Sunday, March 15, 1998
PLAYA COSTA AZUL, SAN JOSE DEL CABO, MEXICO - Warning: The following may only be of interest to those who fish.
A serious tackle box is like the brain of someone who reads a lot—packed full of mostly useless stuff. In the case of me, well, of my tackle box, every separate compartment is full including the main compartment under the two levels that open before you as you lift the lid. This is the working tackle box; the one that holds everything selected from three other tackle boxes. This is the only tackle box I take with me when I set off into the Sea of Cortez in Prez Ja. Mostly the tackle box contains plastic Rapala-like lures of various sizes and colors. Some are still in their original packing box, others, if they are small enough, are in the little compartments in the shelves. Those that remain are compacted in the bottom beneath the shelves. Of these thirty-odd lures, I could safely leave behind all but possibly three. The three that would make the cut are almost identical: green with black stripes, a yellow belly and yellow eyes with a black pupil. One is a sturdy, deep-diving eight-inch salt-water lure with a long, metal lip, one is a 4-inch version of the former, and one is a six-inch, somewhat more delicate and brighter freshwater lure that rattles, with a short plastic lip for a shallower dive.
The smaller version is used strictly for sierras. When the fishermen first told me which lure to use for sierras, I couldn’t believe I should be using such a small lure in the ocean. This is no bigger than I would use in fishing for smallmouth bass in my St. Louis River. But it works, man. The tackle box contains several of these exact same lures, only in blue, and have never yet caught a fish on one. In fact, before this year, I had never caught a sierra on anything but this lure.
A soft copper sleeve that has been compressed with a big hammer and a screwdriver, pounded on the concrete secures all hooks, wires, swivels, and snaps. Fresh bait works the best. (Live bait works even better, but goes for $2/mackerel. A bag of about a dozen fresh/frozen mackerel costs about $5.) My first design lacked a second trailing hook. All day we got strikes and every time we were left with a hook and a tiny, shredded mackerel head, and no fish. Even with the second hook, we still manage to lose fish, the bait being somehow stripped from the head back, leaving the trailing hook dangling innocently.
This dual-hook arrangement with fresh bait can get the juices flowing. On more than one occasion I have reeled up my line to find it attached to nothing. Something took it all—the ten-inch rig, the foot long leader, and it’s anyone’s guess how much monofiliament line. The pole didn’t even move when the action occurred. The reel didn’t make the slightest sound. Nice, neat, and even. Some kind of big fish. Some kind of thoughts to keep a guy up nights.
No Zelda's diary this week.
Stopped by Enrique’s house the other day to ask him if he wanted to get out on the briny in Prez Ja. On his porch was son, Enrique and his girlfriend of six months, tangled up in each other, giggling. Said his papa was inside. In the house was papa, El Patrón Enrique, fixing some kind of dinner. Judging by his kitchen, and what’s in it, he doesn’t do much cooking. There is a beat-up, once-Teflon, eight-inch frying pan hanging above the empty sink. He has a knife, and a bottle opener. There is a fridge into which I’ve never been prompted to look. To someone who does use a kitchen, a kitchen that isn’t used is obviously apparent.
In any case, he said he would come fishing with me, even though he wasn’t to keen on getting up before six. He told me he has some sort of "grippe" and patted his chest. I told a day on the ocean is just what he needed. He laughed and made some comment of which I understood nada.
At 5:30 when I came to pick him up he told me he had to work, but his son would love to come along instead. Groovy. Enrique 2 and I headed out. Enrique is about 18, I figure. A surfer. He recently quit Formula Uno, the auto parts store, to work with his CPA dad in some capacity. He’s a polite kid, smart, good-looking; the kind of kid that I would suppose to have girlfriends all over town. He speaks even less English than his father, but it was easy to tell that he was looking forward to getting out in the boat.
