Harrison and Hemingway: The Necessity of Heroes

DSC_0012 46
Lacking a picture of Heaven, I did the best I could.

“It is harder to have heroes as you get older, but it is sort of necessary.” – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been in love, so to speak, three times in my almost 30 years here, but I’ll only bore you with two of the subjects that stole my heart: Sports and fish, or more specifically, the Red Sox and striped bass. It’s hard to remember which I fell for first. I was probably about four when I first noticed that the time that elapsed between my father’s car pulling in the driveway and his coming inside was longer than it should have taken any man to walk the 20 or so feet to our front door.

When I finally got up the courage to go out to car to see what was taking him so long, I realized that he was listening to a distant radio station broadcasting the Red Sox games from Connecticut. See… Richard N. Bach Sr. was, if nothing else, two things: A workaholic and a Red Sox fan. So, and perhaps this was divine intervention or perhaps it was coincidence: He was usually arriving home between 9:30 and 10 p.m., or, as baseball fans might call it: The bottom of the 8th at Fenway.

My father liked the Red Sox for one reason above all others: He hated the Yankees. A man born into poverty who worked for every cent, he despised the notion that a team could pay for talent and win with it, and he rooted for the Red Sox not like a man rooting for a ream, but like a man rooting against another one. He picked them, not because of what they were, but because of what they weren’t. They weren’t the professional, clean-cut, pinstriped millionaires that were forced down our throats on the Y.E.S. Network every evening growing up in Upstate New York. Pedro spoke broken english, Ortiz wasn’t beating out any ground balls to first and Varitek was more than happy to get in the face of the game’s richest player. I remember my father in a lot of ways: I do push-ups daily like we did together when I was a child, I try not to miss mass, even if I’m late like he usually was, and I always pull for the Sox.

Of the moments that we did steal together, many were on or near the water. He belonged to a Golf Club that had a pond stocked with largemouth bass. That… that is what I call divine intervention. The pond was next to a short Par 3, and he’d play the hole on a loop to work on his short game while I’d work on my subtle presentation of soft plastics to the resident bass.

I’ve been reading a great deal about the late Jim Harrison as of late. He was, it seems, a man larger than life. And it seems that he will be remembered in the great line of writers who have tried to wrap words around water. I say “line,” here, because what I love most about outdoor journalism, or as much as anything else, is that if you get into it… you inherit its history. There are any number of great sports journalists, but it’s unfair to say that there’s a lineage that follows. Some have waxed poetic about Ted Williams and the beauty of baseball and others on the unpredictable beauty of the N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball tournament that my Syracuse Orange are currently still alive in. Because there are so many different sports (or at least four for our American purposes), it’s harder to carve out a lineage of great sportswriters who inherit the work of those before them and perhaps pass something on to those who will follow.

But in Outdoor Journalism, we inherit a history. Hemingway might be the most famous outdoor writer, but he’s a piece of a puzzle as old as a a hook and a typewriter, or even perhaps the pen.

And that is part of what I love about writing about the outdoors. We can look at all those who have come before us, the mark they’ve made, absorb it, inherit it and then try to make our own. If we are lucky, and I have been, the gatekeepers of the great institutions of outdoor journalism, like the editors at Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, Saltwater Sportsman and Florida Sportsman, the Drake and the Fly Fish Journal let us inside their walls for a moment, and let us carve our thoughts on the paper walls of their storied castles. I’m blessed to have left my mark inside each of these monuments to our love of water… not because of any talent I have, but because editors had faith in me that I’d share something worth sharing. I’ve tried, and I’ll leave it at that.

But in thinking about Harrison, and Hemingway, I’m reminded of why our particular field of writing, of content creation, is a special one: Whenever we pick up a pen, or sit down to a laptop to try to articulate what it is we love about the water, we inherit the history, the obligation, and the beauty of all those who have done so before us, in such profound and impactful ways.

Rest in peace, Mr. Harrison, and thank you for the crucial piece of this great puzzle that you contributed, one that we can only hope to inherit as and wield half as gracefully and beautifully as you did in your time here.

LOTR: The Tolkien/Cancer Connection

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 1.22.19 PMAlright, I’ll start this off with a fair warning: I’m a nerd. Certainly that word has had several meanings for different generations, but I think for the most part it implies that you care about something more than, perhaps, you should. For better or worse our society sees Apathy and indifference as “cool,” and so emotionally investing yourself in something risks your being called names. I’ve been called most, so I’m hopefully developing a thick skin. Who was, for all intents and purposes, the “King of Cool”?

