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Kate's Owl and the Marlin 

Greetings, gentle readers.

It has been a while since I regaled you with tales of wonder--usually wonder about how I can get myself into predicaments, but today I have a tale of two creatures. A Suberb Owl and a Big Fish. Oddly enough the adventures happened on the same day in sunny Southern California. How? you might ask. Read on for another Adventure of Kate....

This morning started innocently enough. A cloudless day in the desert dawned outside my bedroom window. I decided to go on a walk of the neighboring hills, as is my custom on many mornings. Upon return to my house I entered, morning newspaper in hand, and prepared to enjoy the news with my morning coffee. Coming out of the kitchen, cup and paper in hand, I saw something run across the living room floor. Something tall. And Brown.

Hmmm. This merits greater attention, so I put down the coffee and the LA Times and wander over to the corner of the living room where it appeared the creature had run. I looked under the couch. Feet. Quantity two. Claws. Talons. Hmmm. I carefully peer over the edge of the couch to see two bright yellow eyes staring up at me from a round head. It was an owl. I checked again. Yep. An owl.

I walk back to the other side of the room, sit back down to enjoy my paper and coffee. The owl wasn't going anywhere and my coffee was getting cold. Finished, I decided to do a bit more research. There was owl shit on the floor. Several places. The owl had been here a while, perhaps even through the night. I checked behind the couch again. Still there, looking up at that impossible angle that only owls can manage. I was fresh out of mice, so I put some cat food on a dish and some water in a bowl and pushed them near to the couch. No need for him to go hungry after all.

I called Tony. "I have an owl in my living room". "Cool" he said. " "you should let it out". The master of understatement. "Would you like to go out on the boat this afternoon?" he asked, the owl subject apparently being covered. I agreed and he said he'd pick me up about noon. I finished my morning chores, showered and ate breakfast, while periodically checking up on the owl. No big movement, just hanging out more or less behind the couch and doing 360 degree turns with his head at irregular intervals.

Tony came and we devised a plan to liberate the owl, utilizing several towels, a broom, and some artfully placed furniture. The owl was actually quite willing and once I opened the doors and showed him the way out he ambled outside. He stood among the roses and, blinking owlishly, looked up at me as if to ask "why did you remove me from my cool and dark burrow and throw me outside"? I actually had a guilt trip at that point and considered bringing him back in but tony intervened and reminded me that I probably didn't want a mouse eating burrowing owl living in my house. Together with a killer cat. He had a point, between the owl and the pussycat there could be only one, and I had a good idea who would prevail. Picking up owl shit was one thing, owl feathers and bones-quite another.

So, the owl situation handled we head off to Oceanside for a half day of fishing. I hadn't been fishing in over a year so I'm looking forward to a non-aviation day of rest. We get there, get bait (live sardines), and get going. It's a beautiful day on the water as well. Warm, clear with (thankfully for my weak stomach) flat water. We are headed out to the 209, a marker point about 1 1/2 hours off shore. About 14 miles out we see the superstructure of an aircraft carrier in the distance. It is traveling at right angles to us and it doesn't appear that close. Oceanside is home to Camp Pendleton, a major Marine base in Southern California and such viewings are not that uncommon. The carrier then makes a slow U Turn and starts carving back across our line of sight. Civilian vessels are not allowed within (I think) 2,000 feet of military, but this monster is still over 2 miles away, so we are not concerned.

The radio cracks and pops and we hear "Fishing vessel approaching Aircraft carrier, please be aware we are conducting exercises in the area today. Please vector 10 miles to the East". Well, 10 miles to the east is going to give us too little time to get to the planned fishing spot and get home before dark. Oh well.

