Brian Linebarger (illcatchanything)
The sun was just starting to set throwing shadows in the marina, and turning the distant buildings of San Francisco a fiery orange. In the west, the fog was starting to roll in, blanketing the hills of Marin, and obscuring the rust colored towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. And along the pier, moving slowly but steadily, walked Old Joe.
His given name was Joseph Sean Venice, but he hadn’t heard that name used in more than 30 years, and even then, it was only used by his mother when she was really angry or by the occasional judge when he would get himself into a spot of bother over some girl or something in the local pub. All that was behind him now, now days he was simply Old Joe.
His night tonight started like all the other nights for the last 20 years. A quick stop at Jerry’s Bait, Tackle and Liquor for some squid, and then out to the pier to enjoy his meager dinner and to fish for the night. He hoped tonight he might land a decent sized shark or two. With the prices of medication soaring, and the cost of living so high, it helped a lot for him to be able to put a couple of good sized filets in the freezer.
Joe arrived at his usual spot at the end of the pier, taking note, with a little distaste, at the new graffiti that had been scrawled on the concrete wind break, and also at the amount of litter left behind. It never ceased to amaze him how some people could just leave trash sitting on the pier, when there were trash cans spaced about every hundred yard or so. Making a mental note to clean the area up after he got his rods in the water, he started setting up his rigs.
Just before slipping the squid on the hook, Joe cut off the first half inch and flicked it into the water, observing a ritual that was shown to him by his grandfather. Offer the fish something, and you will have better luck he recalled the old man saying. Joe didn’t know if it worked, but he had been doing it for so long that he would not even think of casting now without taking part.
After casting his lines in the water, Joe decided to sit and rest for a bit. The walk to the end of the pier seemed to get a little longer every night, and he had come to the realization lately that the time was fast approaching when he would not be able to do this walk every night. As he gazed out over the water, his thoughts turned, as they always did, to the sea. How much it had given him, but also how much it had taken back. He lost his father and both of his brothers to the Bering Sea in Alaska, aboard an ill fated crab boat. His mother had never been the same after that, and although she tried the best she could for Joe, she withered away and died in an small house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. His grandfather, a lifelong fisherman and Joes only real father figure had motored his boat out of the very marina where Joe now sat, heading out to the Farralons to do some rock fishing one Saturday morning. He had never returned. No wreckage had ever been found, and the strange event was chalked up to that old saying that sometimes small boats on a big ocean just disappear.
Just as Joe was starting to pick up the trash, he heard his clicker go off and upon turning to look at his rod, saw that it was bending a fair way towards the water. He picked up his rod and set the hook, and got that adrenaline rush that always comes when you feel a large weight pulling at the end of your line. Joe began to fight the fish, hoping that it was not another bat ray, but something edible. Whatever it was, it was big. It was not trying to run away, but it was not coming easy either. As Joe got the fish closer to the surface, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on his, because there seemed to be a bright green glow coming from the spot where his line entered the water. Dismissing this as a trick of old eyes he continued to reel. About 10 yards from the pier, the fish broke the surface., and Joe almost dropped his rod in surprise. He estimated that the fish was about 4 feet long, with a jet black body and graceful fins on both sides. It was not the size or color of the fish however that almost caused Joe to his rod, it was the eyes. They were large and luminous, and glowing green like some neon sign at a Vegas casino.
As Joe continued to reel the fish seemed to just glide across the top of the water, as if resigned to its fate. Joe didn’t even have any trouble getting the fish up on to the pier even without a net. Once on the pier, there was no flopping around, the fish just seemed to sit there peacefully. Once Joe removed the hook from its mouth, the fishes eyes seemed to glow brighter, and Joe could swear that the strange looking animal in front of him was watching his every move.
Joe was suddenly very tired, and had to sit down on the pier. He again looked over at the fish, and that was when he heard a voice inside of his head. Do not be afraid it said, and Joe knew that the voice was coming from fish in front of him. In a tongue that you would understand, I am called Quar, and I have come to you tonight because this is the night of your final catch. Closing his eyes, Joe reached out his hand and touched the creature on top of the head. As soon as his hand felt the smooth skin, he could feel the coolness of water all around him. Looking around, Joe found that he could see a greenish glow to the east. Looking up he could see the moonlight filtered through the water over his head, and looking west, toward the Golden Gate and the open ocean, he could see several figures that seemed to be waiting for something. Guided by instinct, Joe made his way towards this group. When he reached the point where the waters of the bay met the waters of the open ocean, he saw that the figures were those of his long lost family. His brothers, his father, his grandfather, and his mother. We have waited a long time Joe he heard in his head as he moved ever further west.
