Sunday morning my dad, Jose Sarmiento, died. I hope you’ll indulge me and let me tell you a few memorable fishing stories about this man.
The pier pictured above is in Redondo Beach, WA. That’s where I first started fishing.
It was a short drive from my parents’ house in Des Moines where I grew up. It started out with Zebco rod and reel combos and eventually progressed to old PENN rods and reels. After many outings where the majority of our time was spent with him untangling my birdnested line, we settled into a routine. We’d go at low tide and I’d go under the pier with a bucket and harvest mussels off the pier pilings. If I got lucky, I’d find some candy bait of green centipede-ish looking worms among the mussels. As the tide came in, we’d cast out the pile worms and set that pole aside. Meanwhile, we’d smash up some mussels and chum the water below us. I’d bait a hook on a hand line setup and wait for the striped surf perch to come in. Dad had a length of clothesline rope that he tied to a fish stringer (left) that would allow us to keep our catch fresh in the water. On a good day a flounder would bite the worm and we’d take home a little variety.
When I was 10, I got to go on my first boat trip. My mom had won a raffle at her school (she was a teacher) for a buy-one-get-one ocean salmon trip out of Westport, WA. I caught a 12-pound silver and my dad got seasick. That first salmon really turned me on to the possibility of what you might be able to catch from a boat and fueled my fishing imagination.
I was hooked for life.
Occasionally, we’d freshwater fish, but it didn’t happen too often. One time we went camping at Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington. We setup camp along a stream that fed into the lake. The first day there, I amused myself all day long trying to catch sucker fish that I could see in the stream. They didn’t want to bite my salmon eggs, or orange bait marshmallows. The next morning, I got up before dawn, grabbed my pole and headed upstream. After a great morning of fishing, I returned to camp and was frying trout before my parents had gotten up. My dad was surprised I had been so successful and asked me to show him where I caught the fish. After breakfast, I retraced my path with my dad in tow. I beamed with pride when I got to the spot.
“Joe, you can’t fish here. This is a trout hatchery!” Doh!
When I was 15, we went on an epic fishing adventure. My dad had met an angler from Port Hardy…a little fishing village at the northern tip of Vancouver Island (Canada)…at a regional Lions Meeting. My dad’s new friend invited us up to go salmon fishing. I will never forget that trip. It was like being in the middle of a National Geographic episode. While we caught limits of king salmon, orca patrolled the waters around us feeding on the schools of salmon. Meanwhile, bald eagles cruised the skies above. We watched them dive bomb unwary salmon and clutch their catch in their talons as they returned to their nest to feed. That was the last fishing trip I remember with my dad before I left for college.
During college, then eventually joining the workforce and starting a family, I lost my passion for fishing. I still fished, but it happened infrequently. In 2007, I took my young family up to visit my folks. I think my son Jacob (who was 7 at the time) reminded my dad of those days fishing when I was the same age. He suggested that we take Jake to a nearby trout farm. Jake had so much fun that when we returned home to Southern California, he would constantly bug me to take him fishing. Like my dad had done with me, we started out at the piers (usually Venice) and worked our way up to fishing on the boats. Through my son, Dad had reawakened my passion for fishing. In December of 2010, I started the SoCalSalty blog, which eventually led to me writing here on Bloody Decks.
Yesterday, I was out fishing on the Native Sun. We were on the hunt for yellowtail at Catalina, but they didn’t want to cooperate. Late in the day, Capt. Jeff Walker found some fish. A couple anglers hooked up, but one was lost to a sea lion and the other was lost to the rocks.
Just before we had reached the island, I had signal and called my mom to wish her happy Mother’s Day. That’s when I found out that my father had passed. As it has many times over the years, I found peace in working to get bit. Early in the day, I was fishing a live squid on a sliding sinker setup and got bit amongst the hidden kelp below the boat. I had a good bend on my pole, and thought it would be a nicer sized calico bass. It turned out to be a bright red and black bull sheephead aka That Damn Fish. When that last yellowtail broke off, I realized I had probably won jackpot and sure enough I did.
Maybe Dad had a hand in breaking off that last fish?
I don’t know about that, but it seemed appropriate that on the day he died I would take jackpot on a fish that has so often thwarted me.
About 5 years ago, my parents had come down to visit. I asked my dad if he wanted to go fishing. “You know Joe, I’ve never told you this, but I really don’t enjoy fishing.” He did it all for me. I love you so much Dad. May you rest in peace.
Go out and make some fishing memories with your loved ones while you can. Good luck if you get out there.