I’ll give you a clue: He died driving a Porche in a reckless fashion, the same one in which he lived much of life. His legend is forever cemented in the immortality of youth and apathy toward danger. James Dean did, arguably, the “coolest” thing anyone can do: He died young and seemingly unafraid. We might give lip service to condemning that kind of behavior, but look around… we as a society are on our knees praising it. Hendrix, Cobain and Dean are all almost revered in popular culture.

When I was in High School, I absolutely fell in love with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was halfway through Return of the King on a school night, and I feigned illness the next day to stay home and finish it. Yeah… I was that bad. Something about (skip this if you’re not a LOTR fan) a King like Aragorn, disguised as a simple Ranger named Strider, was tremendously endearing. Perhaps we all want to believe that we are “more,” beneath the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world, and that concept embodied in Tolkien’s pages, and later on the screen, was an endearing one to a high school kid who got cut from every team he ever tried out for, save for bowling (They didn’t make cuts).

The most endearing thing about Tolkien’s work, which manifests itself in a great deal of literature, though… was a simple concept: Hope despite hardship. Tolkien chose hobbits, not kings or soldiers, to save the fate of the universe from evil overtaking it. Sure, a wizard helped… but ultimately it was a tiny creature from the Shire that defeated Sauron’s empire. To solidify my Nerd status, I’ll pull a second reference from Christian Bale’s portrayal of another of my heroes from youth: Batman. He says to Katie Holmes’ character at one point in the movie: “I am… more.” He was, in the movie, as was Frodo… “more,” than he appeared to be.

That kind of inspiration, and I’ve drawn it from several places, is what keeps me fighting this disease when I ask myself nagging questions like: “What will $4,000 accomplish against an illness that persevered, killing millions, despite trillions of dollars being devoted to cancer research?” What difference will this make?”

I try not to get too religious in my Catch a Cure ramblings… because I’m aware we all have our own faith… but a baby born to a carpenter in a manger might have seemed like an unlikely hero to save all of humanity at the time, too.

But Tolkien isn’t some obscure author you have to search through pages of Google returns to learn about. His work is published in dozens of languages, read around the world, it has become a million-dollar movie franchise, and he has a fanbase that spans the globe.

And although his prose was incredible, his understanding of language, fascinating, and his ability to tell a story, almost unparalleled… I don’t think that’s what has kept his works alive long after his passing.

I think that the central premise of his work is simple: Although the world at times can make us feel small and insignificant, that does not mean we are incapable of accomplishing incredible things.

As Tolkien illustrates… it wasn’t an army that destroyed the symbol of greed and evil… it was a small hand connected to a small creature… with courage much larger than his size might indicate, dropping the ring into the fires of Mordor.

And I know that millions, if not trillions of dollars have been spent fighting melanoma, the disease that killed my father… but when I read Tolkien, and stories as inspiring as his… I’m reminded that it’ll be the final dollar that funds the study that finds the cure that matters as much as all the ones that got us to the point where it might. And a dollar? That… that I can scare up, thanks to the help and support of so many companies, and individuals, that have come to my aid in this endeavor.

[And if you’re one of the 12 people who read this, please keep the secret of my not being cool to yourself]

 

Another Fishing Magazine? Why?

DSC_0060 27
This redfish was caught in the backwaters near Georgetown, S. Car. in 2010.

Thanks to the people at B.A.S.S., Tyler Wade especially, this past trip had a dual purpose. The first, which I’ve no doubt bored you with to death, was to use the generosity of our sponsors (Get Vicious, Native Eyewear, Sunology, Rick Roth at Mirror Image and our original sponsor, Buff) to deliver a roundhouse kick to melanoma, a disease particularly dangerous to outdoorsmen, and one that unfortunately my family has more experience with than we’ve ever wanted. Thank God the people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are working tirelessly to stop this disease in its tracks.

The second was to go town to town, shop to shop, and try to give future readers a chance for us, together, to build a fishing magazine, by asking them exactly what type of magazine they want to read, what magazine they think is missing. With Emerson’s help, I’ve designed a survey to do just that. I couldn’t hit every town with water, but by God I tried. From Oklahoma to Florida, Georgia to South Carolina, the Outer Banks to Delaware and back to my native Northeast, I tried not to pass by a tackle shop without stopping in.

But before we build something, there’s the essential question of: Why? And it’s one I’ve been asking myself since the notion of my own publication first came into my head, probably more than two years ago… initially just the kind of crazy dream you have that won’t leave you alone.

