Jaden and I dropped by Sportsman’s Warehouse in Silverdale to pick him up a fishing license and buy him squid jigging gear. At 15, he missed the cut-off for a free license. I traded in my pink Barbi pole for a steelhead pole flexible enough for jigging while I was at Cabelas the other day. Most of the guys on the squid dock use fly rods are steelhead rods with 15 to 20lb braided line. I had the same loaded on my new reel at Cabelas. I was sure the new gear would change my jigging luck to the positive.
The same grouchy, old dude that sold me the Barbi pole was working the fishing section at Sportsman’s Warehouse. He didn’t seem to recognize me, or if he did he didn’t go out of his way to acknowledge my presence.
I picked out Jade’s pole, 8.5 feet and of medium weight, just like mine. Next was the reel. I don’t know if you’ve priced fishing reels, but it is no joke. The pole seems to be the cheap part of the package. I scanned reels priced from $20 to $210. I wasn’t sure of Jade’s commitment level, and I don’t think it wise to invest wads of cash only to have him hate jigging after the first couple of trips.
I picked a lower-priced reel, $29 for a decent-looking Shimano. The old man grumbled. “You get what you pay for, young lady. Buy a cheap reel, get a cheap experience.”
“That’s the best I can do.”
“Maybe you ought to wait until you can afford something better. Perhaps step up another $10 to $20.”
“No, this one will do. I’d like some line spooled too.”
“Of course you would. You know that’s extra, right?
“Yup. How about 20lb braided?”
Old dude did the whole eye roll thing and looked at me like I was crazy. “No.” He shook his head and smiled in that condescending way that old men smile when they think you don’t know your head from your ass. “You don’t need that. I wouldn’t go heavier than 12.”
“Well, it’s just that other jiggers use the 20lb braided. It saves jigs if you hook a starfish.”
“Ain’t no starfish that big in this here area. You'll be happy with 12.”
“Fine.” I didn’t want to argue. I wanted the gear, and wanted to get to the dock to claim the coveted real estate under the light. It was starting to get dark, and time was not on our side.
The old man went about spooling my reel at a snail’s pace. My face burned red in frustration. I couldn’t believe I was going to pay for 12lb line instead of the 20lb that my Filipino squid comrades recommended. I had no trouble getting what I wanted at Cabelas. No one rolled eyes at me or told me what I'd be happy buying. But Cabelas was a 2 hour drive from here. I am stuck with Sportsman’s Warehouse, and stuck with this crabby, old man. He zaps confidence, partly because he is so condescending, but mostly because I lose assurance in what I think I know. And I don’t think I know much to begin with.
A full hour later, Jaden and I loaded in the truck and made our way to the pier. Squid feed at night and are more active at high tide. Our timing was good. We made it to the dock forty minutes before the bay swelled to the high water-mark.
I recognized the white van from the first night I went jigging. The Koreans had arrived before us. We made our way down to the long pier, and sure enough, there was no space under the light. I hoped the Filipina woman from the first night was there to chase them away, but she wasn’t. Manny, Armando, and Marlo were missing too. I was bummed. It wasn’t Filipino night at the pier, and I missed the memo. I enjoyed the friendly banter and good-natured teasing from my new friends. I also enjoyed and needed the coaching.
Jade and I took a position in the shadows, hoping to eventually find a place in the light as others filled limits and went home. We struggled to set up our new poles. Men on the pier laughed and pointed our way. Fortunately, we didn’t understand the language zinging back and forth.
“They are laughing at us, Mom.”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure they are. We look kind of funny, you know. Lost, out of place, and Caucasian.”
“White guys eat squid too.”
“Yes. And we will after we catch some tonight.”
An older Korean man next to me belched a puff of smoke in the air toward my face. Marlboro and kim-chee if I'm not mistaken. I stood six inches taller, and Jade nearly a full foot. I held back a choke, but Jade nearly puked. He hates smoke and didn't seem crazy about second-hand kim-chee. Maybe he has some sort of an allergy. Several puffs later, Jade had to move further into the dark. I held my post, too stubborn to be chased away. I pretended to stumble and stepped down hard on the old man’s foot. I apologized profusely, patting his shoulder and getting uncomfortabley physical. He scooted tighter with his buddies, opening a bit more space. Puffs of smoke stopped, and Jade returned to my side.
We jigged for a couple of hours without a bite and without the possibility of promotion to a lighted spot. Jaden grew frustrated as we watched buckets fill. Men took turns carrying full limits to the van and coming back with empty buckets.
“Mom, isn’t that poaching?
“How come they won’t share the light?”
“Don’t know. Maybe they have a lot of kids to feed.”
“We wanna eat too.”
“We’ll get here earlier next time.”
There’s that old saying that a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work. Now, I’d usually agree with this, but the night wasn’t going well. Jade’s spirits dampened in the cold, wet of the night. He snagged jigs on the bottom, and turned his line into a bird’s nest. The men laughed and pointed at him.
“Koreans are douche bags.”
“No. These guys are douche bags.” I couldn’t fully argue with him, but I didn’t want a few squid poachers tainting an entire ethnicity.
I freed Jaden’s jigs and cut the bird nest from his line. He tied new rigging and was back in business about the same time I caught a giant starfish. Starfish are edible, even considered a delicacy in Japan. They are easy to cook, as well. Just dump one in a pot of boiling salt water, cook for a few minutes, split open the underside, and spoon out the gray-colored meat. I’ve never eaten one and probably never will. It’s illegal to harvest starfish in Washington State.
Last time I hooked a starfish, it broke my 6lb line. But not this time, I reeled the thing close to a floating dock a level below and pulled the beast up. It was bigger than a Rat Terrier I once owned. I bet it weighed 15lbs. I snapped a photo and rolled it back in the water.
“You lucky,” said one of the younger men. It sounded more like he said, “You rucky.” The fact that he spoke made me smile almost as much as how he spoke. I took advantage of the opening.
“I feel lucky. I caught a beautiful flower.”
“Look like sunflower.”
“That’s the name, you know. It’s called a sunflower sea star.”
“Yup, looked it up on line after it ate my jigs last time.”
“You fish too deep. That’s why you catch him.”
“Thanks. I didn’t know. My son and I are beginners. We are trying to learn.”
“Your jigs are too big. Squid here are very small. You scare them away with big jigs.”
It made sense. The few squid that neared my line circled my jigs, but none would strike.
“See? Mine very small.” He swung his jigs out to where I could touch them.
I fingered a homemade jig. It was a simple design incorporating a small, tubular glass bead sandwiched by glow-in-the-dark beads and finished with a swivel clip on one end and a collar of hooks on the other. The whole jig was under an inch long. My jigs were twice the size.
Jade hooked another sea star. Fortunately, it was smaller than mine. He worked it to the lower ramp and freed his jigs. His line snarled like a bird’s nest again.
“Okay. I’m done,” he said.
“Done for the night or done forever?”
“Just for the night.”
We made our way to the truck with heads down. Our luck sucked, our spirits were low, and our skills non-existent. I pulled up to the drive through window under the red glow of a Dairy Queen sign, and bought him a Butterfinger Blizzard. His mood brightened. He fished through whipped ice cream, hooking bites of chocolate-covered crunch in the tip of his spoon. The usual quite ride home was filled with chattered. We talked about guitar practice and English class, and Jaden told me everything there was to know about the band, Death Cab for Cutie. Our night was salvaged by a sweet finish.