Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Old Man and the Sea

No, this isn't me trying to be Earnest Hemingway- far from it.  My writing is far too pedestrian to be even remotely considered worthy of being mentioned in the same paragraph with Papa Hemingway's work.  It's a great title though and I had to borrow it- which is more of an homage vice a larcenous act.

I'm using the title to write about my first ever trip off the coast of California to go Deep-Sea Fishing.  The picture at the top was taken just before dawn, from the stern of our day's livery- a 60' by 20' Sport Fisher, the Chubasco II.

To be perfectly honest, I've never read The Old Man and the Sea, although I should at some point since it's considered one of his most famous works. Published in 1951 as his last major work of fiction published in his lifetime (thanks wiki!), it earned him both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Hemingway once offered up five writing tips for authors.

1. To get started, write one true sentence.

Ok, here goes.  I'm a lousy fisherman.

No, seriously, I suck at it.  I was a complete and total clusterfluck out there on the water.

Hemingway's story centers on Santiago, an aging fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.  I'm a little past middle-age, although the trip aged me considerably, and there was no catching of marlin off SoCal as it's the wrong part of the world. There was however, a whole bunch of struggling on my part.  I struggled with my gear, I struggled with the crew, and I struggled with my own decision to pay good money for the trip.  More on that later.

As you can see in the following pictures, it wasn't an unsuccessful day- we filled the deck Yellowfin Tuna, and several of us (15 in all) reeled in some Dorado (aka Mahi Mahi- my favorite fish by the way), Skipjack (another tuna variety), and Yellowtail (Hamachi).

Fatty Tuna (and some Dorado)
However, just because we caught a lot of fish, that doesn't mean I did well.  To be perfectly fair, it was my first time out there.  All my past experience with fishing until then was lake fishing, mainly with a spincaster.  Learninghowtofish.com describes that rod/reel combination with the following:
This is the preferred set-up for the inexperienced angler. Spincasting outfits are excellent in teaching the beginning angler and children the mechanics of casting. The spin cast reel is mounted above the rod with the reel spool enclosed with a nose cone cover, this prevents line snarling and backlash’s that are associated with bait casting reels.
Inexperienced is an understatement.  The crew was very knowledgeable, but their instructions on using the gear, given at 0530- well before I had enough coffee inside of me, was far too fast for me to take in, and almost cursory in nature.  I was the only novice, and so the guy barely explained what I needed to do to keep myself from looking like an idiot out on the deck.  The primary rule was to keep my thumb on the reel as I casted out, but that was the only rule I consistently forgot.  Nearly every cast I made until the early afternoon when I finally got the hang of it resulted in a bird's nest of line around the reel.

Captain Ernie loading up the bait bucket.
2.  Always stop for the day when you know what will happen next.

Well, I can't really stop writing since I want to finish this up for Tuesday's post, but as far as that goes for fishing, it's good advice.  We were using live bait-  minnow and anchovy, but keeping it alive as I baited the hook was another struggle for me.  I didn't have trouble grabbing the fish out of the bait troughs in the picture above, but it squirmed around so much that I either held it so tight that it was barely alive by the time it went in the water, or I barely hooked it so it possibly wriggled off the hook after the cast.

I did stop however, after wasting about two dozen bait fish, knowing that the next would have the same result.  You might remember what the definition of insanity is.  I gladly asked for help, letting the crew show me how to properly bait the fish, but I was really just letting them do it for me.  It wasn't just my grip, but I was also holding it far too long before getting it in the water.  The fish were lifeless and uninteresting to the many schools of tuna we found both with sonar and from bites on the trolling rods hanging off the back of the boat.  I just wasn't fast enough to bait the hook, cast out, untangle my bird's nest, and get the bait in front of the school to catch very many.

3.  Never think about the story when you're not working.

I took all these pictures with no intention of writing about the trip- that came from Sarge's suggestion.  I figured I'd just post a few to Facebook to show my more outdoorsy relatives that I do have some skills.  I also didn't have time to think about the post out there on the water.  That's partially because the fish were running really well, and there wasn't much time to do anything but fish. The El Niño that we're hoping drenches SoCal this winter is pushing the warm water current close to the coast so that the warm water fish are really easy to catch.  If we weren't fishing, all of the crew, and most of the guests- were busy prepping the gear for the next school.  Others were landing fish so fast that the decks were bloody, the crew was yelling at us to keep our lines from crossing, then yelling at us to grab another pole and keep fishing.

While I never missed one of the opportunities to fish, I wasn't exactly helpful to the crew- tying hooks, untangling lines, re-stowing the rods, etc. during the down times.  As it was, I was often too busy doing something else.

4.  Don't describe an emotion- make it.

I was really excited to go on the trip.  As I said, I had never been, and I really like tuna, usually raw, on top of rice with a bit of wasabi and soy sauce.  So getting a chance to fill my freezer with some of it interested me greatly.