My Debate with Argyle and the Social Art of Pier Fishing
Dennis AKA Moonbeam
Few essays have been written on the finer points of head-butting, so a comprehensive instructional guide would fill a long-neglected niche. Centuries before the advent of thermonuclear doom in a satchel, an unnamed grunt in a sticks and rocks army turned his brain pan into the equivalent of a pugilistic warhead covered with hair. The addition of the helmet and spike undoubtedly helped ratchet up the overall mortality rate, but it did nothing to improve on the beauty and simplicity of the original device. But where, besides the soccer arena, have you seen a decent head-butt, lately? Personally, competent head-butters have gone the way of credible alchemists. In the end, little remains beyond a meager handful of feeble wannabes.
I was sitting at my usual corner table at Big Marie's, having a barley-infused debate with that overfed mental slug, Argyle over which presidential administration had done the most mediocre job.
"Not even a fair fight." Argyle held up his stubby index finger to punctuate his statement as he released a fine mist of saliva and ale-soaked soy nuts that seemed to levitate in the smoky space above the table. Years before, he'd fragged the end of that finger while trying to win a bet over whether or not he could use a plasma cutter to trim his cuticle. Now, as he waved it in the air, the offended joint wobbled and danced like Little Egypt. Argyle's little side show freak of a digit was a lot more fascinating than what he said next.
"Winfrey's term was a crude, sad experiment in what it takes to ruin the credibility of the leader of the free world. Making Book Club selections mandatory middle-school reading was the final nail in public education's coffin and buying a car for everybody in the country was no compensation."
Typically, I would've let my checkered history with Argyle persuade me to choose my next words a little more carefully. Unfortunately, we were both at least three boxes of beer too far into the conversation to be concerned about diplomacy.
"You can't blame that single boo-boo on a system that was already giving up the ghost." I rolled my eyes. "You want to forget how Clinton kidney-kicked the moral image of the entire administration? She made her husband's terms look like a Quaker prayer meeting."
Argyle’s comical sneer slowly morphed in to a stone cold glare. "Are you talking about a wrestling tag team or the record of the individual? Hey, if you want to change the rules of the game, I will, too." And then he got that look; not the one that says, "I'm going to think about what you just said." No, this was the look that says, "I disagree with you so completely that now I'm going to clean your clock."
I put down my beer as Argyle slid his stool away from the bar and pointed the crown of his head in my direction; a familiar move which usually meant that things were going to get unpleasant very quickly. Most guys might take an impulsive swing or two at you when they're feeling their booze. Argyle would head-butt. A cracked rib on my left side that let me know when a storm was moving in was a pointed reminder that his choice of weapons was no laughing matter.
Watching Argyle's shoulder and neck muscles tense, my memory flashed back to the fortune cookie I'd opened after lunch. "You will avoid impending disaster."
I've never been one for putting much stock in prophecy received via 7-point font on paper bound in hard cookie and cellophane, but I wouldn't have rejected a little help right then.
Call it fate, dumb luck, cookie-power or whatever you want; I couldn't have made up what happened next.
First, the front door opened with a gassy "whoosh” that made Argyle look up involuntarily and take his eyes off the floor. Next, Argyle's leading foot landed on a rumaki appetizer Diana the Barmaid had dropped five minutes earlier. Without traction, the shoe shot out from under him like a Steinway on a flight of stairs. He tried to catch his balance on his trailing foot, but it had already been cocked and fired for what should have been a short sprint to my sternum. Without legs for support, Argyle's rigid torso campaigned hard against his body's ability to levitate by having his forehead race his nose to the floor. It was a glorious photo-finish. The cracking crunch that followed illicited the sort of glorious thrill you get at hearing the clatter of the ten pin falling after a protracted wobble.
Feeling suddenly free of burden and generous, I nodded to the figure silhouetted in the open doorway.
"Stranger, I believe I owe you a drink."
A craggy face leaned inside and stretched itself into a broad, rubbery grin. "Well, son, that's the best offer I've had all week!"
Numerous tattoos and piercing adorning his face and neck suggested that he might be in his eighties or even early nineties. He sported a well-worn luminex hoodie, the ubiquitous uniform of the elderly. It flashed automatically to green to compensate for the dimly lit bar.
He scanned the list of beers for a long moment, smacked his lips and ordered something not listed "McCaffery Brick Brewery Organic, Vintage Longneck!"