There are objective reasons. I believe we’ve seen quality, print fishing content become more scarce for a number of reasons. The recession hit boat manufacturers especially hard, and since much of the fishing content we read is supported by ad dollars from boat companies, we did see a lot of the content we loved come close to vanishing.

But there are still great, great publications churning out tremendous fishing stories. Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, The Drake, The Fly Fish Journal, Saltwater SportsmanFlorida Sportsman, and recently, Anglers Journal, all routinely amaze me with stories told in unique and beautiful ways about the waters we love.

So, why another fishing magazine? Part of it, certainly, is that I think there’s a type of fishing content that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We see a lot of great content about trout and salmon fishing in the fly-fishing magazines, bass fishing gets its share of coverage, and magazines like Marlin and Sport Fishing do a great job of depicting the beauty of offshore fishing. But for us inshore, conventional guys, without the money for a boat, and especially those of us who love the southern coastal states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia… there’s less content than I think we’d like to see.

But I’d be remiss to leave out the essential factor that is at the heart of this mission. From about age 9 or 10, when our father, or an aunt or uncle, first shows us how to make a tepee out of kindling, stuffed with newspaper, and start a fire, we have an inherent and undeniable desire to create something of our own. This desire is more often attributed to men than it is women, but I think that’s an unfair bias that hopefully we as a society are moving away from. Without women, after all, there wouldn’t be any of us to create anything.

And I’d be lying if I said that the desire to create something of my own accord, from scratch, from the ground up, wasn’t a big part of my motivation for trying to build a fishing magazine for you, because it certainly is.

But here’s the thing about building something, whether that’s a fire when you’re 12 or a magazine when you’re 29…

If you build it alone, and just for yourself, whatever meaning it has will be minimal. Of what value is the warmth of a campfire if not shared? It’ll keep you alive, but that’s about it.

I designed this survey, and went town to town, shop to shop, dropping it off… because I want to build this magazine together. I want to share the beauty of this sport, that I’ve loved my whole life, with new friends who feel the same way. I want to create something they’ll love, yes… but I also want their input so that we might build it together. I don’t want to pave a one-way street where I’m delivering you a product that I hope you’ll like. I want a path that goes both ways, where I listen and use what feedback you’re willing to give so that the warmth of a combined love for the sport is all the greater, and so that it grows. I was reminded of this core ideology today when I heard a phrase that I’d heard before, but one that has a new meaning to us at each stage in our lives: “Nobody wins unless everyone wins.”

No matter how beautiful, poignant or intelligent of a magazine I might start… it’d be nothing without readers who enjoyed it and contributed their unique experience toward my continued effort to improve it. They’d have to love it for me to love making it. I couldn’t win unless they, unless you, won by embracing the content I hope to create.

I’d be honored if you’d help, and as always, thanks for reading.

 

On National Puppy Day

DSC_0036 8
These dogs were borrowed, from Chris Senyohl in Seattle, for future Puppy-Day blog post material.

There are some holidays that, for better or worse, you’d never know about were it not for social media. I couldn’t help but notice, scrolling through Facebook, that today was National Puppy day.

It was sort of a bittersweet realization, as sadly my grandmother (and best friend, Irish inspiration, source of wisdom, and all around hero) recently lost her West Highland White Terrier, Duffy. He lived a long and mostly happy and spoiled life, and we all know that all dogs… well, I won’t finish that. But still, losing a pet is hard for anyone with a heart.

It got me thinking about animals, and the role they play in our lives. My father was, if anything, a workaholic. He’d spend 14, sometimes 16-hour days at the office. He was a man of few words from a different generation than we inhabit today. Conversations were usually short, matter-of-fact affairs that involved one of three things: 1. Will the Sox beat the Yankees this year? 2. Are you keeping your grades up, and/or 3. Has Syracuse got a Sweet 16 team this year?

But, for us, dogs were a Godsend. If my father was about one thing, it was physical fitness. So, no matter the weather (and we get some stuff up here in Upstate New York that stretches the definition of ‘weather,’ anywhere else in the lower 48) he’d walk our golden retriever, Maggie, every Sunday, for about 2 miles, or 45 minutes. I, of course, jumped at the chance to spend this time with him, and tagged along. I’d later follow, to use a corny metaphor, in his footsteps and walk her every day during my high school years.

