Dateline: June 18, 2013 – Long Beach, California
I always thought Jaime Hamamoto was an only child. If she had siblings, surely she ate them before they could catch any species she had not, because she is just that competitive, a trait I of course do not understand. So imagine my surprise when I was confronted with a child who clearly had to be Jaime’s brother, even if his hair was slightly longer than hers.
This is the child in question – eight year-old Tyler. For those of you who have never heard of Jaime Hamamoto, my 15 year-old arch-nemesis, see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/the-countdown-to-1000-the-ghost-of-don-ho/
Oddly enough, this whole story started with a great hairdo and a Dean Martin impersonator, and ended with a great hairdo and a Ricky Martin impersonator. Martini Arostegui has some competition in both the angling prodigy and hair superstar departments – read on if you dare.
It was a drizzly night in Los Altos, and Marta and I were heading to one of what would be many 50th birthday parties this year – including my own in July. Whereas the normal 50th birthday party prep is a bottle of scotch and a box of Depends, this one took four cans of hairspray, as it was a “Rat Pack” theme party, and Marta insisted on getting an authentic beehive hairdo.
She kept her hair this way the entire weekend – including a hike on Sunday morning.
Dean Martin once said “You’re not in trouble if you can lie on the floor without hanging on.”
Over the years, I had been fishing with a couple of the partygoers, and one of them introduced me to Joy. Joy was great – pleasant, dynamic – and best of all, she had a fishing-crazed eight year-old son named Tyler. To put it lightly, Joy had done very well for herself, and had the means to make sure her son had gotten to do some exceptional fishing. He had been places like Alaska, Panama, and Tahiti – places I hadn’t even started dreaming of at his age.
A few weeks later, I got to meet Tyler. Long-haired and spooky-smart, he had read my blog – all of it – and he had questions. About three hours of them. A few weeks later, we did a fishing trip up to Oroville so I could see him in action, and the kid is the real deal. He casts well, is super-focused, and has a nose for fish. He loves to cast lures and hook into things that pull back hard. Joy and I spoke and decided that Tyler was ready for the big time. The kid was passionate about fishing, and his Mom was going to make sure he followed his passions.
Our next adventure was a biggie – two days with Ben Florentino (see “Korean Superman“) in Los Angeles, fishing for calico bass on the coast off of Long Beach. These are 12-hour days, but the fishing can be great. I confess I was a bit worried about keeping an eight year-old entertained for a full day, as my previous experiences at quasi-parenthood had not gone well. (Click here for details.) Joy doesn’t mess around with these things – she flew us down to Long Beach in her private plane and put us up right on the water, just down from the Queen Mary. It was marvelous to fly somewhere without having to worry about what sort of awful stunt United Airlines was going to pull.
It was great to see Ben, and his new boat was beautiful and a fast, comfortable ride. We set up in the kelp beds north of Long Beach, and I put down some bait while Ben and Tyler cast lures. They both got a few calico bass while I worked bits of squid on teensy hooks in the structure below us. I got a few small rockfish, and then – bingo. A giant kelpfish. No, it wasn’t that giant, that’s just what they call them to distinguish them from the other kelpfish, which are much smaller, even the big ones.
A small giant kelpfish.
And a giant painted greenling. Much more colorful than the ones I caught in Monterey – see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/hedge-witchs-american-cousin/
I was still being thrilled about my kelpfish when the young man, oblivious to my joy, rained on my parade. He reeled up a black croaker, a species I had never caught. While he was businesslike and didn’t gloat, it was clear he was pleased that he had caught something I had not. And no matter how many times I reminded him that I had caught about 1150 species he hadn’t, the grin would not leave his little face.
Oh, it still pains me to look at this photo.
Tyler put on quite a show casting swimbaits into the kelp, catching calico after calico. The Fish Gods also smiled on me, and I got both a halibut and a white seabass on plastics. Still, the pain of not getting that croaker was terrible.
Tyler’s first calico – on his own, throwing a swimbait. Well done. If you are in the LA area, give Ben a call on 310 779-0397.
Tyler and his biggest calico. I don’t know if I’ve gotten one this big, and it certainly wasn’t when I was eight.
I stumbled into my second white seabass ever. Someday I’ll get a big one, and on that day, Jim Tolonen will stop calling me about the 40 pounders he always gets.
My halibut. White swimbaits were working well for me, and this fish ate my last big “Squidgee” bait from Australia. Scotty Lyons, I need some more!!