We turn back and see some white splashes in the distance. Porpoises, dolphins, Flipper. A large school. They are not only beautiful and fun to watch, but they often are found traveling with schools of tuna running underneath. The Dolphins and Tuna work together trapping bait fish between them for sustenance--hence the reason that dolphins often used to be caught with tuna while fishing with nets. We catch up with the school, 100 fish easily, swimming and jumping in pairs and groups. Some babies were there--little footballs sticking close to the side of their mothers. Some of the larger Dolphins would actually do barrel rolls while jumping through the air. The bow wave of the boat attracts them, and soon there are 5, 10 a dozen racing the boat neck and neck. I go up to the bow and watch their blow holes open and close with audible pops as they come up for air. I can also hear the barely audible squeaks of the sonar as they communicate with each other.

We start trolling in the school. The dolphins are smart and will not touch lures or baits--they can tell the difference between real and fake. We get a small tuna, maybe 6 pounds, a yellowfin. Good sushi! Another couple of runs and a second is on, this one is larger, maybe 15 pounds and has some fight in it. Each time we stop to catch the tuna the school of dolphin fade into the distance then we speed up and catch them. The school is widespread at this point, maybe 3 miles from side to side, but not thick. They are running steady and fast--heading almost due west--on a mission. After several more unsuccessful runs we decide to leave the beautiful creatures and head back, it's nearing sunset and we're over an hour away from the harbor.

A minute or two after leaving the school one of the reels below (we were both upstairs in the fly bridge) starts stripping line, the drag screaming. Tony says "get it" and I run down the stairs. I look at the rod--it is bent almost in half and line is RIPPING off it. NO WAY I am going to touch this. I call to Tony and he comes down. He takes a look at it and his eyes get big. We've got a BIG FISH on--a Big Eye Tuna, or maybe a marlin! He tells me to grab the pole and gets the other lines in.

I pick it up, it is heavy with the pulled line and the metal butt bites into my stomach and groin. This isn't going to be good. Tony is running to get me a rod belt--a protective leather cup the rod can fit into and I hear him yell in pain. He comes out, puts the rod belt on me (bliss as the metal butt comes out of my groin), and tells me he has broken or dislocated his toe. He shows me. Sure enough, fourth toe (beside the pinky) right foot, 90 degree angle to the rest. I can't deal with it, I've got a fish to catch. He goes into the salon and I hear him yell again. He says he had set the bone. Guys.

I look off to the distance and I see it. Shades of The Old Man and the Sea. A huge Marlin is jumping, leaping, in the distance. WAY in the distance. I look at the reel, 3/4 of the 30 pound line is gone and the fish is still pulling. No good can come of this.

Tony has now limped back up to the bridge and has put the boat into gear--into reverse. We are backing down on the behemoth. Slowly, painfully, I pull the rod up, then as I bring it down I reel in the few feet of line I have gained. My shoulder is on fire. My back is on fire. I'm 10 minutes into the fish. Tony backs the boat, I take in line. I can no longer raise the rod with my left arm--my weak shoulder. I take both arms to raise it, then switch and crank the reel two, maybe three times before I need to start. I'm soaked in sweat. It's 20 minutes. I have to kneel on the floor for a few minutes to release my back--always hanging on to the loaded rod with both arms.

Slowly, slowly, the line comes back on. A few times the fish pulls out line but steadily more line is placed on. It's 50% on now. I need to remember to keep the line moving back and forth on the reel so it doesn't pile up. I'm not sure whether it is sweat or spray but salty tracks run down my face, mimicking tears. 30 minutes. I wish the line would break. No I don't. I'm not sure what I want. I can't quit. I have to land this fish, but it hurts. We are going to release it anyway--that is understood. No reason to keep a marlin, they are much nicer in the water than on a plate anyway. I'm using my right arm almost 100% now, the left one is more for balance. The front of my thighs are numb where I am leaning my weight and the weight of the fish against the boat railing. The fish is almost straight down now. It is unusual for one to dive down like this and it makes the reeling in that much more difficult.

