My dad. What an extraordinary individual! A human being, a man of compassion—yet all the brawn a person could muster. He was born and raised in Santa Monica, California, 1920. That’s correct, NINETEEN TWENTY. 80 years young—and still going strong . . .
Let’s take a trip back in time: Santa Monica, 1920. Not many people in Southern California. Model As or Model Ts? (I will have to ask). Route 66 ends here. Gas-powered street lamps and telegraphs still in use. No freeways, no smog. Miles of white sandy beaches. The beautiful green Santa Monica mountains. And all along this pristine coastline, tremendous opportunities await.
The list goes on and on.
Dad grew up living only a block from the beach. One of five kids. Things back then weren’t as easy as they are today. My dad’s parents both worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. And their modest home . . . only two rooms. Your SUV is probably larger.
Living so close to the beach offered dad many fishin’ opportunities. Think about it for a moment . . . waking up to a fog-shrouded morning and walking down the street to the Santa Monica pier. The cool mist and the salty smell of the ocean waking all your senses. No noise, except a fog horn or the squawk of a few seagulls. No airplanes lifting off from LAX . . . because there is no LAX.
While kids today are distracted by drugs and the heavy negative influence of television, my dad’s only distraction was deciding whether to fish or surf in the beautiful blue Pacific, his big backyard. Did he skip school? Sure he did, but for fishing the pier to bang out a Halibut or two . . . or maybe even catchin’ a wave.
Yet when fishin,’ dad had to use the tools that were available to him. He didn’t have a boat, so he improvised. He had a paddle board. No, not a surf board—a PADDLE board. Much bigger than a surfboard, as it was generally used for relay races between the Santa Monica pier and Catalina Island. But my dad had other ideas.
His paddle board was for catching fish. He would tie his tackle box and fishin’ pole to the paddle board and off through the surf he would go. And just like the Tuna Hunters of today, my dad would be on the hunt for massive kelp beds. Yes, fish even back then related to structure. When my dad would find a kelp bed, he would have to get the paddle board to be still so he could fish the kelp, not an easy chore when you have a current and the mighty Pacific Ocean tide to contend with. My dad improvised again. He would locate a long kelp strand and place it on his board. Then he would sit on it, yes, sit on it so the paddle board wouldn’t move. Talk about “Kelp Butt!”
To hear him tell the stories of catching huge Halibut off the pier is amazing. I’m not sure if any are even left these days, but as he tells it, he always caught fish and they were plentiful. He helped feed the family. Yet sometimes there was danger, like a whale surfacing only a few feet away, completely catching my dad by surprise, or the constant threat of sharks.
Dad always fished, and even when I was a small child, I remember the poles neatly lined up in our garage, the big Penn reels that he used, the big fat line on those reels…and then there was the famous paddle board hanging from the rafters in our old garage. Dad chose to raise us kids in Santa Ana—about 40 miles south of Santa Monica in Orange County—but he always found time to take us kids fishin’.
Whether it was surf casting off of Newport Beach, bass fishing in little ol’ Irvine Lake, or hanging out on a barge off the coast, our family fished. Dad even let me skip school sometimes to go with him to fish the pier at Dana Point, when there were tidepools to explore, long before the huge crowds that pack the massive marina today. Back then all that stood at Dana Point was the pier. Excitement would build because the last quarter mile to the pier was driven down a very steep embankment that was always scary because the fog always shrouded the visibility. Yet I knew that starting the trek down that hill (praying that the brakes would hold) in that old truck was the start of another fishin’ adventure with dad.
Yet dad, like some BIG BASS HUNTERS I know, preferred to fish sometimes without his little boy tagging along…or he even went fishin’ alone. I remember one afternoon I came home from school and opened the freezer and found a school of frozen Barracuda that my dad had caught without me. Boy, was I mad at him!
Then there was the time when I coaxed dad into fishin’ a golf course pond with me. I had to sell him on the idea because it was a beautiful day out, and many golfers would be playing, but I just knew the fishin’ would be good. I told dad, “We’ll be out of the way of the golfers and they’ll never notice us!” I knew we had to “sneak in” but I didn’t tell Dad that. Well, the fishin’ was fantastic on this little golf course pond . . . the 40-year old son with his 80-year old dad pounding out a bunch of small bass. 18-20 bass (at least) and two little boys having the time of their lives…then I turned around. About 100 feet from where we stood, a police cruiser was pulling up on a side street—with an officer looking right at us. BUSTED! I knew we were okay because the officer was laughing. As he walked up to us, the officer exclaimed “I cannot believe someone called you in, yet I will have to ask you to leave. By the way, how was the fishin’ and what were you using?” Somewhat dejected, we walked away with our fishin’ poles over our shoulders, yet somewhat relieved we didn’t get a ticket or get hauled off to jail. Just imagine the newspaper headline for a moment . . . “80 Yr. Old Dad and 40 Yr.Old Son Busted For Trespassing On Golf Course Pond!”
Dad was much more to me than just fishin’.
He taught me several things while growing up: Don’t ever honk your horn if you’re in a hurry, always stop for pedestrians crossing the road even if they ARE NOT in a crosswalk, always open the door for others, if you’re with a date, always open the car door for her, don’t cuss, mind your manners, and when walking down a street with a girl, always walk on the traffic side of the sidewalk. Dad even made me attend “Cotillion”—a ballroom dance class for the very young. At Cotillion, they taught us manners and how to waltz with GIRLS!
Speaking of cussing, my dad NEVER cussed or at least said any expletives that were ever within earshot. This was a rule I never heard him break. However, one day a few years back I was working outside of my dad’s house helping him, and he hurt his finger. When the pain registered, he loudly exclaimed, “Damn!” I said to him, “DAD!” He paused for a moment, and then without as much as a skipped beat, he said “Hoover.” Puzzled, I asked, “Hoover?” He said, “Yeah, Hoover Dam. I was just saying it BACKWARDS!”
As I grow older, I have the occasion to reflect back on my time with my dad. I know that from birth up to about the age of ten, I really needed him. From 10 to 20 years old, I always felt that I knew it all but would occasionally check in with him. From 20 to 30 years old, I DID know it all and gave HIM frequent advice. From 30 to 40 years old, I knew about things, but every once in a while, I would ask. Now, in my mid-forties, I do check in with him and ask for his advice—and once again, I really need him. It’s amazing how some things come full circle.
I must have finally grown up!
Today, my dad and I live miles apart, yet we still talk all the time and I see him often. He gave me this wonderful gift of fishin’ when I was just barely old enough to tie my shoes. Sometimes I wonder if he really realizes how many people he has touched through this gift. When I am giving a fishing seminar to a Cub Scout Troop or to a group of men the night before their tournament, my dad has touched each of these individuals in his own way, through me. Thanks, dad. I love you and appreciate you for the man you are.
So give tribute and thanks to your dad or whomever introduced you to this wonderful sport. It may not have been your dad, but maybe your grandpa, an older brother, your mom, sister, or a friend. Fishin’ is something we should treasure and pass along, just like the ripple effect when our lures hit the water. No, it doesn’t require a television, a head-set, or a Nintendo hook-up. It requires us to do what my dad used to do some eighty years ago: grab a pole, a tackle box, and head for the water. Let’s make a ripple effect like my dad did and pass along to others this wonderful gift called fishin’.