When I was in second grade, my family made a cross country vacation to the town where my Dad was raised, Dunedin, Florida, just north of Clearwater. What a long ride that was even in the new 1954 Ford Station Wagon with a forced air, evaporative cooler mounted on top of the front passenger’s windowM. y mother was in control of the temperature regulator. No, it wasn’t a thermostat. It was a rope that, when pulled, rotated a spring loaded cylinder filled with an absorbent material that rotated into a built in basin of water. With the absorbent materials soaked with water, the cord was released and the spring would return the cylinder into a position that allowed the forced air provided by the cars forward motion, to evaporate the water creating a cool breeze that would flow through to the passengers. It worked until we hit Texas and then it seamed the hot, humid air stayed with us all the way to Florida making the evaporative cooler not as effective.
Visiting with Dad’s family was OK and staying in a motel on the beach was nice, but I enjoyed fishing the best.
My Dad took me and an old friend of his out into the Gulf of Mexico. Since we were already on the ocean shoreline it would take only a half an hour to get to the marina. It started out as a bright, sunny day. The little boat we rented had two oars, one concrete coffee can on a rope for an anchor, two small coffee empty coffee cans and a small, red gas tank connected to the outboard motor mounted on the back of the boat. I sat in the front seat, my Dad sat in the middle and the old man sat in the back and was going to pilot us to the fish. This was my first experience fishing on the ocean. We headed to some sort of concrete wall up against a bank of dirt or sand. I’m not sure of its function, but Dad’s friend said he catches a lot of fish there, but they were small ones. We stayed there for a short time and then headed out to sea. I looked back at Dad and the old man and saw that they were intently looking straight ahead, kind of like leaning forward to make the small boat go faster. The bow of the boat was slapping against the small waves and the feel of salt spray felt refreshing to my face. The old man killed the engine and the boat glided to a stop but continued to rock as the waves went by.
My Dad baited my poll and told me to drop the line straight down. They did the same. The old man was the first to catch something. It was a strange looking fish in the water and wasn’t very big. When he lifted it into the boat, it suddenly blew up like a balloon. It was a puffer fish. I was the next one to catch a fish. It was exciting to feel it hit my line and make my reel spin. Dad reached over and grabbed the reel to stop it from spinning. Just then the steel pole bent down to the water and he said the fish is hooked. Dad showed me how to reel it in, not to fast but steady. Raise the pole and reel as you put the pole down toward the water. When I finally got the fish up to the boat and could see it was about as long as the little tackle box. Dad helped me lift it into the boat and onto the floor. The hook was firmly attached to its lip. Dad reached down with both hands to wiggle the hood free and then put the fish on the stringer. This was my first slat water fish.
With all of the excitement, I didn’t notice the clouds moving in. The waves were suddenly getting higher and what they called white caps was forming. The old man said it time to head back as he pulled the rope on the motor. It started with a puff of gray smoke and off we went. The waves were now getting us all wet and water was rising above the floor boards. Dad took one coffee can and bent a flat spot on the edge. He laid the flat edge down in the water near my feet and then scooped it forward and up. It only had a little water in the bottom which he dumped overboard. This he said was bailing out the boat and gave me a can. He took the second can and bent it in the same way. He started bailing near his feet were the water was a little deeper. We did this all the way to the marina. When we climbed out of the boat we were all soaking wet. By the time we got back to the motel it was raining. I was carrying around my big catch and even slung it toward my younger brother, Ricky, and hit him in the leg. He told on me and I got into trouble.
The next morning my uncle Rick came by the motel. He was stationed in the Air force in Georgia. We stopped by to see him there on the way to Florida and Dad had invited him to come for a visit while we were here. He wanted to take me fishing off of a nearby pier but it was still raining, He said it would be clearing up shortly. We went to a fishing tackle store in this old Plymouth. I remember its windshield wiper weren’t working too well and the window was fogging up. He had me wiping the passenger window with my hand to keep the wiper blades moving. When I stopped, they would stop. I think he was playing a trick on me by using the wiper switch to turn it of as soon as I stopped wiping.
At the store he brought what he called a hand line that was a piece of wood with a black fishing line wrapped around it, a red and white bobber attached above a large weight and the hook. He picked out a small container of shrimp to use for bait.
By the time we got to the pier, the sun was shinning again. I noticed that one of the small boats had a dead stingray in the bottom. They were only about the size of a ping pong paddle, but it was neat to see. When we got to the end of the pier, Uncle Rick baited up the hook with the shrimp and unraveled a big loop of line from the wooden holder which he held in his left hand. He then put the holder into my hands and asked if I was ready. I gave him a nod and he started twirling the baited hook, line and sinker around his head and then let it fly. As it did, he released the loops of line in his other hand until it was air born. Then as the line tightened with a jerk, the hand line holder flew out of my hands and into the water a long ways away. Uncle Rick said laughingly “I told you to hold on to it”. I told him I tried but it pulled too hard. We were now done fishing. We got back in the car and headed to the fishing store again. He bought another hand line but didn’t need the shrimp. We still had plenty of shrimp left.
Back to the pier we went. Uncle Rick went through the same routine of looping the line on the ground except this time he took the wooden spool with the remainder of the raps on it and threaded though every belt loop in my pants starting in the front going around the back and then out the font. Then he put the spool in my hand and said he was pretty sure I could hold on to it now. He was right. Out it went without any problems. After about ten minutes passed and without a bite or even a nibble, it started to rain again. Fishing was over for the day. As he pulled in the hand line he thought we had caught a small black fish. It turned out to be the first hand line we lost. We laughed as we gathered up the gear. threw the left over shrimp to the victorious fish and ran bock to the car.
Here’s a thought. What would have happened if a big fish, like a shark for instance, would have grabbed that stinky shrimp on the hook tied to hand line threaded through all the belt loops of my pants and clutched in my hands? How long would it take for the big fish to figure out that there was a bigger chuck of meat on the other end of that hand Ii ne and it doesn’t have a sharp hook in it? I think my uncle had it in for me early on in my life. That would have been almost as exciting as our boat ride the day before.
When we made our long drive bock to Arizona, I became ill probably as a result of our fishing experiences. I had to miss two more weeks of school. Darn!