All posts by Rick Bach

I'm a 29-year-old freelance writer and graduate student. When I lost my father to melanoma in 2013, after he battled the disease for two years, I took on the mission of fighting the illness in a fun and informative way. I've raised $700 and counting for the Melanoma Research Foundation in Washington D.C. thanks to sponsors at Buff (www.buffusa.com), Sunology (sunology.com) and I'm currently looking for anyone else who wants to sign on to get some publicity for a good cause. If you've been affected by skin cancer, or have a loved one who has, know that I'm fighting it and feel free to reach out on Facebook, through e-mail at rickbach@ymail.com, or follow me on Twitter at Catchacure47. Thanks for checking in.

Thank You

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I’ve had more help from family than any one person deserves (Uncles Tom and Don pictured above).

On this holiday, when we all get together to share a meal, watch some football, reminisce about great memories from the past and plan a few adventures for the future, I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I truly am for help from so many people around the country in the past 33 years.

My parents have given me more opportunities than any one person deserves: My mother is the kindest woman you’d ever meet, and helps anyone who asks for it. My father was the most driven, hardest working person I’ve ever known. For as long as I knew him, until the absolute final weeks of his life, he woke at dawn, walked for two or three miles with our golden retriever, was to work by seven, and rarely came home before 9 p.m.  He lifted himself from the absolute utter depths of poverty to park a Lincoln Town Car in a three-story suburban home. My mother’s kindness, compassion, and forgiveness and my father’s work ethic, drive and faith are characteristics that I’m grateful to aspire to emulate every single day.

I am so lucky to have a large Irish Catholic family that our grandmother, Marilyn Jones, kept together for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m lucky to have cousins that have joined me on fishing adventures everywhere from Naples, Florida to the flats of Brewster on Cape Cod and in countless missions to places like Sandy Pond, Chittning Pond, Sauquoit Creek and the West Canada Creek, right in our own backyard.

Thanks to my father I was able to pursue a love of the written word at Syracuse University. Thanks to the editors at On The Water I had chance to work at a fishing magazine, and thanks to Gerry Bethge and Outdoor Life, I had an opportunity almost no one gets: fishing 36 of the lower 48 out of a Jeep.

The anglers — from Brooke Hidell in Maine who I just spoke with last week, to John Kobald in Seattle — and everyone in-between: I want you to know that I think about those trips, those fish, and your sincere hospitality and help, every day.

Thanks to Emerson College I was able to at least get a start on my dream of building you a fishing magazine, a project I’m still thinking about, and working on, every day. And thanks to Buff and Outdoor Sportsman Group, Todd Smith specifically, I got a chance to try and raise a few dollars to contribute to the Melanoma Research Foundation in memory of my Dad. The editors at B.A.S.S. gave me a crack at a second Catch a Cure, and Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing,  Rick Roth at Mirror Image T-shirts, and Sunology Sunscreen all got on board to help. Thanks to Joe Higgins, who creates some beautiful artwork, I was able to work at a truly fascinating shop while I lived in Salem, Mass.

I’m thankful to be working at Bass Pro Shops, where passionate and kind co-workers have helped me out time and again over the past two years. (I’m hoping I survive my first Black Friday).

My father had a fondness for nature, one that was no doubt distilled to its purest form by the incredible hours he forced himself to put in at an office on a daily basis. He always made note of the geese flying overhead this time of year, and I’m reminded to appreciate those subtle but important details every time I hear them heading south. My grandmother appreciated the overwhelming beauty we’re able to see every day, and she didn’t take a single sunset for granted. Hers is a gratitude I try to maintain as often as I can in her absence. In our first Thanksgiving after her passing, the Buffalo Bills, a team she loved to watch every Sunday during football season, pulled off an impressive victory to continue a shockingly strong run of wins this year.

Almost our entire family cheered them on, and I’m grateful for those people who’ve been with me, and have supported me, for as long as I can remember.

If you’re reading this, I’m thankful, and I hope you have as many altruistic and helpful souls in your life as I’ve been lucky to encounter, so far, in mine. Whether you’re a guide who helped on Fish America or Catch a Cure, a professor or former classmate at Emerson, or one of the kind customers or co-workers I’ve met at Bass Pro Shops: Thank You.

 

 

Bass Number 30,000: On The Water with Roy Bilby

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Bass number 30,000 for Roy Bilby.

The air temperature was hovering in the high 40s on an October morning when I met Roy Bilby on the Mohawk River. Fog was burning off the water, and a sweatshirt wasn’t enough to keep warm before the sun pulled itself overhead, but a bite in the air wouldn’t stop a man who was after his 30,000th bass.

