My First Fishing Trip
In the spring of 1986, at the age of twelve, my dad asked me to get ready because I was about to take an unforgettable trip. He did not say where we were going, but I figured he was taking me to the county fair. But then I had these other thoughts. Maybe we were going on a road trip, or maybe we were going to visit my mother, or maybe, just maybe, an exotic trip to the rainforest, a place I had always wanted to go.
All night long I couldn't sleep thinking, 'What would this trip be?' The next morning one of my older brothers asked me if I was ready to go fishing.
Fishing? I hadn't even thought of that, but I was overjoyed to be joining my father and brothers in their chosen profession. My family was very well known as fishermen in our town. They specialized in catching sharks which is something not every fisherman would do because it is very risky and very dangerous, especially when my father would go for the big ones.
I always thought that going fishing was just to get on the boat, go out on the ocean, throw the line and wait for the fish to bite, but I was totally wrong. First of all, they didn't use simple lines or nets to catch sharks. They used something called a 'simbra,' a Spanish term for a trap. I have never seen one anywhere else till this day. I guess every fisherman has different ways of fishing, but that's what I knew then.
A 'simbra' is a device consisting of two twenty gallon buoys, each topped by a two fathom* red flag. They bob in the water, held in place by 200 pound anchors. Between them is a 200 fathom main line rope to which is attached 100 evenly- spaced lines. These lines are made up of a quarter fathom length heavy gauge wire, a two fathom length of rope, and a five inch hook strong enough to grab and hold an 800 pound shark. It was a fascinating device that captured my attention completely and I couldn't wait to see how it worked.
I was very concerned about getting on the boat and feeling all the movements of the water. My brothers had told me that when they were on a boat for the first time they got really sick and started to throw up. This was something I was not looking forward to, but unfortunately, it was something that I couldn't get out of. My father advised me about certain things like not looking at the water so much, and keeping my focus on the job so I couldn't think about getting sick. He said that it was going to be okay. I didn't know how I was going to work it out but I just knew that it was going to be some experience.
When we started walking towards the pier where all the boats were stationed I thought of all the scenery I hadn't seen for a while. I knew we had to pass through the cemetary that was two blocks away from the coast. I even thought of stopping for a moment to say 'Hi' to grandma and grandpa who were resting there. I hadn't done that for quite some time and it was something to look forward to.
We walked on the coast and could see all the surfers taking advantage of the nice waves that were happening at that time. Also, we passed by many restaurants and there were lots of tourists in them appreciating the beautiful ocean. While walking we could smell the delicious seafood that was being cooked and I told my brothers to walk faster because I was about to get a 'hunger attack.' They thought this was very funny and they started laughing so hard my dad eventually shut us up because people were staring.
As we approached the pier we could see a lot of other fishermen arriving as well. Same as us, they were carrying ropes, harpoons, and many other things that were needed. It seemed like everyone knew who my father and brothers were because every time we came across someone they would say 'Hi' to them. What was so funny for me was people would call my father and brothers by their nicknames. My father's nickname was 'viejo tiburon,' which means old shark, which I thought was pretty cool. My brother Manuel's nickname was 'litron,' meaning big bottle of liquor because he liked the hard stuff a lot. My brother Melvin's nickname was 'chinguillo,' meaning tangle, because every time we played soccer he would tangle up with the ball and fall, like he had ropes around his legs. I was waiting to hear what my brother Josue's nickname would be. A friend of his finally showed up and called him 'huevo,' which means egg. I had no idea why he was named this and to this day I still don't know why. (Which reminds me, I need to ask him this the next time we talk.)
They introduced me to all their friends as the younger brother and someone instantly came up with a nickname for me - 'tiburon menor' meaning junior shark. It sounded so great to my young ears!
When we got to the pier I saw many fishermen pushing wooden carts filled up with all their fishing equipment. I asked my dad if he had one of these. He said, "Of course! It is something that a fisherman must have because it would be far too difficult to carry it all by hand."
I also saw that every boat had a name and my curiosity was if our boat had a name as well. Once again I asked my father, "What is the color of our boat and what is its name?" He told me that it was white and blue, and, as for the name, I had to see it for myself. When we were twenty feet away from the boat I saw the name was 'Solimar,' meaning the sun and the ocean.
I realized that he had named the boat after my older sister, although there was a distinct difference. Her name is Marisol, which means the opposite - the ocean and the sun.
