“Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.”

– Gollum’s riddle* to Bilbo in The Hobbit


Sometimes, the Tookish spirit inside every little hobbit awakens to say, “I want to go fishing!  I don’t care that I’ve never been fishing in my entire life; I don’t even know if I’ll like it; I have no logical explanation for this sudden desire either; however, I must fish!”  I had that moment several months ago, and I’ve suppressed that Tookish spirit inside the Shire for quite some time.  I was too lazy to ask my cousin (a fishing fanatic) to take me, and much about fishing seemed too gross for a civilized gentleman like me.

One day I was Facebook-chatting with my friend K who mentioned that she went fishing.  I excitedly expressed my long longing to fish for fish, and eventually we had a fishing trip planned to Catalina Island.

We bought a full-day boat fishing trip from 22nd St. Landing and set sail at 6AM the morning.  Out of the 50+ fishermen (and 2 fisherwomen, both in our group) on the boat, our group consisted of me, K, M, L, and B.  I had never met M, L, and B before but we became new friends.  Only M knew much about fishing; K had gone fishing once or twice before; and the rest of us were clueless noobs.  So everyone depended on M to help us with everything from tying our hooks to casting our lines.  It was M who taught us how to put on bait, and it was also M who took the hook off the fish we reeled in.  As a result, M probably didn’t get to catch as many fish as he could have if he weren’t so busy helping all of us.  Thank you M!

It was a new experience to hook a live anchovy for bait.  At first I felt bad for the anchovies as I could feel it tense up and give a twitch as I put the hook through the roof of its mouth out the head, but I quickly got used to it (we hooked many anchovies that day).


Then there was the bonito I caught.  When I got my first bite I was really surprised at how strong it pulled.  At the end of the fight I held the fish in my hands – the feeling of the fish’s firm muscles, the wet sliminess on my hands, the smell, the sight, fish blood all over my jacket – and I felt good.  Everything about it was gross and ugly, but everything felt so real.  This was no Finding Nemo, no dead frozen fish in the market, but a real fish between life and death.

It’s strange how I found beauty in grossness, but I think the beauty comes from the reality of it all.  Yes, countless anchovies bled and died with hooks through their brains; yes, a bonito got hooked out of the sea with a hook in its mouth; and then yes, it slowly suffocated to death in the bag.  But it’s the way life works: there is pain and there is death, but because of them there can also be joy and life for others.  Call it cruel murder, call it a sport, call it a predator’s mindset.

Even though I only caught 1 fish, I had so much fun that day.  The sea, the wind, the saltiness, the gulls, the fish, the new friends…  I miss it all already and will definitely return in the future.  I’m hooked!


Simeon Koh

* The answer to the riddle, of course, is fish.