Roy Bilby is a local pro, a member of the Mohawk Valley Bass Anglers Club, and a carpenter and locksmith at Suny Cobleskill when he’s not on the water, which is … rarely. The man once went 230 straight trips without coming up empty. 

Over the years, the Upstate New York fisherman has kept incredibly detailed logs that he says make him a more efficient angler with each outing.

After catching one smallmouth against a lock gate on the Mohawk, Bilby pulls out a tape recorder and makes vocal notes of where the fish was caught, the temperature of the air, water, the lure being used, and the size of the fish.

“When I get home, I’ll play this back and add to a detailed journal,” he explains.

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Bilby’s license plates suggest dedication.

Bilby is an energetic, careful, detail-oriented fisherman, as you might imagine, but after six hours on the water on a day when it didn’t crack sixty degrees until we’d been on the water for four, I realized that it wasn’t so much that he was detail-oriented, meticulous, or that he was a student of the fish that accounted for his astronomical number of  caught bass.

On a day when few of us might even be on the water to begin with, the bass were not cooperating. After three hours at various spots, we were coming up empty. But Bilby once strung together 235 straight trips without getting skunked.

“We were on the water until midnight for that final skunking,” he remembered. “My buddy, with me at the time, didn’t want to go in, he didn’t want to be the one on the boat when it ended. But if you’re just going to fish until you catch a fish regardless of circumstance… well, anyone can do that.”

It was that resolve, the determination to fish until midnight before calling it quits, that allowed Bilby to reach the 30,000-bass milestone.

More than skill, which I can testify that he has as in spades as an angler, more than attention to detail, which you can clearly see that he demonstrates with his copious note-taking, and more than luck, which he admits plays a small part in any fishing, and certainly a streak like the one he’s had, it’s just pure, relentless resolve that gets you to 30,000 fish. Bilby won’t quit.

Bass number 30,000 was an otherwise unimpressive specimen: It was a smallmouth between one and two pounds, and one of only four we scratched together on the day, but its significance was overwhelming.

Even the most dogged fishermen among us, if we truthfully assessed our lifetime totals, aren’t anywhere near Bilby’s numbers. With a garage sporting 160 rods, three boats, and more lures than some small tackle shops, Bilby’s passion for the sport far surpasses the average angler’s.

And it’s that drive, resolve, and refusal to quit that has got him to 30,000 bass, and I suspect it’ll have him at 50,000 before he quits keeping track.

If there’s something we can take away from a man who has caught more fish than most of us ever will, it might very well be a lesson best illustrated by a relatively small smallmouth bass caught after four empty hours on a brisk October day when the fish simply weren’t cooperating: Keep moving, changing tactics, have faith (on the back of his jersey he has inscribed, “Prov. 3:5-8” — (“Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”)) — and don’t quit.

Who knew?

Lessons Learned from a Fishing Professor

The amount of joy derived from any given fish caught is inherently tied to the amount of effort and time taken to be in a situation to catch said fish in the first place.

This past week I had the pleasure of fishing with a former professor of mine at Emerson College, Gian Lombardo. While I was a student pursuing my Master’s Degree in Publishing and Writing at Emerson, I’d get together with classmates after one of Lombardo’s courses before hopping the commuter rail that took me from Boston back to my apartment in Salem, on the North Shore.

This fluke, one of the biggest I’d ever caught, was a day-maker.

During one such post-class conversation, we got to talking about how Lombardo felt more like a friend than a professor, like someone genuinely pulling for, emotionally invested in, his students. I made a comment about how he seemed almost like an Uncle, someone who cared about our well-being both in and out of the classroom. The nickname ‘Uncle Gian,’ was born, and it stuck.

In a city like Boston, and on a campus like Emerson’s, full of bright young minds studying the latest media trends and editing video in high-tech laboratories at the hub of New England’s cultural capital, fishermen in the mix will inevitably find one another, by virtue of our scarcity amidst that particular population.

So while taking his Book Overview course as part of my degree, I inevitably wound up talking to Lombardo about striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, scup and tautog, which he’d pursued his whole life from his home in Connecticut, and I’d been chasing on family vacations to Cape Cod, and later in places I was lucky to live, like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and visiting another fish-minded friend on Long Island’s South Shore. He’d later go on to help me work my mission to raise money for melanoma research into my academic program at Emerson.

