We catch up with Columbia Athlete, Cindy Nguyen and talk with her about how she developed a passion for fishing.
Tell us about you—and your family’s history with fishing.
Before the war broke, my maternal grandfather worked for the government and grandmother had an herbal remedy store. They lived near the coast and fishing was my grandfather’s favorite pastime. Once the war broke out, they had to go into hiding while my mom and her seven siblings fled to the U.S. leaving behind her parents and two siblings. My grandfather hid in the jungles of Vietnam where he eventually built a farm to survive. I have been fortunate enough to visit my heritage and my grandparents fish farm. His ponds at the farm were made from B-52 bomb craters.
My dad also fled in the ‘70s. He came from a coastal fishing town where much of the world’s fish sauce comes from. Life is simple. They fish for survival and if there is anything leftover they sell it to the local markets. Mainly dried seafood such as shrimp, fish, and cuttlefish.
My memories of fishing started at a very young age.
My parents made sure the salt was blowing through my hair weeks after I was born. From a very young age, I would waddle down the beach next to my dad in my diapers with a soda can wrapped with mono and a “Carolina rig.” It wasn’t until my 10th birthday that I graduated to a “real” rod and reel setup of my own. I still own my first Ugly Stick and Penn 100 series from Academy Sports and Outdoors.
One of my mom’s favorite tunes to sing growing up, was a fishing lullaby. I swear she still sings it when I come home with a fresh catch to this day.
“Ngay mai em di cau ca ve cho ma nau canh chua” – Tomorrow, I am going fishing so my mom can make canh chua (Vietnamese Fish Soup).
I cut my teeth on the beaches, piers, and jetties of Galveston and Texas City. I remember waiting for my dad to pick me up from school to take me to Texas City or Tiki Island. When my dad worked weekends, my mom would take me to Seawolf Park for spadefish. It did not matter the size of the fish or the species, my parents were always excited for me. They were my biggest influence and instilled a love of fishing in my life from a very young age.
What point did fishing become your raison de’tre?
As child you aim to please and the rapport I had with my parents always made me super excited for the next catch or the next trip. If I pulled up a spade fish or pompano, my parents were ecstatic. That is going to be great “canh chua” they would say.
If we landed a redfish, it was a huge victory. Sheepshead were always steamed and turned into spring rolls, and flounder is forever the prized table fare. That mindset still resonates with me today as I find myself constantly trying to better myself as an angler. New tactics, new species, new recipes, and most of all sharing these with those that have a mutual interest in my passion or new to the sport.
Were your relatives in Vietnam surprised about your role as a fishing spokeswoman?
My family in Vietnam are some of my biggest fans. I have a huge family and social media has allowed me to share my fishing stories with the world in ways I never dreamed of. It has helped bridge the distance between my family here and the ones in Vietnam.
My grandmother says it’s in my blood and I couldn’t agree more.
You’ve spoken about the paradox between fishing for sustenance—as your family did in Vietnam—and the catch-and-release element of sport fishing. Do you feel like your appreciation for the sport is an evolution of the necessity that typifies a fishing village?
It certainly is. What scares me the most is that future generations will not be able experience table fare the oceans of the world can provide much less think of sport fishing.
My travels to Vietnam brought a bittersweet experience and dose of reality. I learned quickly that most of the men and women fishing were not concerned about sales, just merely feeding their families. The lack of government programs and education is terrifying, we are so fortunate in the U.S. Fishing is the strongest bond between myself and a world that only exists in a few rare places.
Though I am sure my 92-year-old grandmother in Vietnam shakes her head every time I release a fish, I know deep inside it makes her proud to see me catching and sharing species my grandfather only dreamed of. I plan continue to do my best in educating others and represent the sport of fishing the best I can and hope that my ancestors are proudly looking down on me.
How has the sport of fishing changed since you’ve gotten involved?
Fishing stories without a photo or video is a thing of the past. The more you see, the more you want to learn, catch, and share. These stories will be shared long after we are gone.
Social media has changed my world of fishing. I have network of anglers I can reach out to almost anywhere in the world.
Anyone with internet access can hop online and easily connect with others to learn almost anything they want to know about fishing. But time on the water is the hardest part and there’s no substitute for that.
I once fished for a week in Costa Rica on several recommended charters without a fish to hold. I hopped on Facebook to post an update on my trip and a local guide reached out to me and said he had caught my target species right in front of my hotel. He gave me some advice and offered to come show me his tactics. Two casts in and four hours before I had to head to the airport, I landed the fish I had spent a thousands of casts and many days searching for and on a lure at that!
Do you see a rise in its popularity?
Absolutely. I get asked all the time by new anglers about how to get started; men and women or parents who want to instill the passion my parents did for me.
My best days in life have been spent on the water and every time I hear someone say, “I wish my kid liked to fish, but they get bored.” I tell them, “Because you need to take them catching!” – croakers and pinfish did it for me.
Beyond the marshlands of Texas, what are your top three sport fishing destinations?
From the places I have traveled:
- Florida Everglades / Keys – They don’t call it the sport fishing capital of the world for nothing.
- Venice Louisiana – Offshore and monster redfish.
- Wading Bahamian flats for bonefish
What is your dream fishing trip?
Papua New Guinea comes to my mind first. I got to fish with Gong Lei, who’s inarguably the world’s best living lure angler.
I’d love to tour the South Pacific one day. From GTs, napoleon warasse, dog tooth tunas, and the mighty black bass; places that are untouched by man and species I’ve only seen in photos.
What are the top three tips you’d recommend to any new angler?
- Be prepared for the elements, especially the sun. Overcast days are particularly deceiving. Nobody wants to spend their fishing trip recovering sunburns after day one.
- I feel it is always best to ask a local guide or network with local fisherman in an area before fishing unfamiliar waters to get a feel of the area. Since the advent of social media, this kind of networking has proven invaluable.
- Remember that it’s called fishing not catching. There are somedays that will test you and some that keep you coming back for more. Soak it all up when you are out there. The birds, the ebbing tide, the rising and falling sun, fishing is about all of these things.
What’s the most transformative piece of Columbia angler gear in your arsenal?
I have to say the Force 12 shirt has been a game-changer. It’s my “get down to business shirt.” Lightweight, breathable, comfortable, tactical, and packable! For those that need to fish hard and look good doing it. I have spent many hours on the sea and in the sun, splattered in tuna blood, swimming with goliath groupers, or completely slimed by snook and tarpon and still make it to dinner in the same gear unbeknownst to the patrons next to me. You can bet to find a few rolled up in my gear bag when I’m planning a trip.
For an insider’s glimpse of this rad apparel and more on Cindy Nguyen, check out Columbia’s groundbreaking film, Force 12. The movie follows Columbia’s fishing ambassadors from Vietnam to the Seychelles as they explore some of the world’s most iconic fisheries. It focuses on the history of fishing, and the sad reality of overfishing. Columbia’s athletes continuously search for pristine waters, and, not-so, surprisingly, are confronted with the fact that many historic areas are “fished out.” They work with local fishing legends to find out just where fish are flourishing; an adventure that takes them into wild places and, often, unexpected conditions.