I grew up in the Imperial Valley, California. A wide bowl of desert dotted with fields of crops fed by an extensive irrigation system of canals. In elementary school, we had a “Dippy Duck: Don’t Swim In Canals” program because the water looked placid on top but had strong undercurrents.
When I was around six years old, my father decided to introduce me to fishing. We headed out to a canal, driving along a dusty road next to a field in his beat up white truck. When we got out, I smelled the salt and water and watched as burrowing owls, who’d dug their holes into the banks, looked at me with their big eyes.
Of course, I had no idea about the mechanics of what we were doing. Dad handed me a fishing pole and helped me throw the line out into the muddy brown water, then went to fix his own pole. Immediately, something grabbed onto my line and pulled. At my age and size, it felt like a whale was dragging me down the bank. I yelled for my dad that I had a fish…and he didn’t believe me.
This was a real dilemma. He was still putting some bait on a hook and I was getting dragged down the steep, dirt embankment toward what Dippy Duck had told me was certain death. I began to squall like a fire alarm as I got closer to the water and my dad finally looked up from what he was doing, dropped his gear and ran for me. His big, strong hands closed around my fishing pole and he showed me how to turn the reel that brought in a five pound catfish.
Well, my dad was so proud. He took what seemed like a zillion photos of me with that fish, popped it in a cooler and showed it all over the neighborhood. We never did eat it, because by the time he was done bragging and showing off what his little girl caught, it had spoiled.
Over the years, we cast bobbers into mountain lakes and lost lures in streams, caught on undergrowth. We pulled in trout, perch and bass together and watched the sun come up as mist rose from a lake, coloring it in vivid pinks and yellows.
But the excitement of near-death combined with the love and pride of my father makes my first fishing experience the most unforgettable of them all.