For the past two years, Lombardo has been kind enough to invite me fishing to his Connecticut home, and it has been a learning experience on every level.

Most of my saltwater fishing experience has come in the surf, which I’ve fished on Cape Cod, in New Jersey, and on Long Island. In the surf, we might study tide tables, wind predictions and water temperatures  before setting up a trip, but my recipe for any success has usually been: Get and stay in the surf, casting relentlessly until striper and bucktail meet.

Targeting fluke, black sea bass, scup and stripers by bucktailing the rips in Long Island Sound is a different game, albeit a fascinating one. This past week Gian and I plowed through a bit of a chop to get on the water for the second straight year, and prevailed.

I won’t say ‘we,’ found the fish, because I didn’t have much to do with it, but Gian put us on a school of black sea bass, a handful of which were big enough for the cooler, and the largest fluke I’ve ever landed in my life. It wasn’t a ‘doormat’ exactly, but to someone who could count the number of fluke he’d caught on both hands, catching one of New England’s most coveted food fish, and one big enough for the box, was absolutely incredible.

We targeted the rips and structure that Lombardo, who has been fishing Long Island sound his entire life, was more than familiar with. Early in the afternoon, in one of those moments that keeps you returning to the water, we saw bluefish blitzing on bunker so viciously that they were pushing them almost out of the water in surging waves.

The fascinating aspect about the trip for me, was a notion about catching fish that was slightly different from the one I’d held prior. While relentless dawn-to-dusk effort can and will yield results, precision, timing, attention to detail, and a record of prior successes can make an enormous difference on the water.

Lombardo had plied Long Island Sound carefully but regularly in his 16-foot skiff, learned the rips and structure, how each weather pattern might affect them, and the fish holding on them. We wound up with a cooler of sea bass and, by my standards anyway, a damn big fluke as a result of that experience.

The fish would have been memorable by any measure, but the three-hour drive there and back, the  brief return to the Ocean, the active and successful lesson in bottom-fishing for some of New England’s most coveted species, and the professor-like patience for a former student who showed up almost an hour late (I know, I know, we’re never late for fishing, work or church, as Paul reminds us in the classic A River Runs Through It) tied it all together in a way that I couldn’t have predicted but wouldn’t change. That fluke was one that I won’t soon forget.

In The Depths of Winter….

CamusAs we embark into February, many anglers are thinking: “This is as far from the beauty of short-sleeve, carefree, see-your-reflection-in-the-water fishing as we can get without coming back.” And you know what? You’re right.

My father was a philosophy major at Syracuse University, and I followed in his footsteps. We were both likely thinking the same thing: Examining the ideas behind ideas is fascinating and gives us a foundation for further critical thinking as move through life’s challenges and unexpected experiences… AND… this might serve as a good undergraduate degree for law school.

His favorite philosopher was a man named Albert Camus. Camus was famous for espousing existentialism, which focused on the absurdity, or absurdities, we encounter in everyday life. I recently purchased The Myth of Sisyphus at Barnes & Noble, in an attempt to greater understand the philosophy that drew my father in at Syracuse. Camus’s existentialism basically touted that life was a meaningless struggle unless… unless… we were devoted to cooperation, solidarity, and joint effort.

Camus concludes that to look elsewhere for meaning in our everyday lives is pointless, but we can find the exact, precise hope and meaning we are searching for in ourselves, in one another.

It is a strange paradox that years after his passing, I understand my Dad more with each passing day. He found his meaning in helping others, namely, those who were fighting uphill battles in courtrooms. He defended and supported people who almost no one else would.

Fishing the entire country showed me that our nation and the world that we live in is a an inherently good place, full of beautiful souls, and you only need to open your front door and find the courage to explore it to realize that reality in its fullest. Raising money for melanoma research deepened that faith in me more than I could ever articulate. People helped me on a mission through a tunnel where the light at the end is, right now, faint at best. The hope for a cure, like the hope to start a fishing magazine from scratch that readers all over the country love, read and contribute to, is existent, but it necessitates work and faith before we have something concrete to continue to build on.

One of the quotes most famously attributed to Camus is one that I think is appropriate as we head into some of February’s darkest, coldest, days.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned  that within me there lie an invincible summer.”

That invincible summer, in me, was created and maintained by hope and help from so many of you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Life in the Bass Pro Shops Fishing Department

BPSThis past year I moved to Upstate New York to be closer to family, and because, well… Boston is an expensive place to live if you’re working with a marine artist who has seasonal hours. If you haven’t, please check out Joe Higgins’ work at fishedimpressions.com. 