Were it not for dogs, and Maggie in particular, I don’t know that we’d have shared those Sunday hours together for more than ten years. If you figure we walked her for 50 Sundays (and rarely did we miss one) per year, for ten years, that’s 500 hours, 500 in-depth conversations (or sometimes quiet walks) that I got to spend with my Dad that I might not have otherwise.

That’s what I got to thinking about on National Puppy Day. I don’t have some grand conclusion to draw about dogs, fathers or the limited time we all get to spend here, some of it with those we care about. I’m just grateful we had our Golden, and that she brought us together.

A Word (Or Two) On Emerson College

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 5.53.47 PMIn one of my favorite speeches of all time, in accepting a Grammy in 1996, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam asks: “How do you get an award for art?”

In some respects, I can see where he’s coming from. Many of us got into writing, or some other art form, because it’s… well… not math. We can’t rank, quantify or define art, we can only appreciate it. Perhaps Robin Williams articulates this best in the movie Dead Poets Society, when mocks the notion that a poem (like a song) can be studied in any objective sense.

We live in a society that increasingly likes to rank, quantify and define things as they relate to one another and social media has only fueled this trend. Every publication in existence wants to tell you about the ten best vacation spots, places to eat or shows to watch. I’m not above this, in fact I’m guilty of it. Ranking things is fun.

But I’ll be the first to tell you that any institution that tries to rank academic programs, like U.S. News and World Report has done, with much fanfare in recent years, is missing a great deal of the equation.

As probably many of us who have ever worked in the outdoor writing industry have, I’ve long dreamt of starting my own magazine. During the recession, boat manufacturers suffered mightily, and so we saw the amount of fishing content in “Hook & Bullet” books suffer because all content is ad supported, and fishing content is largely boat-ad supported. So when we saw the recession eat into the amount of fishing content in print, I thought perhaps there could be a silver lining: filling a void that the economy had created as it slowly started to heal. One magazine, Angler’s Journal, is already doing a hell of a job with a relatively new magazine.

Starting a fishing magazine, however, is right up there in terms of its dream-possibility with going to the moon and marrying Jennifer Lawrence (or, for you females reading this, maybe Johnny Depp(?) — I don’t know, insert your actor of choice). Unless… unless you get a great deal of help.

For me, Emerson has been that help, and whether my dream comes true or not, they’ve aided it in every fashion that they could. Gian Lombardo, a fisherman himself, helped me design a survey to assess the wants and desires of future readers.

Bill Beuttler, the Department Chair of my program, approved the study whereby I’d assess that readership in conjunction with my attempt to raise money for the Melanoma Research Foundation, in memory of my father.

Emerson has great instructors that provide insight in the classroom into the careers we’re undertaking, but a lot of schools are doing that. I don’t know that this traveling, cancer-fighting, magazine-launching attempt would have been possible, in an academic sense, were I a student at any other college.

I’ve tried to go out of my way to thank the sponsors that have gotten on board to help me battle melanoma, and I’ll mention them again: Get Vicious Fishing, Sunology Sunscreen, Native Eyewear, Hanes, Rick Roth at Mirror Image and Buff on round 1.

But without Emerson College’s support, none of this would have been possible. And it’s not as though this were a program or project I signed up for and followed some pre-established set of rules. I’m doing what’s called a “Directed Study,” which is basically a program that the school established that allowed students to set up and execute their own academic project, should they have that ambition. For those of you who went to college, say, 30 years ago: Imagine having a program that said “Tell us what you want to study and how you want to do it and we’ll help.” That’s what Emerson is doing for me.

Gian Lombardo has invested his personal time and resources into this effort. Bill Beuttler had the faith in it to approve it. And the school has signed off.

They’ve truly taken my ambition, passion and creative direction and channeled and guided it with their years of experience in the industry.

And however they select their student body… they’ve recruited and admitted some great young people. Mary Nolan, James Spica, Samantha Keenan and many others in the program weren’t just “nice students networking in graduate school,” they were friends that were there for me when I lost my father. That type of character doesn’t show up on S.A.T. scores.

I’ve been so busy thanking all the sponsors for their help in this effort, I almost forgot to mention, tell you about, and brag about one of the most important institutions behind this whole project. And words could not do justice the positive impact Emerson has had in my life at a time when it was sorely needed, but I had to try.

 

On The Irish…

1421028_10102905685639536_4753140964686029423_oThe Irish, as is evidenced by this blog, are first and foremost… procrastinators. I was thinking about my heritage yesterday. My mother’s side of the family are Gillorens, tracing back to Killorglin, Ireland and my father’s mother was a McCabe… and of course it doesn’t get much more Irish than that.