I was surprised that the boat was not sitting in the water, but that it was sitting on a cart consisting of two, fourteen foot long, four by eight lumbers on each side and a six foot long lumber in both the front and back. These two had a solid metal bar all the way across, holding four wooden wheels with a perfectly cut strip of rubber tire that covered each of them all the way around. It also had a built up wooden 'pillow' on top of each end covered with rubber tires as well. This prevented the boat from getting scratched and also made it easy to push from one end of the pier to the other.
I saw my father approaching a woman and I instantly had evil thoughts about her. I asked my older brother, Manuel, why dad was talking to her and he explained to me that she was our representative who would provide the money for supplies in return for purchasing the fish we caught at a reasonable price. Every fisherman would have a person like her. They usually would stand on the side of the pier waiting for boats to arrive and to purchase their catch for resale.
I swear to God that if I would have seen them without knowing who they were I would have thought they were camping.
They had everything needed for it! These people were usually called 'coyotas' meaning female coyote. I certainly didn't know why and I wasn't about to ask.
After my father's conversation with her, he sent me and my brothers to the storage room to pick up all the equipment we needed to take. My brother Melvin asked me to get the wooden cart which they usually kept locked in a different place because they were afraid it would be stolen. I got the cart and when we arrived at the storage room and opened the door, I saw the most beautiful machine I had ever seen. It was a Yamaha fifty-five horsepoweroutboard motor. It was blue and white, just like our boat, and it had the most shiny chrome I had ever seen. We couldn't put it on the cart because it was too heavy. My amazingly strong brother, Josue, asked us to put it on his shoulders because he was certain he could carry it to the boat. We loaded it on him and we followed him every step of the way to make sure that he didn't drop it.
Manuel stayed with my father making sure that everything was okay on the boat while I and my other brothers took the cart to pick up the two blocks of ice, each weighing eighty pounds, and also two, twenty gallon containers used for the forty gallons of gasoline. I thought they were exaggerating but as I discovered, they weren't. This was a routine every time they would go out to sea.
When we got back to the boat my father had a list of food and supplies needed which he gave to Melvin, and he and I set off for the supermarket, while the others unloaded the cart. We had to get every single item that was on that list - tortillas, cheese, bread, fruit, newspapers, beans and many other items.
When we got back from the store everything was set up and we were ready to go, but there was one more thing that needed to be done, which was to actually put the boat into the water. This was accomplished by the installment of an 'estrobo,' a device consisting of two pure silk ropes, six inches in circumfrence and one and three-quarters in diameter. Each of them was twenty feet long and every end was attached to a fetter located on either side of the bow and stern. The two ropes would be tied together in eighteen inches of length because the bow needed to be two feet longer than the stern for reasons due to the shape of the boat. This device had to be strong enough to hold the boat up in the air because there was a large caterpiller machine at the end of the pier lifting up the boats to get them into the water.
Waiting in line for over an hour, we were finally lifted up and gently lowered into the ocean. We detached the estrobo, carefully stored it away, and while my father drove the boat, my brothers and I made ourselves comfortable for the four hour ride out into the deep blue sea.
When I got settled down, I kept watching the beautiful scenery of the city, appreciating the flying fishes passing by and the beautiful dolphins jumping next to us as we were traveling. Meanwhile, my brothers, Melvin and Manuel, began preparing the simbra. They put bait on every one of the 100 hooks using fresh bloody tuna, which was the only bait to be used for sharks.
After three hours of traveling I noticed that I didn't see any more land. I started to get scared. I kept quiet for another hour until we arrived at our destination and the motor had been shut off. I asked my brothers how we were going to get back. They said that my father had a compass and he knew exactly where we were. My dad told me not to worry about anything.
My brother, Melvin, told me to throw the anchor. After I did, I saw my brother, Josue, throwing the first buoy and a flag. My father started the motor and ran five miles per hour while my brother, Manuel, would be throwing the hooks into the water, one by one until all one hundred of them would be in place.
While the boat was in motion my father would hold the main line to make sure that nothing would tangle up. Melvin and I stood aside watching them because there was nothing for us to do yet.
I saw Melvin reach for a bottle of water and at the same time Manuel threw a hook. The hook caught Melvin's leg and jerked him overboard. I screamed at the top of my lungs calling my brother's name and telling my father to stop the boat. When he realized that Melvin was in the water he grabbed the main line and used all of his strength to stop it from going down. Manuel and Josue dived into the water. I was going to jump in as well but my dad told me not to do so because it was too dangerous.
