It certainly is rare to have an opportunity to wear my Carharts in hot and sunny southern CA, but we were planning to start fishing at around midnight, so I figured I could use a little more insulation than normal. Heavy duty carhart pants, long sleeve shirt, flannel, wool socks, boots, and a hobo stove? Oh yes, we were headed out to Malibu for an adventure, countryman style!Sam picked me up around 10:30pm and we swung by and swooped up Nicholas Santos a few minutes later. Then it was a mad dash for the coast, and compared to the normal insanity as far as traffic goes, it was smooth sailing. When we reached the beach, we sat tight laughing and carrying on for a time while Sam routinely scanned the surf with a torch.
It was a full moon, or at least full-ish and only a few days on the wane, and the grunion were on the move. At first it was just a few here and there, but soon they were slithering, flipping and flopping all around us. Nicholas said one even swam up into his boot in the surf! We scrambled around scooping up theses little delicacies with our hands and dropping them into five gallon buckets with a great deal of laughter as the little fish evaded many of our most nimble attempts.
A group of girls out for a stroll and a drink on the beach approached us with curiosity. “What are you guys doing?” the boldest one asked in disapproval. “Catching grunion,” Sam replied with a grin. “We’re gonna cook up a feast tonight,” I said with a chuckle wrestling with a fish who slithered right out of my hands and back into the surf in a flash. That’s when I saw their expressions and realized that they were not the types who usually approach us, licking their chops and eyeballing the catch with dreams of a fish fry. No, this crew had come down the beach to stare us in the eye, disapprovingly, in hopes of ending our ignorant barbarian attack on the helpless fish. I smiled and said “grunion are incredibly abundant, and we are just taking a few to feed ourselves and our families. They’re really an incredible fish…which Sam is going to tell you about, after all, he’s a fisheries biologist!” Not as ignorant as you thought huh? I thought with a grin making a mad dash back into the surf in pursuit of another fish. Sam explained the species, their ritual of spawning, and the importance of an ethical and sustainable harvest while the group simply ignored every word still considering us to be savages. O.K., I thought, maybe the anthropological approach will reach them. With a grin, I piped up “we forage because it is fun and productive and it is directly in line with how our ancestors subsisted from their natural environments for millennia.” I was met with cold stares. Thinking the disapproval may have been coming from a place based in dietary restriction I asked, “Are you guys vegetarian or vegan or something?” in as polite of a tone as I could muster. They replied that they were not, that they ate mostly beans and vegetables and some chicken. At this point I was getting tired of being judged for being a forager especially from folks who support the commercial meat industry without batting an eye. That’s when the one girl piped up “I’m not vegan or anything, but I had a cockatiel!” O.K., eat your store bought cage raised antibiotic ridden chicken in front of your caged bird and judge me for a sustainable harvest, I thought, realizing at that moment that there was really no reaching her, but before I leave… “Well, the bottom line is this. The reason we are all here and able to talk about food today is because we all come from a long line of successful foragers who subsisted exactly as me and my friends are right now. We forage because it is the single most sustainable and ethical way to bring food to our table.” The most vocal of the group looked at me and said in support “and you know it’s fresh!” I smiled, nodded and went back to work. One out of five understanding our life way was a good start for the evening.
The run was small on this beach in Sam’s opinion, but with around 15 fish in the bucket, Nicholas and I were satisfied with our first grunion harvest. I started a small blaze of yellow pine I had gathered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, mesquite I had gathered in the desert on a rabbit hunt with my buddy Alex, and ash that was left over from bow carving. The hobo stove my brother Justin had made me was working like a charm. Nicholas and I scaled the fish while Sam dusted them in flour and spices and tossed them into the olive oil to sizzle. We ate the fresh caught grunion at around 2am on the beach in Malibu listening to the surf crashing up and down the beach. “Now this is how to start a spring break!” Nicholas said with a chuckle. We all nodded in unison as we enjoyed the subtle flavors of a local, sustainable, and fun filled harvest.
Remember to always advocate for the right and value of foraging. After all, even the most avid anti-hunters, anti-anglers and anti-foragers are only able to voice their disapproval because they are alive as a result of the efforts of thousands of generations of foragers that preceded them. From New York, to Stockholm, to Bangkok, to Los Angeles, there are always opportunities for foraging adventures just around the corner if you seek them out. So whether it is a harvest of surf fish with your hands, pit roasting agave, or a good spearfishing freedive, always strive to keep the old ways alive!
Photos-Sam, Nicholas, Kevin.