We arranged to meet at the Red Hill Marina at the Salton Sea and I asked what time I should meet him there. He said, "About 5:30."
"Um, 5:30?" I asked. "Is that p.m. or is that a.m.?"
I kind of had the feeling it was a.m., but I just wanted to be sure, I mean, he could've made things not as grueling by saying p.m.
He answered by saying it was a.m., but he said it in a tone that made it seem like I was the crazy one.
So we met at 5:30 Sunday morning and briefly discussed my lack of fishing experience before he and I and my photographer boarded his boat and headed out to the open sea.
Ah yes, the sea was angry that day. Angry at what, I don't know. But I had a feeling I would be in for the fight of my life, well, at least for the next few hours.
It was me against the Salton Sea, Eric versus Mother Nature, man against fish and so on and so on.
So we got out a little way from the shore and "parked" Al's boat. He handed me a fishing pole and said we were first going to try to bring in some croaker fish. These croaker are under a foot long and no more than 5 pounds. But it was these small croaker we would use as bait for some even bigger fish.
So I was out there, pole in hand and jerking it like every four seconds to get the lure moving to attract these fish. I was jerking and waiting, waiting and jerking, and nothing.
About 10-15 minutes out there Al reeled in a corvina.
Al didn't know this, but I had planned to keep count of how many fish he brought in versus how many I brought in. I thought it would be kinda cool if I could out-do this ol' fisherman. That certainly would make for a good fishing story.
Anyway, so Al brought in this corvina as I stood on the side of his boat just waiting.
It wasn't until about 20 minutes into it that I finally saw some action. Al got another bite and quickly handed me his pole. I took over and was immediately surprised with the strength of this fish. It wasn't a small croaker that I had on my hands. It was a corvina.
So I wrestled with it. It was in no hurry to be reeled in. It wanted to get the heck out of Dodge as soon as it could. But I would not be denied. This thing was all over the place. I was on one side of the boat when I started bringing it in, then wound up on the direct opposite side.
As I tried to muscle it in I couldn't help but estimate how much this thing would weigh. I was thinking the fish on my line could be "The Big One." Oh yeah, it was a monster all right, a monster that probably weighed 20 to 30 pounds.
I reeled it in and Al scooped it with his net, bringing it on board. I looked this beast in the eye and said under my breath, "I'm the man. Who's your daddy? This is my world. You're just paying rent." OK, so a fish can't pay rent, but you get the picture.
So Al asked me, "How much do you think it weighs?" To which I replied, "I dunno." But inside I knew I had a whopper on the end of my line.
So he busted out his little weighing contraption, hooked it into the hole where my hook was and lets the fish hang to get its proper weight.
"How much, Al? How much? Is it 20 pounds? Is it 30 pounds? Come on, Al," I thought to myself.
So he looked at me and said, "Hey, not bad for your first fish. This thing weighs 10 1/2 pounds."
"Ooohh, hey, not bad at all," I said with a little disappointment.
But in reality it wasn't too bad. I guess I just set myself up for a let down thinking it'd be 20 or 30 pounds.
So that was my first fish. I wanted to keep it and mount it on my wall and maybe name it, but Al had other ideas. Apparently we were just out there to catch and release. So I said good-bye to my Moby Dick.
I had a few more bites that day and brought in another corvina and a croaker, but it really wasn't anything compared to Al's day. He ended up catching like eight or nine fish. He pulled in some corvina, some croaker and even mixed in a tilapia, which he said populates the sea more than any other fish.
All in all, I walked away with my head held high. It was my first time fishing and I pulled in a few fish. Even though Al ended up beating me like 8-3, I can take some solace knowing he's been at it for 50 years and he only caught five more fish than I did.
For me the jury is still out on whether I enjoyed fishing. One thing is for sure, though. For three hours, at least in my head, I owned the Salton Sea.