We easily launched the boat and headed out to prime dorado water. The full moon was still evident in the western sky and the eastern horizon was a salmon pink. The streetlights were still on in San Jose. Enrique got the first two strikes and lost them both. I tried to explain how the drag setting was the most important thing about fishing, and demonstrated how to set it loose initially, adjusting it as necessary after hooking the fish. He promptly lost another. The fishing was slow. I noticed about five boats about a mile out from us zigzagging in a close group. We reeled up and headed to join them. Immediately I caught a small sierra. Then we both had one. A double hook-up. Our lines crossed becoming irreversibly tangled. We lost both fish and 75 yards of line. Our reels now contained very little line to play with if either of us were to hook a sizable fish. I caught another small sierra. Two fish were all the fish bag was to contain that morning, but it had been a beautiful day.
Across the street from the Hotel Posada Señor Mañana, where there was once a large enclosed backyard, they are in the beginnings of building a new hotel. It is an amazing process. First a truckload of 20-foot rebar was dropped off along with coils of thick wire. Slowly, using hacksaws and pliers, it was converted into 20-foot long cement forms. Deep holes were dug by hand. Piles of dirt were dumped and moved using wheelbarrows. One of the workers named his wheelbarrow. Chi Chi was spray-painted on the side in red paint. For the last ten days they have been using a gasoline air compressor and a jackhammer. The whole ground shakes. They start promptly at 7:15 every morning.
Every morning at 8:15 I leave the hotel for my office—the beach. About five minutes away there is a very sweet stretch of public beach complete with a dozen or so low-lying palapas. Seldom is it anything but deserted. I bring my beach chair, a blanket, binoculars, my book (Lost Man’s River by Peter Matthiessen—that, by the time I am finished--which is taking me a long time, as have all Matthiessen’s books--will undoubtedly rank as one of my all-time favorite reads), my notebook, swim trunks, and a towel. For the next three to four hours I read, write, scope through the binoculars at boats out fishing and bikini-clad women, and cat nap. I am amazingly productive.
There is a man who rakes the area every morning at about 9 o’clock. Samuel. He is a quiet man, going about his duties. He meticulously rakes under each palapa, and expects anyone who happens to be under one while he is preening, to relocate. It is a good time for me to get in the water. After the first several days of me being under the same palapa, each morning, to ease his curiosity, I told him this was my oficina. He nodded with a grin that showed a mouthful of teeth that needed serious work. Now everyday he asks if I’m at the office. Every day he tells me, I have a very nice office. When Samuel finally gets to my palapa, Zelda doesn’t even growl at him any more.
San Jose Days begins tonight. Ten days of loud terrible music, drunk hombres peeing anywhere there is a shadow, and rancheros coming down out of the mountains to drink beer, sneak sips of hard liquor from bottles in paper bags and stagger around in their dress cowboy boots and oversized cowboy hats. It is also the time for young lovers and whole families to stroll in the night. Besides lots of good greasy food, (Mexicans are particularly fond, of all things, boiled hot dogs), there are plenty of other booths offering arts, crafts, clothing, and jewelry. There is a chaotic Midway with suspect rides, games of skill and chance, a tent show with live entertainment (as well as a smaller cock fighting tent), the same greasy food, and all the festivities commonly found in any Midway at any state fair in America. One of my particular favorites is a great spectacle where they "auction off" kitchen supplies. One guy takes the bids while the other guy adds to the pile being auctioned off. Even though the price increases as the pile gets bigger, it doesn’t match the rate at which the pile grows—so that at eventually, at some point, there is someone who views the amassed merchandise as being worth buying. All night long the song of the auctioneer fills the air, beginning with, "Cinco pesos! Cinco pesos!"
It’s all good fun--for two days, and then I have to get outta town; go camping. Tomorrow I’m heading north a couple hours, to Los Frailes, with Prez Ja and a cooler full of frozen mackerels. Tonight I’ll be at the fiesta. Maybe I’ll have the half-meter burrito for a late-night dinner.