|2003 Category 1 — Pier Fishing — Fiction
“My Cousin, the Lifeguard”
by Lisa Marie Cacho
Derrick stares into the water, bronze arms draped lazily over the pier railing, strong back turned toward me. It was getting hot at only nine in the morning, like it often does in Oceanside in the summer. Derrick had his T-shirt tucked into the back pocket of his dark blue jeans riding low, his darker blue boxers peaking out over the top, GAP stitched along the elastic, resting on his hip bone. He wore an A-shirt, tight white ribbed, and a Raiders cap backward, not seeming to notice the blaring sun on a cloudless day staring him right back in his eyes.
He stares into the water. I take off my shirt too to get a tan while the sunshine is inviting, sit down in a green nylon fold up chair we bought from Wal-Mart a couple weeks before. I tilt my head back to expose my neck and stretch the back muscles that are so familiar to being hunched over a computer desk and books on social theory all day. My Wal-Mart combo poles with new Daiwa reels equipped with eight pound test stare with Derrick into the somewhat murky blue-green, teal-purple waters. They look lazy too. I glance at my watch and scratch a note across my mind that the mussels will be losing their scent soon and we should change the bait.
“I ever tell you, I wanted to be a lifeguard?” Derrick asks me without turning around.
“Yeah,” he says, “a lifeguard.”
“Not so hard a thing to get a license for,” I say, tilting my head back toward him, shielding my eyes from the orange sunlight.
“Yeah,” he says, “guess not.”
The conversation seems to be over then, even though it feels unfinished. My cousin Derrick is six years younger than me. And it’s been only recent that we’ve begun to hang out beyond family parties. As kids we practically grew up as older wiser sister and younger rebellious brother since both our moms worked and the grandma we shared didn’t. Even went fishing together a couple times, my mom and dad letting him tag along to trips to the Salton Sea, driving up with a few Styrofoam containers of earthworms and driving back with our biggest camping cooler full of fish. Never liked the taste of fish from the Salton Sea, no matter how it was prepared, and me and Derrick would sneak pieces from our plates to my dog Cosmo’s mouth under the table, which was probably a good thing since the Salton Sea was so highly polluted even back then when it was open.
It was high school that drifted us. First I went to high school and then he did. High school was when friends became family and family became enemy out to make you miserable. This is when growing up as brother and sister turned into close cousins who watched TV together at family parties, and then, when I could drive, we were cousins who’d sneak out to Seven-Eleven for a slurppie and a break from all the aunts asking questions and uncles giving lectures, both with lightly beer touched tongues that smelled slightly sweet in their smiles. Derrick always ordered Coca-Cola with cherry while I was much more unpredictable, opting for orange-pineapple one day and lemon-lime-strawberry another. This was our bond during our high school careers, a bond that was lazy and familiar, easy to fall into and easy to forget the day after. We averaged seeing each other at three family parties a year. The families had more than that, but being big and bad and rebellious and terribly ashamed and embarrassed of our mothers from the ages of 14-18, we usually got out of all but three.
Honestly, I had been waiting for his high school to end. Waiting for this time, here, when the friends all go off, get married too early, get pregnant on accident, act responsibly and go to college, or act desperately and join the military. I had been waiting, having been out of high school and knowing that family blood was in fact much thicker than all the deceitful girl-friends’ words of undying friendship. I had missed him terribly when he was in high school since it coincided with my time of reflection and wanting him around me, my little cousin, like a brother. I was waiting for this. This time, here, and this was even how I imagined it, how I had planned it. Taking him to my favorite place, Oceanside Pier, showing him how to pick the mussels off the pilings at low tide, how to tie a corbina rig and then a croaker one. Which pyramid weights to use at what surf. The croaker pocket just beyond the bait shop when the in-shore action was lacking action. How to thread the mussel so it stayed on the hook. How to hand line the big ones slowly and gently with no sudden movements and no jerk of wrist to make sure you get it all the way over and into the cooler. Wanted to introduce him to the old-timers and the regulars. The old Filipina lady who kept insisting that I really did know how to talk in Tagalog. The old Mexican man who knew I couldn’t speak Spanish but wished I did so everything we talked about would be so much easier. These guys, who I fit in with easily, arguing over what rig was better and how many feet out the big ones were. Always scolding me for using eight pound test because it seemed so irresponsible even though I always went home with more fish, but it was always one of those guys who went home with the biggest.
