A Life Story: Told in Tattoos

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The guys at Miami Ink in Florida donated the cost of this tattoo to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

If you ask 10 different people about tattoos, you’ll likely get ten different answers, ranging from the inked aristocrat who believes that they’re art to the conservative person who believes that they’re a regrettable and passing fad. I’ll not weigh in on where I stand (although it might be obvious) but I’ll share the story of mine, save one, and I’d love to hear yours.

Catch a Cure: I’ll start with my most recent, a fishing hook through the melanoma ribbon on my left hand. Rick Roth is a guy who designed the T-shirts we’ve been selling to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation, and the design he put over the back shoulder was so cool, I decided to have it tattooed on me permanently. I didn’t know when I made that decision that the guys at Miami Ink. would donate half the cost for the tattoo to the MRF, but it was a great addition to the story.

Zane Grey: When I first read the Zane Grey quote, “The lure of the sea is the same strange magic that makes men love what they fear,” I knew it articulated a sentiment about the sea that I’d had for almost my entire life, and better than I ever might.

The Hold Steady: The Hold Steady is a band that I love, and one of their songs contains the lyric: “Heaven is whenever, we can get together.” When I lost my Dad I thought a lot more about what heaven might be like, and came to the conclusion that if… all it was was seeing those who’d gone before us, that’d be as good as it might be.

Bruce: I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for more than a decade now, and having his Telecaster with the sneakers hanging from the headstock (an image pulled from the back of an album) was a logical decision when it came to choosing the next tattoo.

Pearl Jam (1): I once drove for 14 hours from New Jersey to Wisconsin to see Pearl Jam play their 20th anniversary concert. Suffice it to say, I love Pearl Jam. Perhaps my favorite song is “Given to Fly” and so I had those lyrics, with a feather pen containing the ‘Given to’ and writing ‘Fly’ on my hand, tattooed on me when it became evident I’d be a Pearl Jam fan for life.

Pearl Jam (2): One thing that we learn as we get older, is that try though we might, we can’t control every aspect of our lives. That lesson came hard to me, but it finally did. Pearl Jam’s song ‘Release,’ is about Eddie Vedder losing his father, so the lyrics “I’ll ride this wave where it takes me” around the famous stickman from the Alive single seemed like a logical conclusion for my inner right arm.

Ireland: ‘Bach’ might not sound Irish, but my ancestors are almost all from the Emerald Isle. My mother came from a long line of Gillorens (after Killorglin County, Ireland) and my father’s mother’s side were McCabes. My first tattoo was the Irish words for ‘Hope,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Faith,’ and ‘Strength’ on my right shoulder, around a cross with a shamrock at the center. Muinin, Gra, Dochas and Neart… in case you were wondering.

Striped Bass: When I was an intern at Field & Stream, now-Fishing Editor Joe Cermele helped design my second tattoo, a striped bass over a nautical star. Suffice it to say I’ve loved stripers for the two decades that I’ve been chasing (and sometimes catching) them.

The Red Sox: I got the Boston ‘B’ when I moved to Boston. ‘Nough said, right?

Writing: One of my favorite bands is a group from New Jersey called the Gaslight Anthem. In a song called “Handwritten,” they sing: “From heart to limb to pen, every word handwritten.” I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember, so having lyrics from a band that I love articulate a sentiment about writing seemed only logical.

Redfish: When I was a kid, we used to vacation in Florida and the house we’d rent was on a saltwater canal. Throwing a shrimp-tipped jig from dawn to dusk might get a hit from any number of species from ladyfish to jacks, but the one that kept me casting was redfish. I’ve been lucky to catch them in every state where they swim, but when I caught a 30-plus-pound red with Emerson classmate and friend James Spica, I knew it was time for a redfish tattoo. I have the redfish tail, with a bit of blue at the tip (a coloration they get from an oyster diet), and the signature black false eye.

Foo Fighters: Again, Dave Grohl has produced some of my favorite music in the past twenty years, but it took me about that long to understand the lyrics “Times like these you learn to live again.” During a period of my life when I was…. learning to live again, I had those lyrics, around the now famous double F, tattooed on my forearm.

One More: My father was a man of few words, but one thing he said to me that I’ll remember forever, whether it was regarding push-ups, hours of work, or attempts at something you cared about… was: “Do as many as you can, and then one more.” When he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, I had those words tattooed on my arm. He kept fighting, one more day, week and month, long after doctors predicted the disease would beat him. And I’ll keep fighting, in his memory, to raise one more dollar to beat the disease that took his life, once and for all.

It’s easy to look and someone and pass judgement based on appearance, and we’re all guilty of this at times, but if that’s going to be the case, I’d at least like to share the story and the inspiration underlying the ink. So there it is.

Any fishing, cancer-battling, or musically inspired tattoos out there? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Travel: The Heart of our Love for The Sport

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These images capture the country as best I could, from the Outer Banks to the Keys to Montana.

There’s no right answer to the question: “What is the essential, defining element that makes us love outdoor sports like hunting and fishing more than any other single factor?”

But I just returned from an annual trip I take with a friend and former college roommate to Fire Island, N.Y., where we’ve been fishing the surf since meeting as freshman in college at Syracuse University. Curt Dircks and his family own a small cabin on the island and we’ve had some spectacular years chasing striped bass and bluefish there over the past decade. The island, where most residents and visitors take a ferry from Long Island and commute either by walking or bicycle, is a unique and beautiful one. The whitetail deer, which walk over the ice in the winter to reach the island, alone make it a unique environment.

Prior to that trip I got to spend a weekend at a camp my aunt and uncle, Tom and Bridget Roberts, have had in their family for as long as I’ve been alive... and much longer before that. The cabin-style camp is in Old Forge, N.Y., near the base of the Adirondack National Park.

