Dateline: March 22, 2014 – Long Beach, CA
My collarbone snapped loudly when I hit the ice. The ligaments in my shoulder tore at the same time, which sounded like reluctant wet velcro.
In the post from my 50th birthday, I mused about how long I would be playing hockey with a bunch of kids who are more athletic and substantially younger than I am. (Details HERE) The answer arrived just after 10pm on March 13. It wasn’t a particularly clean play – the guy took my legs out from behind, but these things happen. 99 times out of a hundred, I would have jumped up, retaliated, and probably gotten a penalty. But whether it was age or bad luck, this fall went differently, and all 220 pounds of me landed on my left shoulder. I could hear my collarbone break, and as we got my gear off before going to the hospital, it was also clear that the shoulder was badly dislocated.
Right before they hit me with the morphine. I apparently said some strange things later. When the registrar asked for my religion, I am told that I responded “Pagan.”
In terms of pain, I had thought ribs were the gold standard, but the collarbone is worse. You might use your ribs every time you breathe, but the collarbone is apparently involved in blinking. The next few weeks involved a lot of painkillers.
Of course, I couldn’t let this interfere with fishing.
I had a trip to Los Angeles scheduled with Martini eight days after this event. We had talked for four years about getting him out with Ben Florentino and catching the Southern California usual suspects, and I was not going to let a minor thing like a gruesomely dislocated shoulder spoil the fun. Three days after the injury, I walking gingerly down to my garage and picked up the casting rod I would likely use on a trip with Ben. The act of lifting it with my left hand made me almost black out with pain. This was not good. As a last resort, I know I could just go and NOT FISH, but with four more days to work on options, I was not ready to accept this.
The next day, I returned to the garage and tried a spinning rod. I found that I could cast it one-handed, close the bail with my teeth, then reel it by rotating my good arm around the handle, which I jammed into the space between my hip and my left hand. I practiced this in the driveway in my pajamas. My confidence grew. (Note from Marta – you can’t imagine the calls I got from the neighbors.)
Martini, as ever acting the part of the older brother, made the ridiculous suggestion of just cancelling the trip. In between vicodin tablets, I questioned his judgement and dedication to fishing. He smiled maturely and didn’t engage, and when the weekend came and I refused to cancel, he insisted on doing all the driving. It was a good road trip, and we mercifully dodged the legendary LA traffic. My shoulder was pretty darn sore, but I thought things were fine – but I apparently took one too many pain pills. Later in the evening, for reasons I can not explain, I apparently unraveled three full rolls of toilet paper and left it in a big pile on the bathroom floor.
We met Ben at the dock early in the morning. Martini generously carried most of the stuff down to the boat, thank goodness – although I did carry my own Red Bull and Vicodin. It was great to see Ben, and yes, he too questioned the wisdom of my going out on the water. Where, I ask, is the dedication? (Where, Marta asks, is the common sense?)
Among the many things I forgotten to consider was the bumpy boat ride out to the kelp beds. Ben ran the boat as gently as he could, but every bump was lip-bitingly painful. I said nothing, but my involuntary squeaks gave me away. We finally arrived at some likely-looking kelp beds and set to fishing. I had practiced my one-armed casting ritual and was comfortable with it, despite incredulous glances from Ben and Martini. I became rather smug about it – What broken bones? What torn ligaments? Those are for sissies. It was at that precise moment that the Fish Gods hit me with the one thing I had forgotten about – a fish. A solid kelp bass smashed my lure, and pulled back hard to my left. I tried to speak and stifle a distinctly unmanly scream at the same time, which came out something like “Motherfgarblewhimper!!” Martini, who normally never misses a chance to give me a hard time, felt so bad he didn’t say a thing. My arm hung limply in the sling as I held the surging fish with my right, and then awkwardly placed the reel handle against my hip and brought the fish in. Despite having a bit of a sore shoulder, I had landed a fish. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove to who, but I had proven it.
The kelp bass in question. Ben is still shaken up from my screaming.
I sat down with a Red Bull and some Vicodin and let the able-bodied fish the rest of the morning. It was not a wide-open day like I had experienced in June of last year (Click HERE) but there were definitely some fish there, and that’s when a good guide really helps – the tougher days. Martini got a few nice calico bass on lures, and some other assorted kelp denizens. He has made so many amazing trips happen for me, so I was pleased that he was getting a shot at this fishery before he graduated.
Martini’s first calico. He used two hands – almost cheating.
Martini also did something gross. After catching a nice Pacific mackerel – his first – he just had to chop it up and eat it.
Yes, I eat sushi, but this is different. And gross.
If you’re planning to be in the LA area, look Ben up at 310 779-0397 or email@example.com
After a few hours, we moved back into the bay and put some baits down. Martini promptly got a hit and a screaming run – unquestionably the “mud marlin” – a California bat ray. I was not quick to get my rod out of the water, so we couldn’t chase it, and consequently, the fish is still going – Martini was spooled in less than a minute.
Martini poses heroically as he gets spooled.
We picked up a few assorted perch and sand bass inside Long Beach harbor. It was pleasant enough, but as it got later in the day, we hadn’t gotten anything truly noteworthy. That all changed in five minutes. Martini went first. Casting a small bait on a light rig to the rocks, he got a big hit and a wild fight. As he brought the fish toward the boat, I thought it had to be a decent perch, but when Ben netted it, I was stunned. It was a rock wrasse. A huge rock wrasse. Not only was this a new species for Martini, it was also an open world record. This might not seem like that big of a deal for someone with 170+ records like Martini, but for the past several years, Martini, third in the record standings overall, was on a focused quest to claim second – to be one and two with his father. So if there was going to be one record for the day, I was glad it was his.
The behemoth rock wrasse. Rock wrassezilla.
But there was to be another world record that afternoon. I was sort of halfway fishing, with a squid/jig combo under the boat in about 10 feet of water, so if I hooked something I wouldn’t have to reel all that much. I got a strange bite, slow and cautious, and after a few minutes, I finally set the hook. I was rewarded with a fight that had all the energy of a sedated boot, and as I raised it one-handed to the surface, I saw I had gotten a California skate – big enough to break my own record. This would be my 96th. I was getting awfully close.
I should have left the sling on for the photos. How do I make that face?
So just like that, a decent day on the water had turned epic. There were whoops, man-hugs, and high-fives (all right-handed.) We had both gotten records, and just as I was the first person to set an IGFA record while naked (18+ click HERE,) I likely became the first person to set one in a sling. It was great to see Ben, great to have Martini catch a few of the Southern California kelp creatures, and best of all to just survive the whole thing.
I was curiously proud of myself on the ride home. “Well,” I said. “I toughed it out.” Martini sighed with equal parts of patience and bewilderment, reminding me very much of his father. “Steve, there’s a fine line between tough and stupid, and you’re playing hopscotch with it.”
And just as we pulled out to drive home, a full moon came out.