Every day is a squirrelly day for Tripp and Andrew Mizell. The brothers live in Orange County, but the squirrelliest days of them all take place on San Diego beaches on summer weekends. That's when they and their dozen or so cohorts follow a decade-long tradition and pile into their white '70s-era VW van to go fishing.
They pack the bait. The rod and reel. Camera. License. They've been known to catch well over 20 in a day. It's a sacred tradition in the Mizell household and they've fished the coast from San Onofre to the border and back.
If they weren't actually fishing for squirrels, CityBeat wouldn't have sent a reporter out to get their story.
Squirrel fishing has become nothing less than a phenomenon among 20-somethings. These fishermen use no hook and only all-natural, unsalted bait (“so as not to unhealthfully clog their little arteries”). It's not about winning. It's not about catching the most. It's not in protest of anything.
“We tried to get sponsored by Power Bar, but we kept turning in the wrong paperwork,” giggles Andrew, who sometimes does not speak at all, sometimes speaks a lot but very slowly, and sometimes holds forth in galloping streams of consciousness.
“In the '70s the San Onofre surfers used to sit at the beach between sets and throw peanuts on string to try to lure the squirrels down from the hills and we did it from the time we were little and when I went up to UC Berkeley for school and I decided to start a club because everybody else had a club and they seemed more exclusive than they needed to be-religiously based or politically based-and after the first year and a half we had 270 people enrolled, so when the student association was voting on giving money away to clubs, I just sent the five best looking girls from our club and they gave us $2,000.
“Do you know how many fly-fishing poles you can buy with $2,000?”
When I meet Tripp for the first time, he is proudly sporting a Berkeley T-shirt emblazoned with “Berkeley Squirrel Fishers” in bold, collegiate type. It's high noon on San Diego's hottest surf beach and the Mizells are hoping that the post-June gloom will clear so that the squirrels come out to play.
Jim, the Mizell patriarch, says matter-of-factly, “Sure, it's a little weird to fish for squirrels, but the reality is that these guys have been doing this for so long and there's so many weirdos out here that no one bats an eye.”
Jim Mizell is right. Hipsters are slowly cruising by in worn-down Cadillacs, and stoners are floating past with their boards tucked under one arm. San Onofre State Beach is a peculiar surf haven populated by a mix of burnouts, families, RV travelers and bums eager for a weekend dalliance. State Park rangers drive by while Andrew and Tripp practice their casting into the dirt beside a cluster of bushes. The rangers don't even give a second glance.
Squirrel fishing's recent boom stems in part from a 1990 Harvard graduate “study” that examined how far squirrels would go to hold on to a juicy peanut. Some participants in the study then created a point system: touching the peanut on the line gets a point, taking the bait gets another point, dragging the squirrel a certain distance gets a point, lifting the squirrel off the ground while it tries to hold on to the bait gets massive applause.
Photos of the Harvard “study” were posted online and bored desk jockeys the world over giggled in appreciation. Participants have since mobilized into clubs at schools across the country, including San Diego State, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Dartmouth, Harvard, USC, Michigan State, Arizona, Oregon, Oklahoma, Penn State-the list goes on. They've been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Fortune magazine and the Portland Oregonian and the San Francisco Chronicle and college newspapers cross the country. They have been interviewed by ABC news.
“Squirrel fishing is spreading across the country,” says Andrew. “My friend George [Dutile] used to run a squirrel-fishing club at San Diego State and he used to be in the Marines and so he was overseas teaching people in Africa and Europe and Iraq how to squirrel fish. He came back with all sorts of pictures of all these different people fishing for squirrels.”
Dutile attended SDSU from 1999 to 2003 before departing for combat in Iraq, and he fondly remembers some tenacious squirrel-fishing trips into the jungle of Mission Valley. “I got one to do a back flip in the air followed by a five-yard drag,” he says. “[I still] squirrel fish when I have time. I have a club in the military called the Tactical Squirrel Division. I have a bunch of photos from Iraq where me and the guys on my team are doing funny things with the [club] shirts on.”
Everyone has questions: Do they use hooks? What do you do with a squirrel once you catch one? Do they eat them?
No. You never catch the animal. No.
Can anyone squirrel fish? What do you need? Don't people feel bad for the squirrels?
Yes. String and bait. Yes. In fact, Andrew remembers one woman cursing him out about the little rodents' well-being. He's more careful now to carry his official “squirrel fisher” license.
“One time we were trying to get PETA to come after us so we could get press,” he laughs. “It's funny because this is less abusive than fishing and it's on par with playing tug of war with your dog. We called PETA and asked if they wanted to protest us but they said they didn't care.
“Oh well. Mostly, I just do this to meet girls.”
Back at the beach in San Onofre, in the midst of an Andrew Mizell demo cast, another State Ranger drives by in a pickup, window rolled down. “Hey!” he yells to Andrew. “Put a donut on the end of that thing and I'll go after it!”
Andrew chuckles and shrugs.
“Dude. Ranger fishing? We'd need some thicker line.”
To learn more about squirrel fishing, check out articles.student.com/article/squirrelfishing.