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Poem: "Pick Out the Best Parts" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Pick Out the Best Parts"
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "independent" square in my 1-31-18 You Are card in the Valentines Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by a pool from [personal profile] ng_moonmoth including [personal profile] janetmiles[personal profile] technoshaman, Hal, [personal profile] fred_mouse[personal profile] dialecticdreamer, and EdorFaus. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features scrambling to finish things on time, touch aversion, Shiv taking a while to watch things before trying them himself, Shiv and Halley still being wary of each other but at least interacting now, tactile defensiveness, low self-esteem, distorted thought patterns, panic over dealing with anyone in uniform, praise aversion, insecurity, and other challenges. It's mostly fluff, but the inside of Shiv's head is a mess, so sometimes he stresses out over things more than usual. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Pick Out the Best Parts"

Shiv's phone rang while he was
washing the breakfast dishes.
Glancing at it, he recognized
the phone number as Dr. G.

"Hi doc, what's up?" Shiv said.

"I heard the smelt are running strong,
so we're going to Half Moon Beach,"
Dr. G said. "Would you like to come?"

"I dunno. What are smelt?" Shiv said
as he put the dishes in the drainer.

"They're tiny fish, finger to hand size,"
Dr. G said. "You like cod and tuna,
so you'll probably like these."

"It's fish, I'll like it," Shiv said
with a laugh. "How do I get there?"

"We'll send a teleporter for you,"
Dr. G said. "Dress warmly, in wool
if you have any. We've got waders
to spare, but you'll still get wet. It's cold
in early February, even in California."

Shiv snickered. "California doesn't
get cold, doc, it never even freezes.
But yeah, I found a gray wool sweater
at Nick's Thrifts that actually says
'fisherman sweater' on the label."

"That's perfect," said Dr. G.
"We'll see you in about an hour."

That meant Shiv better hustle
to get ready for his trip, so he
wrapped up the call quickly and
then dove for his bedroom.

In addition to the sweater, he also
had a pair of gray wool socks, but
the only bottoms he'd risk getting dirty
were jeans. Wet jeans were a misery,
but he had survived a lot worse.

His reflective jacket wasn't
winter-warm, at least in Omaha,
but it was really waterproof, and
besides, Shiv was starting to sweat
in his t-shirt and heavy sweater. On top
of those layers, a jacket should be plenty.

Shiv was still brushing his hair when
Junket arrived, making him scramble
to get everything together for the trip.

"Don't worry, I'm on day rate, plus
I get tipped in fish that I can trade
to a Russian friend and get caviar,"
Junket said. "Change of travel order,
because Simon and Tolli are still putting
the beach wheels on Simon's chair."

"Thought he had a fancy one for
the beach from Halley," Shiv said.

"He does, but he's not taking that one
fishing for smelt," Junket said. "Simon
casts a net; he needs something with
heavy traction that can survive surf."

"This oughta be fun," Shiv said as he
slung his backpack over his shoulder.

"And off we go," Junket said, taking
a light grip on Shiv's arm to propel them
over a thousand miles to the coast.

They landed in coarse sand,
a brisk sea breeze throwing
salt spray in their faces.

Most Finns were already there,
and Junket gave them a jaunty wave as
he popped off to fetch Tolli and Simon.

"Tag in, I bought a family license,"
Dr. G said, holding out his vidwatch.

Shiv tagged in. "How much do we get?"

"Catch limit is 20 pounds per person, but
with a family license we can pool those,"
Dr. G said. "Simon doesn't need a license,
and his limit is higher because he's casting a net --
that method is restricted to people with disabilities.
Everyone else uses dip nets or seine nets, so
take your pick of what equipment we have."

"Even the kids?" Shiv said, glancing at
the white froth of waves. They didn't seem
too rough, but he was a prairie kid. He wasn't
sure he'd know bad water if he looked right at it.

"Don't worry, everyone has a role to play,"
Dr. G said. "Elizabeth and I always take out
the big two-person seine, while Aida and Drew
use the smaller one. Heron and Molly like dip nets,
and Halley is learning. Edison is too small to catch
the fish yet, so he puts them in the buckets. Halley
helps with that when thon gets tired of fishing."