Then it got worse. We moved the boat to a back channel that Ben thought might contain some “googly-gobs,” as he calls the odd species. Perhaps five minutes later, Tyler’s rod pulled down, and he reeled up … oh no … a Haller’s round stingray. I have never caught a Haller’s round stingray. The grin that had never left his little face increased, and I sure he texted Jaime. This is how he thanks me?
He made me hold it for the photos, clearly to rub it in.
Tyler also got a couple of nice guitarfish. It took me 19 years to catch 1.5 guitarfish, and the first .5 led to a divorce. (See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/my-guitar-solo/)
He caught his guitarfish a lot quicker than I caught mine.
When we returned to port late in the afternoon, neither of us wanted to stop – Tyler because he is eight and has boundless energy, me because I am obsessive and had just sucked down a quart of Red Bull. We kept fishing off the bank for whatever would bite, mostly kingfish. I was starving and cranky, he was starving and cranky, but we couldn’t quite pull ourselves away from the rocks, just in case there was just one more good fish.
Joy was delighted to see that Tyler was having a good time, and it would seem a shame to interrupt all this fun for something as mundane as dinner. Without so much as a word, she went off and got us a pizza, so we wouldn’t have to stop fishing. It’s the kind of thing my Mom would have done. When Joy returned, I sort of stayed to the side so they could talk a little bit. He was very excited about the day and the fish he had caught, and he was already figuring out the next trip, and the trip after that. He had a lot of great ideas – Tahiti, Hawaii, South Africa – and for him, anything is possible. It’s one thing to have a Mom who has done very well, but it’s another thing entirely to have her so dedicated to having her son experience so many amazing things. There is no substitute for time spent with a kid.
My evening was spent largely sleepless, deep in research about the feeding and migratory habits of the black croaker and Haller’s round stingray. I did breathing exercises and feng-shui rituals. But I knew I had to get those two species the next day, because I am not competitive.
On the second day, we continued pounding the kelp beds with large plastics, and we were rewarded with some solid calicos. I relentlessly fished bait but could not drag up a croaker. We then headed back to the “googly gob” spot where young Tyler had humiliated me the day before.
We cast out four rods and waited. We each got a couple of sand bass, and then something happened which doesn’t make me very proud. (But obviously not so ashamed that I won’t recount it here.) The rods, two for me and two for Tyler, had been baited and cast, and one of them started bouncing. To be fair (to me) it hadn’t been formally declared who exactly owned which rod, but since I made it to the rod first, I figured it must have been mine. I can’t help it if Tyler has poor reflexes. And he could have pushed me out of the way if he really wanted to – I only outweigh him by 150 pounds. So stop focusing on the child – he was fine – and let’s focus on what I caught. It was a Haller’s round stingray, and the joy of the moment let me conveniently forget I had body-checked an eight year-old to catch it.
Tyler calmly reminded me that his stingray was bigger than mine. Again, definitive proof that he must be related to Jaime.
Shortly after I finished taking photos of the ray, the rod closest to me folded over. I snatched it out of the holder before young Tyler could grab it, and I hooked into something small but spirited. It ran directly under the boat, but I wrestled it out and netted it. It was a black croaker, and it was big enough to be a record.
The black croaker. No eight year-olds were harmed in the catching of this species.
Excitedly, I texted Marta. She responded “Congratulations, Steve. You just tied an eight year-old.” I usually like it when someone puts things in perspective, but I did not appreciate this particular example.
Just to show me he had not lost his exotic species mojo, Tyler went on to catch two rather unusual species before we closed out the day – a California skate and a swell shark.
A California skate. This one was not quite record size, but it was close.
A swell shark. They are called that because they swell up like a pufferfish when they are annoyed. This one was just getting annoyed. They are also quite strong – Tyler is putting a lot of muscle into keeping it still for the photo.
Steve and Joy in front of the “Air Joy” Fishing Express flight.
That evening, we got in the plane and headed home.
Tyler and I talked fishing the whole way back, and he had ideas for a bunch more trips. I think we were both disappointed to land and have to go home. But I was sure we would have plenty more opportunities – and competitive and vicious though he could be, I must admit that I was the slightest bit moved to see that much passion in an eight year-old. It was a bit like looking back almost 42 years at myself, except that Tyler is smarter and better-looking, and has the second-best Mom ever, not because she could fly us to Long Beach, but because she brought us a pizza on the dock.