Tony the Bartender let out a shout as he slapped his ham-sized palm on the worn counter. "Now, there's a man who knows how to drink beer!" Returning from the storeroom, he grinned as he set the cold, sweaty bottle in front of the old man. "Only have two of these left. Haven't sold one in months."
I understood why. It left a smoking crater in my bar tab.
There was some measured compensation for the investment I'd made in the expensive bottle. We watched as he read the label, sniffed the aroma rising from the neck and loosely cradled the bottle in his hand and took his first reverential sip. He smacked his lips and sighed. Tilting his head, he sloshed the amber nectar down his throat. The stubby white hair on his neck danced to the lead of his protruding Adam's apple. Setting the bottle on the counter, he blew up his cheeks and exhaled.
"There are some things technology simply can't improve on. Here's an excellent example: places that still serve beer in glass bottles. I see young guys drinking out of those insulated Mylar boxes and I want to tell them, "You don't know what you're missing." Beer in cold, cold glass. So simple, so perfect."
He paused and squinted at my box of Old Pushrod long enough to make me squirm and then turned his gaze to the row of dusty photos of long dead astronauts and has-been ballplayers that lined the wall over the bar.
He took another sip from the bottle and continued with his thought. "I'll tell you what else is like that. Fishing. Plain and simple. Not some artificial or virtual sport fishing simulation, either. Know what’s the purest form of fishing that ever was?”
It had taken me awhile to get into the conversation. His first sip cost me what I’d made in the two hours I’d spent yesterday trying to cap a blown methane reducer as it spewed on my faceplate. The weight of the ice that accumulated threatened to snap my neck and fuse my head to the pipe. A distant taxi meter spun and dinged in my brain as he swallowed.
On the other hand, Tony the Bartender had made enough on the transaction to go off the clock for the evening and was utterly fascinated by his new client. He nodded, “I’ll vote for fly fishing. ‘Ya know, with all that hoity-toity gear and the funny pants they used to wear way back when. Oh boy, those guys would whip those rods around like D’Artagnan and all, line flying in back of ‘em, then in front of ‘em. But it’s sort of like that guy, Picasso, you know? You didn’t get it, but you knew it was something…and…uh…” He stopped and wiped his forehead with the bar towel.
Tony the Bartender had plenty of great ideas that were stifled by a chronic problem: He had a way of managing conversations like a bear riding a bicycle across a tightrope. He’d get a rolling start for one or two sentences, but then he’d begin to wobble under the weight of his own words. Our guest was observant and empathetic enough to pick up the ball.
"I admire your line of reasoning. Plenty of people would say it was fly fishing. Heck, twenty years ago, I would've agreed myself. Oh, sure, there are all sorts of artsy bits of detail in everything from the gear to the Zen-like mentality that goes into the technique. But, really, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be a flawed concept. Here’s a perfect example: the twentieth century fly fisherman, weary from his nine to five routine, climbs out of his hydrocarbon spewing jalopy on the banks of the East Walker River and strides purposely towards the spot he’s pounded into his mind’s eye for several weeks. Despite the crest in the trail ahead, he knows everything about the pool beyond it from the hatch to the flow rate. He’s brimming with enough skill and experience for two or three fishermen, but the thing that really throws a stick in his spokes is just that: a couple of greenhorns fishing his pool. He gets to the bank and ignores their nods and waves. He grits his teeth, dreaming of the moment they give up and leave. At some point, his wish is granted and he gets the solitude he knows he deserves. But the burning log is still smoldering in his gut and the smoke of lingering indignation rises up to his nostrils, boils out and stains him from cap to waders.”
By now, I was drawn far enough into the conversation to forget my financial woes. “Mister, what sort of fishing is purer than casting a fly, then?
He pulled himself up and leaned into his argument. “Now, this may take awhile, so hear me out. It may sound funny, but as of late, I've convinced myself that there’s a more basic purity related to men who build a platform on pilings over the water to meet the fish. It’s not the structure itself that makes the concept so perfect, though. It’s the people…the…humanity that gives it its real value. Historically, standing with feet firmly planted on a simple deck, fishing rod in hand is an experience that has a social quality that the solitary pursuit of fly fishing can't come close to."
He paused to glance down at Argyle, snoozing peacefully on the bar floor. Having his frontal lobe bounced like a rubber ball seemed to suit him just fine. A couple of regulars had pulled him out of traffic and Diana The Barmaid slipped a rolled towel under his head and packed his violated snoot with wads of bar napkin. As they bent over their prone subject, the whole affair took on the air of a bar-themed nativity scene starring the Baby Argyle. The old man pulled his attention from the pageantry and continued.
