When I tell visitors coming to the family house in Lianga that my siblings and I used to throw fishing lines from the backyard of the house into the sea and actually catch small fish, they would glance at me with an air of incredulity and disbelief thinking that I must be either exaggerating the facts a bit or deliberately pulling their legs. The truth is, I am merely telling the absolute truth.
When we were home for summer vacation from school in the city in the 1970's and early 1980's, my brothers and I would spend hours in the backyard my father had fashioned from some land he had reclaimed from the sea at the back of his house. From behind a concrete seawall he had constructed to keep the sea out, we would throw makeshift fishing lines into the sea and try to bring in the small, multicolored tropical fish that roamed the rock strewn, sea grass covered bottom of the shallow waters at high tide.
An afternoon of fishing always started with a frenzied hunt for hermit crabs which could be found clustered underneath large rocks within the backyard itself or hiding in the grassy corners of the flower gardens my mother doted upon just behind the house. Using round, smooth rocks like hammers, we would pound the crabs (children can be mercilessly cruel), crack their shells and pinch off their soft, fleshy abdomens which, despite their awful, stinky odor, the fish seem to relish and, therefore, were our favorite choice for fish bait.
We would skewer the gooey, milky bits of crab flesh on to the metal hooks of our nylon fishing lines, set aside an ample supply of extra bait in tin cans and then we would be ready to do battle with the denizens of the shallow sea. All we had to do was fling the lines over into the water, keep a watch out for the fish as they come around to curiously nibble at the deadly morsels on our hooks and, with a flick of the wrist, we would attempt snag the hooks into their tiny mouths and throats and bring them struggling up into the air amidst cheers and cries of victory and childish exultation.
Part of learning to fish successfully is to learn patience as a necessary virtue. One does not hurry the process and learning to sit still and patiently wait for the fish to make his move and then execute your attack accordingly is absolutely essential to success.
The fisher must also learn, as the professional gambler knows, that just like in the larger game of life, Lady Luck is no weak-kneed damsel one can bully into submission. Rather, she is a stern, fickle minded arbiter of the fate of men (and fishes too) who must be wooed, coaxed and cajoled into cooperating and, even then, it all has to be on her own terms and only when she wants to.
Countless were the times when I would not get a nibble from a fish for hours while my companions would be pulling one catch from the sea after another. I would fidget with impatience and envy but an angler lives not for abject failure but for the sudden, urgent twitch on the line, the strong, jerking pull that tells you that you just got a whopper. Then everything else would be forgotten and lost in the middle of the epic struggle (in childish terms, of course) for survival between man and marine beast.
Amidst shouts and cries of advice from the others, I would struggle to land my catch, being careful not to pull too hard otherwise I would break the line or give the fish too much slack so that it could wriggle free of the hook or swim around in circles and tangle the line on undersea rocks and obstacles. More of then than not, the fish would get away, the line would get caught in the bottom or the fish would get clear of the hook.
But that is the nature of fishing. A true fisherman lives not only for the disappointments of the present and the fish that got away but for bigger and better ones he will catch in the future. He is, by force of circumstance and nature, an eternal, inveterate optimist.
Nowadays I seldom fish anymore. For one, the fish in our favorite fishing spot are gone, driven away by the rampant quarrying of the ragged clumps of limestone rocks that used to be their hiding and nesting places. Gone also are the thick layers of sea grasses and tangled bundles of floating seaweed which sheltered their eggs and young and which provided them refuge from hungry predators.
But more than that, I just could not see myself with a fiberglass fishing rod and state of the art tackle box casting lines into the sea. I doubt if I would even enjoy doing that. After all, the best fishing I ever did was during those days long ago when all I needed was a bit of hermit crab belly on a rusty hook hastily tied to a frayed coil of nylon line and an irrepressible reservoir of youthful enthusiasm in my heart.
Then with the warmth of the summer sum flush on my face, I would cast my makeshift line into the sea, settle down for a long, impatient wait and, heart in hand, daydream of catching poor Moby Dick if he dared to foolishly come by.