I Should Have Taken my Father Fishing
He was always taking me fishing when I was young. In our town no one had any way of preserving food other than cooking and drying. Though we own a kerosene-fed refrigerator, its space was usually reserved for cooling drinks and such for our store. There was precious little we could use to freeze fish for the next day. So everyday –okay, almost– we’d fish to feed the family and guests. Mostly these are teachers from the barrios who’d congregate in our house for some days preparing their school year-end or –start reports.
I was the younger boy, and early on I’d shown a penchant for the marine piscatorial pursuits, so I was elected to go fishing. And of course I learned from my father, who learned from his, who learned from his. You might say I am one in a long line of hereditary sportfishermen —no one really had to fish for a living— but sadly the line would probably end with me. I failed to teach any of my four boys to take to fishing.
In all those growing up years, my father took me fishing: handlining mostly, but also gillnet and trolling. We’d haunt the nearer reefs, and sometimes the farther ones, when conditions are said to be good. Halcyon days of innocence and simple joys, or perhaps memories colored rose by years gone by. We never single out dates when we remember, and years turn to months, but days become years. That is the way I remember them.
Then I went away for high school and college, returning only every summer, and sometimes not even. My father also gradually lost his eyesight, that when I returned to work for the family after marriage, he was completely blind. He would not want to fish, because when we tried the holes and points we fished have been overfished or silted over: fish no longer abide there. Yet he remembers them as they were, but I can see they were not anymore. I went fishing with friends.
When I finally stayed in the City and family, I can return only every five or so years, sometimes not even, and each time I did I wanted to take my father fishing. I bought a good trolling reel and showed him how it works, but I failed to spark his enthusiasm, or probably he just didn’t show it, and I was too superficial to see it.
Each time I planned to go home, I would convince myself to convince him to go fishing. But when I was there, I always failed. There was always a friend to see, a bottle to drink, some little thing to do, in the limited time I had. There were even days I didn’t see him, busy was I in my other ‘pursuits’. Then suddenly it was too late; I could never take him fishing no matter how much I want to. Except in memories of those years when I was young.
Maybe one day I’d see him, and we could go fishing together like before. Maybe we’d enjoy each other’s company as in the old days. Then maybe I could take him fishing, like he did with me long ago, where the seas are always calm, and the fish always bite. There must be such time.
But before that I wish I could take my boys fishing, too.
One day I finally caught a fish, a very small –about a centimeter—bugaong, on hook and line.
That day, I can’t find any wire paper clip, and thought of ‘borrowing’ my father’s small fishing hook and line. Without much ado, I got the set from his fishing basket and took it to the shore. Like before, I collected a few hermit crabs and broke their shell houses. Proceeding to the just-bigger-than-a-puddle seawater-filled depression where small and tiny croakers were trapped, I baited the hook and lowered it. In a few moments, tiny croakers were feasting on the bait and the bigger ones were circling. I stayed very still so the larger fish can grab their share, and would yank and hook whenever one does.
I was hunkered on some stones there to weight down coconut leaves used to make shingles, and the fish were just below me, near my feet actually. They were a marvel to look at, all agog with the presented free food and competing with each other in getting their portion. Each one will dart in, take a bite then swim away a small distance then ram itself into the bait again to bite. Every now and then I would yank on the line trying to impale some fish, but to no avail. The fish were just too small to take the hook in their mouths, even if the hook was a Mustad Round Haddock number 27, so that there was no chance I can hook one.
Then finally after such a yank I saw a small croaker wriggling at the hook, struggling to get off. But the barb held it securely, so I, at last, am a fisherman! At long last I finally caught a fish on baited hook and line, a live, struggling real fish! Except that it was hooked through its operculum –the gill flap. But it doesn’t matter! A hooked fish is caught fish, no matter where it was hooked, and I got one.
Full of pride and bursting with self importance, I threw away the left-over bait and brought the fish home, intending to show it to my father and whoever is interested. But no one –not my grandma, my mother, my father, my sister or my dog— was impressed with my first-ever catch. It was just too small to merit even a second look, so in frustration I skewered it with a piece of coconut midrib and broiled it over some embers.
Only the cat got interested in my prize catch, and so he got my life’s first piscatorial trophy. I didn’t even know if he enjoyed it.
Earliest Attempts at Fishing
My earliest memories of fishing were the times I very patiently tried to catch bugaong (croaker) with a wire paper clip and a piece of string. I’d pilfer the clip from my teacher mother’s school supplies and the ball of string from my grandma’s crochet set. Going to the seashore, I would collect several hermit crabs and break their shells with a stone to get the succulent part of the crab. Then I’d open the clip, tie it to the string, impale the crabs’ soft rear after pinching off the hard pincers and legs, and toss the clip to the group of croakers.
The time of day does not matter: morning, noon, early or left afternoon, but I usually went ‘fishing’—if it can be called such— during low tide, when the water has receded to about two hundred meters, leaving some wide, shallow pools wherein small fishes, caught unawares, were left marooned. There were tiny croakers, mullet, whiting, and some bottom-walkers. Sometimes, instead of ‘fishing’ for them, we’d chase them around and kick them off the water, catch them while they are flopping on the sand and bring them home for the cat or dog, since only they will be interested in the tiny fishes. You know, just for fun, or simply the children’s exuberant attempt to amuse themselves. But when alone and fishing strikes my fancy, I’d steal some thread and paper clip and do my thing.
The smaller ones would attack the bait first, the bigger fish would soon follow, and all will have a field day because no matter how often or how strong I yank back on the string, I never caught a one, never hooked any fish. But I would persist, rebaiting and tossing the ensemble back again and again, until all my bait is gone, or the sun has grown too hot, or the dark has come and I can’t see the fish anymore. I would go home with nothing to show for my efforts, perhaps beaten for the moment but surely undefeated, because I go home with the hope that maybe tomorrow or the next time, I will finally catch one.
One will be enough for me, for that one –a single fish—will prove to me, myself, the world and all who are interested, that I am a fisherman. Or, more accurately, a sportfisherman. That I belong to that special tribe of people who believe that fishing is a noble pursuit, that matching wits with the piscatorial species is a wholesome and honorable endeavor, and that the fish is not important: the sport of catching it, is. The fish is only a trophy and the proof; nothing more, nothing less.
But if that singular desire is amateurish or too pedestrian, then I must tell you that at the time I was only six years old.
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