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The big haul
Peter Kohlsaat
Wednesday, April 2, 1997


Inspired by the Gophers’ dig-deep-give-it-everything-you-got- you-may-never-get-this-chance-again attitude, I went fishing. And as a result, here I sit under the palapa of the Restaurante
"We were soon trolling 200 meters off shore. And then something happens. We start catching fish. The first is lost because Julian doesn’t understand that when I tell him to reel in his line, I mean NOW AND FAST."
Pescaderia with a freshly-brewed cup of coffee and the scant remains of a Kalua-flamed sierra steak dinner close at hand. The Pescaderia is an unassuming San Jose landmark noted for their no-nonsense seafood cuisine frequented mostly by locals. Tonight when Julien is overheard presenting the evening’s specials, fresh sierra figures prominently. When asked how fresh is it, he replies, "It’s fresh, man. I caught it myself six hours ago." Well, maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. There were twelve of them and he caught half. I caught the other six.

Julien is a brute of a Mexican. Twenty-six, 6-2, somewhere around 220 pounds, long, unruly, reddish, sun-streaked hair. The bear claw he wears around his neck seems perfectly appropriate. Five years ago he left Mexico City for the Baja, (a move that I can only compare to someone going from Manhattan to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.) When asked why, he simply says, "Why not?" followed by the chuckle of a man who is ready to die tomorrow.

As the day started off early this morning, Julien was, however, looking quite unlike an immortal wildman. We were on the kind of sea that if you were prone to sea-sickness,
you were going to get sea-sick. Black. Oily. Irregular, unpredictable, swells that came at you in short, choppy bursts from a variety of directions. Up. Down. Sliding into the trough. Spinning. Up the other side. A windless, gray, solidly overcast, unusually cool day. The reflection of a dim hint of a sun bouncing eerily to the horizon. The vintage 18-horse Evinrude urged the 13-foot inflatable Zodiac out into the Sea of Cortez towards Mazatlan. Julian, me, and the dog.

For an hour we putt-putted and bobbed. Catching no fish. Julien, in an attempt to make his environment more familiar, was drinking Pacificos from the bottle, getting impatient. When he is not looking, I reach back, grab his line, and give it a good tug, sending a spark through him until he sees it’s only me. He gives me one of those international "f-u" signs and returns to his introspection. A couple minutes later he chuckles over the joke. When I explain it is an old traditional fishing joke, usually trotted out in times of fishing lull, he seems to relish the acknowledged camaraderie.

On the advice of Carlos, the man in charge of the panga fishing operation at Playa Palmilla, where we put in, we were headed out about a mile where he told us the dorado, sierra, and tuna were scattered about. He suggested we just "drive around." Perhaps some other day, we would just drive around a mile from shore, but not today. The washing-machine action of the sea combined with no fish in the fish bag, drove us toward the shore. We were soon trolling 200 meters off shore. And then something happens. We start catching fish. The first is lost because Julian doesn’t understand that when I tell him to reel in his line, I mean NOW AND FAST. His line gets tangled with mine and the fish is lost. A couple minutes later I have another and he still doesn’t get his line out of the water fast enough and his lure hooks my line. I ask for the net but he is too tangled up in his line, so I reach over, around him, pull out the net and bring in a very nice sierra mackerel. "Thanks for the help," I chirp. Another 50 meters, Julien’s rod bends over, this time it’s not me doing the tugging. I show him how fast a guy can get out of the water and get ready to scoop up a fish. He adds his first fish to the fish bag. Soon we had on a double. Even the dog was excited. He lost his. I got mine. I reassured him it was OK, doubles can get pretty hectic. But don’t ever complain, because it doesn’t get any better than two guys fishing, each with a fish on the line. During the next hour we had repeated double hook-ups. We gelled into an efficient team. One after another. Into the fish sack. With both hands Julien hefts up the burlap bag, a big grin breaking out, "It’s getting heavy, bro." Forty or 50 pounds I figure, when it’s all said and done.

Two tables are pushed together as a big party of maybe 15 drift into the restaurant. Julien takes their drink orders, gives it to Jorge behind the bar, ambles over to my table and takes a load off. He looks tired. "Great day of fishing, bro," he says. "Probably doesn’t get any better," I say.

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