A month or so past, my 83 year old father in law came to California (from Phoenix, AZ) for a 2-week visit. During that time, he learned all about my fishing ventures and he went with me to the Ventura Pier one day to relax in the cooler Ventura climate while I fished.
It was on that day that he told me that he had some old fishing gear and that I could take all of it the next time I was in Phoenix. At that time, I had not been in that town for over 10 years but my wife and I were planning a visit there before heading to the Grand Canyon, so we arranged a lunch meeting after we picked him up at his place. While we were there, I looked at the gear he had. Then he told me that some of it had belonged to his FATHER.
Half of the lures are made of wood and I have been able to date some back to the 1940’s. The Kalamazoo Tackle Company’s Sportsman Reel, Model E, which was housed in a custom leather case, is nearly new. It may have never been used since there were two other Sportsman reels that definitely have been used; one was attached to the 54″ square STEEL Bristol rod that he also gave me. All of the equipment is for freshwater use, especially the Jitterbug “Bass killer” so I am not sure what I am going to do with this haul. I may go up to my local lake and try out some of the lures even though the fishing is way off in that lake due to drought, fire, and then floods. For sure, I am going to attach the Kalamazoo reel to the Bristol rod and take it out to a pier for a day if nothing else.
That would be real old school fishing at its best.
As I mentioned in my last Memory posting (Encanto Park) after I found a good job, bought a car, and could afford to travel, I began to fish in many of the lakes around and outside of the Phoenix area.
Lake Pleasant was one of the newer lakes and the closest to where I lived. While I caught many nice Striped Bass, Crappie, and Perch in the lake, it was altogether uninspiring as far as looks go. It is essentially a big man-made puddle of water.
Though I cannot swim a stroke (something about the rocks in my head pulling me down), as often as I could afford it, I’d rent a boat at the marina and go out just to explore the lake. It is called Canyon Lake for a reason; the lake is in a canyon with waterways that branch off in all directions. Many of these waterways lead to a dead end only accessible by small boats where you can sit in your craft and stare up at the soaring cliffs that tower hundreds of feet above the surface of the lake. These spurs were usually very isolated, so I’d sometimes forget about fishing and just lay back in my boat and look up at the true magnificence of nature. It was in these moments that I often wondered if there really was a god who made this place and put me there to observe his/her handiwork. If so, I hope him/her knows that I was impressed.
During one of these lazy fishing trips, I heard the drag on my new Zebco reel (and rod) fiercely playing out. Picking it up, I realized that my gear may just be over matched since I could not, at first, turn the fish that had taken my bait. After 15 minutes or so of a back and forth struggle, the fish started to give in. When I finally got the beast up to the side of my small skiff, I realized that it was a “Submarine” Carp and I knew that I could not get it in the boat and that I would eventually release it but, still, the massive size of the fish made me want others to see it and to get some idea of how big it was. So, like Hemingway’s “Old Man And The Sea”, I hooked the fish up to my stringer and slowly, in deference to the Carp, made my way back to the marina.
When I pulled up to the dock, I told the attendant what was up and that I’d like to weigh and measure the fish. He took one look at it and agreed heartily. So, after we tied up, we hauled the fish into the marina where there was a scale. The Carp weighed 62 pounds and measured 44 inches in length, both statistics this attendant had never seen before.
When we were finished, we carried the fish out to the dock and released it. The attendant thought I was crazy, but I kept thinking about my grandpa and what he would do which was the same as I was doing.
Decades later, when I was a frustrated writer, ready to give up on the craft, I wrote a story about this incident called “Just Another Fish Story” which has never been published but did win a Blue Ribbon at the Ventura County Fair. That ribbon, along with a few more, started me writing again after a decade or so of neglect of my craft.
So, fishing rebooted my desire to write and thus created
When I moved from Phoenix, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA in 1979, Stearn’s Wharf was not open to the public. It was closed due to a huge fire that roared through it in 1973. It finally reopened in 1981 but by that time, the Goleta Pier was my fishing spot of choice so I never fished off the wharf before I moved to Ventura, CA in 1984.
Over the decades since then, the wharf has been open and closed due to another fire, storms, etc. and I heard mixed reviews about the fishing prospects. Some said it was fantastic and others said it was pathetic so today I decided to try it and see which side was telling the truth while knowing that BOTH sides could be right, depending on the weather, the skill of the fisherman, having the right outfit, and other factors.
