Archive for the 'fishing' Category

Watch your step

I visited my son, David, over the Memorial Day weekend. Jackie was going to her favorite spa, Starvation Palace, near San Diego and I felt the need to surround myself with replacements while she luxuriated in the wonders of wheat grass juice.

I had long ago learned to avoid traveling to the Bay Area on a holiday weekend, so I began my trip to Berkeley on Thursday, a few days before people would begin bumper car games on HIghway 101.

Late last year I spent a week at David’s when I attempted to dislodge my hips from the rest of my body by pretending I really wasn’t 83 and could swing 15-pound kettlebells between my legs during a workout designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still recovering from that misguided adventure, I promised to avoid all heavy lifting during the upcoming visit other than what was required when drinking vast quantities of alcohol. 

In stark contrast to David’s home, our Ojai house was designed to eliminate trips and falls. There are no steps in its 2,700 square feet. Walking from the curbside mailbox to the front door can be done by a slug that spends a lifetime crawling on its belly. But I exaggerate; there is a three-inch-high step from the garage to the kitchen. After several dozen attempts, I’ve met and conquered the challenge offered by it…even in the dark.

David’s house reeks with challenges best avoided by old people. The front of his lovely home is accessed by two tiers of concrete steps. I always let him, or grandson Isaac, carry my bags so that I can fully concentrate and thereby avoid a subdural hematoma.

Reaching his family room requires a scary walk down eight highly polished wood steps which are framed by a decorative but inconsistent railing. Adding to the adventure is the occasional blockade thrown at me by the family dog, a kind but lazy 100-pound Malamute named Koda. Walking up the stairs often requires a similar negotiation with the dog. I’m sure she hates me and lays in wait for these opportunities.

My bedroom is at mid-level and sports five steps leading down to the bathroom. My nocturnal needs can only be satisfied by a walk in the dark down these steps. Lying in bed at 2am gives me pause while I balance my need to pee versus navigating the steps that promise relief.

That bathroom has an ancient shower housed in a white enamel tub. I have been persona non grata to that tub ever since falling in it five years ago. Not one to tempt fate a second time, David insists that I shower in the master suite at the top level of the house, some 18 steps up, and eventually down, from mid-level to top. Walking up is easy; most people don’t fall upstairs. Coming down I envision hurtling headfirst, and breaking most of my limbs, along with jamming my nose into my brain. It makes me wonder why I need to take a daily shower.

A trip to see my favorite son and his family usually includes a day of fishing. As a younger man I was relatively unconcerned about floating in a sea of dangers. I am now more reluctant to trust my life to poorly maintained boats and an ocean that couldn’t care less about my safety. In fact, like Koda the Malamute, I think the sea hates me and lies in wait for my first bonehead move.

Casting my cares to the wind, we chartered the Osprey, a 30-foot cruiser owned by the intrepid Captain James. David invited three friends to join us. Dennis is my age (ancient), Pat is happy (an early morning beer helps), and Greg is without fear. Seas willing, we planned to cruise under the Golden Gate, take a left and search for migrating salmon.

The Osprey is docked in Richmond, about 30 minutes from Berkley. Up at 4:30, we forced oatmeal down our throats, loaded up Greg’s car and arrived at the dock just before a planned 6am departure.

The boat floats under a protective canopy and, even in early morning light, it still looks like midnight to a guy with my eyes. Low tide contributed to the adventure by making the gangplank stand nearly erect at 90 degrees. I took Lilliputian sized steps on my way down to the dock where I found myself behind everyone else.

The boat was riding stern first into the dock. I watched as everyone went aboard. Piece of cake. My turn now.

I stepped from the dock onto what I thought was the boat deck. Instead of a solid surface under my left foot, I found myself in mid-air and then into the water, feet first. It was over my head filling my clothing. Hands reached down and pulled me up and onto the Osprey deck.

It was cold and I was shivering. I thought about what Leonardo DiCaprio must have felt like, treading water after the Titanic hit the iceberg. Or Gertrude Ederle swimming across the English Channel with nothing on but Vaseline.

I was sure it was the end of the fishing trip. The ambient temperature was around 50 degrees and, as Jackie will attest, I become inoperative at less than 75 degrees even with a blanket.

But only a tidal wave can deter hard core fishermen. Captain James started pulling off my drenched clothes. The other guys joined in, some much too gleefully. I was soon naked and looking like the Mermaid statue in Copenhagen’s harbor, except for the breasts. Feeling like a sour dill pickle in cold brine, I was certain I was in the final stages of hypothermia.

The captain had a spare pair of oversized Levi’s. Dennis gave me a sweatshirt. Greg provided some socks, and the captain found an ancient set of sneakers that almost fit.  Pat’s belt barely held up the 42-inch Levi’s. David gave me his jacket.

I looked like I had been dressed at Good Will.

Oh, the fishing was outstanding.

Gone fishin’

My son David is an avid fisherman who is at his happiest when wetting a line. I give myself some credit for that flaw in his character because I introduced him to the often-frustrating sport before he could think for himself.

Showing little respect for his aging father, and to punish me for this early indiscretion, David often includes me in fishing trips better designed for young men who have not yet learned the skills associated with the creature comforts of old age. I play along, smile and minimize any complaints just to keep my child happy.