"I come from a fishing family that goes back several generations. My great-great-grandfather was born on December 31, 1964 at 11:59 and 58 seconds in Adak, Alaska, giving him the unique distinction of being the last member of the "Baby Boomer" era. He moved his family to the San Fernando Basin in Southern California in the 1990's, back when the Santa Monica Islands were still part of a low mountain range. When I was a kid, my grandfather would tell me stories about seeing schools of dorado and albacore boil all around the Eagle Rock Pier. Years later, my dad operated a charter service out of Azusa Marina in San Gabriel Sound. In the spring, he'd take a boatload of folks to fish Industry and Rowland Heights. In the winter, he'd drift over the ancient quarries in Irwindale for rockfish."
The old man stopped to swirl the residue in the bottle and magically, its twin appeared on the counter.
Tony the Bartender beamed and shrugged, "It's the last one we got... who's ever gonna order that? Enjoy it, pops!"
There really is nothing like a good fishing story, and this guy was a master. The din of the tiny bar had faded as we were transported one by one to sunny California shores. All of us long-haulers were imagining a warm breeze with water rippling to the horizon.
He crunched a roasted soybean, swilled some beer and continued. "When dad wasn't on his boat, he'd load me and my kid brother into the old truck and we'd drive up New PCH to old Eagle Rock Pier. He'd meet up with all the other regulars he called "Pier Rats," a name he'd found in an ancient, crumbling and patched pier fishing manual his father had given him. He'd tell us, "Boys, I've fished pretty much all my life probably in more places than the average Joe, so I can say without a doubt, the pier is where you'll find the finest folks to fish with." Imagining him on those planks, hands in his pockets, watching his rod tip and chewing the fat with his old friends is the way I like to remember dad.
I guess you could say fishing was in the family's blood. It was a pretty big disappointment when I told them I wanted to do my own thing and joined a retrotech operation in Dubai that did large-scale membrane desalination. We ended up pioneering the process on Martian soil a couple of decades later and I've never been back to the blue planet since. I'm old enough to worry about surviving the return trip. Plus, at my age, who needs more gravity, huh? Besides, I figured I'd done enough grandstanding to last me a lifetime or two, so I dropped out, retired the stripes and settled down here in civilian anonymity. See that guy on the wall, right below Hank Aaron? That's me."
The grainy photo bracketed between the ones of Neil Armstrong and Colin Parker was one we recognized from grade school. It showed a young man swaddled in an ancient spacesuit, dangling by a red natural fiber rope midway down the vertical wall of a bottomless Martian crater. Even through the amber glare of the reflective faceplate, the rubbery grin was unmistakable. The man holding up a glove coated in the dripping slurry that proved to be the first water found on Mars was Mission Hydrological Specialist (and later, Colonel) Zachary “Screamin’ Eagle” Collins. The news of a celebrity in our midst sent a shock wave through the bar. It was like finding the last bristlecone pine in a vacant lot in Cleveland. Our new friend was the reason we were drinking anything, including beer in boxes on Mars. The water he discovered filled the vast phytoplankton and algae reservoirs that served as the vital third lung for the thousands of workers that mined everything from gold to natural gas. It was the force behind the huge machines that had hydro-formed the bar ceiling, the lighting fixtures, the chassis of the weathered cab outside, the N-Bar framework that covered the pressure tube connecting this dingy borough to New Philadelphia. Standing in speechless awe is a bloated, overworked cliché of the highest order, but it was simply impossible to look in any direction and not see something that hadn't been affected by this man’s discovery of real water on Mars. He had to be the first genuine Colonel to ever step through the greasy doors of Big Marie’s.
Thinking the story had reached its final destination, the group sat up and stretched in unison. At the same moment, the retired Colonel leaned forward again and said in a low, conspiratorial tone, "Want to see a pier...I mean, a real fishing pier?"
We thought he was either feeling the beer or kidding, but he continued.
"Back in our setup days, we built twenty pools filled with Martian brine, each the size of a football field. Of course, by today's standards, it seems pretty meager in comparison. Back then, it was quite an engineering marvel. It took us three years to get the project online. The guys I worked with were a great bunch. Operating under those conditions, you had no choice but to get along. We lived, worked ate, and sometimes even died together. The whole facility was declared dry when "Pimples" Allen got drunk on nutrikit pruno and decided to go through Gatelock Five to check the status of Module Omega. Problem was, Module Omega was still boxed and wouldn't be up for another week, so Pimples walked straight out onto Martian turf and made his mother the pioneering beneficiary of a Martian life insurance policy. Management swept every single still out of the place. With no booze, we all had plenty of spare time on our hands. One guy took up knitting titanium fiber. Take a look at this watchband. I'll bet you've never seen anything like it, have you?"