"What about Tolli and Simon?" Shiv asked,
wondering where he would fit in too.

"Simon throws and reels in the beach net.
Tolli runs the full net back and forth to dump
Simon's catch in the tub," said Dr. G. "You can
fit yourself into the routine wherever you like."

"Uh huh," Shiv said, uncertain but game to try.
He remembered clamming from last year,
and that had been freaking awesome.

Molly waylaid him to stick a Sunspot
on the back of his hand, covered by
some disgusting gunk to protect it
from the hard work. It dried clear
in a few seconds, though, and
Shiv soon forgot about it.

She also pointed him toward
the waders, waterproof bib overalls
that would keep his bottom half ...
well, dry-ish, Shiv hoped.

At first, he just watched to see
how people were catching the fish.

The Doctors Finn waded out into the waves
stretching a 7-foot walking net between them.
Drew and Aida had a similar one that looked
about 5 feet. Both pairs moved like they
could read each other's minds.

Shiv kind of envied that.
He sucked at teamwork.

Molly and Heron had something
that looked like giant butterfly nets,
dipping and hauling scoops of fish.

Halley struggled with a net
whose handle was longer
than thon was tall.

Shiv rolled his eyes
and said, "Hey, Fizzgig!
You want me to shorten that?"

"Yeah, thanks," Halley said.

Shiv snapped off the aluminum handle
even with Halley's head. "Try that."

It worked a lot better now that
Halley didn't have to haul
the extra weight or worry
about the long end.

Simon was ... impressive.

He sat in a sturdy wheelchair
whose beach wheels looked like
tractor tires, wide and rugged,
to give him traction on the sand.

He wore a vest jacket that
left his arms bare, so that
muscles bunched and rippled
every time he cast the net.

It flew far out over the waves
and then smacked into the water,
falling in a perfect circle.

Then Simon reeled it in,
hand over hand, before passing
the net full of flopping fish to Tolli.

Tolli put it on a plastic sled and
ran up the beach to where Edison
sat beside a big tub. Tolli dumped
the fish on the sand, then ran back
to give the net to Simon again.

Edison rinsed the sand off
the fish and put them in the tub.
"Wanna help?" he said, looking up.

"Uh ... maybe later," Shiv said,
edging away. Fish were slimy.

With a net, he would not
have to touch the fish. So he
picked up one of the dip nets and
tried swishing it through the water.

He came up with two measly fish.

With a sigh, Shiv trudged up the beach
to dump the smelt into a bucket.

"It takes practice," Heron said gently.
"Want me to give you some pointers?"

"Yeah, 'cause I suck at this,"
Shiv said as he headed back
down to the breakers.

"First, watch for the fish in
the water," Heron said, pointing.

Shiv spied a silver glint, and
then some little dark dashes.
"Oh yeah! There they are!"

"Now hold your net like this,
and sweep from behind them,"
Heron said. He was so tall that he
could stand behind Shiv and wrap
his arms around to guide the net.

"I think I got it," Shiv said.

Heron backed off to let him try
on his own, and the next sweep
netted more of the fish.

It still seemed kind of slow,
though. Shiv put his smelt
into the bucket and then
looked at the spare nets.

"Can I try a different style?"
he asked when Drew and Aida
lugged their seine up the beach.

"Sure, take a one-man seine,"
Aida said. "It works like this."
She showed him how to hold
the poles on either side. "Now,
you can either wrap the net around
your fish, or scoop the net upwards."

"I'll try both ways," Shiv said.

He took the seine into the water,
remembering to search for the smelt.

Wrapping didn't work so well for him,
because his arms were too short.

Scooping worked a little better,
but he just wasn't strong enough
to haul the fish without spilling them.

"This is stupid," Shiv grumbled.
"I suck at this. I should've stayed home."

"You're doing fine, Shiv," said Dr. G,
who was hauling a net so full that it
left a wide, deep track in the sand.
"Net fishing takes practice, is all."

"Yeah, but I can't get the net
to work right," Shiv said. "I keep
wanting it to close better, but it won't."

"Hmm, let me take a look," Dr. G said.
"Yes, I see what you mean. It's why
purse seines have a way to close the net.
People lay those in open water, with boats."

