Fishing With Dad

A few years ago, my dad retired to Big Bear and lost all touch with reality. He doesn’t wear a watch or own a calendar. It’s like talking to Sitting Bull.

I asked what time I could expect him; he just hit his peace pipe: “When the shadow falls long from the pine tree.”

My dad came down the mountain because he wanted to take me fishing. It was on his smelly-bucket list. Dad is an old fisherman and I ... well, I carry Purell.

I had fished only once, when I was three, and Dad caught me plucking guppies from the aquarium. He freaked out like I was eating them, when it was strictly catch and release.

Now, as an adult, I wonder why I would hunt for something that costs a dollar at McDonald’s? And while we’re asking questions, isn’t “Filet-O-Fish” a little ambiguous? Filet o’ what kind of fish?

McDonalds: Ask us no questions; we’ll tell you no lies.™

At least my dad didn’t charter a boat. Fish aren’t the brightest of God’s creatures, yet we come at them with radar, sonar, migration charts. Some fish just lose their nerve and jump in the boat as you pass.

The jacksmelt, says my dad, is so dumb that you can catch one without any bait. They just like to swallow glittery hooks. Like many voters.

Dad and I didn’t need a boat. We would squat old-school on the jetty, like people who refuse to give up chopsticks despite the superior fork-and-knife technology.

My dad asked if I had a license, so I pulled out my I.D.

He shook his head at the heavens: “Is this really my son?”

Evidently, you need a license to fish and can take home only so many (if we could just apply those same rules to childbearing).

My dad brought a bucket of live, highly attentive anchovies, and I realized, watching them swim their last laps, that you don’t stand much chance as a fisherman when you feel sorry for the bait. So it goes.

I’m not a vegetarian, per se, but I require at minimum that my food be murdered in some remote location. Left to my own, I’d stand on the shore waiting for the fish to die of natural causes.

Dad anchovied my line, then started on his own, not once looking down. By all accounts, he was a master baiter.

He let me cast my own line, damn the torpedoes, and I’m pleased to report no blood loss. I aimed for a seagull, who was happy to guzzle my bait. Dad reeled me in, shaking his head at the heavens.

Poles in place, my job was to report on nibbles, which happen every time the water moves.

“We got one! Wait, no. It’s a nibble! No, no.”

My dad stopped looking over. I was the boy who cried fish.

Turns out that fishing isn’t so much about fishing as it is about not watching TV. My dad and I talked about all kinds of things that don’t come up during commercials. He recalled, for instance, the time I poured Ex-Lax in the salad dressing and how he almost decided to undo me.

And just when I had forgotten about nibbles, my dad’s pole doubled over and he woke up like a fireman, shoving me the net as he reeled, reeled, reeled. The fish, unsure of our intentions or religious beliefs, struggled like a madman.

Moments later, a slimy silver body flickered in the sun. I hooted and cheered like we had captured Nessie. My dad plunked the rockfish into my net, where the little guy thrashed for his life.

“You will have my dead body, but not my obedience.”

Dad and I admired the trophy and then, without snapping a photo or calling the Star, released him back to the wild. Even now the poor guy is spinning tales of his abduction.

“There was a blinding light. I think they planted a tracking device.”

Without looking down, my dad re-baited and crouched down like a baseball catcher, this time with a secret smile. He reminded me of the Buddhists who toil over sand designs for an entire week, then just blow them away. Dust in the wind.

I myself didn’t actually, officially catch a fish, but I did avoid falling into the sea, which is more than anyone expected. My dad has since returned to Big Bear, where he continues to fish not two blocks from McDonald’s. And I can’t wait till the shadow again falls long from the pine tree.