He pulled back his sleeve and we shook our heads and murmured in agreement.
"Another guy fabricated an internal combustion engine from scrap and built a cart to use it in. Me, I wanted go do something to help us remember Pimples by, so I tore the life containment systems out of one of his old EVA suits and plumbed it for marine aquaculture. I dismantled an old urinal and salvaged the ammonia processor. I used the intake oxygenator from the suit to use as a protein skimmer and wired it into the original power pack. I made a visit to the Korean camp and talked them into giving up a few tiger prawn myses for the project. Inside Pimples saltwater-filled suit, the prawns adapted, grew, and even thrived.
“For the long term, I had an even grander vision. I put on my excursion pack, grabbed a power truck and hauled about twelve tons of container material into a spare dock and built a half scale replica of Eagle Rock Pier in a little more than six months, bait shack, cleaning stations and all."
"So, where is it?" We all looked down. Argyle was still on the floor, but he was on his elbows, his eyes slowly blinking. "Never been to a pier, before...always wanted to see one." His eyes fluttered as he exhaled and gently slipped away to contemplate his nifty new lobotomy/rhinoplasty combo.
“Oh, it’s still out there to see, but there’s something more, something that will really blow your mind.” He flipped a spare bar napkin and drew twenty circles in four short rows. “When we built and filled these first twenty pools south of Solis Planum, it seemed like a suicidal task, and it was a brutal three years, but what we learned there along with the increasing store of resources at hand was applied to each new pool in the network until we could build the same amount of pools in two weeks.” He unfolded the napkin and began drawing sets of circles around the original twenty. “By then, those first twenty pools were still functional but were technically off the grid and had been officially decommissioned from service. They were running on emergency reserve and were for the most part, forgotten. When I retired, I spent a lot of my spare time thinking about those original pools and decided to take some time and make an exploratory trip deep into the hydromass to see if the old liners still held water. To make a long story short, one did, and that’s where I parked my pier. Better yet, the tiger prawns did even better when I put them in the pool.”
“About eight years ago, I sent Pimples suit back home and had it picked up by a friend at the new Hubbs facility in Julian. He added an automatic feeder, two dozen juvenile white seabass, stirred in a temporary growth inhibitor and sent it back up. It’s amazing what fry can do in a few short years in reduced gravity.”
We didn’t have time to dwell on whether Colonel Collin’s story was fact or tall tale. He’d stood up and was striding toward the door. “Anybody coming?” he grinned.
The group clamoring to see the first fishing pier on Mars became quite a procession. Since the day it was slapped together from a prefab latrine pod and a surplus field kitchen, Big Marie’s had never once closed; even for Big Marie’s funeral. On her deathbed, the big, old gal pulled Nick the Bartender down by his tie and whispered, “Nick, you’re less of an employee and more of a friend than anybody else I got on this pit of a planet. I don’t have a will, just a few small wants I know you’ll honor. I don’t want no cold, sad service. Have ‘em make it quick, keep my place open and give ‘em all drinks on the house.” True to his word, Nick the Bartender did what Big Marie wanted and never closed her bar. Years later, when Tony the Bartender took over, Nick the Bartender didn’t even tell him where the switch to the closed sign was. It took Tony the Bartender several minutes to find it. The rest of the excursion party helped Diana the Barmaid load Argyle into a makeshift litter. As Colonel Collins waited at the curb for the shuttle, someone talked Tony the Bartender into loading a bag with Old Pushrod. Someone else toted a plate of cold rumaki.
Two hours later, we were huddled on a pristine fishing pier, the sun streaming in through the canopy high above. In the reduced gravity, the rippled pool shimmered and undulated like a bowl of quicksilver. The planking had been hand worked to look like weathered, old wood. In a way, the scope if it all wasn’t unlike being in some sort of long-lost museum of antiquities. Despite the well-worn feeling of the place, though, we stood tightly around the bag of beer boxes and whispered and sipped self-consciously.
