I’ve been lucky enough in San Diego to establish friendships with guys who are obsessed with fishing or make their living running charters.
Dudes like Captain Mark Mihelich, of Boundless Boat Charters, and my friend Zac Hood have given me adventures to last a lifetime. They have also made some great introductions, such as Nico Gibbons, who has a fabulous weekly pop-up fish market/restaurant happening at Al’s Café in Carlsbad Village.
This is one of those discoveries that I’ll be monitoring weekly – Instagram, texts and email (all below) are the best way to keep up with their fresh catch as it’s a perfect place to pick up some fish for the freezer and sample it with a cold beer on one of their sidewalk tables. I had to know more about Nico, his background and how this came to be…along with a fish story, of course, so he filled me in recently.
LTP: What is your backstory, how did you get involved in fishing, and when did it become a passion/livelihood?
Nico: I was born and raised in San Diego. I started fishing when I was 12 years old out of Point Loma. When there was no surf during the summer, my family friend would take me and a couple of friends out and teach us how to fish for Bluefin Tuna, yellowtail, and dorado, all rod and reel.
My passion for fish started after high school when I worked as a busboy at El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla. I worked my way up to be an in-house fishmonger, selling fillets and whole fish to customers.
The natural, authentic feeling of selling fish to customers ignited a passion in me to further learn the craft of being a fishmonger. I went fishing more often during my time at El Pescador, really being able to distinguish between “straight off the boat” fresh fish and wholesale fresh fish. After El Pescador Fish, I worked at other well-known fish market restaurants in Southern California.
After graduating from UCLA, I moved to Mexico City to study under the tutelage of acclaimed chef Federico Rigoletti, co-founder of the renowned seafood restaurant Contramar. After my time in Mexico City, I worked wholesale at Hawaiian Fresh Seafood, where I learned the supply side and tuna grading and worked with restaurants to deliver the freshest seafood off our boats.
LTP: Describe your current gig as owner operator of Nico’s Fish Market.
Nico: We operate a pop-up restaurant at Al’s Café in the Village in Carlsbad every Friday and Saturday. All our fish comes from our boat FV Winnebago or our network of local fishermen. We buy fish the day before or the day of the fish stands to provide the freshest high-quality fish to the local community.
All our fish is locally sourced, ranging from local bluefin tuna, dorado, swordfish, halibut and white sea bass. My three other friends share our boat, the FV Winnebago. It’s a 1989 Skipjack.
LTP: What inspired you to select Al’s as your location?
Nico: For the past couple of years, I would eat at Al’s for breakfast every month after fishing up in Oceanside. Al and I got to know each other well and connected on fish and restaurants. Seeing an owner-operator running his restaurant for 31 years was inspiring. I have always admired his “lead by example” work ethic.
LTP: Tell me about the arrangement with the fisherman that supplies you with product.
Nico: If we aren’t on our boat for the week, I will message my local fishermen bros and tell them what I’m aiming to buy and on what day. I have a web of fishermen guys who will go out on Wednesday and Thursday and let me know what they catch. I then meet them at the docks and buy the fish whole. I then fillet the fish on the day of my fish market stand to ensure quality and freshness.
There really is no better feeling than seeing a fish with clear eyes, firm skin, and bright colors. It’s awesome to be a local fisherman buying from other local fishermen and providing fresh local fish to the community. It’s so roots.
LTP: Describe your weekly setup and what people can expect.
Nico: At our fish stand, we have a range of things. For starters, we always offer just caught ahi tuna poke, poke bowls and Poke n’ Chips. We also sell oysters on the half-shell and oyster shots. For mains, we sell fish burritos, plates, and sandwiches, based on what we caught or my fishermen bros that day or the day before. Our catch was local bluefin tuna two weeks ago, and last week was local swordfish.
We also offer beer and wine. Customers can also come by and pick up fish fillets to bring home. Right after we get off the boat, I text all my customers on the FISH LIST to let them know what my other fishermen bros or we caught on the ship.
LTP: Give me a good fish story from the past year.
Nico: We were fishing for local yellowtail right at La Jolla Cove by the kelp beds. As we were fishing for yellowtail, we saw a red figure 20 feet away from us. We thought it was a Bluefin loin or something, but instead, it was a half-eaten seal. Still alive, its tail end was bitten off, and the seal was in extreme pain.
A minute later, we see a 14-foot great white shark encircle the seal and our boat. We realized we were interrupting the great white’s breakfast. The great white covered the whole length of our craft. The great white continued to encircle the seal. We waited to see what the great white would do next, but we realized it was waiting for us to leave so that it could get some privacy and finish its morning meal.
LTP: Any shout-outs to the folks on your team?
Nico: My coworkers are avid fishermen and surfers, so our mutual passion for fish and the ocean makes providing fish to customers much more enjoyable. And our customers, of course.
Get updates on the Nico’s Fish Market’s weekly catch list by texting him at 858.245.3305 or emailing at [email protected].