Category Archives: Catch a Cure

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.

Fail Again, Fail Better

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“I don’t believe in pessimism. If something doesn’t come up the way you want, forge ahead.” – Clint Eastwood

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this entire effort, it’s that persistence, and the refusal to quit, matter more than almost anything.

Circumstances in life have taught me this, and if I didn’t learn the first time, the opportunities just kept coming.

It took more than 100 e-mails to find our five sponsors for Catch a Cure II, and a frantic search for a brand that wanted to share the story. I’m forever indebted to B.A.S.S. for their cooperation.

I tried in a host of ways to use to sunglasses that Native Eyewear so kindly donated to the cause during the project, without much success, until finally we were able to get them to the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Wings of Hope Gala in San Francisco.

Finding guides that had the time to help on the lakes largely consisted of going to local tackle shops, collecting business cards, and sitting in a Jeep calling number after number. People are wary of causes, and I get that, but maybe that makes them all the more important to take part in.

Ironically, Father’s Day usually falls right around my father’s birthday, June 20th. Family likes to joke that he was “Born to be a father,” and that certainly might be the case.

I don’t know about you, but I like laughing, so usually on his birthday and Father’s Day we’ll share a funny story about a man I was enormously blessed to spend 27 years with.

We were talking, this past week, about a trip to Florida. Our flight was cancelled, and passengers were redistributed onto other flights, many of which were aboard smaller planes.

One such smaller plane was taking the number of passengers that it could from the cancelled flight, and we were waiting in line to board.

As we neared the gate, the attendant indicated that the flight was full, and that we’d have to continue to wait. We would have been the next passengers seated.

My father, a man who was raised in poverty, served his country in the army, and built a successful law practice handling everything from immigration law to armed robbery, just kept trying to subtly sneak onto the plane.

The flight attendant repeatedly, and as kindly as she could, indicated that the flight was full.

I’m not sure what his plan was if he did get on board. Maybe he’d have sat in the aisle until the plane landed?

We never got to find out. But he wasn’t going to quit trying. I’m sure life had taught him again and again, as it continues to teach me, that whether or not you succeed at a given endeavor, the only thing that you can ultimately control is your disposition, your drive and your determination to continue trying to move forward.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

 

Fishing: ‘Cool’ Because It’s Not Trying to Be

Everett Lockwood waits for a strike in Montauk, New York
Everett Lockwood waits for a strike in Montauk, New York

I was having a discussion with a friend about the ways that we’ve seen the sport and the industry change over the years, and there’s seemingly now, more than ever, a push to make fishing “cool.”

Now, ‘cool,’ might be the most ambiguous word in the english language, so I’ll try to clarify: There seems to be a push to illustrate the sport in a certain light where how you look, dress and approach the sport… matters.

If ‘cool,’ is anything, it’s a look, a style and an approach. Without the right glasses, nostalgic band t-shirt, haircut or certain amount of stubble, you could never hope to be ‘cool.’

It got me thinking about the sport and why I love it, and likely why many of us do… And the foremost reason that I came up with was that, because on the water, you don’t have to be anything that you’re not.

I’ll be upfront for the sake of honesty and journalistic integrity here… in high school I was cut from the baseball team. Twice. I didn’t even dare try out for football, and the only basketball games that I played in were held on my driveway with the neighborhood gang and chalk lines drawn to mark the 3-point range. I was on the bowling team, okay? The bowling team did not make cuts.

I was in Honor Society, took A.P. classes and walked our golden retriever every night. Get the picture? ‘Cool,’ I was not.

But once the Upstate New York snow melted in late April, I’d fish every night that I could get a ride to the water. When I turned 16 and got an Uncle’s hand-me-down Chevy Beretta (if you don’t know what that car is, please refrain from telling me so), it was: “Home from school, rods in the back, down to the water.” And it’s probably worth noting here… these weren’t epic adventures to “River-Runs-Through-it” rivers…

I fished primarily in two places. The first was a small creek that ran behind a factory in a nearby town. Sauquoit Creek is never more than 12 feet wide or 7 feet feet deep, but it had enough water to hold stocked trout.