Despite having been to the wharf’s website, I was still a little fuzzy about what it would cost me to park on it though that didn’t really matter since I was going to fish off of it for whatever it would cost me. I knew that the wharf opened at 7 AM and that the first 1 ½ of parking was free and that after that is was $2.50 an hour. So, I figured I’d just go in, fish for $5.00 worth of time just to see what was what. However, when I arrived at 7:15 AM, the gate was up and the ticket machine was not functioning, so I drove in while deciding to deal with any questions when I left.
My line was in the water for, at the most, 15 minutes when I caught my first Calico Bass. This is fish that you do not find around my home base, the Ventura Pier, and even though it was 4 inches short of the legal limit, I was thrilled since I figured that where there was one, there would be more and I was right. I caught 6 more Calicos in 4 hours but all were under the legal limit so ALL of them went back into the ocean.. After I caught the 5th one, I had the feeling that the same fish kept biting over and over again. Especially since this one winked at me…
When I was not catching Calico Bass, I was catching Mackerel as fast as I could bait up and put my line in the water. I actually lost count of how many I reeled in, but I know that I caught at least 27 of them with more after that, how many, I don’t know but I know it had to be at least 6 more, so let’s call it 33 Mackerel for the MORNING since I only fished for 4 hours. When I first started catching them, I kept a few for bait then began to give them to other fishermen for bait but it wasn’t long before everyone had plenty of bait so I started throwing them back in while telling them to send me a halibut. Not one of the ungrateful little buggers did as I asked them and I wound up getting no bites on my ocean bottom line. The closest I got to a big fish was gaffing up a Shovel Nose shark for a fellow fisherman. He’d caught it on the Mackerel I gave him.
I visited the Stearn’s Wharf Bait & Tackle to buy some salted Anchovies and was disappointed that they didn’t have a “Shut Up & Fish” t-shirt in a medium but I will check to see if they have any in stock the next time I visit the wharf because after today, I will definitely be back.
As I was leaving, fully expecting to have to argue my way
into a smaller parking fee, I was surprised that my visit would not cost me
anything since the city realized that the ticket machine had been
malfunctioning that morning.
I was born in Flint, Michigan. It was there that my grandfather taught me how to fish, but when I was seven years old, my father decided to move the family to Phoenix, AZ. I don’t really know why because he fled the scene, his wife, and three young kids shortly after the move. I never saw him again.
So, I was two thousand miles away from grandpa and a seven-hour
drive away from the Pacific Ocean which I could only dream of seeing some day.
My family was dirt poor, we had no car, we moved often, and sometimes
we didn’t know if there was going to be a next meal or not. Most of time, I only had one pair of shoes
and most of the time they had holes in them.
Knowing that my unskilled mother would have to work all she could just
to make ends meet, I rarely asked for anything that was not essential like a
bicycle or a fishing pole. So, I had to
I found an abandoned bike and with the help of a friend’s father, we made it rideable. Then, the same friend, gave me an old Zebco spin cast rod and reel in payment for helping him with his homework. All I needed now was a can of corn because I knew where I was going to go fishing: Encanto Park, a large inner-city park that had a huge lagoon with branching waterways that were filled with Carp, Bass, Perch, and Sunfish.
Some of my happiest pre-adolescent memories revolved around the mornings when I would get up, open a can of corn, grab my fishing rod, then jump on my bike and ride the 2 or 3 miles to the park. I would stalk submarine size Carp and snag small Perch and Sunfish. The latter two often went home to be a dinner for me and my mom who loved pan-fried fish. The Carp I gave to our landlady who knew just how to cook them.
So for many years, my time at Encanto Park kept my love for fishing alive when I didn’t have much else.
The same park later became a meeting place for the “turned
on” generation of which I became part of as I looked to meet young ladies while
worrying about being shipped off to Viet Nam.
On many warm summer nights while my new friends and I sat around on the
hill above the bandstand, I would tell them about all the times I’d been
fishing in the lagoon. They were
surprised to learn that there was fish in it.
As I grew up, got a job, and a car, my fishing venues grew,
but those stories are for other memories yet to be told.