This is what I had imagined, wanted, for years and years. Needing him, in someway, needing him around me, needing to feel close to him again like when we were younger. A part of me knew right out of high school that all the friends I was leaving behind to go to college would never mean anything close to what Derrick did to me. So I waited. Respected his process of realizing this too. And now he was nineteen and I was twenty-five and here we were on a hot day, under a cloudless sky above a cloudy sea.
“I saved a life once,” he tells me.
“Yeah?” I say not uninterested.
“Yeah,” he says, “was swimmin’ and some kook was all flapping around, saying, ‘help me, help me.’ So I go over with my board and bring him back to the shore.”
“And you liked it?”
“Guess so,” he says. “The guy didn’t even thank me. Probably forgot all about it by now.”
“But it’s not about the thanks, you know?”
“What’s it about?”
He shrugs, still looking at the water, longingly. He’s been looking at it like that all day, like listening to a call.
“Don’t know,” he says. “But it’s not about the thanks.”
His line starts to jerk and then the pole bends over the railing. “Derrick! your pole!”
He snaps up sudden, grabs the pole, feels the tension, tightens the drag just a bit. “Feels like a big one,” he says.
“Should I ask someone for a net?”
“Naw, not that big,” he says, letting the fish run a bit. “Just big on your cheap ... pole.”
I get up and join him, leaning over the railing to catch a glimpse of the silver when the fish gets close. Some tourists start to congregate behind him, like tourists do. I see the silver, it’s a good sized corbina, probably three pounds. Would be safer to net it just in case but when I start to leave to ask Juan if we could borrow his net, Derrick says, “here,” hands me the pole and starts hand-lining the fish up. Slow. Careful. Don’t drop don’t drop don’t drop. I’m chanting in my head, reeling in the extra slack. Takes forever, like it should, but he brings it up solid. One of the biggest I’ve seen or helped caught, though I know they grow a lot bigger. “Let me take a picture,” I say, and he holds up the fish that doesn’t look nearly as big as it did in the water next his dark frame. I rummage the tackle box for the one shot camera and snap a couple pictures of my cousin and his fish. It’s a good day. It’ll be a good dinner. And the tide is still rising high.
Here, now, at this moment, I’m staring into Berkeley Pier waters, much darker and danker than Oceanside. The air is cold with fierce biting winds swirling my hair into my face. I’m thinking of the memory of Derrick and Oceanside that never got be a memory. It’s one of many that I made up right after Derrick died. One of those that never got to be real, but I have to imagine that it almost happened or else I won’t wake up in the morning. He had wanted to be a lifeguard, someone told me that once. But he didn’t save his own life in time to get a license. I don’t cry as I look at this dark water and shiver in the damp air. I stopped crying a while ago though the pretending and wishing and imagining comes and goes often. Especially the wishing, it is hard still to stop wishing. I’m not crying but my chest hurts like spoiled tears. One of my poles is bending over the railing slightly. I let it go. I watch it bend and shake a little. Just walleye, maybe it’ll get itself free. I stare into the water, listen hard for a calling, wish for a picture I didn’t take and a memory I didn’t make. The tide rides high. The pole snaps and stops. I make a note in my mind to re-bait with a pile worm soon. I sigh and shiver, think about lifeguards. The wind picks up more, stronger, bites my cheeks. I lean over the railing, much cleaner than the ones in Oceanside. I moved up here to get away from everybody else’s hurt. But I didn’t escape Derrick. I listen for the calling. The water is silent. I wish the stripers would run, I cut up a piece of pile worm for the perch I won’t take home for dinner, reel up and re-bait my pole. I toss the line under the pier near the pilings, wrap my jacket tighter around me, and sit down in the green nylon chair from Wal-Mart. I try not to think about Derrick, try not make up another memory. Lifeguards, I think about lifeguards.
No Title – although I suggest Platinum Perch
I was, usually, scared on drops, but today I was excited. Man, a real water planet. The mining company's records show that one in, about, two in two hundred thirteen thousand rocks in the known galaxy tolerate life, let alone support it. Of those, only about one hundredth have water (as we know it) on the surface. But this of was special. There was no solid surface. It was all ocean with two moons and the fishing was legendary.
The splashdown went well, or so I was told. All I could do was assume that the "All Ashore" call meant that we had survived. I threw my tackle pack on, grabbed my rod and reel, and made my way to the gang plank. Bob from the ship made one last attempt to drag me along with him for a weekend of wine, women, and song. I smiled, slapped him on the shoulder and told him I'd save that luck for a planet without a sustainable atmosphere. I could see the disappointment on his face, but I knew he'd be over it as soon as he found a
I looked around as I walked onto the pontoon pier. The kid was already making a bee-line toward me.