It was tremendous timing and luck, because just as I arrived back at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Mohawk Valley, Bass Pro Shops was hiring a full-time sales associate in the fishing department.

I applied, was hired, was teased about living in a jeep for my first few months there, but have become a member of an incredible team of people.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve visited at Bass Pro Shops, and have some familiarity with the nature of the chain. Working behind the scenes is a little different.

During a typical week, we’ll be there between half an hour and an hour and a half before the doors open to the public. We’ll unload and run between one and three trucks ranging from 200-700 pieces. We’ll run the carts of backstock to make sure that every item any hunter or angler might be looking for is available to them. We’ll hold meetings to see what products we can get in that customers are asking for, we’ll field phone calls and questions that can come at a frantic pace, and we’ll help other departments however we can.

On any given day we might be having a fish finder shipped from a nearby store for a customer, sending out a rod for repair, spooling up dozens of reels, giving seminars on how to target local species, or … my favorite part, feeding the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sturgeon, crappie and trout that mesmerize visiting kids in the store’s enormous aquarium.

But the most fascinating part about working at the store are the stories. Rarely does a day go by where I don’t hear about incredible fisheries we’re fortunate to have in the Northeast, from Hudson-river stripers to St. Lawrence muskie.

I’ve had anglers invite me fishing, make and frame flies for me, give innumerable suggestions on places to visit, and share their stories about a life spent in pursuit of fish, beauty and adventure.

In all honesty I can say that I love almost every aspect of the job, the constant motion, the daily learning, the feeling of putting a new rod or reel into the hands of a fisherman who worked and saved for something they’ll treasure…

But the most inspiring part is a realization that first occurred to me as a teenager, then again as a twenty-something sleeping in a Jeep to fish the country (or as much of it as I could, thanks to the guys at Outdoor Life, Gerry Bethge specifically), then as a grad student fishing to raise money for melanoma research, and now again as a young adult: the community of anglers that you’ll find in any given location in the United States is a passionate, decent, altruistic and sincere one, and one that I’m grateful to be a part of.

If You Build It…

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The finished fillet table, constructed and stained.

To build something, anything, there are two necessary ingredients: You need a careful plan that allows for some error, and determination to create a desired, finished product. This is true of building a friendship, a magazine, or a fillet table.

In 2004, during my freshman year at Syracuse University, I met another freshman named Curt Dircks. The first thing I do, when moving into any type of residence, is put up photographs of fish. Filling an apartment, a dorm room or a house with images of the water reminds me, between trips, of a part of my journey that has brought more joy, excitement and wonder into my life than all other elements combined.

So, as you might imagine, it didn’t take long for Dircks, a fellow freshman and striper nut, and I to strike up a friendship talking about the water and what we love so much about it.

In 2004 we took what would be the first of thirteen years worth of fishing trips to Fire Island, a thin, 32-mile-long barrier island south of Bayshore, New York where his family has owned a small cottage for decades.

During those first years, the conversation went something like: “Do you want to go back this fall?” By now, it has evolved into a short exchange of dates during which we’re both free. “How about the 13th?” “Perfect.”

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Dircks and I holding a pair of bluefish during an incredible blitz in 2011.

Dircks has moved from New Jersey to San Diego and back to New York City, while I’ve moved from New Jersey to Cape Cod, back to New Jersey, down to Florida and finally up to Salem, Massachusetts.

Life had changed for both of us, but the tradition did not.

This past fall we decided to attempt to construct a fillet table. We’re not ‘sharpies’ by any means, but we’d filleted enough striped bass on newspapers on the back deck to realize that there must be a better way.

We discussed table size, placement, stain color, and amenities like a slot to hold a fillet knife, a ruler on a lip at the table’s base to double-check fish length, and a back panel with a wood-burned quote so that something that was utilitarian in function might have a bit of sentiment, a little soul.

I researched fitting quotes for a week prior to first fall trip, and we decided on one, from a hero of mine, Ernest Hemingway. “It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when the luck comes, you are ready.” The quote comes from Santiago, Hemingway’s famous protagonist in The Old Man and the Sea. I borrowed an electric wood-burner from an artistic aunt, Bridget Roberts, and we were set.

I thought the quote was fitting, because a fillet table is about being exact, keeping only fish that are big enough to kill, and attempting to pay homage to the nature of the pursuit by getting every ounce of meat off the striped bass that you are lucky to harvest.

