As a child, my father used to take me fishing in gurgling mountain streams. Later, I took my own two children—now grown—on ocean excursions for fun. So, accepting my Canadian friend Gordon’s offer of two days aboard a chartered fish boat off Siargao Island wasn’t a bridge very far.
“It’ll be great!” he promised. “It’ll be good for your son.”
Gordon was speaking of Isaac, 12, who’d never fished in his life. And so on a recent Sunday, Isaac, my wife, Ivy, and I arose early to spend the day combing the ocean for food.
It started like most journeys off Siargao’s luscious coast; surrounded by a crystalline blue sea, we felt the sun on our backs and the breeze at our breasts as the nylon lines dangled expectantly behind. Then came the wait. Which seemed to stretch out forever. Until the sun grew oppressive and the surge became a dirge.
Being aboard a 32-foot fiberglass monohull doesn’t leave much space for shade. So the three of us stretched out in back, as Gordon and his girlfriend relaxed at the bow awaiting the day’s first bite. That’s when Ivy threw up.
“Oh,” she moaned, “I don’t feel so good.”
“Try to heave overboard,” I suggested, helping her lean over the side while holding back her hair. And so she did, splattering the ocean with the contents of her gut. Then sank to the deck, there to spend the rest of the day.
It was Isaac’s turn next. “Hey dad,” he inquired weakly, “do you think we could make a quick stop to drop me off?”
I shrugged. “We’re pretty far out to sea,” I said, “so it’s not very likely.”
“I’m panicking,” Isaac announced. “My heart’s beating fast!”
Once again, I made a beeline for the starboard side, this time with my son in tow. “Look at the horizon,” I urged, gently massaging his back, “and think of nice things. Tell me about the games you like to play.”
Isaac spent the next 15 minutes describing, with increasing confidence, his favorite games on X-box, including Call of Duty and World War Z. As he spoke, I felt his heartbeat miraculously begin to slow.
I understood Isaac’s pain, having earlier experienced a momentary panic myself. It happened as I lay resting in the sun, thankfully protected by sunscreen as thick as a shirt.
Still, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no way out. No matter how rough the sea got, how hot the sun burned, or how hard nausea pushed on our insides, we were there for the duration. Which promised to be a very long time.
And it occurred to me then how much fishing is like life. We endure hours of boredom, discomfort, panic, pain, and for what? A few moments of triumphant pleasure that may never come.
It certainly didn’t arrive on this day. “I think the fish took a vacation,” I told the boatman on the dock following eight hours of misery. “Apparently, even they need time off.”
Unbowed, Gordon and his mate vowed to return the following day and try their luck anew, an opportunity we politely declined. Sure enough, the next day they bagged a beautiful eight-foot Blue Marlin sailfish weighing more than 66 pounds.
Seeing the delicious catch, we quickly demanded our share. As I said, fishing is a lot like life.
David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author, essayist, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.