Dec. 12, 2012 I have strapped fishing rod to bicycle and am off to Terminal beach for a bit of surf fishing at the height of the tide. Arriving at 3:30pm, I run into three Shell workers who stop to inspect my fishing kit while I am tying on a leader and popper. They seem to know something about fishing. One of them adjusts the tension on my fishing reel without explanation or consent, cranking it down tight while I am distracted with a challenging leader to popper connection. Finally ready, I climb down from roadway to surf with my audience of three standing above in judgement of my technique. The tide is still coming in, about a half-hour before peak, and I concentrate on throwing the popper between the rhythms of breakers; otherwise the power of crashing surf will quickly tumble my floating lure to shore. After maybe eight to ten casts, my audience has either run out of break-time, or judged my technique ineffective, and they have left.
Shortly thereafter I see several small baitfish sail out of the surf before a disturbance in the sea, and I cast my popper in that direction. It has hardly landed before a boil in the water pulls popper below the surface and it is off and running. In retrospect, I should have rechecked and adjusted the reel tension, for I am pulled off my feet, teetering into the swells as I drop down to regain my balance. The tension pulls me uncontrollably off balance. The fish heads for deep water and within twenty meters or so, the tension increases until the line suddenly snaps, leaving me with a lost popper, leader, and disappointment for not having paid attention to my kit. Scrambling back to my box of lures, I re-tie another popper, returning to my perch at surf edge. Poppers are relatively light and not very efficient for casting into the offshore sea breezes, so before leaving today, as an experiment I drilled a hole in the back of this popper, dropping in several lead-shot sinkers, just enough to keep it afloat, then cut a patch from a tin can to glue over the drilled hole. Now I have a popper with some ballast to increase my casting distance. It might dive below the surface in busy water, but it floats back to surface when undisturbed. With more casting distance, I’m able to keep the lure in the water longer, covering more area with fewer casts.
The baitfish are still on the run, there appears to be a feeding frenzy and with much excitement, I try to intercept the boils in the water. Within minutes of resumed casting, I have another solid strike. Now, the readjusted tension strips line from reel while allowing me to make way to the beach where I will have more room to manouver. This takes maybe forty seconds until I am solid in the sand, but meanwhile, I see that line has been slipping out a little too freely, creating a new concern for running out of line. I can see the core of the reel showing through the few revolutions of line that are left, so I hastily turn up the tension to slow payout while I try reeling in a few rounds. The fish has not yet tired sufficiently, and I can see my line cutting the water some hundred meters out to sea as the fish runs for deep water, so I worry that I will lose another. Finally it doubles back toward shore and I gain a few rounds of line. I can feel the pulse of surf through its actions and become patient, waiting for the undercurrent to pass before edging the fish closer. After ten or fifteen minutes more, I can see the dorsal fin breach in the shallows, and with each breaking wave I gain a meter or two of line, backing up to take pressure off the strain of reeling while relying on the force of waves to help carry the fish to the beach. Finally it slides out of a receding wave and the exposed sand between waves allows me to secure the beautiful 15-kilo carangue by the tail. As the adrenaline slowly subsides, I feel slightly nauseated and shaken, with a cramp in my arm to suggest that I have done enough fishing for today.
And now, the challenge of getting this fish home. Searching the beach, I come across a piece of plastic sheeting that has washed ashore, and from a mass of abandoned fish-net I cut out several lengths of rope. After wrapping the fish in the plastic sheet, I secure it to the back of my bicycle with all sorts of ropes and knots and begin the six kilometer trek before me, tottering precariously along the way.