In furthering his revenge, he called me a few weeks ago and announced, “Dad, I’ve booked three sessions with a fishing guide on Lake Casitas. Just you and him. You’re gonna love it.”

As his words sank in, I thought of the excuses I might employ in an effort to extricate myself from this intrusion on my otherwise comfortable existence. But my fatherly instincts warned me of the serious consequences of declining his offer, including my premature placement in any one of several undesirable Ojai nursing homes.

“All you need to do is call the Ojai Angler and set up the dates of the sessions. You’re gonna love it. Call ‘em now, before you forget.”

I expressed my lukewarm appreciation for David’s gift and silently wondered how long how I might delay that call until David’s memory matched the dwindling status of my own. Rejecting that misguided idea, I waited a respectable week and then called the Ojai Angler.

I spoke with Amy who informed me that my guide would be Marc. Teaming up with any guide is fraught with uncertainty and I silently wondered if I had a choice; the question was answered when I cruised the Angler website and saw that Marc was the owner, operator and only guide. I relaxed and accepted my fate.

The big day arrived with little fanfare and much trepidation. I was to meet Marc at the dock at 7am. At 6am my iPhone informed me that the outside temperature was a balmy 36 degrees. No problem, I thought; surely the temperature would rise to a more respectable level before embarkation.

I dressed as though I was heading to the snow laden slopes at Mammoth Lakes. A base of wool socks, thermal underwear and a sweatshirt was covered by my thickest winter jacket. My head was encased in a scruffy wool hat that came down over my ears. Gloves completed the costume. I wondered if Admiral Byrd had had it so good in 1926 when he came within 80 miles of the North Pole.

The trip to the lake brought me to the dock at 6:45 where the temperature had indeed changed; it was now 32 degrees, four degrees colder than when I was in my warm bathroom wishing I could stay there. I scanned the lake in search of an iceberg or, at the least, an ice floe with a polar bear on it. All I found was Marc.

A happy young man with a boat of his own. Fishing gear neatly arranged on top of the immaculately cared-for deck. An experienced guide with thirty years plumbing the depths of Lake Casitas. All in all, a setup that screamed fishing success.

Completed in 1959, Casitas is a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the Ojai Valley. I ingest several glasses of the lake every day and ponder what it would be like if the lake dried up; a thought that becomes more troublesome with the current drought conditions.

The lake harbors several varieties of fish with largemouth bass topping the list of most desirable. Planted when the lake was finished, bass are not regularly stocked as they are omnivorous, eating many of the lake’s other denizens including trout which, due to their inability to fight back, are regularly restocked.

Every angler is often reminded that Casitas is known for its production of trophy bass. In 1991, Robert Crupi landed a monster 22 pounder which was the third largest one caught in the U.S. One’s salivary glands work overtime just thinking about the possibilities.

Marc put the boat in overdrive, the wind blasted, and I pulled my jacket over my face as I wondered how long it would take for frostbite to dissolve my nose.

We cruised to our first stop, which looked to me like every other stop. Marc unsheathed a rod and explained the finer points of bass fishing. “You hold the rod like this. There’s a plastic worm at the end of the line. Toss the line as far from the boat as you can. Let it sink to the bottom. Then reel it in verrrry slowly. When you feel a tap-tap, give the rod a stiff yank and hook the fish. Boat it.”

Simple enough, I thought. My first cast landed ten feet from the boat in a spot the opposite of what I had intended. “Maybe there’s more to this than I thought.”  My second cast was longer but still off target. I decided to forget about targets and just assume that I was in the right place.

I reeled in slowly, attempting to mimic an earthworm crawling on the bottom. This procedure had three advantages. First, more time was spent in the water than untangling faulty casts. Second, I didn’t have to do much casting. Lastly, I could close my eyes and recover lost sleep while I waited for the tap-tap.

Twenty minutes passed without a tap-tap for either Marc or me. Certain that somewhere else was better, we took our icy seats and gunned the craft to our next stop; it looked no different than the first stop. More casting and slower reeling produced the same result, no tap-tapping.

Sensing no need to be totally vigilant, Marc offered me a bottle of water. A dangerous act when given to a man who makes frequent visits to the toilet. Marc assured me that we would stop at one of the lake’s floating toilets to relieve the pressure and, good to his word, our next move took us to one.

The floating toilet is the lake’s solution to keeping people from peeing in it. Meticulously maintained, I wondered if we could just play out the balance of our four-hour safari by sitting on the platform and gazing at the beauty of our surroundings.

Marc said this was a no-no and we headed to the next look-alike spot. More casting, worm hardly moving, and no hoped-for tap taps.

As though god had heard my prayers, Marc announced that our time was up. He apologized for the absence of the bass and extolled the views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. He slipped up a bit when he told me that yesterday’s client had actually caught one fish, a fact that made me wonder why he thought today would be any better than yesterday.

I could have bitched but thought better of it. I silently congratulated myself for never uttering a word of complaint. Instead, as though consoling Marc, I said we’d get ‘em next time.

We rocketed to the dock in much warmer conditions and I congratulated myself as I exited the boat without falling in the water. I walked back to my car and thought about the benefits of engaging a guide; no boat of my own to care for topped the list and somehow made the day much more enjoyable.

I called Amy and booked my next outing.

Thank you David…I’m gonna love it.



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