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Cool of darkness, chance at the big one draw fishermen to canals

June 18, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — A 4-pound catfish was suspended four feet above the churning waters of the Central Main Canal.

It dropped, splashed into murky waves and resumed night swimming.

Richard Garcia had thrown the fish, with its whipping whiskers, back in the canal after a brief conference with his fishing buddies.

Garcia, a Calexico native with three kids and a wife sleeping at home, was out with his friend Richard Ramos on the Central Main fishing for "cats" as they have done since they were 6 years old.

It was just after midnight Sunday when the fish was caught.

No moon shone down on the pair and what stars could be seen were obscured by a haze and millions of lights twinkling along the border.

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Perfect.

This is the best time for canal fishing for these guys and many others in the Imperial Valley, who enjoy relaxing in the comparative cool of the evening and fishing for "cats."

It's also a good time, they said, to take a break from the demands of home.

Ramos and Garcia, in their early 30s, both have three kids and a wife.

While they love their families, they come out to the canals every two weeks or so to take a break and relive a bright spot of their childhood.

Before the 4-pound catfish was caught, the guys had moved their fishing spot down the canal a bit during the playing of the Mexican national anthem on the radio at midnight.

They had set up past a drop in the Central Main west of Bowker Road in Calexico.

The fish that Garcia threw back was the first fish caught after the move.

It had struck a yellow-ribbed lure slimed with stink bait shortly after the guys cast their lines.

That was a good sign.

There were many more fish to be had in this spot.

The night was young.

The conversation preceding Garcia's toss was similar to most conversations involving fish.

"That's a good-sized one," Garcia said.

"Me? No, I don't want him," Ramos said.

"Well," Garcia mulled the question, "If I had caught it, I would have kept it but it's your call."

Ah, the classic code of fishing. One has to offer an unwanted fish even knowing beforehand that no fisherman takes a fish he hasn't caught.

Garcia went to the edge of the canal, walking carefully down the side to avoid taking a header on the jagged rocks lining the edges.

Ramos wasn't happy.

He didn't watch Garcia toss back the fish. He looked at his rod and reel and his frayed line wavering in the slight breeze.

"I lost mine," Ramos said. "Took my rig, too. That was a good rig."

He had thrown a line complete with a hefty weight, a tri-barbed hook and some stinky chicken livers into the Central Main.

When the drag of the Penn reel that caught the 4-pound catfish went "click-click-click-click" in a rapid-fire staccato, Ramos had a bite at the same time.

Ramos' "cat" got away.

"Man, I wish I knew how big that fish had been," Ramos said. "It felt like a big one."

His fishing friends commiserated over his loss as he went to the back of his Blazer and re-rigged.

Pretty soon, Ramos had his new setup in the water and Garcia had his in as well.

A small bell rested on Garcia's rod as an early-warning system, all the better for wandering around while a lure twists on the bottom of the canal doing all the work.

"That's the nice thing about fishing for cats," Garcia said. "You can set it and forget it."

(Yes. He recently bought the grill. He's enjoying it, too, he added.)

While Garcia roamed around dickering with gear, rarely sitting, he waited for the sound of his bell.

Ramos didn't have a bell or a reel with an audible clicking drag.

He crouched low like a baseball umpire.

Garcia mimicked the stance.

"What? Oh," Garcia said as he saw what Ramos was examining.

The lights of Mexicali illuminated the tip of Ramos' fishing rod as it gently twitched.

Looking down the bank of the canal it was hard to even see the rod, much less see if there was a fish on the line.

By crouching as Ramos had, the tip could be seen, back lit by the lights of the metropolis to the south.

Ramos walked over to check the line.

It gently hummed under his practiced hand.

"Just the current," he said and walked back to his Blazer.

On this night, Ramos didn't snag the big catfish.

The guys fished for two hours after Garcia threw back the 4-pound catfish.

The one that got away and cost Ramos a rig in the process is still swimming in an Imperial Valley canal.

As the guys packed up Ramos' SUV at 2:35 a.m., they both said they will be back, if not on the Central Main then maybe on the All-American.

Somewhere underwater, a catfish, most likely sporting a tell-tale three-pronged scar on its lip, swishes its tail sending up a flume of canal muck.

It whips one of its whiskers, looking for food.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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