"Hey, mister, you going fishing?" he called out.
I was never one to hold another's ability to grasp the obvious against them. "Yeah, kid, you know any good spots?"
His face lost all trace of enthusiasm and he raised his right forearm to half mast, rubbing his thumb against his index and middle fingers. It's a well known fact that a space miner has no better friend in the galaxy than a colonist looking to make a buck. I clicked twenty credits to his card and the enthusiasm returned.
"So", I asked him, "what's biting around here?"
"Your setup is a little light," he replied, "but the moons are almost at opposite polls, so everything is biting for the next twenty eight hours."
The news filled me with a good vibe. I looked over the edge of the pier to see a small, gentle swell. I asked the kid about what techniques worked on this planet. He went on for, at least, two hours about different baits, lures, styles, and techniques. As on most water planets, live bait was the most productive here. I couldn't afford to risk two months in quarantine, so I told him I'd be sticking with lures.
"Do you have anything in chrome?" he asked.
"Yeah, I have a full selection of Krocs and Kastmasters" I replied.
The kid grinned and recommended the two ounce chrome Krocodile.
I didn't question him for two reasons. One, because Krocs had always served me well, and two, I had always believed that the love for bright shiny objects was universal.
I took note of what the kid had said about my setup being light, so I put on the spool wound with the thirty pound test, hoping it would be enough. I tied the Kroc on with a palomar knot and ask him where I should cast.
He looked over the railing and called out, "QUICK!!!!, Drop it straight down, here!!!!"
I did so and almost let my pole snap in the hurry. I loosened the drag just in time to listen to it scream for nearly a minute. With the spool getting low, I started to tighten down on the drag. "OK", I thought as my rod didn't double over, too much more. What ever it was, it was heavy. After the initial run, like a big dead weight, it didn't fight at all. Not until it breached the surface, that is.
The kid tried to warn me, just not in time. As I loosened the drag, the kid began barking orders. "Just keep doing what you did.....keep the line tight but let it run.....keep your eye on your spool......when it gets half way down.....dog down your drag, SLOWLY......not so fast....... got a glowshark......"
I lost track of the kid's orders when the fish broke the surface (voluntarily, this time) and skimmed back and forth, about four feet above the surface for about an hour before retreating back to the depths.
"OK", the kid called, "he's getting tired, he should come in, easier, now." This lad, apparently, knew his stuff. I got the shark to the pilings with little more effort.
A woman, fishing nearby, offered to help land the fish. With my limited supplies, I knew I was an easy mark for the locals (the ones who didn't ask for anything, outright, anyway) so I accepted. My cynicism turned to amazement when she dropped a roll on a rope over the railing and it popped open to form a seven foot by 3 foot hammock with a fine mesh. She skillfully netted the shark and pulled it up to the pier.
"Careful" she advised, "don't touch it"
"Huh?" I asked, "Why not?"
The kid chimed in, "The slime on glowsharks is a hallucinogenic. One touch and you won't be allowed on a strarship for, at least, a month."
"Really?", I asked. I chuckled, wishing I had that much leave accumulated.
As the woman put her gloves on to remove the hook, I complimented her retrieval net. She smiled and explained that the part of fishing that she holds dearest is the safe release of the fish. I complimented her on that, as well, and lost any and all concern that she was trying to scam this tourist.
The rest of the day was no less eventful. The kid would tell me to cast out thirty yards and do an erratic retrieve, and I'd get a fish on. Drop straight down, jig up and down, and hook up. Some fish were deadly to the touch. Others sang beautiful "hymns "as they were lowered for release. One man offered me two hundred credits for one fish. I apologized to him and explained that I only had a license for sport and not for take. He sneered with disgust and let loose with a barrage of insults. I offered him the opportunity to make something of it and he walked away, muttering more insults. Feeling awkward, I turned back to the kid and the woman. They were both grinning ear to ear.
"Way to go, mister," the kid said.
"Yes," the woman added, "quick, release it." She was taking a picture of it. She ran to a com booth and pressed some buttons.
After about five minutes, a uniformed game warden came running up. "IS THE REPORT TRUE?" he gasped, "A PLATINUM PERCH?" He was wild eyed and barely able to compose himself.
"Take a look" the woman said, handing him her digicam. As he inspected the image, his eyes welled up and tears began to stream down his face.
"I'm not in trouble, am I?" I asked, unsure of what was happening.
The woman described the catch, the near incident with the disgruntled passerby, and the safe release of the fish.
