Call me Ishmael.

It is perhaps the most well known first line in American literature from Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. It’s a line I often repeat but never out loud. Call me Ishmael. It will come to mind each and every time I hold a fishing rod in my hand. Each and every time I cast. Each and every time my fingers smell like bait. Each and every time I or someone yells “Fish on!” And each and every time I step out back to ManCamp and look out over the canal.

While Melville’s Moby-Dick is about one fisherman’s obsession with catching that big one, the one that always seems to get away, it’s not really why I recall that line when I’m out fishing. Although, to be honest, I find a certain resonance to the line. A certain delicious irony.

I recall that line because I love fishing and the man who happens to have taught me how to fish, and all that it encompasses, is named Ismael. He is my Godfather.

Each and every time I’m standing at the water’s edge at Mancamp, or on some seawall in the Keys or on a friends boat out on the ocean, rod in hand, attaching a piece of bait onto a hook, I remember Ismael, my Padrino, calmly kneeling down beside me on the seawall at El Farito, showing me exactly how to hook the slimy little chunk of smelly bait so it wouldn’t fall off.

Each and every time I cast out a line I remember Ismael’s arms around me from behind, teaching me how to hold the rod, showing me how to swing it’s tip, back and forth, with his finger over mine on the line in front of the spool, Una, we’d swing, dos, we’d swing y tres…And we’d let go of the line on that last swing and the bait and tackle would fly out in front of us, plopping farther than I could imagine, sinking down into the depths, hopefully luring some unsuspecting fish into becoming our lunch. I’d look up at him and smile, he’d smile back while still clenching his cigar between his teeth, his thick, straight black hair bushing out under the sides of his roll-up fishing hat. The same hat he wore every year when they’d come down from New Jersey on vacation. His lucky fish stained fishing hat.

“Ten pasiencia,” he would say. Be patient. And then he’d walk over to his rod, hook the bait, and cast out much much farther than our cast.

Call me Ishmael.

Through him I learned that fishing requires patience not only in the wait for a bite, but patience even if you feel a small tug on the line. “You have to let him take the bait, niño.” And then, of course, the patience to reel in your fish slowly but not too slowly, so you dont snap your line, so the fish doesnt sneak in under a rock, so you dont accidentally pull the hook out. Patience, Call me Ismael. Patience.

And every year, come summer time, I was giddy with anticipation. Tio Ismael would be here soon and I’d get to go fishing. I rode my bike many an early summer down to the local Zayre store and spent my allowance on hooks and sinkers. On lures and tackle. On 12 lb test and leaders. Waiting, impatiently, to wait patiently.

The first time I ever went deep sea fishing, on a boat far out in the ocean, was with Tio Ismael. And even though I got seasick, green to the gills and didnt get to fish or catch a darned thing, I couldnt wait to go again. I was fishing with my Godfather and for me there was just nothing in the world better than that.

Padrino and I fished from seawalls and boats. From the shore at early morning or at dusk. Night fishing, pier fishing. Every single kind of fishing imaginable. Every summer, whether others came along or not, it was me and Ismael, the fishermen.

Call me Ismael, but not just because I’m a fisherman.

My wife and I closed on our home the first week in August a few years ago. It was a Friday when we were handed the keys and the first Saturday as a home owner I spent getting a few things done to the house. I tore down parts of a fence and built and installed a gate. I changed locks and painted. Moved in some furniture, made a few trips to the dump. All the while knowing that the canal was out back, hidden behind the dense Florida Holly shrubbery that was overgrown and unattended for years. Fish ladden water beckoning me.

“Tomorrow,” I remember promising myself that Saturday. “Im gonna cut through some of that brush and drown a worm or two.”

And that’s just what I did, too. After a few moves of furniture and boxes that Sunday morning, I decided to tackle some of that dense shrubbery that hid the canal. I went out there into the August Miami heat, machete in hand, with a vengeance and a fishing purpose.

I started to cut a path into the brush and after a few minutes of swinging the machete and piling up branches and twigs, I hear my wife call out from the house “Your parents are here. And they’ve got a surpirse.”

I made my way out through the brush, sweat pouring from every pore, nicks and cuts all over my arms and face and legs, and lo and behold, there was my Padrino Ismael and my Tia Ondina. They were flying back home a little later that evening and since we had just been in the process of buying the house, we hadnt had much time to spend with them. “We came to see your new home.”

Of course, while my wife and I gave them the grand tour to the house and property, all I wanted to do was show my Godfather the canal. My brand new, very own, private fishing hole. The one that still beckoned from behind the brush.

“Tio,” I said pointing out towards the canal. “Lo mejor es que tengo donde pescar.” The best thing is I have a place to fish. “I was just cutting my way through the brush to get to the canal.”

No sooner had I said that than Padrino took off his nice travel-back-home-via-airplane shirt, grabbed the machete that I’d stuck into the ground and he attacked the dense shrubbery hiding the canal. My old man followed suit.

So there we were, the three of us – my Godfather, my father and me – working in unison for hours, chopping and cutting, dragging and dropping, pulling and yanking away at the Florida Holly brush that covered my private fishing hole in my brand new home.

And when we’d cut and removed just enough of the shrubbery away for us to walk straight up to the canal’s edge, my Godfather went to the car and came back with one of his fishing rods. He asked for a piece of bread which I quickly ran to the kitchen to get but we had none. All we had was crusts from yesterday’s pizza. I went back to the canal with a piece of pizza crust, Padrino took it from my hand, cut a little piece off and he hooked it on. He dropped it into the water and not a minute later had caught a fish.

The man that had taught me to fish with the patience of a fisherman had just caught the first fish from my own private fishing hole. Mi Padrino me bautizo la pesca.

I may not get to see my Godfather this summer. He’s been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and may not be able to travel down to Miami on vacation this year. But at least I get to fish with him. Every single time I step foot in what is now ManCamp, I remember him wielding the machete. Every single time I cast a line out into the water I think of him and his pizza crust bait. And every time I catch a fish I dont really need to remember him as every time I fish, I know he’s with me.

Call him Ismael.

7 thoughts on “Call me Ishmael.”

  1. Beautiful narrative. I suggest you pick up “Hemingway on Fishing”. It’s a collection of all of Ernie’s essays and short stories on fishing. You’d love it.

    Again, if you really love fishing, you need to fish the 10,000 islands from a flats boat.

  2. Scintillating reading, Val. You have a true gift. I was riveted – as I always am when you write stories – and it never matters what the topic is. It’s just beautiful work!

  3. I hope your Padrino has a speedy full recovery and many more happy fishing trips in the future. As usual, your writing goes straight to the heart. You do indeed have a gift, thanks for sharing. Un abrazo, Z.

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