I named my fishing stick Rod. Some say that Rod is an Ugly Stik but while she is not the newest, most advanced model of modern fishing technology, Rod is certainly not ugly. I purchased Rod at a garage sale in Pig Pine Key. A couple was retiring from their wholesale sporting equipment business, their garage sale looked like a fishing and snorkeling shop with numerous tables full of never used but slightly aged gear directly from a factory in China. There were five types of snorkeling masks for twenty dollars each, snorkels for one dollar, fins for fifteen dollars. However, I was most interested in all the fishing sticks piled against the garage wall. They were colorful and varied in lengths; some had reels installed while others were bare. There was a table full of black, gold and silver reels still in their original boxes. Additional tables were full of spools, fishing strings, hooks, weights, tackles and other fishing gadgets small and large that one might put into their tackle box or pin to their fishing hat. I decided that this was a perfect place for me to acquire a fishing stick for myself. Up to this point on every trip I borrowed someone else’s gear but now I’ve decided to get “serious” about the sport, it was time for me to invest … at a garage sale level.
I asked the proprietor, “Sir, what is the cheapest setup you have that includes a fishing stick and a reel?” He looked at me quizzically like he did not understand what I was asking for, “fishing stick?” he replied with a puzzled look on his face.
With excitement I pointed to the wall full of fishing sticks and said, “yes, I would like one of these, and I wish for it to be pretty and colorful and I would like a reel, too. What is the cheapest setup that you can offer to me that would serve me well as I enter the sport of fishing?”
The man smiled politely and walked to the end of the wall where he selected a stick for me. It was off-white with black and red bands and a fluorescent green tip, an absolute beauty! Then he walked up to a table full of boxed reels and selected a golden beauty with a faux wooden handle knob.
He politely offered, “would you like me to install the reel for you?”
“Oh yes please, that would be very kind of you, but before you do, how much does the reel cost?” I asked.
“Fifteen dollars,” the man said.
“What about the stick?” I retorted.
He again smiled at me and replied, “for you, I will sell it for five dollars. Twenty dollars for the entire setup.”
This nice and helpful person was excited about the fact that I was eager to enter the sport of fishing. Every time I asked a question about the fishing stick, he was smiling and beaming back at me. I paid for the gear and left the garage sale the accommodating man was waving me goodbye jovially smiling. It is so great to be surrounded by happy people, I thought.
On the way home I decided that since I am opening a new chapter in my life as a fisherwoman and this gear will be my friend and dutiful companion I should give it a name, so I named my fishing stick Rod.
A few days have passed and my neighbor Captain Mike invited me to go fishing. This would be Rod’s maiden voyage. I gathered my fishing supplies and pulled Rod out of the storage shed.
We happily walked across the street and boarded Captain Mike’s boat. Rod was the last comer to the party, while his other companions were proudly displayed on the top of the boat, the only spot left for poor Rod was a lonely hole on the side of the boat. Not being a part of the good old salty fishing club did not faze Rod who was excited about the maiden voyage and full of hope about the catch ahead.
Based on the weather conditions Captain Mike decided that we should head to the Gulf side to hide away from the winds and enjoy calmer seas. Whereas ocean side offering more exciting reef fishing was expected to be nauseously choppy that day. I consulted with Rod and we did not have strong opinions about the destination, we were simply pleased to be embarking on our maiden fishing experience together. Captain Mike expertly navigated his vessel (without a given name or elected pronouns) out of a tight neighborhood canal and turned left towards the gulf. The day was young with the sun barely peeking from behind the clouds. It was windy but pleasant. Rod and I enjoyed watching the foamy wake behind the boat with the passing scenery of endless interspersed mangrove islands.
As we arrived at the destination it was time to setup gear, so Rod and I decided to deploy a one-ounce weight and a round hook; a rig that should comfortably descent 20ft to a structure on the sea bottom. I was trying my best to tie a fisherman’s knot and connect all the little things: hook, weight, swivel. I remembered to twist the line at least six times, pull the lose end through the lower loop that creates another higher loop, pull the string through that second loop and tighten as hard as possible. If you don’t care about your teeth bite the lose end off but a dentist would recommend to use a knife and cut the line as close as possible to the hook. Lastly, I tested the contraption to make sure it holds under tension. Captain Mike placed a bag of chum into the water and after twenty minutes we were ready to go. I carefully poked a live shrimp on Rod’s hook and let the weight take it down into the turquoise blue depths. After just a few minutes of anticipation Rod bent and the line jerked down. Now it was time for Rod’s reel to prove itself. I reeled with smooth continuous pace and alas! There was a fish. It wasn’t big; it wasn’t grand; it was not even a keeper. But it was the first fish of the day and therefore the biggest and the most unique. It was the first fish for Rod and me working as a team, we were excited.
Even when placed as close as possible to a camera lens, this first fish was so small that we let it go but we knew that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Rod and me. Energized and excited, I placed another piece of shrimp on Rod’s hook and lowered the apparatus back into the deep water. From this moment on it was fishing as experienced by many fishermen around the world, there were little fish like grunts and snappers, there were fish totally not worth keeping like ocean catfish. All those went back into the water until something more exciting caught our hook and made Rod and I work hard as it swam and circled around and under the boat. Pulling the catch we identified it as a Cero Mackerel.
When Rod and I pulled the mackerel into the boat with its sharp teeth, she snapped our line. Luckily by then the mackerel jumped and landed in the boat and didn’t escape. She was ours to keep. As the day progressed the fishing action slowed down, either the seas were getting scarce of fish or the fish were getting too smart for Rod and me. Others on the boat had their chance and pulled one mackerel, a few yellow tails, a couple of grunts and one sizable blue fish. Rod and I were happy for the other fishermen, as it’s good to share in everyone’s success.
Soon Captain Mike dumped the rest of the chum and called it a day, time came for us to head home. On the way back Rod rode proudly on the top of the boat with his experienced colleagues.
The ride home was choppy on the seas but peaceful in our minds. Rod and I have proven to each other that twenty dollars in equipment is enough to enjoy a day of excitement. Of course, experienced fisherman might have a different opinion as I am sure they catch bigger and better fish than Rod and I caught today. But I am sure that the man from the garage sale where Rod and I first met would be pleased with the success of our maiden voyage. He’d probably wave at us and smile saying, “Irena, I hope that you are enjoying your fishing stick.”
Words of gratitude go out to my faithful Editor in Fact, Erik Staub.