"Huh," Shiv said. He picked up the loose end
that he'd cut off Halley's net. "Could I maybe ...
change the net a little? Or is that trouble?"

"Most of the rules relate to the size of the net
and how much fish it holds, or the materials
used to make the mesh," Dr. G said. "If you
are only modifying a small net, then it should
be fine. Just remember you can't throw it."

Shiv looked at Simon slinging his net
twenty feet out over the foaming water.
"Yeah, no. I ain't goin' up against that."

Dr. G laughed. "Then see what you
can do with a handheld seine net."

So Shiv used the aluminum to weave
through the bottom of the net, which
allowed him to pull the poles together
when he had some fish in the mesh.

That worked much better.

It still took a while for Shiv
to get the hang of handling
the net, but at least now he
didn't spill half his fish.

The net was heavy
when it got full, though.

He hiked up the beach
hauling his load of smelt,
only to find the Finns swarming
around some guy in a uniform.

All of a sudden, Shiv couldn't breathe.

Uniforms were bad. He was
supposed to stay out of trouble,
and now he was in trouble, and
this was all Dr. G's fault.

Surreptitiously Shiv ditched
his net full of fish beside
the bucket he was using.

He tried to hide behind
Dr. G, but that didn't help.

"Come on, Shiv, say hello to
Warden Labreche," said Dr. G.
"He's taking care of the smelt today."

"Hello," Shiv muttered to the sand.

"Would you like to show me your net
and fish?" Warden Labreche asked.
He had a soft, cheerful face and
a wide smile, but all Shiv could
think of was staying out of reach.

"Do I have to?" Shiv said,
looking at Dr. G for support.

"He's with me," Dr. G said to
the warden, then turned to Shiv.
"Normally people are expected
to show their take so the warden
knows they're following the rules.
Given your special circumstances,
I can get you out of that if you can't
tolerate it, but you'd miss out on perks."

Shiv just shrugged and looked away.

"Remember, you have a license,"
Dr. G said. "You're not in trouble."

Shiv knew better than to fall for that.
"Then why's he here hasslin' us?"

"Do you like smelt?" Warden Labreche said,
waving a hand at the buckets of fish.

"I dunno," Shiv said. "Never had any."

"Oh, is this your first fishing trip?"
the warden said. "Congratulations!"

Shiv had gone fishing a few times before,
but that was back home, not in the ocean,
and he'd used a pole instead of a net.

"Anyway, I love smelt. Actually I love
most kinds of fish," Warden Labreche said.

"Yeah, me too," slipped out before
Shiv could get a grip on himself.

Sneaky fucker, that warden.

"So my job is to make sure that
people follow the rules when fishing,
to make sure they don't eat up all
of the smelt," said Warden Labreche.
"We need to leave some of them so
they can make more baby smelt."

Shiv gave a grudging nod.
Running out of fish would suck.

"Let me guess, someone else
in uniform gave you heck?"
said Warden Labreche.

Shiv snorted. "More like
everyone in uniform."

"I'm sorry to hear that,"
said the warden. "Maybe
I can make up for it a bit."

"Maybe hell will freeze over,"
Shiv muttered, curling into himself.

Then Halley tugged on his sleeve.

"Don't you want to talk with
Warden Labreche and earn
points for swag?" Halley said,
"I thought you liked points."

"What swag?" Shiv said,
uncurling just a little.

"The California Department
of Fish and Wildlife has a website,
with a section where you can check
your points and trade them for stuff,"
Halley said, pulling out thon's phone.
"I know you collect t-shirts and
reusable shopping bags."

Shiv stared at the screen
as Halley flicked through pages
of handsome canvas totes.

"Ooo," he said softly, pointing
to one with a beach scene that
read California underneath.

"Yeah, that one's really neat,"
Halley said. "You want it?
They're not hard to earn. I've
got ... five, I think? Maybe six."

"So I just, what, talk to the warden
and rack up points?" Shiv said,
looking at Dr. G for reassurance.

"Yes, exactly," Dr. G said
with an approving smile.

Just like that, Shiv was back
on familiar footing and not
panicking anymore. "Okay,
I can do that," he said.

The warden, thank fuck,
went right back to square one,
introducing himself and asking
if he could check Shiv's license.