I was thinking about our, my heritage, and trying to piece together the puzzle that we all grapple with each day. It occurred to me that the Irish, especially, are at an elevated risk for skin cancer because we’re such a fair-skinned people. That’s not to say anyone can ignore the inherent risks, but when you’re Irish, you can get a sunburn getting the mail in the morning… or at night if there’s a full moon.

And I’ve seen in Irish friends and family, that we’re more easily affected emotionally too. We can be tough as nails (I have one Irish uncle who is a prison guard and another who drives an 18-wheeler back and forth to Harlem every day) but we care more, and are more easily impacted by events in our lives that others might let pass them by without a thought. We think more, sometimes more than is necessary, and tend to overanalyze, sometimes to our own detriment.

I think we are more deeply moved by both life’s great joys and difficult periods. This isn’t bragging, if anything there are times when I wish I cared less, but as an Irish friend once put it, in a wise phrase that seems more fitting with each day I survive: “It is what it is.”

But I don’t think the essential question for us, as human beings, is “What are we like — what is our nature?” I think the essential question is: “How can we use that, once we understand it, to contribute toward a greater good for those we have the capability of impacting?”

If, being Irish, I’ve taken melanoma coming into my life more personally than someone else might, if I’ve held onto it, wrestled with it, hated it… that is and will be my nature. But that is not the question that needs answering.

The question that needs answering, of all of us, always, is a simple one: “What are you going to do about it?” Hopefully, thanks in large part to all of our sponsors, I’m answering that every day.

A Word (or Two) On Anglers

When I was 23 years old, I undertook a mission for Outdoor Life to fish the entire country. I was young, naive and had more ambition than was perhaps healthy at the time, but my goal was to see these United States, while I was young and crazy enough to do it from the back of a Jeep.

I saw a great deal of the country, and as many of you know… My God is it beautiful. There are not words to describe the Outer Banks at sunrise, the Keys are like pieces of Heaven that mankind hasn’t totally ruined yet, New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich places you might imagine, the forests of California, especially when you’re so close to the Pacific, are the stuff outdoorsmens’ dreams are made of and Seattle… don’t get me started on Seattle. As a writer I can’t help but thinking this all sounds cliche and repetitive, but it’s true, so what the…

But I discovered something I wasn’t looking for on the road. On a bare-bones budget, I was sleeping in parking lots in the back of my Wrangler… which I wouldn’t recommend unless you happen to be crazy, like I undoubtedly am. But what I discovered was that the people of this country, and fishermen especially, are more genuinely giving, helpful and beautiful souls than I might have imagined anyone to be before that trip. In the past decade or so, if we had any illusions about how evil human beings could be, those crumbled with the twin towers, I saw them explode on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon, and whether it’s a greater access to a constant news cycle, or the world is in fact getting “more evil,” we’re reminded every day the depths humanity can sink to in its darkest hours.

I was looking through pictures of this past trip when I decided to write this. I was looking at an image of Steve Niemoeller, a guide with BassOnline in Florida. Steve was kind enough to help not once, but twice on my initial Catch a Cure effort.

And I don’t mean that the guy just took an extra hour and got me on the water… he took me out for an entire day, then texted me later during the trip to fish a second time with his grandson. On this most recent trip, he had suggestions and ideas for how to best utilize the project to raise money and awareness for the cause. The guy did everything but crop and caption my photos for the gallery. It was astounding.

But Mr. Niemoeller’s kindness is, if anything, a microcosm of the overwhelming generosity I’ve found from almost every angler I’ve encountered between Maine and Seattle. I don’t think I am, nor do I try to be, a pessimist about human nature. But not even the most optimistic human being could reasonably expect the kindness I’ve been shown repeatedly from so many fishermen like Steve.

Were I to name-check the anglers from Maine (Jeff McEvoy) to Montana (Angler’s Tonic blogger and FR&R editor Greg Thomas, pictured above ice-dancing with a trout in Montana) who just, without any incentive whatsoever, went out of their way to help out a fellow fisherman, this blog would be a novel. And maybe some day it will be.

B.A.S.S. Social Media editor Tyler Wade saw my message about Catch a Cure through the Facbeook messaging app, and went out of her way to reach out to me, and help set up this project. This wasn’t some big-deal businessman reaching out via conference call… this was a young man mad at melanoma and wanting to make a difference in a positive way. Each sponsor who got on board did so in much the same way: opening and e-mail and getting on board. Native Eyewear, Sunology Sunscreen, Buff, Get Vicious and Rick Roth at Mirror Image… Thank you all.