They grabbed Melvin, cut the line where he was hooked and brought him back to the boat. I couldn't stop crying because Melvin was in so much pain and I didn't know what to do to help him.
My father told me to grab Melvin's legs while Josue and Manuel held his arms. My father took one of the paddles and put it in Melvin's mouth and told him to bite it as hard as he could because what he was going to do was going to hurt. He grabbed the hook still stuck deeply in Melvin's leg and with one swift jerk pulled it out. Melvin went crazy and started screaming and kicking but we held him tight. My father quickly took off his shirt, ripped it and tied it around Melvin's leg to stop it from bleeding. I gave him aspirins to ease the pain and helped him to get to the bow and tried to make him comfortable.
Before my dad started the motor again to continue laying the hooks, he made an announcement. "Melvin is officially the first shark we have caught today." We all started laughing and even Melvin smiled a little at the joke.
After we had finished laying the simbra my father said that we were going to wait four hours before we pulled it back out again. He also told me that it was going to be my job to help do so. While waiting, we ate, my father read the newspaper and my brothers played cards. I was staring at the water looking for fish and thinking of it being the clearest I had ever seen.
I stood up and instantly felt dizzy. My stomach was tremendously upset and the bile in my throat began to rise. I couldn't stop it. My father looked at me and told me to let it go. I started throwing up everything that I had eaten that day. I kept doing so for fifteen minutes until I had nothing else in my stomach, even though the attempt would be there constantly. I was shaking from the fever and that's when my dad realized there was something very wrong. He wrapped me up with a blanket, laid me down, and held me until the nausea passed.
Just before sunset my dad broke the news. He said that it was time to pull the simbra out and asked me if I felt well enough to work. "Certainly," I said, and started to pull up the anchor. When it was out I put it on the bow and grabbed the main line. Melvin, who now was feeling almost normal again, was helping me to pull it while Josue was ready with a harpoon and my dad with a machete to kill the sharks that would still be alive.
Manuel was grabbing every empty hook and putting new bait on them for the second set. After the fifth hook, we felt something very heavy. We pulled it out and it was a two hundred pound hammerhead shark. It was already dead and we were very happy to have him for our first real catch of the day. Manuel unhooked him and with the help of Josue put him in the boat. My father cut the shark open, removed the guts, cut the head off, and then preserved him in ice.
The sharks started coming one after another. There were many different sizes but the same procedure would be applied to all of them. At the end of the set (the 100 hooks), we had a total of thirty-five sharks. My dad made an accounting of what we had and said that it was enough to pay the loan off for the supplies and still have money left over. This put a big smile on all our faces.
While resting, my brothers and father grabbed some more food and ate. They offered me some, but I knew that if I had eaten I would be throwing up all night, so I decided to pass. Besides, I had to put some salve on my tender hands because they were full of blisters from pulling the simbra.
After dinner my dad asked us to try to sleep because he had the feeling there would be a really good second set. At three o'clock in the morning he woke us up and we started the same procedure all over again. But this timeI was using gloves because my hands were hurting so bad.
The first shark came along after the fifteenth hook. We kept on pulling and pulling after that but nothing else showed up. Then after we passed hook number sixty, we started to feel something extremely heavy. We had no idea how big this one would be. My father told us to get ready because this animal could be alive and it would be a disaster if it was.
On hook ninety seven there it was - a great white, female shark, which appeared to be pregnant based upon the size of her torso, eighteen feet in length. Luckilyshe was dead but she was so huge and heavy that not even the five of us could bring her in the boat. So we tied her up to the stern of the boat and began to drag her behind us. We knew that is was going to takes at least six hours to get back to the pier and it was already 9 a.m.
When we finally arrived at 4 in the afternoon everyone on the pier was amazed at what they were seeing. We tied a rope to the tail of the shark and put it on the hook of the caterpillar machine. She was lifted high into the air and a lot of people started to take pictures since it was such a rare occasion.
She weighed in at 1,218 pounds! My father and brothers couldn't believe that she didn't break the hook or the rope because she was just too heavy. My dad said, "Let's just enjoy the moment."
My father went to negotiate the price of our prize catch. Melvin was being taken to a clinic to be treated for his wound. Josue and Manuel unloaded the equipment from the boat and took it to the storage room. I walked towards the end of the pier, looked out to sea and wondered if I would ever want to go back again. I realized that fishing is very risky and dangerous, yet, very exhilarating.
Since that day, fishermen have had my most sincere respect.
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