To peel the onion that is grocery store produce worker Kevin Mattson's sun-soaked life, a logical place to start is breakfast.
Decked in a Pelagic shirt and flat-brimmed hat, Mattson is suitably bronzed from forehead to his flip-flop-wearing feet as he darts into a popular dining spot.
Tucked under one arm, Mattson totes a bulging binder of fish pics – from the 315-pound blue marlin hauled into a 17-foot freshwater boat off the pitch-dark San Diego coast to an angry arapaima wrestled to the jungle shoreline in Guyana.
Mattson needs the outdoors the way most of us need oxygen. His happy place is almost anywhere without walls or clocks or the mundane, daily grind. Some of the proof: He's likely the most fish-crazed person in San Diego.
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"People who meet me know this is my life," said Mattson, 49. "This isn't my hobby."
The son of a 25-year Navy submariner grew up in Mira Mesa, scrambling to the water's edge when his dad dropped him off at Shelter Island on the way to work. He'd fish and fish and fish some more, creating his own unique currency by trading mackerel for hamburgers or lures.
Mattson would hop aboard his BMX bike and ride it the 12 or 13 miles to Lake Hodges. Each morning Lake Miramar opened for the season, he would pedal like a madman when the ranger popped the gate to ensure he landed the first permit of the season.
Flip through the binder and it's obvious that Mattson's fishing disease exists without cure. There are images of his 296-pound yellowfin tuna, the thresher shark landed off of Oceanside and the 6-pound brown trout coaxed from Hot Creek in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra. On one page, the teeth of a black piranha menace. On another, the horror-movie-red eyes of a peacock pass glow.
So many of us talk about making time for the things we love. Mattson does. We vow to find a way to embrace activities that fuel the soul, rather than the bank account. Mattson does.
We dream. He goes.
Mattson shaped his bill-paying world to guarantee the next tug on the line waits just around the corner. He has worked at Vons for three decades, most recently on Coronado. He mans the 2-11 p.m. shift to protect as much non-work daylight as possible.
Is Mattson interested in climbing the corporate ladder? Hardly. He wants to go out, not up.
"Hey, I stack apples and oranges," he said. "I just want to go fishing."
When the addiction lured Mattson to Mexico, he visited places so remote that he sometimes slept on the floor of village huts. He carried sea bass from his boat on oars across his shoulders "caveman style" to feed his hosts.
On one trip, Mattson's radio fizzled out while chasing tuna 20 miles off the Mexican coast in a 12-foot boat as orcas circled. On another, a small vessel he was on capsized in the surf near Ensenada – sending the motor sinking to the bottom.
While others gave up on the submerged treasure, Mattson swam down and carried it a few feet before dropping it again to rise and gather a breath. Dive, walk, drop, breathe, repeat ... until it was ashore.
When his family traveled to Minnesota, Mattson relentlessly stalked muskies, an elusive, Midwestern trophy known as "the fish of 10,000 casts." As the sun dipped below the horizon, his father would howl on the two-way radio to demand that Mattson come in: "I know you hear me!"
Mattson fished until he caught a 46-incher.
"I look at it like life is an hourglass," said Mattson, who's married with a 13-year-old son. "Flip it over and that's all you've got. If you're not living life to the fullest, you're wasting it."
Even though Mattson labels himself more outdoorsman than fisherman – routinely chasing down rattlesnakes, deer-antler sheds and artifacts – it's his diverse fishing resume that sets him apart.
Mattson is nearing 25,000 followers on Instagram with more than 1 million interactions on a single photo of a rare, translucent tang no bigger than the palm of his hand that he dip-netted near Puerto Vallarta.
Sponsors began to notice his watery ways, too. Mattson has aligned himself with Okuma, Phenix rods and the local company MC Swimbaits. When Mattson won a Baja tournament with a 32-pound, 9-ounce yellowtail – in a bass boat, besting all those fancy saltwater rides – Pelagic signed him up on the spot.
He's run marathons. He's competed in Ironman events. If it's outside, he's in.
Ask a guy like Mattson what working a 9-to-5 gig in a cubicle sounds like. There's not a hint of hesitation or indecision.
"Death," he said.
In November 2015, Mattson ventured to Guyana to chase arapaima, one of the world's largest freshwater fish that can grow to 400 pounds. The fish are boney, beefy missiles, known to snatch a bird or two foolish enough to venture close to the surface.
Mattson's group landed on a jungle strip so isolated that it's hand-trimmed by machete. Yet there was the San Diego produce dude, throwing a freshwater bass lure known as a "fire tiger" and immediately tussling with a tail-walking, 200-pounder.
When the fish was horsed into shallow water, all the hooks but one were straightened or broken. If you removed the fish from the photo, the straining faces holding the giant looked like a still frame of a car accident in progress.
Later, Mattson corralled a 250-pounder.
"That's the hardest strike I've ever had in fishing," he said.
Then he flipped the page, to another photo, another fish and another story.
Clearly, Mattson is going to need a bigger book.