There’s a beautiful, and relatively new, fishing magazine, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. It’s called Angler’s Journal and the prose and the photography in this magazine are some of the best I’ve seen in print in a long, long time. I reached out to editor Bill Sisson, hoping I might share the story of this trip and what it has meant to me, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone. Try reaching out to the editors at the Boston Globe or the New York Times (I have). I’m certainly not implying anything negative about these publications, but at a certain point in an editor’s career he or she presumably gets too busy to read a note or an e-mail from someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody. Except the people I’ve mentioned above: they weren’t too busy, they made the time.

At Emerson College where I’m working on my graduate degree, a professor named Gian Lombardo went above and beyond so that this trip might work in a capacity to survey the audience for a forthcoming magazine, helping me create a survey to assess a potential readership for the magazine I’m hoping to build for you.

For the entire decade I’ve spent trying to work in this industry, I’ve been reminded again and again of the impact that humility, kindness and compassion can have on a life. Indeed the people in this business have saved mine more times than I can count. I was fresh out of college and working construction when I reached out to Field & Stream. A few months on a roof in the beating sun had gotten me pretty desperate for an alternative source of employment. Now this is Field & Stream we’re talking about… the Field & Stream. Not only did they bring me on as a paid editorial intern, they kept me on as a web intern after that, giving me more experience than anyone at 21 could have asked for.

I never would have been brash or bold enough to apply for a job at On The Water Magazine in Cape Cod, but I did send them a story idea. Chris Megan and Kevin Blinkoff took a chance on a 22-year old young man and gave him the opportunity to be an editor at a fishing magazine before he’d had almost any experience in that field whatsoever.

And that cross-country fishing trip that I attempted? That would not have even been remotely possible had not Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life believed that I, or anyone for that matter, might even be capable of such an undertaking. I ask myself daily if I did that opportunity justice in my attempts with words and images to share it… and I don’t think I’ll ever know that answer. On that journey I got to meet Jerry Gibbs and John Merwin (rest his soul), two of best writers and most well-known content creators this industry has ever seen. Both invited me into their homes. Neither could have been nicer about it.

In truth, a lot of what might seem like courage is in reality a combination of self-doubt and anger with the disease that took my father. Had I actually considered the prospect of fishing the entire country from a Jeep, I might never have tried it. But since I deemed it almost impossible, I figured: “Why not?” It was only the people I met and fished with on that journey, and these most recent ones, that made them anything more than a tumbleweed of an aspiring writer going where the wind took him.

And the motivation behind Catch a Cure is less altruistic ambition and more of: “I have  to do something for this to make sense in my life.” And hopefully the funds raised will make what difference they can, and you can contribute here.

And this trip, and the one that preceded, have made sense. They’ve not only made sense of why, perhaps, melanoma came into my family’s life… but they’ve made sense of the world for me, and restored my faith that it’s an incredible place full of tremendously kind, helpful, altruistic, caring and genuine individuals. “Thank you,” to those of you that’d have aided this effort, and made it possible, is nowhere near enough. Nowhere near enough.

The (10) Incredible thing(s) about Bass

cropped-p7140133.jpg
This bass was four-plus dollars for the Melanoma Research Foundation.

I’ve been blessed to chase, and catch, a lot of species of game fish in only 29 years. I’ve caught a few stripers along the East Coast, redfish from South Carolina to the Keys, landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine and chum salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It’s worth noting that this isn’t indicative of any particular prowess I have as an angler, but it is a reflection of the kindness of anglers almost everywhere, who were and are willing to share their home water with a traveling vagabond.

But on this trip, and the one that preceded it, I’ve grown an increasing appreciation for what might easily be called America’s favorite fish: The largemouth bass.

I was probably about four years old when I caught my first largemouth, so I don’t consider myself new to bass fishing, but this effort has given me a renewed and deepening appreciation for the guys that are really, really good at it. Without further ado, here are 10 things I’ve grown to love, or remembered that I love, about the most popular of American game fish.

10. We have them in common: Go to Oklahoma and try to talk tarpon and you’ll get some funny looks, but largemouth is a universal language. You can debate the merits of topwater lures and spinnerbaits in any bar or beach from California to the Carolinas.