Shiv touched his vidwatch to
the tablet and heard the ping!
acknowledging his license.

"Here come your first fifty points,"
the warden said. "See, we want people
to buy licenses, and preferably not panic
when meeting a warden on the beach.
Plus it spreads the word when they carry
swag from our department. Bet if I give you
a hand, you can earn that bag you want."

"Maybe," Shiv said, licking his lips.

"Which one of these is your bucket?
Or are you pooling?" the warden said.

"That one," Shiv said, pointing.

"It's almost full," said Warden Labreche.
"You've done well for your first trip."

"I guess," Shiv said. He stared
at the bucket. He hadn't realized
that it was filling up so much. "I uh,
should probably dump these."

Hastily he shook the fish
from his net and added them.

"That should be close to twenty pounds,"
said Warden Labreche. "Pocket scale."
He took out a handle with a hook on it.
"May I weigh your bucket of smelt?"

"Um, yeah," Shiv said.

The warden hooked the handle
of the bucket, lifted it, and announced,
"Nineteen point nine pounds. Good job!"

"Thanks, I guess," Shiv said,
rubbing his hands over his arms.

"Now what about your net?"
the warden said. "What kind is it?"

"Uh ... fish net?" Shiv said.

There were kinds, Dr. G
had even told him their names,
but Shiv couldn't remember.

"It started as a one-man seine,"
Dr. G said helpfully.

Warden Labreche lifted
the net, looking at the poles
and the mesh between them.

"That's interesting," he said.
"The bottom wire looks different.
How does this thing work?"

"You don't have to answer that,"
Dr. G murmured. "If you do, then
I imagine you'll get a lot more points."

"Oh, are the kids inventing again?"
Warden Labreche said with a grin.

Halley and Edison looked at Shiv,
but they didn't make a peep.

"No, it's uh ... mine," Shiv said.
"The net goes like this." He fanned
the mesh wide, then used his ability
to tighten the aluminum wire,
closing the bottom of it.

"Amazing!" said the warden.
"How do you shorten the wire?"

He'd been looking right at it,
but hadn't seen the trick.

Rather than try to explain,
Shiv just pulled off the wire and
set it dancing above his hand.

"Wow," the warden said softly.
"I'm guessing this has something
to do with why you don't feel
comfortable with uniforms?"

"Some." Shiv looked away.

"Well, thank you for sharing.
It looks perfectly legal to me,"
said Warden Labreche. "Do you
have any ideas on tweaking that
so it would work for us naries?"

"I'm not a geek," Shiv said.
"I'm just lazy, and this was
easier than spilling my fish."

"We could help, if Shiv wants,
but he might not want to change it,
and that's okay," Halley said.

"If you decide to try, check out
those Native American A-frame nets,"
the warden said. "I've seen people
try to make those with a center hinge,
but it hasn't worked out very well yet."

"Oh, one of my sister's kids likes that style."
That was Mrs. Dr. Finn. Shiv remembered
the Sankofa Home, and one of the kids
had been from some tribe or other.

"Good place to ask for tips,"
Warden Labreche agreed.
"Okay, Shiv, make a face
for me and we'll sign off."
He handed over the tablet.

On the screen was a scale
of five faces. Shiv hovered over
the middle face, but it still looked
kind of grouchy, so he shifted
to the slightly happy one.

This could've sucked a lot more.

When he handed the tablet back,
Warden Labreche said, "Have
a nice day, sir," and moved on.

Shiv looked around for Dr. G,
who said, "He meant you, Shiv."

"But I'm not a sir," Shiv protested.

"You are to Warden Labreche,"
said Dr. G. "Well done."

"He only was nice to me
because you were there,"
Shiv muttered, digging a toe
into the soft dry sand.

"Seems that way, doesn't it?"
Dr. G said. "Actually, he's nice
to everyone who isn't causing
a problem with the wildlife."

Shiv was maybe shaking a bit,
but he hadn't gotten arrested,
so it had turned out okay.

"Show me how to get
the bag?" he asked Halley.

They poked around on
Halley's phone to bring up
the swag page and Shiv's points.