The excitement I first had waned shortly after we got a mile or two off the coast and into deeper open waters down off Mexico.  The Chubasco II had a galley and the cook was serving up Breakfast Burritos.  It was really good and I was glad to have something in my stomach since I knew I could get a touch of motion sickness.

The first time I flew in the S-3 Viking I got sick, but never again until after my shore and disassociated sea tour and I had been out of the cockpit for 5 years.  Once again, I was fine on that first flight after I lost my lunch.  I figured it would be the same aboard the fishing boat- hurl and get back to fishing.

And I did, for the most part.  I fed the fish over the side, but just an appetizer.  I felt sick, but couldn't lose the whole burrito, and so the sickness remained, and made me miserable.  The seas were very choppy, and hitting the boat at an angle that just seemed to make it worse for me.  I was a bit embarrassed, as my friend who organized the trip made it a point to let everyone know that I was in the Navy.  However, I was an Airedale, not a boat driver, and fishing boats move around a whole lot more than Aircraft Carriers do.

Hemingway's tip was to avoid describing an emotion- make it.  Hmm, I made myself a little embarrassed by my lack of fishing skill, I made myself frustrated that I couldn't get over the sea-sickness, and I made myself wish I was dead.

However, about an hour later I chummed the waters once again and fell good enough to get back on my sea-legs.  The burrito tasted a whole lot better going down than it did coming up though.

Once that was done, I felt really good, good enough to eat some pita chips to absorb whatever bile or gastric juices were left gurgling around in my now-emaciated stomach.

Bad idea.  I then finally realized that it's best to have absolutely nothing in my stomach.  The 7-Up and pita chip acid chowder that followed was my final contribution to King Neptune.

At one point, I got a little ticked off at the Captain.  He yelled at me to stop pulling on the rod as he said they'd rather use the gaff to pull it onto the boat and reduce the chance of the rod snapping.  Later, he laughed at me when I asked him to gaff it-  "Really Tom?  Really?"  Not realizing that the fish was a relatively small tuna.  I couldn't win for losing.

I wound up catching my limit- 5 Yellowfin Tuna.  I only caught one fish using a rod that I had baited myself though.  My best luck was when I was "on duty" watching the trolling rods hooked to the back of the boat, when one caught.  I pulled in one of the larger tuna for the day that time.  I'm not really sure this counts, but at one point one of the crew baited my hook, cast out for me, and when it hooked moments later, he used the gaff to pull it onto the deck.  My contribution?  I reeled it in until he could gaff it.  Old man and the sea indeed.

The day was pretty much over by then and we headed back to Mission Bay in San Diego.  The crew spent the hour transit filleting and bagging up the fish.  After we docked, we divided up the bags among us.  15 tired and sunburned fisherman had done well..  

5.  Be brief

So I will.

All in all, it was a good day.  I'm glad I did it, but I'm never going back.  I would rather meet a boat at the dock around 1730 and offer to buy a few bags off some other lucky fellow.  It would be cheaper, easier and I'm not sure the fun was worth the price of admission.  Visiting San Diego?  Let me know and I'll give you a referral.

Oh yeah, I had Sashimi for dinner and it was delicious.  

Maybe it was worth it after all.


  1. Great Story about tuna, Tuna! Loved the wrapping of Hemingway into it.

    1. I was just going to post the pics and describe the trip, but when I came across the author tips when looking for his picture, the whole thing came together.

  2. Well done...the post, not the sushi.

  3. Given your story telling abilities I just knew that this would be a great post.

    I wasn't wrong.

  4. The story was your biggest catch and only you could tie that one on- Mindi

  5. Serving of Breakfast Burritos to those without total immunity to Mal-de-mer is malice aforethought.

    1. I don't know about Mal-de-Mer, but according to my Pilot Training Class, a burrito consumed prior to 6AM makes the consumer undefeatable in Air Combat and impervious to the effects of Mal-de-Air. Worked for me!

    2. Funny, the #1 guy in our class who was the only one to get a 105 (and was KIA) almost washed out in T-37s right out of the gate due to massive, constant, airsickness..

    3. Juvat: That pre 0600 burrito makes you unbeatable only because the instructor with you has succumbed to chemical warfare.

    4. No malice- I knew what I was getting into- I just underestimated my inability to toss it back up quickly.

  6. Replies
    1. @Badger/

      Didn't I just see you over @ neo-neocon this am? :)

  7. Our man Tuna on tuna...something that just eventually had to be if the laws of nature and literature are to mean ANYTHING... :)

  8. You were lucky you got to keep the fish. Out of Hawaii, you may catch it, but the boat keeps and sells the fish...

    1. What kind of BS is that? You do all the work and someone else gets the rewards? Sounds like socialism to me. Hawaii is pretty liberal.


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