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The Seven Seas : Southern California and beaches. Like Mom and apple pie, right? Well, sometimes they're not all Beach boys and babes, as we discovered during visits to seven waterfronts. (Consider the oceanless beach in San Bernardino County.) Sometimes they're havens for stars and starfish, the fishing set or bodyboarders. Or they can be a place where a longtime Angeleno hasn't take a dip for many years. : The Magic of a Rod and Reel : Point Mugu

August 17, 1994|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cloud rolls in from the ocean like a long, thin tornado spinning maniacally on its side, wrapping around and stretching into the distance like the tail of a dark serpent. High above, a bird, possibly some sort of hawk, gracefully surfs the wind with awesome speed.

The head of the serpent approaches quickly; the wind gathers intensity, pushing hard against my chest, and the temperature drops suddenly, practically stealing my breath. Cars pull to the shoulder as drivers are blinded by dust whipping across the Pacific Coast Highway at Point Mugu.

The littoral serpent passes quickly, taking its lightning with it, and restoring the day to its morning calm. The ocean is a mysterious place.

I do not know the ocean well. We are largely strangers, and I maintain a comfortable distance when I sit with a cup of coffee and read or write or watch for pelicans plunging into the surf. I did not grow up near so much water. I do not swim or surf or boat, so there is little chemistry between us, except that listening and looking at it prompts a sense of tranquillity, the same feeling I get when I lay upon the ground and see the stars above Colorado, where I am from.

Now that I live in Los Angeles, I sometimes drive to the ocean on Sunday mornings, when it is quiet and the streets are uncrowded. The quiet is why I go. From my apartment, I hear car alarms, sirens, helicopters and motorcycles that seem to scream in pain late at night.

The quiet of the beach is not silence, it is the music of leaves rustling in the night, a soothing song that flows gently from the harp.

At Point Mugu, there is a tiny beach reduced to the size of a small back yard at high tide. It is bordered by rocks good to sit on. Often there is someone fishing, which I find to be my only connection to the ocean. It is something I understand, and it brings memories to me.

I grew up on a farm in Colorado, and when I was young and awakened to rain splashing against my bedroom window, I would anxiously rise to search out my father. If he was out in the fields, it meant not enough rain had fallen to stop our work.

But if he was digging worms, it meant the fields were too muddy, and so we went fishing. My father would drive, my mother would sit in the passenger seat. Because I was the youngest, I would be seated, without discussion, uncomfortably between my brother and sister in the back seat. I later learned that by feigning car sickness and threatening to vomit, I could sit in front.

Sometimes we would fish streams and rivers, sometimes lakes. Our poles were old but for the most part functional, and we often caught fish. Only my father's pole was relatively new, and I remember thinking it was probably the most valuable thing our family owned. It felt good in your hands, like the steering wheel of a fast, new car.

Down the coast from Point Mugu, campers at Thornhill Broome Beach are packing up colorful tents as they wind down their weekends. Farther down, Mike Harris and Linda Geist are waiting for the waves to calm before recasting their lines.

Geist grew up in Colorado. She, too, says she is connected to the ocean through fishing, but this is not fishing as I remember it. Geist and Harris are catching fish I have never heard of. Best bait, she says, is blood worms, mean and bitter creatures with sharp teeth. I have never heard of worms with teeth. There is strangeness to all this.

She wades into the water, casts, walks slowly backward and rests the pole against a forked stake pushed into the sand. This is the part of fishing that is most familiar to me: She sits in a chair behind the pole. And waits.

Those who fish for trout with flies lay claim to artistic virtue, a sense of poetry and superior skill over those who fish with bait. It doesn't bother me that they think so, and perhaps they are right. But what I admire about those who fish from shore with bait is their patience. I think it is a form of meditation or at least introspection that has nothing to do with catching fish.

Geist, 34, and Harris, 39, have caught five fish since yesterday, one of which is the length of a finger and being used for bait. They are going to eat them when they get home.

Harris works in his father's business. Someday, he expects, it will be his. They sell and install communication systems in churches and truck docks and places like that. It's a lot of pressure being in business for one's self, he says. A lot of pressure.

Here he can unwind. Even if the fish aren't biting, it is pleasant and relaxing. Sometimes Harris and Geist play cards when the fishing is slow. They slept on the beach the night before and Harris worried about transients. Never had to worry about that when he was a kid. The world has changed, even here.

Up the beach, a man with bronze skin, big muscles and a tattoo is playing with his pit bull in the water. A woman with blond hair sits back by the rocks reading the newspaper. The man seems more interested in the dog than the woman.

A couple guys with bodyboards are bobbing around in the water. On shore, umbrellas are springing up like colorful mushrooms, as the sky clears. Sailboats appear in the distance. Behind us, cars are arriving, their doors and trunks popping open practically before the cars are completely stopped.

Harris and Geist say they will return home to Rancho Cucamonga before too long, after a couple more casts. Harris baits his hook and whips it toward the horizon, the lead weight breaking the surface with a silent plunk.

He backs away from the water, tightens his line and steadily holds his pole, the tip up high. He sits on the sand rather than the chair a couple feet behind him. In front of him is his pole, this mysterious ocean and many strange fish that are not hungry right now.

Behind him is the rest of the world.

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