9. They’re (almost) free: Growing up, we didn’t have a boat, or many friends with boats. But they did stock a golf course pond near the house with largemouth bass and I spent almost every summer night between the ages of 10 and 17 learning every inch of that pond.

8. They’re Opportunistic: Now, I’m all for the complexity and challenge that can come with matching a hatch, or choosing a lure that most closely resembles the type of forage migrating stripers are feeding on… but when you’re a young angler (and sometimes when you’re an adult) you just want something that’ll eat in the few hours you have to get on the water. Don’t get me wrong… bass can be picky at times, but oftentimes they’re not.

7. The Strike: We’ve all had those fish that blow up on a Jitterbug or Lucky 13 like they’re a muskie. There’s nothing timid about a largemouth bass strike, and that’s half the fun of catching them in the first place.

6. The Fight: Now I won’t get into ranking game fish in terms of their fighting prowess, no one has ever won that argument, but largemouth bass, pound for pound, give a hell of a battle. Just watch a largemouth take to the air and violently try to throw your lure and tell me it’s not one of the better fighting freshwater fish that swims.

5. The size: Now, obviously this depends on where you’re bass fishing. But in Upstate New York as a young man, I usually had two go-to fishing options on any given summer day. One was a nearby stocked stream with brown and rainbow trout that got to about 12 inches, at best, and the other was a nearby pond where a 4-pound bass wasn’t out of the question. When you get into the deep south, where a 10-pound fish isn’t out of the question, you’re talking about one of the biggest freshwater fish an angler without a boat can realistically expect to catch from shore on any given day.

4. They’re Smart: A great deal of the fun in fishing comes from outwitting our adversary (the fish). It’s easy to think, as a boy, that these fish aren’t all that smart. But then go to a pressured body of water on a hot summer day in the South and you’ll learn in a hurry that your lure, its color, the way in which you present it, and when exactly you fish it are all of paramount importance if you want to catch a fish worth photographing.

3. It’s a lifelong love affair: The reasons we love largemouth bass, throughout our lives, often change. But when you think of the first fish you’ve likely caught, the first fish you drove your first truck to target, the first fish you brought onto your first boat, the first fish you showed a son,  younger cousin or new angler how to catch, and perhaps even the final few fish you relax chasing in your retirement years… they’re all likely to be largemouth bass.

2. They can make you World-Famous: You know who Max Domecq is, right? Didn’t think so. Domecq holds the current tarpon world record. Now, the tarpon is a beautiful, regal and enormous fish, but a largemouth that’s 270 pounds lighter than Domecq’s fish could easily make you ten times as famous as he’ll ever be. George Perry’s world record is one of the most revered in fishing history and Manubu Kurita’s fish caught in Japan made headlines worldwide when it was caught in 2009.

1. They live in Beautiful Places: Go ahead and wax poetic all you want about trout streams or the striper surf, and I’ll not argue. But if I had to chase one single species of fish, and could only chase one, around the lower 48, it’d be largemouth. A largemouth mission would take you into the beautiful lakes of Maine, through the Adirondacks in my native Upstate New York, along the Potomac in Maryland, into the heart of Georgia, to some of the most storied bass lakes in the world in Florida, to some gorgeous and legendary lakes in Texas, up through California’s pristine bass waters, and in many of the gorgeous states in our country’s heartland. My pursuit of largemouth bass, and my mission to cure melanoma, has allowed me to see some amazing country… but only because largemouth bass got there first.

Always Stay Humble and Kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Steve Niemoeller, of Bassonline.com, who has helped this project enormously, hoists a St. Johns River largemouth.

I’ll admit that when I cross into what’s considered “The South,” I can’t help but change the Sirius Radio to the Highway, its country station. And I’ve heard the Tim McGraw song on a lot lately, and it’s resonated more and more with me throughout this trip.

If we have any type of success in whatever we attempt in life, it’s easy to start to think we’ve earned something, that because of what we’ve achieved, built or accomplished… we’re in some way ‘better,’ than those who have failed to do just that. I’ve been guilty of this, and I’m not proud of it.

But I think it’s important for us, throughout our lives, to look to others for inspiration and guidance, no matter how old we get. And when I look at the number of the people who’ve helped this project, not from some celebrity or business tycoon, but from a graduate student and freelance outdoor writer, it’s overwhelmingly evident just how many American people feel the exact same way, and live out that humility and kindness every day.

