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DAN SIMMONS: Why you should consider a family fishing trip

Are you looking for a day trip, a weekend family vacation or a “bonding” opportunity? Introduce a friend, the kids in the family, or the kids in someone else’s family to a first-time experience they will never forget. The half-day fishing boats along the California coast are an excellent way to introduce them to deep-water ocean fishing.

The bonding experience doesn’t get any better and you get to become someone’s fishing hero – that’s sort of special. Remember the first time someone showed you how to tie the improved clinch knot? Through these experiences we are able to pass on our outdoor skills and preserve a heritage, which if not used will be lost.

Well, the Rock Cod are biting, and limits are being taken all along the California coast. Trips can be chartered at ports from San Diego to Bodega Bay. My favorite is San Diego and the opportunity to catch some of the warm-water fish such as albacore, barracuda, or one of the least appreciated, but one of my all time favorites – the scrappy mackerel. All of which, when caught on light line, give you the same sensation as their big cousins; the Yellow Fin tuna or Dorado.

It’s an exciting thrill to hear the line “sizzling off” the reel as the fish makes its first run or heads for the bottom. The raucous activity of your fellow fishermen, as they also hook-up and the taste of the salt air is also part of the experience. As good as this experience is, watching your son, daughter or friend get excited over their first fish is even better.

I’ve recently returned from a scouting trip, but this one wasn’t for big game or shooting opportunities. It was for the ideal ocean fishing experience designed for the first-time fisherman.

Often beginners don’t know what to expect, or have unrealistic expectations. They are unaware of challenges brought on by weather, improper equipment or facilities, inexperienced skippers and crew, significant expense, or simply the difference between fishing and catching.

If done improperly, the first-time experience may be the beginner’s last and only excursion and we’ve lost the potential to encourage a future angler and possibly gain a lifelong fishing partner.

So, I was on the quest for the perfect introductory ocean fishing experience. I chose San Diego as the best place to start due to its predictable weather, pleasant surroundings and abundant fishing fleet operators.

I grew up around the boats there, worked as a “deckie,” gaffing fish, and helping to rig lines. I filleted more fish than I care to remember, and scrubbed more decks than I’m able to forget.

My recent scouting trip brought back a lot of memories – the deep throbbing sound of the engines, the smell of the harbor, the cry of the gulls and the excited anticipation, as the fisherman depart and the celebration of their success as they return, tired but with a sense of achievement. They have stories to tell of great fish seen, caught, or caught and “almost landed”.

Many stories are of fishing success, but many of the memories are of other things, a father helping his son catch his first big fish and perhaps telling him, “it’s OK to feed the fish,” as the youth experiences his first bout of sea sickness. We’ve all had the experience and it has become almost a rite of passage for true seafarers. We even tell stories of extraordinary circumstances where “even the crew was “feeding the fish.”

We remember sounds especially – the gulls, the fisherman hollering with adrenaline-fed excitement “hook up,” or “coming through” as one races down the rail, dodging other anglers and their lines, as a big tuna, barracuda or Mahi Mahi (dolphin fish) make a run down the length of the boat. One also hears the reassuring call of “gaff” as a tired fish is brought alongside to be hauled aboard by one of those admired “deckies” who get to do this every day. What a great life for a young man.

Then there are the smells, first the diesel from those great engines, then frying of bacon, eggs and hotcakes on the ride to the fishing grounds. Hamburgers just smell and taste better on a fishing boat for some mystical reason and appetites are healthy in the fresh salt air, coffee tastes better and the beer is always cold. No one is bothered by the “aroma” of fresh caught fish. It’s all part of a sport fisherman’s life. What a great adventure.

On the return to the harbor “on the way in,” as we say, fish are cleaned, stories are told, a nap will probably be taken. In the protected, warm little nooks around the deck, the kids have long been in a deep exhausted but peaceful sleep.

If one is astute, those pleasant aromatic smells of a fine cigar or pipe will be recognized as it wafts rearward with the air currents from the bow. Don’t forget the “weigh in,” where the biggest fish are measured, admired and weighed.

Someone wins the “jackpot” for biggest fish – first fish and biggest kid’s fish. Heck, if you win the jackpot, your trip could be free. You could win a T-shirt, but best of all “braggin’ rights,” until the next trip.

Two choices for a day trip are the Coronado Islands for a full day or the half-day fishing excursion to the Point Loma kelp beds. I recommend the shorter half day for first-timers just to test their sea legs and get used to the new equipment. You will catch a wide variety of fish and have some fast action angling.

The opportunity to explore and visit some of the other sights and nearby activities offers a balanced adventure with a visit to the Maritime Museum on the harbor waterfront where you can board the Star of India, the world’s oldest active square rigger built in 1927, the 1898 steam ferry Berkley, the H.M.S. Surprise, a magnificent replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate or you can tour an actual decommissioned Soviet sub.

Also, not to be missed is a trip along the peninsula’s Sunset Cliffs on your way to the Point Loma Lighthouse. If you have an extra day there’s the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Zoo or Sea World. You may even choose another day of fishing, my favorite. All of these combined will make a new fisherman’s trip something never to be forgotten.

So, whether it’s an old or new friend, a family member or certainly the kids, go fishing and build yourself a lifelong fishing partner.

H&M sport fishing is located on Point Loma, not far from the airport, or Interstates 15 and 8. For us it was freeway all the way. For the latest fish report or more information on H&M Landing call (619) 222-1144 or go to www.hmlanding.com.

In our next column we’ll explore freshwater fishing adventures.

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