'The freshest you can ever get'

SERVED: Capt. Joaquin Cruz holds a serving tray filled with cuts of fresh mahi mahi and tuna – two local favorite fishes that can be sampled at the docks of Hagåtña Boat Basin when El Capitan is around. Haruo Simion/The Guam Daily Post

"Alright guys, now that we've caught, cut, cleaned and prepared our catch, time to eat. You know what time it is."

Those are the trademark words of Capt. Joaquin Cruz, founder of Shut Up & Fish, one of Guam's most popular charter companies, and they mean one thing and one thing only: Time to eat.

Fresh off the boat on a blazing afternoon in late April, Cruz has skillfully cleaned a yellowfin tuna caught earlier that day, making quick work of the fish and turning it into his own tasty twist on kelaguen and simple, satisfying sashimi.

For anyone lucky enough to reel in a fish or two (or seven) on one of the Shut Up & Fish boats, they'll get to taste some of the freshest fish of their life, as Cruz and his fellow captains dice up their customers' catches just moments after coming back to the dock.

"The cool thing is your first time trying it," Cruz says of the post-charter snacks, "it's going to be the freshest you can ever get – right on the dock, right off the boat."

Cruz says he loves seeing customers smile when they taste their fresh-caught fish and seeing the exhilaration they experience as they reel in a tuna or mahi mahi on the open ocean. But taking people out on fishing trips wasn't always part of his plan.

For Cruz, who started Shut Up & Fish alongside his wife, Christina Cruz, fishing is something that runs deep in their family.

"I've been fishing, yeah, since I was a little boy with my dad," Cruz says. "It's in my genes, it's in my blood."

But he didn't ever plan to start a charter company. Rather than having to reel in the business, Shut Up & Fish was a big catch that hopped right in the boat.

'I wanna go out and fish with that guy'

Still working as a solo commercial fisher more than six years ago, Cruz got a GoPro for Christmas and started using it to film his fishing adventures, which he then uploaded to YouTube. It wasn't long before the page had a following, and that following turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.

"I had a marlin video," he says. "It usually takes a team ... (but) that particular video is just one man, one boat, one big fish. ... That's what I think made everyone say, 'I wanna go out and fish with that guy.'"

And so they did. Many Shut Up & Fish customers are tourists, and Cruz reported that more and more, people are getting their referrals from off island.

"They heard from so many people that traveled through Guam that when you come to Guam, you gotta go out and experience fishing with Shut Up & Fish Guam," he says.

It's safe to say Shut Up & Fish is here to stay – in fact, their fleet could soon be expanding – but back to why it's worth checking out in the first place: the food.

Saving the best for last

While the thrill of reeling in your own bright green mahi mahi or silvery-blue wahoo is exhilarating on its own, the real payoff comes at the end, when your captain shares the secrets of preparing fresh fish while slicing through the day's catch and depositing slices of sashimi and, if you're lucky, the captain's own kelaguen recipe, next to dabs of wasabi, a spicy-sweet chili sauce (a condiment they learned about from their Korean tourists) and soy sauce infused with sesame oil.

On that bright and sunny Tuesday afternoon, Cruz was still hard at work prepping his kelaguen.

"This is the bloodline," he says, stopping between slices to point out a maroon strip down the middle of the filet. "A lot of people like to take it off because of, like, a gamey blood taste in the fish. (The) Japanese and me, personally, I prefer to leave it on. It kinda adds a real fish feel to it."

Minutes later, the donne' is diced and the fish filleted, and Cruz is ready to add his not-so-secret ingredient.

"I'm sure a lot of people don't like to do this, but I do 'cause I like cucumber," he says with a smile. "It adds a nice little pop to it, just adds a little crunch if you want it. Cucumber also brings out a lot of flavor in things."

Even without catching the fish, the kelaguen, piled on top of a crispy tortilla chip, is some of the best you'll find on island, and the cucumber – true to Cruz's word – adds a perfect, refreshing pop to the salty treat.

In the end, it's those extra, small, things that make fishing with Cruz's crew a foodie experience in its own right: Instead of 'gramming your expertly plated entree, you and your catch will get a spotlight on the Shut Up & Fish Instagram page; in place of a 50-seat restaurant filled with trendy decor, you get your own private paradise along Guam's reefs and a quiet oceanside dock; and rather than a veteran chef running the show backstage, every customer gets a seat at the captain's table, where Cruz and his team prepare dishes whose freshness, simplicity and fun simply can't be duplicated.

'There's no better feeling'

But Cruz best sums up the sometimes surprising appeal of fishing: It's "the battle, the struggle, the hustle, the adventure, the hunt. ... It could be the most boring thing you go out and do if the fish aren't biting – but once you get a fish on, for me, there's no better feeling than that. It's really hard to beat."

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