Twelve-year-old Juan Cervantes was looking green even before he stepped into the shuttle boat that took him to the 125-foot Isle of Redondo fishing barge anchored almost a mile offshore.
"I'm so nervous," Juan complained early on a Saturday morning as he clutched a 6-foot fishing pole in one hand and desperately covered his stomach with the other. "I've never been in the ocean before," the Nimitz Junior High School student groaned.
"Don't worry about it," laughed 13-year-old Richard Molina, who was as much a fishing and boating novice as his longtime friend. "So what if you get a little seasick?"
The two then turned to listen to Bell-Cudahy Police Lt. Stephen Webber as he gave a few pointers on casting, baiting and tying hooks to the dozen other junior high schoolers from the Bell, Cudahy and Huntington Park area who were about to embark--most for the first time--on an ocean fishing adventure.
"Here's how you tie an improved cinch," Webber told the youngsters crowded around him on the narrow Redondo Sport Fishing Pier. As newly indoctrinated members of the Bell Fishing Club, they watched Webber deftly twist the monofilament line between his middle and index fingers.
Pulling the end of the line with his teeth, he muttered, "Now loop it and pull it straight down." With the hook secured to the end of his fishing pole, Webber began helping the students tie their own hooks and master the mechanics of their complicated fishing reels.
The Bell Fishing Club is the brainchild of Webber, an avid fisherman. The club was formed in April, 1987, as one way for Bell youngsters to get involved in an activity that takes them far from the crowded streets of the small Southeast city.
Many of the youngsters who take the trips come from low-income families that could not otherwise afford to send them to a night at the movies, let alone an all-day fishing excursion, Webber said.
The fishing club had visited a number of local lakes and ponds stocked with small trout. But this trip was the first time the club had ventured to the ocean. The day of fishing cost $260 for the tickets, lunches and pole rentals, all of which was paid out of donations by various private organizations, Webber said. The youngsters pay nothing.
Webber said raising money for the fishing club "at times got real discouraging." Hundreds of solicitation letters were sent out to prospective donors--with few results. "It took a long time, but I think we got things rolling now," Webber said.
"The point is that these kids deserve to see new things and have a good time," said Webber, as he moved from youngster to youngster, pulling hooks from caught fish, untangling lines and helping them polish their casting techniques.
Bell-Cudahy officer Julian Leyva, one of six adults who also made the trip, said he was impressed by the club idea and has offered his time as a chaperon for the outings.
"I grew up like most of these kids," said Leyva, who was reared in a poor section of East Los Angeles. "You never went anywhere because your family couldn't afford it. You never learned to fish, you never learned to ski. You missed so much.
"Now when these kids get money, let's hope they think about buying fishing gear instead of drugs," Leyva said as he watched the young anglers excitedly pull up an assortment of mackerel, smelt, bass and rock cod. By the end of the day, the group had hooked 60 fish, ranging from 8 to 15 inches long.
Within minutes after Juan arrived on the fog-shrouded fishing barge, he caught the first fish of the day, a foot-long mackerel.
"Hey! This ain't so bad," he declared as his early fear of getting seasick quickly dissipated. "This is real fun."
As the day wore on, the screams of excitement over a caught fish were heard more frequently. Twelve-year-old Bibiana Barajas caught her first fish ever just before the group broke for lunch. The fish was a 15-inch mackerel, one of the largest of the day.
When asked if she was going to eat it for dinner, she answered, "Sure! Are you kidding?" When asked if she was going to clean and prepare it, she scrunched her face disgustedly. "No way. My mom is going to cook it!"