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The Great Outdoors: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION

Dropping a Line

Outdoorsman Discovers Beauty of Northwest While Remembering Idyllic Orange County Days

May 23, 1997|ELLIOTT ALMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than a few Newport Beach winters ago when Keith Shequin used lemon juice to bleach his hair, the ocean did a number on many of us 1970s Orange County surfers. It went south. Turned into Lake Michigan. Stayed as flat as a Mi Casa tortilla for months.

Drastic measures were undertaken.

Shequin started fishing. Fishing from rock jetties at 36th and 28th streets, from the Newport and Balboa piers, fishing for oily, bony bonito, a morsel you don't often see on the menus of fine fish restaurants in the greater metropolitan area.

I got dragged into this endeavor reluctantly. Fishing had never been my forte as I soon displayed the faculty of a flayed worm.

My time usually was spent trying to extricate tangled line while Shequin and other card-carrying members of the 38th Street Gang were showing off their bounty. One time while impatiently fiddling with a rather baffling crow's nest, my hook somehow found its way into the side of a bonito that was being reeled in by another. As I continued to uncoil the snarled line, I pulled one way, the man who legitimately caught the fish the other. I actually thought, and this is the God's honest truth, that I had rights to that foot-long fish. It would have been my first haul. Seeing Rightful Owner was not exactly happy with the situation, Shequin embarrassingly ran over to unhook my line so the man could reel in his treasure. I hope he enjoyed it.

I wasn't asked to go fishing with the guys after that, and until the waves finally picked up in spring, there was a period of separation.

I am thinking about tangled lines and etiquette and a host of other fishing follies as shafts of light blast the snow-dappled Cascades one early June morning.

The water is as smooth as ice cream. We're gliding across it in a 17-foot New Bay without one of those homespun names on the back. Behind us, Mt. Rainier rises above Seattle skyscrapers like a painted Hollywood backdrop. To the right are prominent peaks of the Cascades. To the left are the jagged summits of the Olympics. I used to wake up at this Godforsaken hour to surf and do nothing but surf.

But here I am in the middle of Puget Sound salmon fishing. Yes, fishing. After 35 years of recreating in Orange County, I am being introduced to the wonders of the Pacific Northwest by two colleagues who have asked to remain anonymous.

Mark Yuasa, captain and boat owner, is the Seattle Times' fishing writer. ESPN has climbed aboard for an interview that appeared in the prime-time filler slot of 4:30 Sunday morning. Also along is one of the Northwest's great outdoor writers, Ron Judd, the author and Seattle Times columnist who seems to have an affinity for pounding pesky dogfish into oblivion before tossing them back. Ron insists on a plug for his new book, "Inside Out Washington: A Best Places Guide to the Outdoors," in case anyone is planning a trip to our fair state.

My interest is purely empirical. I am here to make some comparisons about the Northwest in contrast to Orange County where I hiked, mountain biked and surfed for three decades.

For the two locals, I am the fool, the foal, the foil. I wear the scarlet letter of someone from California. They are going to have a good time showing the city boy how real men recreate. After all, there is nothing quite like salmon fishing in Washington to prove your masculinity.

But I am ready. I know this is a test and if I pass, if I happen to actually catch something edible, I might be accepted into this secret society of fish scales and chowderheads. And the day is beautiful. I mean, it looks like almost every day in Orange County. But after a long spring in which the local newspaper reported in a front-page article that it had rained 39 consecutive days--the 39 days I had lived in Seattle--this was something to behold. And my fishing luck was about to change.

By the time we reached our location and Mark baited the hooks, I dropped a line into the blackness and peered over the boat. Within 20 seconds I felt a tug. My muscles tensed. My heart raced. I started reeling.

*

My first fish. My first catch and it's a beauty. It's whitish and wide, more than 12 inches long and flapping above the deck like a go-go dancer. A dogfish, Ron says casually. A bottom feeder. We hate them. He gave the creature a whack and threw it back. I'm distraught. That was my first catch and I expected a little ceremony, not insolence on the part of my new buds.

After a few more of these experiences, I began to understand their reaction. Every imaginable creature is enjoying my bait except salmon.

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