A dozen hot dogs sizzled and popped atop a battered old barbecue grill. Overcome by the heavenly aroma, Argyle snatched at one of the sausages, yelped, shook his hand and blew on his offended digits. Diana the Barmaid slipped one onto a bun, loaded on the condiments and smiled as she handed it to Argyle. He grinned back at his angel of mercy and happily took a big bite. His bar napkin moustache twitched as he chewed. The formality crumbled away as we all clamored for on of our own.
Colonel Collins stepped out of the tackle shack and held up an antique rod and reel spooled with fresh 2-45 multi-weight Buckyfilament. After casting it out with a fat prawn for bait, he handed the rig to Tony the Bartender. “Let me show you how my old man would’ve done it,” he beamed.
As I stood there at the railing and sipped on a box of beer with Argyle, Diana the Barmaid and the rest of the new Pier Rats while “Screaming Eagle” Collins coached Tony the Bartender on the finer points of setting the hook on the white sea bass that had picked up the bait, I had to agree- without a doubt, the pier is where you'll find the finest folks to fish with.
The Legend of Big Fish
This is a story—and one more fact-based than it may appear—of a fisherman, it follows that it is to be somewhat of a fish-tale of a story depending on the point of view and what you determine to be fact or tall-tale. Luck for a fisherman is hope achieved, and many times for a fisherman luck is an essential part of fishing in and of itself for in this world many times you make your own luck. BigFish; to those that have a decided opinion on his legendary being, is commonly known to a certain few anglers along the wharfs of the San Francisco Bay waters.
It was in the winter of 2000 that the two comrades met down on the old, abandoned dry-dock at the east-end of San Francisco’s China Basin. The pair met up for a fishing expedition of sorts joined by another angler anxious, nicknamed Bluto, to fish that cold and dreary evening, the 20th day of December. As the small group gathered on the decrepit pier, now decaying from years of abandonment and neglect, they settled in for a little action of smallish smoothhound sharks getting bites sporadically throughout the night sometimes with hookups occurring on everyone’s rod simultaneously. A small batray for BigFish of about 10 pounds that ran him up and down the dock on light-tackle and a couple more small sharks, and after that, then home. In the distance, dense fogbanks ominously hung like large, white, fluffy donuts over the south-tower of the Bay Bridge. The area in front of the deep channel of the dry-dock is filled with over a dozen herring boats working the area pulling in tons of herring as the small group of shore anglers gaze upon this wondrous sight. BigFish’s fishing buddy Jerry had a hunch there must be some bottom-dwelling, herring-slurping, tail-dancing sturgeon in the depths below; but none were to be taken that night! “Sturgeon, you will be mine one day!” Jerry thought to himself as he packed up his two-piece Shakespeare rod and slowly exited the now deserted pier with his friends dosing his ½ million candlepower spotlight which served as their only source of light.
Now, the days moved forward, and the fishing threesome had been warned numerous times by the authorities of the perils of fishing on the dock. Even a local skipper had fore-warned them; but this was an adventuresome group, and the dangerous element of the pier allured them to it even more. BigFish, a huge Irishman just over 300 pounds, and well over six-feet was the most die-hard of the bunch sometimes enduring sub-zero temperatures fishing by himself there at night; and, it gets that cold in San Francisco in the winter on the waterfront. For this stout fellow, the drydock was additionally precarious, as he would fall through loose wooden-floor slats of the pier all the way up to his thigh on occasion slightly injuring himself in the process. Months had passed from the time the group met along the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf piers each having fished solo at first, later banning together as a threesome at some point in time. The group fished everywhere along the wharf piers together after that night becoming inseparable; but something was extra special, almost sacred, about the China Basin dry-dock pier to them, fittingly named Bethlehem after the old steel company that put out war-ships.
So, the three really thought they had discovered the Comstock Lode with the old drydock and being the sort of friendly lads as they were, wanted to share this bounty with others. They decided to open up their spot to others by way of having get-togethers at the pier. The question for Bigfish to his friends was: “How do we get our message out to the masses?” Jerry, being the cerebral one of the group, replied: “Something called the World-Wide Web!” So, Jerry devised a short message relaying the amazing possibilities to catch fish at the mysterious little dock located at the town’s end of San Francisco. This small transmission of an electronic message from one person gathered a lot of attention and piqued the interest of many a curious angler from around the Bay. It aroused interest from many local angling experts and non-experts alike with names as colorful as the characters they were. There was “Smelly Jelly,” “Fish Head,” and “Black Marlin the Legend, among the many others all who received the invite, all who were enticed to fish on this decaying structure from the vivid description of it written by Jerry that was like so many strokes of a brush on an a canvas by an artist.