The game warden took a deep breath and turned to me. "Sir, first I'd like to thank you, personally. Nothing makes a game warden's day like verifying the presence of a species that was thought extinct. Secondly, if what this woman says is true, I am authorized to offer you full citizenship on this planet and a position in the Indigenous Species Preservation Service. We are in dire need of people like you.
"I appreciate the offer" I replied, "but I'm still paying for tenure on my mining ship. But, if I may, this woman seems to share your way of thinking. This boy, here, could probably serve you well, too."
The warden glanced them over and replied, "We're not looking for anyone to serve us, we're looking for people to serve the sport of fishing as well as it serves us. Do you think you two can handle that?"
"Can we, mom?" the kid pleaded.
"It's the reason I brought you to this planet, sweetheart," the woman answered.
I didn't think that anything could top this day of fishing until I returned to my ship and was told to report to the Captain. He read off the facts from a com screen and asked me if they were in order. I was able to verify everything. He, then, asked me if I had suffered any ill effects from the stay on the planet. I told him about the near miss with the glowshark, but
no problems aside from that. He laughed at that and shared the story of a run in with a glowshark in his younger days. Then, he got serious. "We need a man on this rock to keep up with mine claim maintenance. You want the job?"
I stuttered, "Sir, I'm not sure that..."
"OK," he interrupted," let me make it easy for you. I'm a fisherman, myself, son. A friend of mine in the ISPS called me last night and made my whole week. You could have made twice what we pay you in a week. But you were true to the sport and, with any luck, helped to preserve a life form that was thought to be lost forever. Your new duties will take up forty-five minutes a day. This will leave the other twenty-nine hours and fifteen a day free for fishing. There's just one thing. Don't get any ideas about my baby sister and my nephew." He was smiling when he said this last part.
"I'll do my best, Sir," I responded.
"Good, they deserve no less," he bellowed
2003 Category 2 — Shore Fishing — Fiction
"The One That Didn't Get Away...
Through the drizzle of the storm Chris could faintly see his rod twitch. “Crabs” he thought to himself as he frowned. The tides had looked promising, but the current was stronger than he expected. Despite the current, the crabs were having no difficulty in ripping up his bait. But despite the poor weather, the stronger than expected tide, and the crabs, Chris was content.
He had dedicated the last 6 months of his life to learning how to drive for the sole purpose of being able to bring himself fishing. After a grueling final drivers test, Chris passed with flying colors. But he had yet another obstacle to overcome: his parents. He had had to spend the next several weeks badgering them with plans to take their car for a fishing trip all by himself. Finally, at the verge of giving up, they gave in and the trip he dreamed about would come true.
But before rushing into his trip, he took careful planning deciding exactly where he wanted to go for his first trip alone. He knew of a secret spot along the shore in the South San Francisco Bay that his Uncle had told him about some years before. Although never having gone there himself, he had been told great stories of bat rays that could spool a person of 300 yards in less than a minute. Glancing at his calendar he realized it was just the right time of year for them to begin showing up in the hundreds. He quickly finished his planning and was ready to go the next day.
His trip down from Stockton had been uneventful and he found the spot with little difficulty. It took a little walking, and some luck, but he found the spot his uncle had told him of. It was located along a small, forgotten trail and didn’t look like much. It was worn from years of use, but was starting to overgrown in some parts, and it looked as if the grass would soon reclaim what was once its own.
He was suddenly interrupted out of his dream by a sudden downpour. He muttered to himself about the weather report as he threw on the only jacket he had brought. The report had lied; it was only supposed to be a partially cloudy night with a full moon. But it had begun to drizzle when he first arrived and the condition had been deteriorating ever since. The cloud cover blocked the moon, and he found it difficult to work in the absence of light.
“Was that a bite?” he asked to himself out loud. As he had pulled the hood of the jacket over his head he imagined that he had seen the rod bounce. “Couldn’t be anything” he quickly thought. To occupy himself he began to debate both sides of the question in his head. “Hasn’t been a bite all night, only crabs” “But crabs don’t pull that hard” “Wasn’t anything, couldn’t be anything”.
“Might as well set the hook and pull it in just to be sure,” he whispered to himself. He carefully lifted the rod, grasped it firmly, and pulled back with all his strength. The line made a sharp stretching sound and he realized he was caught on something. “Could be a fish,” he thought. Suddenly the reel lurched and line began to pull out. The incident happened all too quickly, and, as he realized that the drag was set too tight, the line snapped with a pop.
