that I used it as live bait in hopes of catching a bigger fish!
A bigger fish was not to be this trip. No matter, catching the Whiting was the critical turning point for me and my ability to catch a fish.
I had felt the Whiting take the bait, timed the hookset, and successfully hooked and landed it,... which meant I had truly caught the fish (and not by accident like the Oyster Fish).
Moreover, I noticed that I could recognize when I was getting a bite and when I was not getting one. Something I lacked before this fishing trip but enabled me to hook and land more fish the remainder of the weekend as well as in future fishing trips!
Thirty-eight years have passed since I caught Fish Number One and Fish Number Two. They bring back moments in time that leave lasting memories that I will treasure.
And, like the Dahli Lama says (paraphrased), "Live a good, honorable life. Then, when you get older and think back, you will be able to enjoy it again".
Thank you for letting me share my fish story, I plan to relive the good memories again when I get "older"!
Good Luck and Good Fishing!