"Holy cow, you cleaned up!"
Halley said. "You have
enough points for the bag
and a t-shirt or whatever."

"Really?" Shiv said,
leaning over the screen.

"Yeah, here's the family license,
and this is your entry -- points can
be earned individually or collectively,"
Halley said. "You'll have to ping in
before you can spend any, though."

Shiv touched his vidwatch to the phone.
"You know which bag I want," he said.
"What t-shirts do they have on there?"

Halley showed him the page.
There were some with warden stars
that he'd almost rather go naked than wear,
some boring ones with California flags, and
a pinkish one with crabs on the front.

Then Shiv saw the white one with
all of California's state animals.
"Do I have enough for this one?"

"Yeah, and a little left over,"
Halley said. "Okay, I put both
the bag and the t-shirt in your cart.
You'll have to type in an address.
Remember to check the privacy box
if you don't want me to see that,
since you're using my phone."

Thon didn't even look while he typed.

Shiv hit the privacy box, sent the order,
then handed the phone to Halley. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Halley said. "It looks
like Molly and Heron are going back
for more smelt. What about you?"

Shiv rolled his shoulders, surprised
to feel how stiff he was. Then he
looked down at his hand and saw
the green Sunspot fading.

"Better quit while I'm ahead."

"Do you want to help me and
Edison clean fish?" Halley said.

Shiv wrinkled his nose.
That was bound to be gross.

He liked taking care of himself,
though, and especially liked
knowing how to prepare food.

"I guess," he said.

Tolli and Simon had set up
a fish-cleaning station beside
their giant tub of smelt.

"Have you ever cleaned
fish before?" Tolli asked Shiv.

"Not like these ones," Shiv said as he
sat under their umbrella. "Mostly catfish
that you skin, plus some crappie and
sunfish that have to be scaled."

"Panfish, now those are
some good eating," Tolli said.
"Smelt don't take as much cleaning --
you can actually eat them whole, because
the bones and scales cook down. We
like to cut off the heads and guts, though."

Shiv was no way eating fish guts
unless he was starving to death.
"Yeah. Show me how to do that."

"Now, you can use scissors
how Simon likes, or use a knife
like I do," Tolli said. He showed
Shiv how to swipe the tip of the blade
down the belly, flick out the innards,
and then cut off the head. "All that
goes in the bait bucket, and then
the fish goes in the other one."

Edison was currently taking smelt
out of that, rinsing again, and then
packing them in a tub of ice.

Shiv picked up a smelt, which
wasn't as gross as he thought.

First he tried his pocketknife,
and then tried the fish scissors,
but both were too big and clumsy
for cleaning fish the size of his finger.

He sighed. "Can I have this?" he said,
smacking the scissors against his palm.
"I need something to make a blade,
and my play-putty won't do."

"Go ahead," Tolli said. "It'll be
interesting to see what you make."

Shiv sliced off thin leaves from
the blades of the scissors, then
connected them with a loop. He
made little pockets inside the metal
to slip over his thumb and forefinger,
the loop stretching between them
to form a spring for the blades.

They were tiny blades, too,
smaller than his thumb, but sharp.

It was easy to slit the little fish open,
strip out the guts, and snip the head off.
Then all the scraps went one way while
the fish went the other, and he was done.

It took half the time doing it his way.

"Wow," Halley said. "That's elegant."

"It ain't fancy," Shiv said with a snort.
"It's just faster and easier this way."

Halley and Edison looked at each other,
but they didn't say anything. Shiv
wondered what he'd fucked up now.

"What?" he snapped at them.

"I meant it's a good design,"
Halley said quietly. "It's better than
what we found in stores, because they
didn't have fish scissors for little hands.
So you found a brainy solution."

"I'm not a brain," Shiv said.
"I just fool with sharp things."

"Hmm," Tolli said thoughtfully.
"Shiv, have you noticed that
when you want to do things
'the easy way,' usually that
involves making something?"

"Well, duh," Shiv said, rolling
his eyes. "What I get paid for."

He flicked another sliver of metal
off the scrap scissors and then
threw it into a piece of driftwood,
using nothing but his superpower.

"That was a simple blade," Tolli said.
"Those fish snips you just made aren't.
You created two blades and a spring,
with finger cups. Now I make snips in
the forge, but they don't have cups.
You just improved the design of
a very old tool; that's impressive."

