Most recreational fishermen begin their angling career young. I, for example, caught my first fish at 7, a time when my father apparently decided it was time for his sons to obtain firsthand knowledge of seasickness.
"They'll be OK. We're only going fishing and besides, we'll be on a big boat," said my father while trying to calm my mother's growing fears. "Besides, we'll probably never get out of sight of land."
Anticipation compels people to do strange things, especially when your mind envisions the next day's events while you're trying to get some sleep.
Consequently, when the alarm clock went off at 2 a.m., I was wide awake, fully dressed and standing in the kitchen waiting for my father to get out of bed. He, obviously, wasn't nearly as excited about the prospects of fishing in the middle of the ocean and catching huge fish, grumbling something about getting up before the chickens as he groped for his coffee cup.
"Let's get going, the fish won't wait," he said. "What about breakfast?" I asked. "We'll get something to eat at the marina restaurant. They serve great food. Oh, get that paper bag out of the icebox. Your mother packed lunch for us," he said.
The contents of the bag consisted of a dozen sandwiches, a bunch of bananas, several ripe tomatoes, a couple of apples, one large bag of potato chips, a half dozen cupcakes and some chocolate candy bars.
Upon arriving at the dock, Dad parked the car, opened the trunk and removed a split bamboo boat rod equipped with a large, Ocean City reel. His tackle box, constructed from heavy gauge steel, held lots of big sinkers, an assortment of large hooks a few swivels and a couple of brass stand-off rigs. Back then, bucktails were too expensive, costing nearly 40 cents each.
Our next stop was the marina restaurant, a rustic looking building perched precariously at the end of a large pier.
We found an empty booth and dad ordered three Fisherman's specials, which consisted of two partly fried eggs, fried potatoes, two slices of bacon, a sausage patty, two slices of burnt toast and a cup of coffee. Imagine, all that food for just 99 cents. Dad also ordered two 12-ounce cartons of milk, which was 10 cents additional.
After breakfast, we climbed aboard a large, wooden fishing boat, docked at the end of the pier. The last person on the boat was the captain, an elderly gentleman neatly dressed in khaki and sporting a neatly manicured, gray beard.
Within minutes, the boat's engines roared to life and we were under way, cruising through pitch black darkness as the heavy boat slowly lumbered in an easterly direction. At our current speed, it would take nearly an hour to reach our destination 12 miles offshore.
It was just after sunrise when the boat's engines slowed to idle speed and the captain yelled from the bridge "Drop 'em over, boys." Everyone on the boat immediately lowered their baited hooks into the clear, blue water. Dad gave each of us a hand-line rigged with a heavy sinker and two hooks baited with small strips of squid.
"When you feel the fish hit, set the hook but don't pull it in. Wait for the second hit, then haul it up as fast as your can. I'll take care of baiting the hooks," said Dad as he lowered his line to the bottom. Seconds later, both Ron and I had a pair of 12-inch sea bass flopping on the deck. Three hours later, we had filled a burlap sack to the top with sea bass, porgy and a few ling.
"Pull in your lines guys, we're heading in." yelled the captain as he cranked up the engines. "There's a storm brewing and it's going to get mighty rough out here."
I'm not sure if it was the combination of being confined in a stuffy cabin in rough weather or if our bargain breakfast was really a bargain, but everyone was taking on a funny shade of green.
The final step was to empty our catch into a large, galvanized wash tub, cover the fish with ice and burlap, and make the three-hour drive home.
Despite the passage of nearly five decades, the memory of that first fishing trip is still deeply etched in the cobwebs of my mind. It was the type of experience that during those formative years led many youngsters to get hooked on fishing.
What's so great about being addicted to recreational fishing? The answer's simple. When you overdose on fishing, it doesn't kill you, but the high lasts forever.