I had never seen a kayak fisherman. At first, approaching the beached, bright yellow plastic boat with all its rigging, and the blond fisherman himself in his hefty gaiters, with an official-looking document swinging like a press pass around his neck, I thought I'd stumbled across a researcher. But no, Steve, as he introduced himself, worked construction, and had just come in from fishing on his day off. It was still early, and my walk around Monterey Bay had hardly begun; but Steve, at high noon, was already finished, his thirty-ish face just beginning to burn, the edge of his boat decorated with crusty, dense-skinned fish.
"May I look at them?"
"You bet, " he said, and introduced me to strange mouths and brilliant scales in colors I'd also never seen before: a copper, he called one gaping, wide-eyed corpse; another was a vermilion rockfish; then sandab, redfish, rock cod. All in all there were a half-dozen, and good-sized. I asked how he had caught them, and he showed me the several lines he'd trolled behind him as he'd paddled; he'd also carried a strong rod and reel, but had ended up catching everything the more casual way.
"Did you have to go out very far to find these?" I squinted into the brilliant bay.
"No. That's the amazing thing," he said. "Anywhere else, you'd have to go miles and miles out to catch certain kinds of fish. Here, you just go past the buoys right there, and bam, the shelf drops off. Huge, deep water."
We both looked at and tried to imagine it: the whale-deep water.
I asked him if he got out to fish very often, and he said he did, nowadays. He drove over from Salinas, the more affordable, inland town where he lived. Construction work along the coast had fallen off so badly he had more free time than he liked to think about; but there was no point, he figured, just sitting in front of the television. He might as well go out and catch his dinner.
"So one of these will be your meal tonight? How will you cook it?"
"Well, of course I love anything fried in batter--you too?--but I'm trying to be healthier these days. So I prepare a fillet--I do leave a little of the skin on, I can't help it, it's so good--and fry it in some butter--but not too much--and some garlic powder. I try to keep it simple and light."
"And you'll prepare this just for yourself?"
"Yep," he nodded. "Just me."
I asked him if he was happy with his catch for the day, and he tilted his head, as if, no, he was slightly disappointed.
"The thing is, I forgot my hat. So I couldn't stay out as long as I wanted to. You just can't do that, sit out and bake in the sun out there. You'll regret it later. So I came in."
I thanked him for showing me his fish, for taking the time to talk to me before stowing everything away again in what I took to be his pick-up truck, parked along the seawall above us. I hadn't meant to slow him down.
"No problem," he smiled. He was calm and friendly and obviously happy to have obliged. A family had come down to the sand as we spoke. As I walked away he waved at the children who had strayed over to the rocks, hunting for starfish in the tidepools.