My memories of fishing
in Venezuela begin at a very young age…..
The rainy season was upon us again
with torrents of rain falling from the dark sky accompanied
by flashes of lightning with the thunder rolling in and out
again like a freight train passing in the distance. Hollywood
was a rather new camp at this time and the only provision
for drainage were ditches on each side of the camp streets
which were really insufficient to handle the large quantities
of rain that fell, so they would fill up to the brim and in
some cases overflow across the streets.
This was one of my favorite times of
the year because while Dad was at work, Mom would permit my
brother and I to have full run of the camp and there was nothing
better than running barefooted down the flooded streets with
my close friends, Palmer Bazemore and Mike Peters. I guess
I was about four years old at the time. The thrill of the
falling cooling rain and the water was exhilarating.
Another thrill was attempting to catch
the small fish that because of the high water and a poor floor
control system were able to swim up from the lake. These were
very small fish and they presented a challenge to us as we
tried to scoop them into empty mayonnaise jars or KLIM cans
using the strainers that we took from our mother’s kitchens.
We would keep the fish for a while in jars in our rooms at
the house. They seemed to disappear when we lost interest
After Dad was transferred to Campo
Verde, Tia Juana in 1949 with both my friends’ families
following shortly thereafter, we eventually discovered that
the camp had a flood drainage system no more effective than
that of Hollywood. The small camp consisting of about four
streets and no school and was prone to flooding every rainy
season. The camp had been constructed in a marsh area next
to the lake shoreline and at that time there was no obvious
dike. When the company dredged its harbor it deposited the
sand in the area where the camp was built filling in the marsh.
So the land along the lakefront that had not been built upon
consisted of sand and was referred to as “the dredge”.
Razor grass grew well there along with other vegetation including
burr grass. There were no trees, just low shrubs here and
Campo Verde was a beautiful camp having
most of its houses on elevated concrete stilts to avoid flooding
and had been fully landscaped with mature coconut palms painted
with white lime at the bases and a variety of flowering shrubs,
mango, mamone, tamarindo trees, guayaba and an assortment
of fruit bearing trees. It was a child’s paradise.
Anyway, the street ditches discharged
into a main ditch which ran parallel to the lake and into
a large basin - more like a pit - which was pumped discharging
into the nearby lake. This flood surge basin was a young fisherman’s
delight. My friends and I would take white bread for bait
from our mothers, heavy cotton string which was used for flying
kites and itsy bitsy fishing hooks and off we would go to
the basin. There we would find a spot near the water where
we could not fall in and then take a piece of white bread
rolling it into a dough ball between our fingers with the
assistance of a little spit and lower the hook into the water
where we could see small flat-sided fish swimming about. The
fish were no larger than the palm of our hands and weren’t
even edible as far as I know. I never ate one, but the thrill
was just catching them and then comparing the sizes to see
who caught the largest fish.
We would do this for hours under that
blistering hot sun, wearing just shorts with Keds on our feet
and no shirt, or hat. Always in the background was the hum
of the motors and rhythm and squeal of rubbing metal from
the pumping jacks that endlessly nodded and dotted the dredge
accompanied by the ever present stink of spilled oil that
soaked the ground around the pumps. Damn, it got hot!!! I
hated the long stifling hot walk back to the camp which was
way off in the distance. This was the days before we had bicycles
and even then the ride back to camp was always long and stifling.
So, time passes and we approach our
early teens and the Company management is beginning to think
more about how to provide entertainment for its employees
and their children. We now had a nice staff school and a brand
new country club which was the envy of the other camps and
on Sundays, the Company provided a work launch for fishing
excursions out onto the lake.
Dad did not fish; I don’t think
he liked the lake at this point in his career – too
many years on the lake. Anyway, Bill and I liked to go fishing
and we prepared for it by purchasing fresh shrimp off the
fish truck which came through camp periodically, having spare
hooks and lead weights and at least two spools of heavy duty
string fishing line. We fished the Venezuelan native way.