It’s a common occurrence to see black bears roaming within a stone’s throw from the cabin, and a trip without a deer sighting is almost unheard of. The cabin itself is mostly unadorned, basic and beautiful in a rustic way. On the front porch you can see the Adirondack’s Fulton Lake Chain spread out before you and behind the cabin there’s an enormous stone fire-pit that I can remember sitting at almost every summer for as long as I’ve been alive.

These beautiful places I’ve been blessed to see and revisit have convinced me that, more than any other single factor, travel and exploration are the basic elements of our love for the outdoors.

A fishing rod seemingly has a fairly simple purpose, but in reality it’s something we get to point at the next place we’d like to visit, see, explore, or return to. It’s a means, an excuse and a justification for exploring as many of the truly unique, breathtaking and memorable parts of this country and this earth as we might, given only one lifetime.

Had I not picked up a fishing rod, and in many respects held onto it, early on in my life, I might very well have still sought out these places, these experiences and the incredible wildlife that calls each home.

But I don’t know that I would have, and I’m certainly grateful every day that I did.

The ‘We’ Behind Catch a Cure

familypicWhen writing blogs or social media posts concerning Catch a Cure, I’ve tended to use the pronoun ‘we,’ referring to my effort, when addressing those of you kind enough to take a look at my project.

Lately, I’ve felt somewhat foolish, because the pictures you see of a guy holding fish, the pictures you see of a Jeep on the road with a driver, those pictures are (except for the incredible guys I’ve fished with from Oklahoma to the BassOnline crew in Florida to South Carolina) are mostly… well, me.

But I’m not trying to “create” the perception that it’s a team rather than an individual effort, because that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

When I’m home in Upstate New York, I reside at my grandmother’s house. I tell people it’s so that I can help her out (she is 82 and no longer drives and can use a hand with the heavy lifting like laundry, grocery shopping, and the like) but the opposite — namely that she helps me, with almost every aspect of life — is every bit as true, if not moreso.

My aunt, Erin Wheelock, was kind enough to ship out our first online order of shirts the other day, and has helped in numerous aspects of the project as well.

Another aunt, Tara Healey, helped me design the route and contact vendors along the way where I might sell the shirts, and is a source of daily inspiration.

My mother, well… there are not words. She has encouraged every dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

My cousins Everett Lockwood, and Joe and Chris Critelli, all roughly my age, are always inspiring me with outdoor ideas, their passion, and we can always pull a funny, hillarious, or outrageous memory from our childhoods to get a laugh when we need one.

We all need a ‘we’ in our lives, and those are some of mine. They have not been as blessed as I have, to travel, to fish, and to meet so many of the amazingly kind anglers that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, which makes their effort, help and support all the more amazing and selfless.

But to not mention them, recognize them, and thank them… every chance that I get… would be a tremendous mistake on my part. And even if they were not, could not be, with me on the water, on the road, they were with me every step of the way. And to quote the late, great Muhammad Ali: “”Anywhere I go, there is always an incredible crowd that follows me.”

My crowd is smaller, but no less incredible, and I wouldn’t be here, doing this, writing, fishing or fighting cancer without them.

That One Fish… You’ll Remember Forever

We all have that one fish that we'll remember forever, and this one's mine.
We all have that one fish that we’ll remember forever, and this one’s mine.

Perhaps the best thing about our sport is that there is so much more than simply the size, weight or species of a fish that goes into its “value,” to us as anglers. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer larger fish to smaller ones, and some species (striped bass, bluefish) over others (rocks, docks and bottom).

But it’s the story behind a fish, the effort that went into catching it, and maybe even the odds against it being caught at all… that give it so much personal value to us.

Growing up, I was fortunate in that my extended Irish family all chipped in and rented a house on Cape Cod for a couple weeks every summer, and at about age 12 I fell in love with the Brewster Flats.

On the flats, at low tide, an angler can wade out 3/4 of a mile and fish a deep channel that runs between two sandbars for a period of time before the tide returns.

When I was 21, it seemed like, for all intents and purposes, it would be our last family outing on the Cape. I’d be off to intern at Field & Stream in the Fall, and the real world would start.

I’d waded the flats every day for those three weeks that weather would allow, walking the mile and a half round-trip to fish during low tide. On some days I was lucky, and I’d catch and release a few schoolie stripers or small bluefish on the circle-hooked sand eels we’d use, but on many I was skunked. The walk alone is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken, so there’s no wasted trip on the Flats. The hermit crabs, sand eels and horseshoe crabs remind you of the You who came to the ocean for the first time, the You who was fascinated endlessly by all of these small wonders.

As luck would have it on the last day of our vacation, the local Brewster tackle shops were out of fresh sand eels, and I’d busted my  7’6″ G. Loomis Greenwater rod the day before.

All of which meant that I’d be fishing with artificials and using a 6’6″ spinning rod meant for freshwater.

Just as the tide was about to push me off the flat, as it rose to a level that would prevent safely walking the distance back to the beach, a 17-pound striped bass hit a Texas-rigged pink Hogy I was skipping over the top of the channel. At the time I was more “relishing” a last few casts than I was actively trying to catch a fish, which of course made it all the sweeter when the Hogy exploded from underneath.

On our last day of family vacation, on one of my final casts, after running out of bait, the largest striper I’d caught in more than seven years of wading those flats  every summer religiously… decided to eat.

I’m fairly confident that, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, that fish will always hold a special place for me, because of all the circumstances that surrounded its being caught. I know we all have that fish, for us, and I’d suspect that yours is neither your first or your biggest, or even your most exotic.

I’ve loved fishing magazines for as long as I can remember, and I want to start one with your help, for that reason as much as, if not more than, any other: It’s the stories that matter.