Why fishing is my favorite family tradition

May 22, 2023 — by Nicole Lee
Photo by Nicole Lee
Ten year old me holding up a yellowtail in a boat at sea.
Fishing, geoduck-digging and giving our fresh catches to friends and family.

As 9-year-old me leans over the edge of the swaying and rocking boat, I wait patiently for something (hopefully a fish) to bite when I suddenly feel little taps at the end of the string. With a nudge, I flick the rod up and start frantically reeling. Soon after, I’m yelling for my dad to help me fight against the fish that is half my weight. 

That day, I found my new favorite type of fish: a one and a half-feet, 15-pound sheephead. 

We went home that night and I saw my fish coming out of the oven freshly steamed to perfection. At that moment, I knew it would be the best fish I would ever taste — despite my inherent biases, I still wholeheartedly consider it the epitome of flavor and my favorite fish. 

Ever since I was in kindergarten, my family and I have gone fishing annually, occasionally even venturing out weekly for several months year-round. You see, my parents and their family friends love fish — and apparently by extension, they love fishing, too.

Our typical fishing spots consist of calm lakes, trickling streams, bustling beaches and docks — including the fan-favorite (the fan being elementary school me) Capitola, a beach in Santa Cruz, where they sold ice cream on the dock. Of course, the fishing was fun too, but who could win against the irresistible lure of ice cream? Unfortunately, I have not been able to go this year, as the heavy storms had wrecked over half the dock.

Of course, during our outings as an elementary-school kid — when we fished more often — my needs were always taken care of by my parents, who usually did all of the organizing. All I had to do was tag along and wait to be handed my rod and bait. 

In the summer of third grade, my parents extended this hobby of theirs to geoduck-digging, an activity my dad had discovered on YouTube. Theoretically, digging for geoducks were a level-up from digging sand for sand castles, so the activity gave little-me a sense of accomplishment and a tasty reward at the end of the day. 

Geoducks are a large type of clam that consists of two parts: one part looks like a typical, flat-shelled clam and the other, called the neck or siphon, juts out of the edge of the clam. The first time we attempted finding them, however, we came back home after three hours, with only a single geoduck. 

Over the following month, my dad spent his free time scrutinizing several more YouTube videos. We returned prepared. Equipped with waterproof overalls and ice cream scoopers for sturdier digging, we made use of our refined strategy: My dad would shovel off the surface of the sand where we saw the geoducks occasionally spouting water, and the rest of us would dig around two feet deep to locate and wrestle the geoduck itself out of the sand. 

Lo and behold, our 6-hour outing yielded us over 20 geoducks. After experimenting with various techniques, we started digging enough to fulfill the daily limit (10 geoducks per person), and soon began bringing a few family friends along each of our geoduck-digging quests.

Results from one of the outings I had with my parents in elementary school.

Usually, our outings to either fishing or geoduck-digging supplied us with many times more fish or geoducks than my family could stand to eat, so we often made use of our extra resources by giving them to friends or feeding them to our chickens as a nutritious snack.

Recently, these family outings have mostly consisted of me and my parents going down to Los Angeles to visit my siblings in college and going fishing on boats nearby. As a result of the frequency of my trips and the types of fish we have found in LA, I have since dubbed it my new favorite fishing spot. 

I’ve learned a lot since my first fishing trip: At the time, my impatient kindergarten self would constantly flick the rod, turning up empty-handed. My dad taught me that flicking the rod too early while the fish hasn’t bitten hard enough would scare the fish away. Through this process, fishing has taught me how to be a bit more patient, while also being an activity that shaped my childhood summers. 

Although I don’t have as much spare time as I did in elementary school — a trend that will likely persist heading into junior year — I still make time to go fishing with my parents and family friends during my breaks or weekends, as it will forever hold a precious spot in my heart.

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