Shiv wiggled his butt against
the bench. "It's nothin' special."

Tolli sighed. "All right, if that's
the way you feel, I'll drop it,"
he said. "Clean some fish."

So they sat and cleaned smelt.

Before long, they got so far ahead
that Halley quit cleaning and went
to help Edison rinse and pack fish.

Gradually the other Finns drifted over,
lugging buckets of smelt to clean.
Some of them joined the cutting crew
while others helped with the rinsing.

Drew put up a sign that read, Free Bait.

At once, several women came over
and transferred the contents of
the scrap bucket into a cooler.

"We plan to go crabbing tomorrow,"
said one. "Thanks for the bait."

Shiv liked the fact that nothing
went to waste, even the fish guts.

The work went fast with so many hands
on it, but they still had a lot of smelt
to clean and pack into the ice.

By the time they finished that,
Shiv's belly was gnawing
on his backbone.

"I'm starving," Molly said.
"What say we hit Smitty's?"

The other Finns gave that
a rousing chorus of agreement.

So everyone peeled off their waders,
washed their hands, and trooped
across the beach a ways.

Smitty's Fish Shack turned out
to be a big wooden sign, picnic tables,
and a fat black dude cooking smelt
right out there on the sand.

He had some kind of burner with
a flat metal sheet on top of it grilling
the hand-sized fish. Several campfires
dug into the sand held pans or pots
of hot oil and finger-sized fish.

The smell made Shiv's mouth water.

Tolli got there first. He handed over
a credit card and said, "Family Feast,
and keep it coming until I say whoa."

Smitty grinned at him and began
shoveling hot fish into aluminum pans,
the kind you put under a turkey.
Then came steamed broccoli
and roasted potatoes.

Pan after pan of food went
onto the picnic tables, and then
Smitty dumped more vegetables into
the pots and put them back on the heat.

He took longer to refresh the supply
of fish, carefully seasoning the big ones
and dunking the fingerlings in batter.

Shiv scooped up a share of smelt
and then added some potatoes.
Even this hungry, he wasn't
interested in broccoli, not
with other food available.

The smelt were delicious.

Shiv groaned in pleasure,
wiggling on the bench.

The small fish were crispy
on the outside, tender inside.
Unlike sardines, he couldn't
feel the bones at all.

The larger ones had flakes
of soft white flesh that
came right off the bones.

The flavor was fishy yet mellow,
different from tuna or sardines,
but he could get the resemblance.

There were even sauces to go
with the smelt -- tartar sauce and
some red spicy stuff -- but Shiv
preferred his with a bit of lemon.

He scarfed down the lemon wedges,
too, and nobody teased him about
eating the garnishes like a hick.

Shiv ate three of the big fish,
which were still only hand-sized,
and more of the fingerlings
than he could count.

Finally he leaned back
and gave a happy belch.

"That was fantastic,"
he said. "Thanks for
buying the food, Tolli."

"You're welcome,"
Tolli said. "Thank you
for helping us clean the fish."

That reminded Shiv he had
ten pounds or so of smelt
coming his way, and no idea
what to go do with them.

"So uh ... now what?" he said.
"I mean, I don't know how
to cook these things."

"You can just dump a can
of mushroom soup over them
and bake them," Molly said.

"I like 'em smoked," Simon said.
"I know a guy, if you want some."

"We usually make a big batch
of smelt soup for everyone
to share," Dr. G said.

"And pickles," Heron said.
"I like pickled smelt. I'll
bring you a jar of those."

"Of course, you can also
fry them like this," Tolli said.
"That's a little trickier for
a novice cook, though."

"The trick is just to avoid
overcooking them," Heron said.
"If you want to learn, Shiv, I can
show you the next time I'm over."

"Yeah, that'd be great," he said.

Dr. G pulled out his phone and
jotted down some notes. "I'll
make sure you get shares of
the big batches we make."

"Thanks," Shiv said. "I want
to try all the different kinds."

"That's a great idea," Dr. G said.
"So what did you think of today?
What was your favorite part?"