Dircks is pragmatic, punctual and prepared. I, on the other hand, will lose track of time in the surf, walking a few football fields (okay, running) at the sight of dropping birds, and can spend an hour searching for the perfect quote.

A pragmatic person will think, and understandably so, that a fillet table will be a useful tool  when preparing striped bass of legal size that we will catch in the future. A guy who looks for signs and believes in omens will inherently wonder whether that type of hubris would be frowned on by the Fishing Gods. It perhaps warrants mentioning that we’ve never brought a banana on any trip, or even had them the house. There are some superstitions no fisherman in his or her right mind fools with.

I can’t say, in all honesty, that I did ‘half’ the work on the table. When we’re on the island, I’m constantly wondering if there are bass pushing bait right into the beach. It’s hard to drag myself away from the wash to sleep, let alone work on something besides fishing during daylight hours.

I did wood-burn the quote into the table’s back panel, and help with some sanding and staining, but the credit for much of the table’s construction goes to Dircks.

In my mind’s eye, I secretly envisioned the table being taken out and placed on the brackets we’d screwed into the back deck, and being removed at the end of every trip without ever holding a fish. I just couldn’t help but wonder if ‘preparing’ to catch fish you could legally kill wasn’t some kind of bad luck.

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The first striped bass that made it to the table.

Then, on the second trip of the fall, I hooked into bass that felt slightly larger than the shorter fish we’d been catching earlier that morning.

Throwing a green bucktail with a matching pork-rind trailer, I hooked and landed a 31-inch striped bass, three inches larger than they need to be to legally keep.

There are few things in the world I like as much as the feeling of a bass that you know is slightly larger than the rest you’ve been catching, hitting your bucktail as you hop it along the ocean floor.

We’d just finished the table, and we carefully set it on the rail of the back deck and filleted our first striped bass on it.

There are, undoubtedly, more superstitions involved with the sport of fishing than almost any other pursuit in human history (except, maybe, baseball).

But preparing to catch fish that you might have the chance to bring back to family for dinner, and creating a table that ultimately aids in that effort, is not bad luck. In fact, it might have even helped, as far as I’m concerned now. I guess you’ve got to believe something’s possible, and perhaps even likely, before undertaking a single step toward achieving it.

 

 

 

Printing A Thresher Shark Tail by the Ocean in Gloucester

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Higgins prints a thresher shark tail in Gloucester, MA.

“Want to help me print a shark tail?”

There are some instances in life, no matter your age, that will transport you immediately back to a state of childlike wonder. These, of course, differ for everyone, because we all fall in love with different things when we’re young enough to be enamored by a world that’s new and fascinating at every turn.

If we fall in love with the water, and the myriad of creatures it contains, and become fishermen, then we’re blessed with more of these moments than most.

The thing that’s so magical about being of an age that only necessitates one digit for description is that you are prone to believe in enormous, seemingly impossible things. The bootprints of soot on the fireplace were left by a mythical, jolly creature that captained a sleigh through the sky. If you fall in love with fish, and you’re prone to grand ambitions, you’ll try to stock the small creek behind your house with transported trout from a pail, brought from another creek, before you’re even four feet tall.

The above question was asked of me by Joe Higgins, who owns and operates Fished Impressions on Boston’s North Shore. A friend of his had commissioned a gyotaku print of a tournament-winning thresher shark, and Higgins had the 5-foot-long tail in a studio he’s renting in Gloucester, where he’s selling some of his raw prints at a lower cost than traditional, framed pieces (shameless plug).

Gyotaku, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an ancient Japanese art form that allows an angler to commemorate a catch using only ink and paper (not just any paper, rice, unryu or mulberry paper). It’s an art form that reminds you that anglers have been bragging about the fish that they’ve caught for as long as they’ve been catching fish: Photography changed the nature of the bragging, but didn’t start it, by any means.

It sounds simple, but like many things in life, doing it well is anything but.

So, for a few hours in Gloucester, we carefully applied ink of various colors to the tail (thresher sharks have especially long tails which they use to stun baitfish before eating them) and created a number of prints. I use the term ‘we,’ here, very loosely, I performed the tasks that a toddler would be capable of doing, and a toddler who just awoke from a nap at that.

More than anything else, helping at Fished Impressions has reminded me of the reason that I fell in love with the water and the sport of fishing to begin with. Whether it’s a nearby pond, a local lake, or the North Atlantic, the world beneath the water is a fascinating and beautiful place that we should savor every second next to, and if we’re capable of wrapping words, or paper, around some of that beauty and sharing it with others, we might even appreciate it all the more ourselves.