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Fishing with Dad

My dad came down the mountain -- Big Bear -- holding one commandment: Thou shalt go fishing. Dad is an old fisherman and I ... well, I carry Purell.

My dad thought I was a natural when he caught me, age three, plucking fish from the aquarium. He freaked out like I was eating them, when it was strictly catch and release.

Why, anyway, would I 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? Goldfish? Gefilte fish?

McDonalds: Ask us no questions; we'll tell you no lies.(tm)

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

No, my dad and I would squat on the jetty, old school, like Asians who refuse to give up chopsticks despite the superior fork-and-knife technology.

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.

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 you can only take home so many (if only we applied the 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 a remote location. Left to my own, I'd stand on the shore waiting for the fish to die of natural causes, preferably before dinner.

Dad anchovied my line, then started 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 and make my dad shake his head at the heavens.

My primary job was to report on nibbles, which happen every time the water moves.

"We got one! Wait, no. Just a wave. It's a nibble! No, no. Coffee shakes."

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

Fishing isn't so much about fishing as it is about escaping 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 considered releasing me back to the wild.

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 to no avail.

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 paper, released him back to the wild. Even now the poor guy is spinning yarns of his abduction...

"There was a blinding light, and I think they planted a tracking device ..."

Without looking down, my dad recast his line and again squatted in the rocks, this time with a secret smile. Old Man and the Sea.

I myself didn't actually, officially catch any fish, but I did avoid falling into the ocean, which is more than anyone expected. My dad has since returned to Big Bear, where he continues to fish not two blocks from McDonalds.


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