Remembering The First

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I’m 70 now, older than most of you, older than I ever thought I’d be, and with each passing day I become older yet.

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  • I’m of the opinion that no matter how old we may become, we will always remember the first, from our first bike to our first shotgun to our first kiss and so on.  Whether consequential or inconsequential, a success or a failure there are certain firsts we’ll never forget, and some firsts will always stand out more than others.

    So I ask, what can you share about your first fish:

    • What kind was it?
    • What did you catch it on?
    • Where did you catch it and what role if any did catching that fish play in your life?

    Since I’m asking the question, I’ll go first.

    I think I was about four years old when my father decided it might be a good day for us to get out of the house and go for a drive.  Since he was the most avid fisherman I have ever known, there was little doubt that somewhere along the way we were going to stop to do some fishing – which he confirmed.

    It would be my first fishing excursion and accordingly we took the time to dig up a few worms from the garden on the east side of our house and I already knew the drill; each time my father turned over a spade of dirt, my job was to quickly paw through it to expose and grab any worms and drop them into a red Hills Brothers Coffee can half-full of dirt.

    Keep in mind that these were first class wild earthworms – white on the belly, brown on top, thick, lively and wriggling.  Worms that could only be distant cousins to the red worms sold in most bait shops today, and seem to get skinnier with each year.

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  • Once a few dozen had been captured we placed the can in the car with the rest of our gear and began the drive to old US 80, heading east until the highway turned north where the exit to Japatul Valley Road exists today.  After less than a mile my father turned left onto the driveway of a house that exists only in memory, and was welcomed through the front door by someone named Ellis.  To this day I wonder if that was a first or last name..

    After a few minutes he came out to tell me we had permission to fish in the small pond that sat on the east side of the highway, so we loaded up our gear and headed to the pond which once again exists thank to this season’s rains. The area was grazed by cattle, and except for a few tall poplars that had outgrown the reach of the bovines, there was not much vegetation.

    This was my first fishing trip and I was anxious to catch my first fish, but first my father took great care to teach me some things.  He showed me the outift I would be using, explained how to wind the line back onto the spool of the single action reel when he told me to.  He asked that I dig into the coffee can for the liveliest worm I could find which I did.  He then impaled the worm on a small hook while explaining the importance of putting the hook through the worm twice to make it more secure from “bait stealers.”

    Two or three feet up from the hook was a red and white bobber that he promised would indicate when a fish was eating our bait.

    “Seamus, after I cast this out, keep your eyes on the bobber.  When it jiggles just a little bit you need to be ready.  Don’t do a thing until the fish pulls it all the way under the water, and when it does that I want you to pull back and turn the handle on the reel until the bobber and the fish are in, got that?”

    “Yep.”

    With a sweeping side arm motion, he cast the line out and the bobber splashed down about 20 feet from shore.  Reeling in a little bit of slack, he handed the rod to me along with a reminder to keep still, which was hardly possible for a four year old kid, let alone one anxious for his first fish.

    It was not long before the bobber jiggled a bit and only a second or two after that the bobber submerged completely.

    “Now Seamus, pull back and reel!”

    “Seamus, where are you going.”

    For a reason I can’t explain to this day, instead of reeling as I’d been taught moments earlier, I charged up the bank with rod in hand.  Soon the bobber and a fish were bouncing on the bank, but I kept running.  By the time my dad caught up, the small bass attached to the line had been dredged in a coating of dirt.  Picking it  up he held it for me to see and I rushed back for a better look at my very first fish.

    “Can we keep him?”

    “Too small Seamus, he’s just a baby, so lets get him in the water so we can get this dirt off and let him go.”

    He answered my protest by explaining that if we let the little bass go, it would grow bigger, big enough that the next time it might be big enough to take home.  I don’t recall any return trips to the little pond with my dad, but that was the first of many, many more trips every chance we could.  Trips to piers and lakes, streams and bays.  Trips to catch fish.

    That’s the story about my first fish.

    What’s yours?

    About Author

    Jim Brown

    Jim Brown ran the San Diego City Lakes Program from 1974-2003, where he oversaw the operation of the fishing programs of the county's biggest and best fisheries. Over his 70 years as a native San Diegan, including 65 of them as an avid fisherman, Brown describes himself as someone who has fished most bodies of water in and around the county that hold fish, and all of those that don't.

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