Tony looks down at my reel and assures me that almost all the line is in. I think he is telling me this to make me feel better--keeping me on the hook, as it were, so I don't give up. I'm not giving up, but it's hard. 40 minutes. I've been pulling an unknown but huge weight straight up and down, for over 40 minutes while standing on a rolling platform. I am sure there is a part of my body that doesn't hurt, but it escapes me now. 45 minutes. It's almost dark now, my sunglasses are on my head so I can see the water. My shirt is soaked--both from spray and sweat, and a cool breeze is blowing. Tony is coaching me on how to fight the fish in the dark. It can be done, but I need to help him know what direction the line is going in so he can back the boat up towards it. 50 minutes. I see a white flash. Tony does too. Wait--this doesn't look right, it's the tail.

The Marlin is tail wrapped. And it is dead. Drowned by the steady and relentless pull of the line from bill around body to tail dragging it backwards through the water. It never had a chance. I have been pulling a dead weight for probably 30+ minutes. This complicates things. We weren't supposed to keep the marlin--we're not set up for it, but we don't waste an animals life. If I killed it, I eat it. The marlin is huge. 160 pounds, maybe more. Fat. Long. I have a sore shoulder and I am exhausted. Tony has a broken and/or dislocated toe (we would find later that he had one of each) and is still recovering from his auto accident. How do we get this fish, this dead weight, on the boat?

Tony gaffs the fish with two separate hooks. We each have one gaff. Timing the lift with the swell. One two three LIFT. We get the head out of water, but not the massive body and tail. We try again. It's not going to happen. Plan B. I hold the fish in place and Tony wraps line around the tail and through the mouth and gills. We will try and lift it from both ends. One two three LIFT. Nope, this isn't going to happen either. It's dark. We have a massive fish outside the boat, and we can't get it in. Finally, in another nod to Hemingway, the fish is tied to the back of the boat, side to side, resting just at the water line.

We head back for the harbor, checking periodically that the fish is still riding well behind the boat. Getting in to the slip presents more challenges. We still have a fish we can't lift attached to the back of the boat. Tony backs into the slip, bringing the stern to the dock. We makeshift tie the boat in and Tony calls in the local buddy network. Everyone wants to view the Big Fish and soon there is enough manpower to hoist the beast onto the dock. It's even larger than we originally thought, over 6 foot long and very thick. 180 pounds, maybe more? We're not going to weigh it because the scales are at the other end of the harbor. This will be a bragging rights fish only. This is the largest fish of any kind taken on the boat and the largest (by far) that I've ever caught. It is large even by Southern California water standards. I start feeling better about being a pussy while reeling it in..

I head off to purchase 160 pounds (yes, you read that right) of ice and a disposable camera since neither tony nor I had our expensive digital cameras with us. At the market I throw 20 bags of ice, a six pack of beer, a disposable camera, and first aid supplies (for the toes) into a shopping cart. They never blinked--they must get a lot of that there.

Photos were taken, beers drank and the Marlin was neatly and efficiently reduced to 8 sections of meat, all about 20 pounds each. Two huge coolers are filled with Marlin, ice and tuna while tony and I feast on Burritos. Toes are taped. The little toe appears to be broken, the one beside it was either broken or dislocated and still sits at an awkward angle. He can barely walk as a result.

I am at home now, it's just past 1:00 am, and my arms, neck, shoulders and back all feel as if they are on fire. It isn't pain per se, just the burn of overexertion. I am writing now to try and release some of the energy that I have built up today during my many adventures. I hope that I am not sore tomorrow, but I'm not holding out much hope. The good news is that I returned to an owl-less home, although there are still remnants of owlshit on several tiles. That can wait until tomorrow (later today).

Thus ends another Adventure of Kate. Not bad for a lazy Saturday where I didn't have any plans. I really REALLY hope that Sunday is a bit quieter. I may not leave the house. It really is safer for me that way.

Photos (for proof) attached are of the Suberb Owl, the Big Fish and the broken toe.

Take care all kate




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