San Diego's the kind of place that's so big, you're basically just another nobody unless you were at the top of whatever you pursued — at least that's how it was for me while growing up. There wasn't any support to "just be." If you weren't hustling, competing or making big money, you were wasting your time. This also applied to being out in nature: If it wasn't for updating your social media to increase your popularity or modeling page, what was the point? So I decided to move to Arcata at 18 in hopes of completing my college career in an environment that was completely different.
And despite that culture back home, I'd always dreamed about fishing. Not to compete in it as a sport or even as a business entrepreneurship; I just wanted to explore what's out there in that big, blue basin.
Then after five years of hard work, right when I had finally found the stability that made me feel ready to invest time and money in a hobby, the pandemic hit. I lost my job in March, was unemployed for two months and found myself with a lot of time on my hands. It put things into perspective, like, "If I got the virus and died tomorrow, what have I done with my life until now?" I spent these last five years working as many as five jobs at a time to make ends meet and I haven't even explored the great outdoors I moved up here for.
I was 23, living on unemployment and spending a lot of my newly found free time worrying about the future. My partner saw my distress and suggested I take up fishing. I argued I couldn't justify starting up with the cost of a fishing license, pole, reel and miscellaneous gear with my fixed income. He made the extremely good point that this would be an investment in food security and help with my mental health. Basically kill two birds with one stone. Putting it like that gave me the courage to say, "Fuck it — let's do this."
But how to get started? I had zero knowledge of the sport or the local area, and no friends or family who could guide me. Any articles I found on getting started had too many technical terms or gear references — as good as a foreign language for me. I also didn't want to walk in clueless to a tackle shop, have my naivete taken advantage of and be up-sold on gear I wouldn't need.
Then I remembered the Humboldt Foodies group on Facebook, where I've seen people genuinely help one another. Anytime someone had a question on where to find a certain ingredient or meal, there was always someone who knew the right person or location. So I made my first post asking how I could start fishing. I shared my intention to eat what I caught and that I just needed a good starting point. Soon enough, I got scores of responses from people giving me advice on basic gear set-ups and what to avoid. I got an invitation to join the Lost Coast Kayak Anglers Facebook group and even a private message from a worker at RMI who invited me to come in and helped me pick out my first rod, reel and gear within my budget. As isolated I felt, I was able to connect with my community in ways I never expected to in the middle of a pandemic.
After getting all my gear, I needed to figure out where to go. I was advised by several people that surf fishing for perch was an easy place to start. Basically, you fish along the beach's shoreline and hope some kind of perch fish feeding in the waves will bite your line. My partner got word from a friend about a hidden beach spot south of Eureka where he's caught perch. He also suggested picking up a bag of frozen, raw shrimp at Winco to use as bait.
I finally got all my start-up questions answered and was confident I'd land a fish on my first try. You throw the line into the water with some bait and reel it in when you feel a tug — how hard could it be, right? I couldn't have been more wrong.
I didn't realize it took a short hike to get to the fishing spot and navigating rocks, the occasional shard of broken glass and gravel in flip-flops proved challenging. Once we got to the water, I also realized casting your line is a lot harder than it looks. Somehow I ended up tangling up my line around my reel and had to cut off quite a bit. The other challenge was how to re-line your rod to properly feed into the reel. Which I had no clue how to do. After several failed attempts, I walked up to a family we had passed fishing along the same shoreline to help me. Finally, when I thought I had my line and casting all figured out, I noticed I kept losing my shrimp at every toss. Then my partner and I finally realized we had picked up cooked shrimp rather than raw — it was basically mush by the time it hit the water, slipping off easily. After three hours, I called it quits and we finally went home.
I didn't manage to catch a fish on my first day and spent the entire time learning what not to do while fishing. But it was my first trip and not the last. And thanks to everyone who was willing to reach out to me, point me in the right direction, give me a pat on the back when I felt like giving up and share some of their local wisdom, I was finally able to do something great. Thank you, Humboldt, for encouraging me to be myself and cast my line.
Kitty Truong is a dedicated foodie who's always looking to catch her meals sustainably.