The last time you went fishing was 1989.
Few might call it fishing, more a tag-along with Cub Scouts. Troutdale's stocked ponds didn't offer the Huck Finn day you hoped. You had sought bonding of the brethren, and got a den of wusses instead. But you banished un-Scoutlike thoughts because you knew they were only 6.
Now you've got a daughter who you have managed to put off for 51 weekends. She still wants to fish. But you have puked six ways from Sunday on every vessel between Catalina and Key West.
Why not try a pier.
Malibu's Paradise Cove once boasted a 700-foot pier from which more than 100 skiffs a day were launched. Sport-fishing boats reaped albacore and barracuda, cabezon, corvina and calico bass, halibut and rock cod from waters near Point Dume. In 1983, a storm sliced off two-thirds of the pier. Locals were bereft at the loss of the big boats, two of which joined the fleet at Cisco Sportfishing in Oxnard. But you are not complaining. The pier is now just your size.
You drop down the coast to Wylie's Bait Shop. Ginny Wylie's grandfather opened the 10-by-12-foot shack just after World War II. It's not much bigger now.
Ginny steers you clear of surf-fishing and fresh-water gear, selling only what you need. Her partner, Bob Varnum, empties WD-40 into your rusty reel, strings your lines, ties on leaders, adds sinkers and a couple small hooks to your sorry-old poles, then gives you a casting lesson. But don't tell a soul. He wouldn't want folks knowing he's a saint. You leave with an $18.65 fishing license, a regulations booklet and a tide chart.
In Wylie's tiny parking lot, you practice casting. Pretty good, except you've snagged the windshield wiper on a Jaguar.
Before sunset, you and your girl arrive on the pier with a bucket of ocean water, nail clippers to cut line, long-nose pliers to extract the hook, a paring knife, spare hooks and sinkers, rags, juice boxes, Bubble Yum, sweatshirts, and bits of frozen peas, anchovies and shrimp. You deem baby wipes are overkill, but know to pack a sprayer of cologne.
Bait technique follows the rules of dieting and make-up. Small bits are best. You wouldn't glob on any cosmetic and expect good results. With the focus of surgeons, the two of you proceed.
And then you wait. You drop line to the west. To the east. To the south. Before you perform the entire macarena, you start to think maybe you're no good at this. The line snags on the pilings. Fish nab your bait. You mistake the motion of current for a bite. You reel in seaweed.
As if on cue, a pair of dads shows up and offer advice on how to perfect your casting skills. Then they disappear before your daughter's aim goes haywire. The child casts into your line. You untangle it. All confidence and laughter, she tries again. Misfortune. You point her up toward Allah, mumble something from "Aladdin" and give the go-ahead to cast.
There are no genies. No matter how many necklaces you've untangled, you can't fix the mess of line at your feet. Neptune wins.
Off the deep end does not begin to describe where you go. You start over, but nothing helps you remember what goes where or how. That little clasp that connects the sinker is lost. You wail to the knot god.
Her eyes say you are scaring the fish. Now you tie weight, fasten hooks and bait line faster than she can say, "moron." This time you have her cast off first. She is splendid.
Later that night, you stare at a pile of do-dads on the living room floor. Hector the cat stares, too. Cross-legged, you discover that reassembling your rig is quite relaxing. Hector finds it fascinating--and he flees with a 4-inch line of hook in his cheek. The animal has survived the upper-bunk-bed toss and the rooftop fling. He has dodged owls, coyotes, leukemia and inadvertent electrocution, each of which befell his companions. Hector will not expire on your watch.
You scoop him up and deliver him to your husband. This is why some things are called do-dads. The hook is only fur deep, and Hector lives.
The next day, your little mermaid bounces down the pier alongside her father, with a calmer mom in tow. Dad catches a fat Tom cod with his daughter's tiny rod. He catches a small calico bass with Mom's big rig. The bass is beautiful. Because the Tom, a bottom dweller, is not good eating, the fish is returned to the sea.
Meanwhile, a young man who has been catching fish nearby is becoming visibly irritated.
Little Miss Motormouth, it seems, does not please the perch catcher. Whether he was lost in reverie or contemplating philosophy, his reaction has made it clear to your second-grader that catching fish isn't necessarily the path to bliss. It is an important lesson, given that neither of you has yet to pull one creature from the deep.
Troutdale's ponds start to look good. You remember what it was like to get a nibble. There's no need to chop squid, herring or mussels, or even lay eyes on a blood worm. The secret bait is corn.
Paradise Cove Pier, 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Hours: sunrise to sunset. Parking $15, walk-ins $5. (310) 457-1438.
Troutdale, 2468 Troutdale, near Agoura Hills. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends. $3 entry includes bait and tackle. Small fee per fish. Wheelchair accessible. (818) 889-9993.
Wylie's Bait Shop, 18757 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Hours: 6 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays; 5:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 a.m.-4 Sundays. (310) 456-2321.