CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C. - The neck-to-shoe floatation suit doesn't look nearly adequate enough. Not for a golf writer with the survival skills of a fourth grader who gets walked to school every day.
Sure, the suit's an embarrassing enough shade of red. It practically screams out: WIMP HERE! The cute Canadian girl who hands it across the counter of Painter's Lodge aquatic center seems to smirk a little when she pushes over the bulky thing. Sort of an I'm so glad I'm not dating you thing.
Of course, I can draw that look in a grocery store, too.
Yes, the suit is awkward enough that it can take five minutes of thrashing about on the dock, as your amused fishing guide stifles his chuckles, to get into it. But it's just not bulky enough. You don't look Stay Puff Marshmallow Man puffed up enough to gain any confidence that it will keep you afloat when you fall from the boat into the middle of the ocean.
In fact, it's sort of flat - like your heart rate will be when you're plunging 180 feet to the bottom as a bunch of fish laugh uproariously. No need for them to stifle their chuckles.
Just look at that boat, too. Who could stay upright in that thing going 35 mph, bucking waves? It's more toothpick than ocean vessel. Just three seats and a motor. Nowhere to hide (believe me, I checked - the space under the seats wouldn't fit a Gremlin, let alone a grown man who over indulged at the dinner table the night before).
You wouldn't need a pissed off sea Goddess to topple our boat. A slight breeze might suffice.
"Ready to go fishing?"
My guide, Andrew Wood, 32 years old with 17 years of experience schlepping tourists around world famous fishing waters, motions to the boat. It's already bopping in the water like a disco dancer, and it's still tied to the dock.
I should note that the last, first and only time I'd ever been fishing before was at a dock during Boy Scout camp. And my Boy Scout career was shorter than George W. Bush's military career. (I went AWOL a lot, too).
So what's brought me to the edge of no water return?
A golf trip of course. Think about it, only on a golf trip would you risk life and limb (not to mention the possibility of a real embarrassing story) on something you'd never try in several lifetimes - if some other golfers hadn't told you it was cool. Golf trips have a way of releasing grown up inhibitions like no regular vacation can.
My wife couldn't have got me onto this water in that dinky boat with a Taser gun and an authentic Geno's Philly cheesesteak. I can get nervous on water taxis. Heck, those swan rides freak me out.
Yet on a golf trip ... I'm in the boat and land's disappearing from view. Fast.
They say fishing is a solitary pursuit. Turns out ... not so much if you're in the red dork-suit clutching the skinny side rail of the boat with a grip that would shatter any of Nike's space-age drivers.
Other boats from Painter's Lodge - and this day, the entire fleet of 50 is in use - buzz by to get a look at the golf dork trying to play fisherman.
I'm a little more concerned about the Celebrity Cruise ship that looks about 15 city blocks long that's headed our way, though. Painter's Lodge uses these small 17-foot boats because they're great for maneuvering into the tight spots, coves and passageways where salmon are found.
Of course, this also means that their boats are easily squashed.
"I haven't had anybody fall overboard in 16 years," Wood says, as if that's going to prompt me to resume breathing normally. "No, I take that back. I've had two people fall in at the dock. Getting into the boat seems to be the most difficult part for some people."
People pay good money to be terrorized by guys like Andrew. Painter's Lodge is one of the most famous fishing resorts in the world, a Vancouver Island spot where John Wayne and Bing Crosby once cast reels.
They don't fool around with baby steps for beginners either. You're in the boat and then you're getting water sprayed in your face as the guide guns the engine. Fifteen minutes later, the shore's but a memory and the guide's dropping the fishing lines 170 feet down into dark water.
Fishing's supposed to be all about waiting. In the waters of Vancouver Island, it's mostly about floating. Rather rapidly. You drive out to a spot in the middle of the water and then silently float back in the direction of the shore, hoping the salmon will be fooled by your bait and take a bite as the boat goes by.
The current's not kidding, though. You cover a surprisingly large amount of water in a little time.
There is a sense of real peacefulness in these moments. You're just a speck in the water - and all you see is water - floating along. It makes you wonder why everyone stresses so much over daily life.
Of course, this also could be the result of jolting yourself out of bed at 5 a.m., wrestling into a supposed floatation suit and drawing a face full of water whiplash before most sane golfers have even stirred from last night's whiskey dreams. You could probably achieve this same sense of strange calm by smashing yourself over the noggin with a two-by-four.
You're fishing, though. On a golf trip.
And Andrew's telling a story about lecherous grandmothers.
"The groups of older women can be the hardest to deal with," he explains. "They go a little wild. They're pinching my bottom all trip long."
If that image is not enough to drive you back to golf ...
Wait. What's this? Tugs on the line. Moments later a fish is in the boat. It looks magnificent. Take that, fishing lifers!
"Way too small," Wood says, casting the creature one withering glance before tossing it over his shoulder back into the water.
There's no way I'm letting this guy near my golf scorecard.
May 28, 2008