The second place was a golf course pond that was stocked with largemouth bass. Again, the pond was about 100 yards long and 30 yards wide, and if there was a fish in there that weighed more than four pounds, I never caught it. But I loved both places.

When you’re a teenager, high school is either the greatest place in the world, or one of the more difficult ones, and for me it was usually the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I had a handful of friends, and I’m grateful to still be close to most of them to this day, but I wasn’t up for Homecoming King or playing quarterback on the football team… not by a long shot.

On the water, wearing an old pair of swim trunks and sandals, you didn’t have to be anything other than exactly who you were.

You could take in the peace and quiet, admire a few fish if you were lucky, and learn about them slowly over the years and the seasons as you experimented with different baits and approaches during different times of the year.

The best part about the water was for me, and still is, that you can be absolutely who you are. And if you spend enough time there, you’ll even start to become that person everywhere else.

Almost every fisherman that I’ve been lucky to meet from Maine down to the Florida Keys, out to California and up to Seattle has had one thing in common: They were genuinely and unapologetically authentic.

And I think that’s because — while the water teaches us many things, perhaps the most important thing is that pretending to be anything other than exactly who you are won’t make any difference at all.

The America I know: “I am part of all that I have Met”

TravelWhen I was 23, going on 24, I undertook the ambitious project of fishing my way across the country for Outdoor Life Magazine.

When I offered the idea as a project pitch, truthfully, I had no idea if it’d work. I was experiencing some stress from other things going on in my life, and thought that movement of any kind, escape, motion, would at least be something different. Without a budget for motels, I figured I’d sleep in my vehicle. That’s the kind of thing that, when you propose it to yourself from inside of an apartment, doesn’t sound that bad.

I created and edited a video pitch using iMovie, went down to the offices where Outdoor Life was located, took a deep breath, stepped into 2 Park Avenue in Manhattan, and said that I was ready to fish my way across the country.

If anyone can ever be ready for such an undertaking, I was not. I remember putting the stuff from my apartment in cheap storage and closing the door on everything that wouldn’t fit in my Jeep the way you remember a movie that you saw: I remember it happening, but not what it felt like.

I had drawn up a map, with a calculated timeline, concerning where I’d fish and when. Drawing up a map with a timeline before fishing your way across the country from a vehicle is kind of like playing a round of miniature golf before taking to Bethpage Black. In your head, you might feel slightly more prepared or ready, but in reality what you’re doing won’t in any way ready you for what you’re about to attempt.

Because it was early summer, I decided to start in Maine before working my way down the coast. Some online research lead me to the kind people at Weatherby’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream, Maine, as a place to start.

I shut the storage door on almost everything I owned, got in the Jeep, and headed north. Truth be told I was terrified more than excited: I had no idea if any of this would work.

Then a funny thing happened, slowly and all at once. Jeff McEvoy and the guys at Weatherby’s put me up for a night, and even managed to help me land my first landlocked Atlantic salmon on the fly.

From there, Brooke Hidell taught me the subtle art of trolling for landlocked Atlantic salmon on Maine’s Sebago Lake.

As I headed down the coast, I was more falling that flying, but anglers kept catching me at every place I stopped. They welcomed me, helped me, inspired me. They made me think, laugh and even start to believe that this mission that I undertook might even be possible.

The first night sleeping in a vehicle was nerve-racking to say the least. Every slammed car door and police siren has you crawling out of your skin.

But slowly, even that became routine. I learned where the safer places were to catch a few Zs (Walmart parking lots are great, because they’re open 24 hours), and that if a cop wants to search your vehicle near the Texas/Mexico border… you let him.

As the trip continued, my faith grew: not in myself, I was as 24-year-old-terrified as ever, but in something larger. I came to believe in people, no matter who they were, even if we hadn’t met, and even if our ways of life, thoughts and ideas were different.

The trip continued down the East Coast, to the Keys, out through Louisiana and Texas, to California, up through Oregon and Seattle, back across the beautiful mountains of Montana and Wyoming, and after 200 days and nights, exactly, back to Upstate New York just in time for Christmas.

The greatest thing that I took away from that trip, what I remember most, is one simple but beautiful idea… You cannot possibly control or predict the variety of forces that will come into your life. If you had a thousand guesses, you’d still probably be a mile off the mark.