Shiv looked down at his plate,
empty of everything but crumbs.
"This," he said. "Smelt are yummy."

"I'm thrilled to hear that," Dr. G said.
"And your least favorite part?"

"Running into the game warden,"
Shiv said with a shudder. "I mean,
the points were nice, but at first ...
it seemed like old times again."

"That's never fun," Dr. G said.
"Just remember, Shiv --
life is like fishing."

"What do you mean
by that?" Shiv asked.

"Well, most of the world is
covered by water," said Dr. G.
"A fisherman's job is simple:
Pick out the best parts."

"Put another way, Shiv,
which will you remember
more about today -- the food,
or running into Warden Labreche?"
Tolli asked, leaning toward him.

Shiv thought about getting
a string of smoked smelt,
a jar of pickled ones and
another of the soup, maybe
some fresh or frozen ones too.

"Definitely the food," he said.

"Then I would say," Dr. G declared,
"you're learning to pick out the best parts."

* * *


Willie Labreche -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and brown hair buzzed short. He lives in Half Moon Cove, California. Willie is a capable game warden and enjoys all kinds of outdoor activities, particularly fishing. He also has training in emotional first aid and trauma-informed care, because it cuts down on job-related arguments. Also, sometimes people who smuggle wildlife may do human trafficking too. Willie has a lot of friends. However, he is the youngest of six children and never really learned to do housework -- or even clean what he catches. Since his wife loves seafood and hates fishing, it works out okay.
Qualities: Good (+2) Authenticity, Good (+2) Game Warden, Good (+2) Making Friends, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Wilderness Sports
Poor (-2) Cleaning Up After Himself

Smitty Middleton -- He has chocolate skin, brown eyes, and nappy black hair buzzed short. He lives in Half Moon Cove, California. He runs Smitty's Fish Shack on the beach.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Seafood Cook, Good (+2) Bargaining, Good (+2) Interpersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Poetry Slam Fan
Poor (-2) Out of Shape

* * *

"Most of the world is covered by water. A fisherman's job is simple: Pick out the best parts."
-- Charles Waterman

These maps show a long view and a closeup of Half Moon Bay in California.

Here are Shiv's fisherman sweater and wool socks.

Terramagne-American values the concept of a "natural opportunity for labor." That is, citizens should have some chances to go out hunting and gathering for food, craft supplies, and so forth without having to pay money just to obtain survival needs. Availability of this option generally depends on current supplies.

Smelt are a type of small coastal fish popular in beach fishing. The peak months for night smelt and surf smelt are February-August. These species are easiest to catch during daylight hours on a falling high tide with mild surf. They favor beaches with coarse sand. Read about dipping smelt or watch a video on how to do it. Using a seine net is a little more complicated, as shown in this video.

Some beaches require a license to dip smelt, others don't. The more fish in a run, the fewer restrictions; in lesser years, the season may only open for a few days, while in bad years it doesn't open at all. There are usually times when all citizens can net fish for free, though. Terramagne-American smelt populations are considerably better than local-American ones, partly due to less global warming and pollution, and more conservation efforts. A portion of fishing license fees goes toward conservation. Licensing and fishing can get contentious.

Fishnets exist in many types and have a deep history. Heron has a 9-16' telescoping net with a 20" frame and fine nylon mesh for catching the smallest smelt. Molly and Halley use similar nets but with a fixed 9' handle; the spares are the same.

Seine nets can be designed for one or two people. Above a certain size, seine nets require a commercial license. The Doctors Finn use a 7' two-person seine net with knotted multifilament nylon 1" mesh, which can catch fish 9" and up -- about as large as smelt get. Drew and Aida have the same style in a shorter 5' net. The 1-person seine nets are similar, just shorter, 2-3' wide. This place sells seine nets.

The Native American A-frame net is quite popular, but requires more strength to use because it can catch so many fish at once. Tribe members may use this or other traditional methods without a license. Other people need a license. In T-America, this has spawned a number of lawsuits over people getting kicked out of tribes, which leaves the California Department of Fish and Wildlife pissed with some of the tribes over disenrollment policies.

