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Outdoor Tales

February 28, 2002

Watch out for divers

After numerous encounters with divers along the coast I've come to the conclusion that every meeting is an adventure in itself.

Take the time my friend Allan and I were fishing for spotted bay bass in San Diego Bay northwest of the bridge where the big carriers tie up. This was before the tragedy of 9/11 when the Navy didn't care if you fished around its boats.

A deep channel had been dredged to accommodate an aircraft carrier and the bass were stacked up on the edge of the channel. We were having a blast casting in 30 feet of water with 5-inch chartreuse grubs.

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As Allan and I fished I noticed a fluorescent orange ball the size of a basketball floating toward us. I figured it was a small marker buoy that had broken loose and was being carried out to sea by the outgoing tide.

Imagine our surprise when two black heads slowly emerged from the water next to our boat. What first looked like a pair of sea lions turned out to be two Navy Seals piloting a small two-man submersible boat. Without a word, one of the men removed my lure from the arm of his black wet suit and flipped it to me. With a whoosh of air and gurgle of bubbles, the sinister little boat disappeared beneath the water and the small orange ball moved away from us before we could say anything.

The funniest incident, though, happened while fishing near Ensenada. Our fishing lure company was sponsoring a major inshore saltwater tournament and Roy, my sales rep, along with Jack, my sales manager, had towed the company boat down the coast.

The weather was beautiful and fishing was great as we worked an area close to shore, casting to submerged rocks barely visible beneath the surface. On shore a teen-age Mexican boy hunkered down over a sick gasoline motor that belched clouds of blue smoke. It powered an ancient air compressor and each revolution of the motor threatened to be its last. A bright orange garden hose snaked its way from the compressor into the surf.

Finally the little motor breathed its last and died with a wheeze and cough of black smoke. Not 50 yards away, the father of the teen-ager bobbed to the surface and removed a makeshift diving mask hooked to the orange hose. There was no need for translation as he cussed his son, over the crash of the surf, for allowing the motor to quit. Soon blue smoke rose from the compressor as the motor started and the diver disappeared below the surface to continue his hunt for sea urchins, a popular delicacy popular in Japan.

A few minutes later, Jack hooked a husky sand bass that made an electrifying run down the beach before Jack turned it and fought the big fish back to the boat.

We were busy unhooking the fish and were startled by a voice next to the boat, "Señores, you buy lobster?" I greeted him in Spanish and he agreed my meager Spanish was better than his English. When I told him we certainly did want to buy some lobster, he launched himself into the boat with the help of a passing swell.

The ingenuity of the Mexican people never ceases to amaze me. His mask and snorkel were the only things normal. His smallest swim-fin was feminine pink, while the other one, twice as large, was black. His weight belt was made from a set of 1959 Chevrolet seat belts — the lap type, with the button in the center, that you pushed to release the belt. The latch appeared to be rusted shut. Instead of the normal lead weights, colorful flour sacks full of rocks were tied to the belt. Multi-colored foam packing material had been sewn together with fishing twine to form a wet suit and large rubber bands, cut from an inner tube, attached the wet suit to his body.

His lobsters, 20 in all, were contained in an old landing net. A lid, from a 5-gallon plastic bucket, had been sewn to the net and pie-shaped cuts made in the lid to allow entrance to the sack while keeping his catch from escaping. The sack had too many lobsters, though, and when they landed in the boat, the netting split open and lobsters scurried everywhere.

While Jack and Roy rounded them up, I bartered for the lobsters. After five minutes of haggling I got him down to $20 plus the nice fat sand bass we had just boated. The cook at our hotel prepared the lobsters for dinner that night. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating as the waiter came out of the kitchen with all 20 steaming lobsters, arranged like a work of art over a bed of rice, on a gigantic serving platter.

Can three grown men eat 20 lobsters that cost a buck apiece? You bet they can, especially with the help of a few bottles of white wine.

Outdoor Tales writer, Al Kalin, can be reached on the Internet at akalin@quix.net

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