Feeling mixed emotions of anger and happiness, he struggled to fix his rig in the darkness. He picked up the largest weight he had brought, a five-ounce pyramid sinker, he knew it wouldn’t be able to hold the bottom in such a strong current, but it would help. He quickly found the 50 pound wire he had brought, and attached it just to be sure nothing could bite through his line, to this he added his eagle claw, 5/0 octopus hooks. “I can catch it now” he whispered to himself as he grabbed the largest chunk of squid he could find.
After one of the longest casts he had ever made, he sat down on the cold, wet ground and tried to fix his vision on the tip of his rod. But as he struggled to watch for any movement out of the ordinary, he began to drift into sleep. The slow bobbing motion of the tip being pulled by the current, and the soft sound of rain falling around him didn’t help. Again he slipped back into dreams, he softly faded deeper and deeper, thinking of his uncle who had first taught him to fish, and of adventures many summers before, fishing with his friends. He remembered the time his uncle took him out to the ocean and taught him to crab, and the time him and his friends hooked into a catfish so large they all had to take turns on the rod, but only managed to get several brief glances before it broke the line and swam away.
He soon began to fade out of sleep; he had lost his sense of time and had no way of knowing how long he had been asleep. He slowly looked up and caught sight of the moon. The clouds had just pulled away and it looked clearer than ever. Bringing his eyes back to earth, he noticed his rod; the moonlight reflecting off gave the impression that it was shaking. After wiping his eyes and looking closer, it was true! The rod was bouncing!
He leapt up very excitedly, and reached for the rod, he picked it up very gently and held it in his hands for a moment. He watched and waited, suddenly, the rod bent over very sharply, and at the same moment he pulled back, setting the hook. Looking out over the bay, he could clearly see his line begin to move off into the distance. It picked up speed and headed straight out, Chris had to be careful to keep the drag tight enough not to be spooled, but not so tight as for the line to snap.
Suddenly, in the misted of his excitement, he noticed that the fish had stopped, “finally” he whispered out loud, glancing down he noticed that he only had a few more cranks before the he would be completely spooled. Anxious to gain the upper hand on the fish, he began cranking like mad as the fish made a mad dash towards him. Almost as suddenly as the fish had started towards him, it quickly turned off to the right. Chris followed it, madly running down the shore, cranking away, and praying the fish would not spool him. He ran through the overgrown grass, occasionally stepping in puddles of water that had formed due to the recent rain. At one point he fell, face first in the mud, but pulled himself up so quickly that it surprised even himself.
But right as he was about to start running after the fish again, he realized how far away from his gear he was. “No matter” he told himself, “I can always retrace my steps along the water, and no one is bound to visit this place at this time of night”. His thought was suddenly broken by the thought of the fish. He began cranking again and was slowly gaining on the fish. “Too bad I won’t be able to take a picture,” he whispered out loud “My camera is back with the rest of my gear”. But as though the fish heard him, it quickly took off back in the direction of Chris’s gear.
Following the fish, Chris began to think of what it could be. “Maybe a sturgeon” he thought to himself “or a bat ray” “maybe even a shark, but it must be one BIG shark,” he thought as he ran. Suddenly he stumbled across his gear, he almost missed it if not for stumbling over the backpack he had brought to haul his gear in. He planted his feet and began to battle the fish again, determined not to let it get away. “I’m gaining on you” Chris whispered out loud, almost as if he wished the fish could hear him. But the fish was now too tired to do anything about it, even if it had heard Chris’s comment. Inch-by-Inch, Chris slowly gained, then he caught site of the wire leader he had used. “Only 4 feet left until I see what you are,” Chris said out loud. Determined to discover what beast had put up such a fight, almost spooling him, and forcing him to run almost a mile up and down the shore, Chris put his final effort into turning the reel.
Slowly, he began to see a shape emerge from the muddy water. The moonlight reflecting off the water would make it almost impossible to tell what was really on the line until it was finally pulled out of the water. Suddenly, as Chris backed up, still pulling the rod, the fish slipped up the muddy bank. With part of its body out of the water and resting in the mud, Chris stood stunned. Before him lay the largest bat ray he had ever seen. He could easily tell that from tip to tip of its fins; it measured over 3 feet, maybe even 4! Acting quickly he grabbed his tap measure and laid it across the fish. Taking his camera he snapped several quick pictures.
Then, with a kind of admiration for such a formidable opponent, he silently turned the fish and lowered it back into the water. After several moments the fish gained back its strength and swam away. Chris stood in the moonlight gazing off in the direction it had swum. He smiled and turned around, his heart full of joy from battling such a fish; he knew someday, in the distant future, someone else would get a chance to battle the magnificent fish.