In T-California, only people with a disability may use cast nets to catch small fish like smelt from the beach. This provision was introduced with manual wheelchair users in mind, to capitalize on their upper-body strength, but anyone with a disability can do it. This does not require a license, although there are perks for folks who buy one anyway. They are allowed to have assistance, but anyone helping them needs to have a license (or be exempt). The catch limit is bigger for cast nets than for dip nets. Among the Finns, Simon usually throws and brings in his net, Tolli runs it up the beach and dumps it out, then runs it back to Simon. The youngest Finnlings pick up the fish, rinse them, and put them in the bucket.

Simon has a multifilament nylon net with an 8' radius and 3/8" mesh designed to catch 3-6" fish. The break weight is 20 pounds owing to T-America having better materials. But Tolli still uses a cheap plastic sled to tow the full net up the beach, thus reducing strain on the net. Here is a video of smelt fishing in Half Moon Bay with a cast net.

A lift net has a big square net attached to a pole, dropped horizontally into the water with its opening upward. Sometimes it is lifted with a hand crank. These can catch more fish, so in T-California they require at least a personal license, and in some areas a commercial license. Lift nets work equally well on beaches, docks, rivers, and open water so they are quite popular.

In T-California, funnel nets may only be used with a commercial fishing license, which is considerably more expensive than those for personal use only. This does allow a much higher catch limit, though. Funnel nets are usually deployed in rivers or areas with strong tidal currents. Primitive versions such as a funnel basket trap or funnel stick trap count as traditional methods, acceptable for tribal people in general and for a personal fishing license in some areas, with definitions for the size and style of traps considered personal or commercial. In an emergency, people may use any means necessary to obtain food for survival, hence why these skills and their acceptable uses are still taught.

Rugged wheelchairs are designed for rigorous use, including outdoor sports such as fishing. Some have wide tractor-like tires, while others have narrower dirtbike-like tires. These take somewhat more effort to propel, but provide great traction. Simon's heavy-duty wheelchair has wheels he can switch out for pavement or for off-road activities. Another type of beach wheelchair has bubble tires which are fat and smooth. These are designed to glide easily over sand, but they give little traction.

T-America cares a lot more about interpersonal dynamics than here, so many organizations track the valence of interactions by inviting customer feedback in various ways. Most have at least a simple scale with any of several graphics, like the five faces offered to Shiv, and many have a comment box or a longer form for people who wish to add more detail. Happy Or Not is a local-American company offering various customer feedback tools.

See Shiv's California tote bag. His t-shirt is based on the state animals.

Catfish are customarily cleaned by skinning.

Panfish such as crappie or sunfish are cleaned by scaling.

Smelt can actually be eaten whole, especially when small, but most people prefer to clean them. These fish may then be cooked on a flat metal sheet or fried in a pan. Look at this delicious mess of fingerling smelt.

Kitchen shears are good for cleaning bigger fish because they will cut through almost anything. Fish scissors are good for more delicate work or smaller fish. These instructions for cleaning sardines apply to most small fish, including smelt.

A different category of cutting tools comprises those with a handle connecting at the back end, such as loop scissors. Tolli's thread snips are easy to make in a forge.

Among the highest compliments in hacker slang is "elegant." Shiv has no clue about this, the but the Finns are right. That's a brilliant little tool -- it basically makes your fingertips sharp so you can use your natural hand action to pinch the heads neatly off your fish.

Compliments are a common part of human interaction, but they can prove challenging. Know how to give a great compliment, how to compliment people who are reluctant to accept, and how to accept a compliment gracefully.

There are reasons why people deflect compliments, especially abuse survivors like Shiv. Fear and low self-esteem often contribute to this. This can complicate relationships. Self-bullying is a related issue in which people pick on themselves with negative self-talk and resist more positive portrayals. There are ways to reduce self-bullying and overcome negative self-talk.

Low self-esteem may come from various causes, particularly child abuse or other trauma. Understand how to cope with low esteem or help a friend who has it.

Crabbing is commonly done with a basket trap. Among the more popular types of bait are dead fish or fish guts. With a personal license, you can't sell anything, but you can use or give away all parts of the fish. No point wasting good bait!

Among the favorite side dishes for fish are roasted potatoes or steamed vegetables.

Smelt may be baked in mushroom sauce, smoked, pickled, made into soup, and so on.

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