And placing trust in ourselves is the hardest thing of all, because we know better than anyone our faults, shortcomings, and difficulties.

But if you trust other people, and I mean collectively, fully and wholeheartedly… you’ll get a return on that investment of trust that is far greater than what you put in. People will amaze you with kindness, humor, hope and help at almost every turn.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “I am a part of everything that I have read.” I love that quote, but some research will reveal that it was likely drawn from the poem Ulysses, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,  which reads: “I am a part of all that I have met.”

And most importantly, their altruistic willingness to help a complete stranger is now part of me. I came back from the road with faith that I was part of something larger, part of something kind, forgiving and, at its core, good.

And it inspires me every day.

 

 

 

If You Can’t Laugh at Yourself…

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A bison in Yellowstone

I think one clear and definite sign that we’ve started down the wrong path is when we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m serious about my attempt to start a magazine you’ll love, and you can help me here, and I think it’s incumbent upon us all to address the evils (like melanoma) that enter our lives, but if we can’t laugh, then I think we’ve lost something essential. When you’re sleeping in your Jeep in parking lots, attempting to raise money to find  a cure for skin cancer, or soliciting help to that end… it’s easy to get lost in your head and become a little more serious than anyone should be. Moments like these, I assume, were God reminding me to slow down, take a breath, and laugh out loud.

Seattle Wader Thief: My first attempt at a far-reaching, country-wide fishing expedition came thanks to Outdoor Life, who got behind my project Fish America. I was in Seattle, fishing with a great angler and artist named Chris Senyohl, and we were putting on waders before casting a few flies into Puget Sound. Chris and a friend had brought a black lab along for the trip, and it stole a wader boot I hadn’t yet put on. If you can picture me half-running and half-hopping, chasing a dog with my boot in his mouth, you might laugh as hard as everyone else was until the dog finally got tired and dropped the boot.

Embarrassed by Clarence: On that same trip I had the amazing, unforgettable opportunity to fish with E-Street Band saxophone player Clarence Clemons in the Florida Keys. Now, this would be an intimidating prospect for anyone… but at the time I was already a Bruce zealot. I’d been to more than ten shows, dragged friends, family and borderline-complete-strangers to shows, and… for better or worse, gotten Springsteen’s now-legendary Fender Esquire guitar tattooed inside of my right arm. Chris Miller, the guide with whom we were fishing, had seen the tattoo. When we finally made it out from Islamorada with Clarence and his brother, a storm came up and forced us inside. Rain beat down on the boat as we sat around waiting for it to pass. Clemons told stories that involved people like Keith Richards, who you constantly had to remind yourself was… yes… “the” Keith Richards, and I for the most part kept my mouth shut. Then, someone remembered the tattoo… Chants of “Show him!” started up as I looked for places in the boat to hide. Finally, I rolled up my long sleeve and Clarence started cracking up, recognizing the image immediately. When he caught his breath, he finally said: “You did that to yourself… you DID THAT TO YOURSELF!”

Have you Seen My Phone?: On that same journey, at the end of the night, if weather allowed, I’d typically climb onto the top of my Jeep Wrangler, in whatever parking lot I was living in, and try to take in a moment to appreciate my good fortune, look at the stars, and call home to assure my family that, yes, I was still alive. I’d then say a prayer that I wasn’t discovered by any law enforcement figures in the middle of the night, crawl into the back of the Jeep, and try to get a few hours sleep. One morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t find my phone anywhere. Frantic, I emptied the Jeep before I drove back to the marina where I’d fished the day before and scoured the parking lot. I asked inside if anyone had found an Android phone. Keep in mind this was my one connection… back home… to guides who I’d hoped would help later on in the journey. It had all my saved numbers and a number of photos from the road. I emptied the entire inside of the Jeep and was frantic and distraught at the prospect of having lost it. I opened my laptop, sent an e-mail back home that I’d lost the phone, drove to the marina where I was set to fish the next day, and tried to sleep that night. When I awoke the next morning I climbed on top of the Jeep to grab a rod from the Thule rack where I’d been keeping them… and there it was. The phone had somehow, despite two trips down different roads, stayed on the top of the Jeep.