The weekend arrived, and with Jerry’s extended invitation, so came a few anglers anxious to join in the recreation. Those that could understand the loose directions, met at the parking lot by the security office and followed the crew through a deserted yard, and then through an opening cut in a cyclone fence, around a customs yard, another cut up fence, and onto the crumbling walkway over the water. That night, MessyMarv, and Smelly Jelly, joined Jerry, BigFish, and Bluto at the drydock getting a few batrays, some smoothounds, and small leopards between the groups. Others determined to join the merriment were absent from this impromptu gathering due to sketchy directions, and previous obligations…
One San Francisco angler that was unaware of the “available” access to the China Basin Drydock was Lee, a talented angler and San Francisco native that was always looking for new spots to fish. Lee got to talking with BigFish one day on the Net and asked him if there was daytime access to the drydock on Saturdays. Lee asked: “BigFish, do you really fish 7 days a week? Can you also sneak into Bethlehem on a Saturday in the daytime?” BigFish told him: “If you want, I can get you there; call me, and we can fish, okay. Lee, call me okay, we will go fishing?!” Days later, BigFish did connect with Lee and showed him how to make his way through the obstacle course that leads onto the dock. That was Lee’s first time on the pier, and they fished together that day, and a few more days later. Bethlehem became one of Lee’s favorite fishing spots close to where he lived, and quickly he knew how to catch much more than dogsharks utilizing every bit of his great fishing expertise to land legal halibut, striped bass, and such. Time went on and seasons change. From then on Lee ventured into Bethlehem whenever he found there was a freshly cut hole in the fencing following its mending that provided passage to the pier. And BigFish continued on with his daily routine fishing constantly during the day (and the night if he still had the energy) at the drydock which was the closest place to fish to his dwelling and within walking distance. More signs of warning came from the Skipper and other old-timers around the docks for people to stay off the hazardous foundation and beware its perils, but the warnings went unheeded again.
Another season now rolls by and word is really circulating around the Bay about Lee’s great fishing success—as word tends to travel fast and far with lightning speed on the Net¬¬¬¬— And this new group of admirers not only wished to praise Lee with slaps on the back, they also wanted to know his fishing secrets that lead to his frequent success on the water. Now, Lee was a generous man, very giving of fishing ideas, even sharing his secret baits with fellow anglers. But, he was somewhat of a private individual and avoided crowds when he could at the fishing hole. Soon, many anglers started showing up at the piers where he fished if he gave out even the slightest signs of a positive report; some even anticipating his next move. Others would actually show up at a pier where he was fishing, whisper to others, and stare; at the same time pointing and saying something to the effect of: “Over there, look, I think that is him… the one they call Lee! Keep your eyes on what he does!” At first this didn’t bother Lee and he would even receive some cordially with a hearty hello with low, booming, baritone voice. As the winter was ending, most of the sturgeon hunt was over, and the cold weather was just leaving, Lee finally felt he had had enough of anglers showing up at his spots because of his newly found fame. Right away he felt the time had come that he must do something about it. First he would delay any news of where his fishing trips would be; later, he didn’t mention them publicly at all. In fact, he became almost like a ghost figure in these parts. It became similar to Elvis Presley sightings, where folks could not verify that it was really him that they saw. As months went by, many thought Lee had dropped off the face of the earth completely. The end of the summer was now here, and no news on the Net at all from or about Lee. BigFish continued his fishing, all of the time, ‘cause that’s what he did. A couple of changes happened in the lives of his fishing friends Jerry and Bluto—as change is one thing that is inevitable thing—where they moved on with their lives and moved away as well. BigFish remained constant with his fishing routine picking up a fish, here and a friend there as time went on.
Till, one Friday afternoon in late August a message was sent on the Net by a member of Lee’s family that was looking for him. It said they thought he went fishing the day before, but they had received no word from him, and for any fisherman that may have seen Lee, to please post a reply with information of his whereabouts. The fishing community on the Net was shocked and in an uproar with mad concern for Lee. Many thought him to be okay and probably fishing away at one of his now secluded spots catching more fish than is humanly possible to imagine. But that was not the case this time… The weekend went by and still no word of Lee’s whereabouts until a message was posted on the Net by Lee’s relative saying that he had been fishing on the drydock during the day, and had apparently had broken through the rotted wood and plunged to his death in the depths below. The exact details of this accident aren’t known as there were no witnesses to its happening. The untimely death of Lee in the prime of his life when he was just achieving greatness and notoriety was very peculiar and not so much unlike like another man from age before that promised a group of fishermen to ‘come follow me and I will make fishers of men’ a man named Jesus of Nazareth born ironically in a place called Bethlehem. And, the fishermen that would gather in droves from miles around to come to watch Lee fish at the piers, just talk to him, as he offered them tips, secret bait, a friendly word, were no short of being disciples.
