I learned to fish at Bahia de Los Angeles in the early '70's. We, Mary Ann and I, had a family from New Jersey that we were friends with, had hooked up at La Vieja Hacienda in Mulege their first time on a trip south. We were living in Bahia then, in our homemade hut south of the village. From that late summer on we traveled every year to the Bay with Jimmy and Carol and their daughters, Beanie and Lisa.
Jimmy had two or three small homemade fishing rods. Someone had made them for him and they were very lightweight based on what I learned over the years that followed. They had been built for the New Jersey shore.
I didn't have the experience then to judge whether what I learned from Jimmy was just his custom of the moment or a repeated habit, but Jimmy's tradition was to troll. He had borrowed a small and lightweight aluminum boat and outboard and trailored it across the entire country from the east coast to LA and then to Baja.
We'd camp at La Gringa and kill the evenings, our two families, eating camp grub and swapping stories between their quite lively children and the adults, hit the sack early. Jimmy and I would arise at dawn, throw the fishing gear into the small boat and head out into the gulf.
During the early '70's, perhaps because of Jimmy's habits that related to fishing, there was a variety of junk fish that we'd catch on or near the surface, trolling with Rapalas and Rebels. We'd cruise along at 4 knots and every fifteen minutes or so get a hookup with a Barracuda, a Bonita or a jack, occasionally something we could eat. Release was a concept we were not aware of but we seldom threw a fish back because the townfolk knew how to make the best with any fish we brought them. But we never caught much anyway. Certainly we never hit limits.
We learned the geologic intimacies of Bahia during those years, the islets west of Smith's, Coronadito, the currents on Smith's east side, Piojo and the small bay on her south-west corner where occasionally firecrackers situated, the "hotel" and bay south, Las Animas where we seldom ventured; too far with such a small boat. And all while, we had time to talk.
What I remember the most, what I took away with me for the future, was the one-on-one conversations we had daily in the boat over the weeks-at-a-time vacations across the years. I learned of Jimmy's life and he of mine. We were completely different people trapped, by design perhaps, in a small boat miles from shore. There was nothing to interrupt us. Jimmy was a high school gym teacher from New Jersey. I was beginning my career with JPL as a kid from California.
Our backgrounds were completely different, each unique and we were young with no need for reservation and spewed our stories out with no thought of discretion. He told me his idiosyncrasies and I yawned mine. We talked about marriage and what we wanted with children and how to tie a knot in a fishing line and the use of a pole meant for a smaller fish than the one you have. We talked about our hopes for the future without ever calling them that (we were too young to have experienced failure). It's funny, what you discover about another, sitting on a plank in a small tin boat drifting around islands in paradise. It's funny how you can take a truly ugly fish back to a village where a family wants it for today's meal. It's funny how much truth comes out in the small incidents of a boat, a simple camp, a tiny village.
As I look into the unknown potentials of retirement it is rewarding to reflect back over a few of the things I do know. It seems strange to me that the older I get the less I know. But it's true. Life is building backwards.
We two families grew apart. Mary Ann and I were starting ours. Michael and Kevin were introduced to this world in the late '70's. We were pals with Jimmy and Carol for years, took many summers together in Baja. They were there when we built our hut at Las Cuevitas in 1985.
That was the last time we saw them. Jimmy fell for a younger woman. The girls got married and had families of their own. We haven't heard from them for years, after all those intimate moments in a boat and on a beach. We didn't want to intrude in their lives, to cause...whatever.
Jimmy and I were not the same yet we shared space. Mary Ann and Carol were sharing that same situation. Yet we were close, our two families. We all learned from each other through our differences. How could we learn from another if not for difference?
I know forever how to tie Jimmy's fishing knot. Others know it as well. I see them using it. It's not his knot, actually. And I never asked him its name.