So, Dad would drop
us off at the pier where we met mostly bachelors who were
going out to fish. They would load coolers of iced beer
and some sodas and ice for the fish we caught. The Venezuelan
boat crew would untie the boat and take it lazily rocking
out of the harbor. I loved the rumble and sensation underfoot
of the powerful twin diesel engines under the red painted
steel deck access doors – this was one of the new
faster workboats. The hot engine exhaust would boil to the
surface leaving a small short-lived puff of steam and lingering
small of diesel fuel in the air. Everyone would settle down
either in the few deck benches or below deck where there
were additional benches in two rows and the faint odor of
sweaty bodies. I would walk along side of the cabin topside
to the bow of the boat and sit on the roof of the passenger
compartment to feel the breeze on my body as the boat capitan
pushed the twin engine throttles full open. What a treat!!
The launch would speed towards its objective.
At some point, the
capitan would call either Bill or I over and let us take
control of the boat while pointing out a well or flow station
in the far distance that was our fist fishing location.
Now this was a thrill, to guide that huge powerful workboat
at full throttle. When we hit choppy water it was even more
thrilling. The capitan and his crew were down below deck
stretched out sleeping on the benches. When we approached
the objective one of us would call down below for the capitan
and he and his small boat crew would come up and take control
of the boat. I was amazed as his skill as he would approach
the well or flow station platform with the boat rocking
back and forth by swells and he would back it in close enough
for a crewmember to jump to the plantform and secure the
That was when serious
fishing began. If we were at a well, then our objective
was to drop the line close to a piling as the fish congregated
around the pilings. We were way out in the lake fishing
in about sixty feet of water. Bill and I would make sure
the hooks and lead weights were securely fastened and then
we would bait the hook with a shrimp then sitting on the
side of the boat we would drop the baited hook over the
side of the boat playing out the line until we felt the
lead weight hit the bottom and then we would lift the baited
hook about a foot off the lake bottom. Now, if you ever
watched the Venezuelans fish from their skiffs they would
let the rise and fall of the boat and an occasional lifting
of the hand held line as a means of attracting the fish.
Well, that’s how Bill and I fished.
The lead weight was
heavy enough to old the line fairly taunt so when a fish
nibbled on the bait or for that matter rubbed against the
bait you could feel the vibrations and all we had to do
was jerk the line upward. In most cases, believe it or not,
that meant a hooked fish. Since we were not sports fishing,
- the objective being catch fish and get into boat quickly
so you can catch another – we would quickly pull in
the line and bring the fish on board. A real treat was to
catch one of the huge lake perch. The black perch being
most prized. The fish could up to 15 inches long and were
so so tasty!! The next favorite was the corbina and then
the palometto. These fish also could be very big and were
It wasn’t unusual
to catch a damn bagre (a form of catfish), the filth things.
When you got them on deck, you had to watch out for they
had a dorsal fin containing a sharp spine which they would
raise as they bounced about the deck all the while emitting
croaks. I knew of two occasions where my brother in his
haste to get one off his hook, drove a spine through the
sole of his tennis shoe and into his foot. Fortunately he
did not end up with a nasty infection. The second time the
fish spiked his knee while whipping around on his line.
The best way to handle the damn things after you caught
one was to club it to death and then remove the hook. The
slimy filthy things……
would hook something immobile on the bottom and that was
it for the hook and leader and maybe even the lead weight.
I once saw a guy catch a freshwater ray – it was huge.
Another time a guy standing on the platform of a closed-in
well which was about 20 feet above the lake surface caught
and brought to the surface after a long fight with a spinning
road and reel a huge lake catfish. Well, there was no way
he could lift it from the water so he cut his line. Using
a rod and reel to fish in that deep water made no sense
A day fishing could
involve visiting several different wells or flow stations
as we searched for “the” spot and all the while
that glaring sun beat down on you from above and from the
reflecting water surface. At the end the ice chests were
full of fish and everyone was exhausted and the captain
would take the launch back to the harbor. Bill and I would
take our catch back home where Mom would gut and scale the
fish. I would help her, but Bill could not stand the smell
or sight and was out of sight before we even began the work.
The next day, for
lunch, Mom would serve baked fish, scalloped potatoes and
stewed tomatoes with a nice fresh cold salad and iced tea.
Hmmmm….. Life couldn’t be any better than that.