When I dreamt up Catch a Cure II, I sent e-mails to every company listed in the iCast catalog (the annual sportfishing trade show). Now we all open our e-mails every day and, unless it’s something from someone we know, we often disregard it. But the people at Get Vicious Fishing didn’t. The people at Native Eyewear didn’t. They opened the e-mail, their hearts and wallets and got on board.

The guides in Florida at BassOnline, who are the most professional, kind and helpful guys you’ll ever meet, didn’t hesitate to get right on board with the project, and went above and beyond to help out. Steve Niemoeller, Brett Isackson and Todd Kersey each went out of their way to see to it that Catch a Cure I, and II, got all the fish it could. Above all else, I want this project to be about hope, about a fun future for outdoorsmen that’s safer because it’s informed. And I could never create that kind of project alone, and those guys made sure I wouldn’t have to.

When searching for an outlet for this dream, I sent a Facebook message to B.A.S.S. social media editor Tyler Wade. How many of those must she get, in her job, per day? And she read mine, got back, and got on board for the project. That still amazes me every time I think about it.

And when I talked about my dream, of starting a beautiful fishing magazine for conventional (not fly) fishermen, an angler and professor named Gian Lombardo at Emerson College, where I’m a grad student, believed in it and got on board. He even helped me come up with an idea about how to build that very publication: By asking YOU what you wanted to see in it. And you can answer that question for me right here, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would. And by the way, filling out this survey will make you eligible to win prizes, in case you need added incentive aside from getting the EXACT magazine that you want made for you.

And I never forget, when I’m out here, that most of the time this is enjoyable, if it’s at times challenging. But the people at the Melanoma Research Foundation, who are working with these dollars to fund the studies that WILL find the cure, they’re the ones who truly deserve a pat on the back, and our deepest gratitude. Katherine Daniels, specifically, has been a world of help to me as I’ve tried to figure out all the details that go along with a fundraising project like this one.

In truth, I’m kind of a shy young man. I don’t particularly relish being on camera to film these videos, or seeing myself in pictures with fish. I became a writer because… it seemed a preferable alternative to having to talk.

But when this disease came into my life, and my family’s life, I couldn’t help but see that as a challenge, to see it as having some purpose necessitating a response. Maybe I needed to see it that way, because UV rays causing malignant cells to spread throughout a loved one’s body and take his life, without any greater meaning in the grand scheme of things, is is somewhat hard to stomach.

And maybe life isn’t as complicated as we’d like to think, and things have a greater meaning if and when we decide that they do, for us, during that point in our lives.

But I know that the people who’ve come into my life through this effort, whether that’s the sponsors who’ve gotten on board, the people at Emerson who’ve encouraged the effort, the guides from Oklahoma to Florida who’ve helped… it has meant more to me than I can articulate. It has been a profound difference in my life at a time when I needed one. Their humility, kindness and help will stay with me forever. And most importantly, perhaps, when we as a species finally find the cure for this cancer, we can all say we had a small hand in that effort.

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you.” I’m certainly not.

Thank you all,

Rick Bach

America: Great Already

It seems, increasingly, that you can’t escape the upcoming presidential election year and the media fanfare that goes along with it. I can’t turn on a television, look at Facebook, or hold a conversation without the topic of our increasingly divided nation coming up.

I’m not on this trip, or writing in this capacity, to debate politics. I’ve spent too much time on the water for my political opinions to hold much of it.

But I will say this: Our nation is an incredible one. I’ve spent months living out of the back of a Jeep, or cheap motels, fishing my way from Maine to Montana and back, and I’m here to assure you, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, a Northeast liberal or a Midwestern conservative: God… we live in a wonderful country.

In what other nation in the world could you drive from from a prolific coastal bluefin tuna fishery to a mecca for largemouth purists in a single day? Where else in the world might you have the chance to tangle with an enormous blue catfish then cast flies for beautiful trout in a mountain stream that same afternoon?

And in what other country could a young man, with no fame or fortune behind him, say simply: “I’m out here to fish for a cure for melanoma, because it’s the only thing that made sense to me,” and get so, so much help?

I don’t know, nor will I pretend to know, what my ancestors (Gillorens from Killorglin, Ire., McCabe’s from that same Emerald Isle, and Bachs and Joneses from Germany and… wherever Joneses come from) were thinking or going through when they boarded a boat to come to this country. But I’m terribly grateful that they did.

So I just thought I’d take a moment, a deep breath amidst all the debate and finger-pointing and divisive rhetoric, and say that I’m overwhelmingly grateful, and especially as an outdoorsman, that I live in the United States of America. I’m reminded why I ought to be every single day.