How Many Can You Count?
February 27, 2007.
Thought I should tell you guys about a truly magnificent day of fishing I had this weekend.
I was thinking about going after perch at Violation Beach, but didn’t manage to get my license in time so I thought I’d try for Sturgeon at Poachers Park Pier in Tiburon. I set up at the end with a glorious view of Angel Island and San Francisco. My first rod I sent out with ghost shrimp on a sliding rig, on the second I put grass shrimp on a hi-lo. After an hour of nothing I decided to try and jig up some live bait. I should have tried this earlier, as my sabiki got hit straight away, and I pulled up 5 little smelt on my first cast! As I’m idly jigging for more I suddenly see the tips on both my sturgeon rods go bendo!. I almost drop the sabiki rig in my rush to get to them, only to see a careless fisherperson has cast out using a 2oz ball sinker and so his line has drifted across mine in the strong current. Amateur! After filling my bucket with smelt I switch the bait on one of my big rods to live smelt. Bang, I get hit straight away and pull up a decent leopard shark, maybe 2 feet. I’d heard they were good eating so I popped him in my bucket.
The smelt proved to be the ticket for the morning. I caught three stripers! The first two were both very nice, ~20 inches. I would have been happy with just those in my bucket, but then the third one I caught was pushing 30 inches! Someone told me you can only keep two stripers so I chucked one of the smaller ones back. The bite died for an hour or so. Then I got a hit, but only a soft one. As I’m reeling in I can definitely feel some weight, but not much fight. I get the fish over the rail and discover a huge sanddab, maybe 15inches and spotty. I kept him for dinner too. I was thinking about chucking him back but when I was unhooking him he bit a lump out my thumb, I was bleeding everywhere, he had loads of vicious teeth! You’re getting a taste of your own medicine on my dinner plate tonight!
Things went quiet again so I switched the sturgie rods back to ghost shrimp and then tried dropping some squid in and around the pier pilings for rockfish.. I was rewarded with a cabezon! I didn’t want to eat this guy since too many rockfish makes you mercury ker-azy! Plus he wasn’t much more than half the size of the monster cabezon I have in the freezer at home, that guy is almost 2 feet long! So I decided to use the little cabezon for crab bait. I chopped him up, put him in my crab net and hoiked him over the side in between my sturgie rods.
Then it happened, the big sturgie pump! I swung for the fences and it was on!!! I could tell it was a monster, he went back and forth and in and out. The fight lasted almost 2 hours! I got him into the base of the pier and got a glimpse. Beast! At least 6.5 feet!!!!! The Amateur offered to net him for me but I didn’t think he’d fit!! I walked him around the pier and then went down onto the rocks to haul him out of the water. Three of us carried him back onto the pier and taped him out at 7 feet and one inch! Wow! High fives all round, I bled him out there and then!
I wasn’t done for the day tho’, oh no! I sent out some more ghost shrimp in the hopes of another big sturgie. I had a quick check on the crab net and my little cabezon had done the trick, there were four nice crabs in there, a couple of red ones with black pincers and a couple of purplish ones with white pincers. I dunno much about crabs but I do know they have to be over 4 inches to keep them! These guys were all between four and five inches, so into the bucket they went. Crab and sturgeon cakes anyone!?
After that it was quiet for a while, until the sun had just gone down and then zzzzzzzing we were off again! Another 30 minute fight and I get the beast up to the surface. This time not so lucky, it was just a big batray. I could have netted him there and then but since he looked like being the last fish of the day I thought I might as well make a fight of it. I let him take out some more line and we fought for a little while longer but eventually he was just pooped so The Amateur netted him for me and we unhooked him on the deck. We took a few photos, even arranged a little “sea life display” of him next to the rest of the days catches. Then we popped him back in the drink. I already had enough seafood to last me a week, no need for batray!
I’m not quite sure how to cook all of these fish? I’m not keen on frying so maybe I’ll just poach them!? I’ve heard that works really well!?
As I was walking off the pier with my haul, a grumpy old guy stopped me and said him and his buddy had been arguing about how many violations I had committed!!!! I told him I hadn’t counted any!
How many can YOU count?