Generally, I try to send out updates only when I add a species, country, state, or world record. But from time to time, there is a fishing-related event so profound in its silliness that I feel compelled to tell you all about it.
I should have been suspicious when Marta asked me to do a speaking engagement, especially when she promised that it would be for a group I could “really relate to.” But as it turns out, it was a group I could really relate to, on both an emotional and social level – Cub Scouts. 8 year-old boys. They’re obsessed with fishing and sports, have no attention span, and think Megan Fox is cool but won’t explain why publicly.
It started like this … a couple of our good friends, Joe and Wendy Mendoza, happen to have a large group of children – they tell me there are 4, but I have been to the chaos that is their house and I would estimate the number as between 50 and 75. (Of course, as a non-parent, I tend to overestimate these things.) Luckily, they are amazing parents and would have love and pizza for even a group twice this size. Wendy, apart from having a regular job as the creative genius at an investment fund, does other stuff like writing children’s books. Joe works for the city of Millbrae and restores Chevy Novas, but he spends most of his spare time with the youngsters. In short, these kids, no matter how many of them there might really be, have it very, very good.
They have at least 2 boys between the ages of 6 and 8 who are Cub Scouts and have developed a keen interest in fishing. This is where I come in. The kids had pretty much gotten bored with “this is how you set up a tent” presentations. They wanted to talk about fishing. They wanted big, gory photos. They wanted stuff with teeth. And they wanted to hear about it from someone on their basic level of maturity. So it turns out I had been volunteered to make a presentation on fishing to Cub Scout Pack 28, Den 8, of Burlingame, California. Marta and Wendy predicted that I would be able to keep the group’s attention for between 8 and 14 minutes. I felt that I could keep them going for a couple of hours. And for the record, I was right.
But I knew these kids were patient. Last November, Marta and I took Joe, Wendy, and at least 4 of these children fishing on Santa Cruz pier. For boys under the age of 50, they had remarkable patience, and actually stuck it out a few hours in chilly weather until we caught something. Total troopers.
Cohlton and Aiden Mendoza a very small sand dab at Santa Cruz pier, 11/26/10. Note Marta vigilantly watching the rods.
So I showed up at the Mendoza house on the evening of January 26. Just for fun, I wore one of my obnoxious fishing shirts, the kind embroidered with a fish and my name. And the kids and their fathers wandered in and helped themselves to cookies. The cookies were AWESOME. Marta and Wendy may have had some hope that the vegetable platter was going to get eaten, but it was really all about the cookies. They had frosting and they were shaped like sharks, and that just beats the heck out of broccoli.
So we started. Marta had whipped up a brilliant Powerpoint with all kinds of my fish pictures, with categories like “Big Sharks,” “Poisonous Fish,” “Nasty Fish Teeth,” “Why Jaime Hamamoto is a Bad Person,” and “When Fish Poop on Spellman.” And there were some great questions, especially from the kid with the glasses. Once upon a time, when Joan Collins was young and Nixon was president, I was the kid with the glasses. They picked on me too, until I grew 5 inches between 7th and 8th grade and learned the finer points of ice hockey, like how to pull someone’s jersey over their head and pummel them until the referree intervened. It was a bit of looking back across 40 years and seeing myself. Except, of course, that this kid was smart and articulate.
That’s Joe in the black shirt center top. The kid with the glasses is, well, the one with the glasses.
I wonder if any of these kids knew how good they really had it – up fairly late on a school night, talking about fishing with their dads. The questions were great – “Have you ever been to ARFICA?” “Have you even been bitten by a fish?” ” Have you ever caught a PIRAHNA?” “Did you pick that shark up by YOURSELF??” And to an 8 year old, these were impossibilities – this was Superhero stuff to them, even though I knew pirahnas are pretty darn easy to catch – and get bitten by. It went on for a couple of hours, well beyond the 14 minutes Marta and Wendy had so pessimistically predicted. We learned to tie knots with real line and real hooks, and no one put an eye out, so that’s a plus. We talked about local fishing spots and exotic fishing trips. And rods and reels and line and weights and hooks and swivels. I showed them a big trolling rod and a fighting harness, which got a lot of oohs and ahhs. But nothing was as big a hit as the shark pictures. We had to go back to those a couple of times.
Once the presentation was finished, we moved to the back yard for the practical demonstration – I had promised to show all the kids how to bait a hook and catch a fish, in Joe’s backyard Koi pond. And so we all walked back there, after a stop to finish the last of the cookies and to stare balefully at the cauliflower. Armed with a slice of Wonder Bread and a #6 hook, I set to work. Fish geek note: Koi, those things that look like colorful carp, are actually just that, colorful carp. So whether it’s gold, white, or wild and brown, it’s still all the same species, Cyprinus carpio, the common carp.
Stalking the quarry. This is only mildly more embarrassing than the SAP pond incident. (https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/fishing-off-the-company-pier/)
And now the pressure was on. Catching a large, tame carp in a small, shallow pond may not seem like that difficult of a task, but you try it surrounded by 9 screaming children, and without a net. A bucket is suitable for many outdoor emergencies, but is not a convenient fish landing device, and the carp, however sluggish and annoyed, kept wallowing away at the wrong moment, with a sort of “you have to be kidding me” look on its face. I finally persuaded it to come onto the bank, and I was madly cheered by 9 Pepsi-fuelled kids. I think they would have carried me off on their shoulders, except that I weigh more than all of them combined and it would have ended badly. Needless to say, the koi was released unharmed but bewildered and with a newly developed but lifelong mistrust of Wonder Bread.
The savage koi from Lake Mendoza.
After that, the main group headed out. The kids were wound up; the dads even more so. I could see that a lot of father/son fishing trips were being planned, and I smiled, because those trips are too few and precious and have such a limited window that so many of us have missed; but these trips will be memories they will pass on to their own children. We hung around with the Mendozas and chatted into the evening, until the kids started dropping off one by one. Sure, the kids had it great – caring families, fun activities, stuff we probably all take too much for granted. But I had the best night of all, because not only did I finally find someone who wanted to see my fish pictures, but for just around 2 magic hours, regular old middle-aged me got to play Superhero. Oh, the wonder of it all when you’re 8 years old.