Bison Encounter: If you drive through Yellowstone Park in Montana in December, you’ll notice two things. First, you’ll likely be the only human being driving down the one remaining open road, and secondly, bison are a lot, lot larger-looking up close than they appear on television. When you pay to enter the park you’re given a tag to hang on your mirror to show that you’d paid the fee. Driving through the park, I stopped and wondered if it’d be alright to get a little closer to the aforementioned bison for a photo. It was about 0 degrees and there wasn’t another human being in sight. I pulled to the side of the road, grabbed my SLR, and cautiously took a few steps in the direction of a monstrous bison, that stared at me without an ounce of fear or trepidation. I took a few shots and got back in the Jeep and continued through the park. You know where it tells you, EXPLICITLY, not to exit your vehicle in the presence of bison? Yep, on the back of that tag hanging from my windshield.

I’ve been lucky to take two trips since that first adventure, and now they have the purpose, thanks to all of our sponsors, of raising money to find a cure for melanoma. I suppose since those four examples came from the first trip… I might speculate that I’m getting a little…

…No, I won’t jinx it.

 

Don’t Give Yourself a Choice

One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”

I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.

It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.

I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.

I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.

A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends.  She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.

“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.

When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”

And then her answer, always her answer…

“Don’t give yourself a choice.”

Bucket-List Fishing Destinations: Places I’d love to Visit

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An atlas and a Jeep… all you really need.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

By now it’s probably no longer a secret that a great deal of the motivation behind this effort, apart from raising money to cure melanoma and the desire to build you a great fishing magazine, is a love of exploration and travel.

I’ve tried to wax poetic about some of the places I’ve been blessed to see (and I HAVE been blessed), but the thing about traveling is… the more you do, the more you want to do. Each destination is seemingly a little bit closer to a place you’ve never been, and only increases your desire to get there… some day.

I thought it would be interesting to compare bucket lists with my fellow fishermen out there, so I decided to share some of the places I’ve never fished, but would love to, and see if you guys had any thoughts, suggestions or ideas about getting there, and what to do if and when I do.

Alaska: This one is a place I’ve been dying to visit for as long as I can remember. My father was stationed in the military in Alaska during the Cold War, and used to talk about the natural beauty of the place. He’d mention the polar bears, the endless summer days and the kindness of the native people. I’ve had a few friends who got the chance to visit, and that’s only made it worse. Suffice it to say, it’s the number-one place on my “to-go” list, and hopefully one day I’ll get the chance.

California Bassing: I’ve been to California, and have done some saltwater fishing out of San Diego, but I’ve never bass fished in the state that has now become (almost more so than Florida) America’s number-1 bass-fishing destination.

Cuba: There’s something, I think for all of us… more tempting about a place that we can’t go. Certainly… there didn’t seem to be much empirical evidence to suggest that the moon would be a very interesting destination, but the fact that nobody’d been there undoubtedly motivated the first space pioneers to make a lunar landing. And by that same token, the fact that Cuba has largely been off limits to American anglers for decades makes it all the more alluring. Reading too much Hemingway has filled my head with images of enormous marlin off the coast, but as of late I’ve read some pieces that suggest that their bass fishing is every bit as good as their saltwater fishing, if not better.

Minnesota: I’ll admit off the bat that I’ve never been much of a walleye fisherman. We don’t have much in the way of walleye in Upstate New York, and I’ve barely traveled through the Midwest. But when a group of anglers are as passionate about a fishery as Midwesterners are about their walleye, I always assume they’re onto something I’m ignorant of. I’ve read a great deal about the boundary waters and their beauty, and it doesn’t take much to inspire me to want to visit a place in the first place… so there you have it.

Michigan: I’ve been lucky to have fished in 36 of the lower 48, and I’ve at least traveled through many of the other 12… but I’ve never once set foot in Michigan. When you consider that I’ve been a Hemingway fan for the past decade, and Hemingway wrote passionately about Michigan, perhaps it’s understandable that it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go. The pictures of the beautiful trout and salmon, of course, have made this desire even worse.

I’m not terribly concerned that places exist that I’ve not yet traveled to, but would love to visit. I would be terribly concerned were that not the case, however.