Category Archives: Guides

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.

 

 

These are a Few of my Favorite Fish…

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Shane Kobald holds up an enormous Colorado brown trout in 2010.

If we’re lucky enough to be fishermen, we’ll likely cover a lot of water in our lifetimes, and I’ve been luckier than most. Some fish, however, stand out above the rest in our memories, and for good reason. Some fish define a place, a relationship or an experience for us in a way others don’t. These are the fish that I’m most grateful to have seen caught:

Chris Critelli: There’s an area off of Brewster, Mass., where you can wade out for almost a mile to a channel that flows between two sandbars. For more than a decade, cousins and I were lucky to wade those flats almost every day for the three weeks that we’d vacation on Cape Cod every summer. I caught my share of striped bass on the Brewster Flats, but seeing my younger cousin, Chris Critelli, catch an 11-pound fish at sunset on one of our last days of vacation in 2005 was one of my favorite memories of all-time. Chris is a tremendous fisherman, and an even better human being. He didn’t have the chances to fish saltwater as often as I did growing up, so it meant more to him than it might have to me. Seeing him catch it, though, meant the world to an older cousin.

Shane Kobald: While doing a project called Fish America for Outdoor Life, I was fishing the White River in Colorado with John Kobald and his son Shane. After fishing the White in the morning, we picked Shane up after school and he caught a 20-inch brown trout that evening. Seeing that little guy (who is probably in high school now) land the trout of a lifetime was an inspiring and incredible experience, for John and I both. Oh, and Shane seemed to enjoy it too.

Mike Coppola: When I was on that same trip, I got the chance to fish with one of the best surf fishermen in Montauk, Mike Coppola. Mike took me rock-hopping under the cover of darkness to chase stripers before the sun came up, and caught more than one fish in the 30-pound range. To watch an expert fish the surf in the complete darkness, suited up from head to toe in a dry top, and do it successfully, was incredible.

Steve Niemoeller: If Mike is one of the best when it comes to surf fishing, Steve is the king of largemouth bass. Steve Niemoeller helped me more than almost anyone on this past Catch a Cure, and one fish stands out in my memory. He was casting toward lily pads on the St. Johns River when he hooked, and landed, a bass of more than four pounds. It was the largest fish that I’d see caught on the trip. Steve knew exactly where it’d be, and he targeted it and caught it in expert fashion.

Dylan Wheelock: Dylan is another cousin of mine, even younger than Chris. I dragged them all out on the Brewster Flats when they’d join us for vacations on Cape Cod, and Dylan caught his first striped bass on those flats when he was about 15. It wasn’t an enormous fish, but we have the photo proof. He’s still got the picture hanging up in the family’s house in Upstate New York.

From My Family to Yours: Merry Christmas

familypicI’ll not ramble on, or attempt to wax poetic here, but I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has in any way aided this effort: Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

So many fishermen, readers and sponsors have lifted me up in these past years, and it has meant more to me than I can express.

Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing, Buff, Sunology Sunscreen, Rick Roth at Mirror Image Printing, B.A.S.S. and Outdoor Sportsman Group… each of these companies have gone out of their way to see that this project had a chance.

The faculty and students at Emerson College have supported me every step of the way.

The guides at Bassonline were so incredibly helpful, that I could not envision this project having taken place without them.

The people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are the ones truly doing the important work, and I’m so thankful to have those organizations who are working daily to cure this disease once and for all.

To everyone who has helped, whether it was through a day on the water, contributing money or gear, reading or sharing the effort, or even just an encouraging word on Social Media, I just want you to know what a profoundly positive impact you’ve collectively had on my life, and the lives of the people in my family.

I sincerely hope you have an incredible holiday season, and I’m so thankful for the ways in which you’ve lifted me up along this road.

Gyotaku: A Fascinating Angler’s Art Form

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A painted gyotaku impression of a bluefin tuna.

I’ve been fortunate to help out local Salem artist and angler Joe Higgins in his North Shore shop, Tomo’s Tackle this past year, and every time I’m in the shop, I can’t help but think: More people need to know about this beautiful artwork.

Higgins practices an ancient Japanese art form known as gyotaku, where he takes a recently caught fish, places a special type of ink on it, and creates an impression on rice paper. On many, he paints in detail to finish the impression and make it as lifelike as possible.

I don’t speak Japanese, but research suggests that the word ‘gyotaku’ translates literally to something like ‘Fish Reclamation.’ Records show that this art form dates at least back to the 7th century and is probably much older than that.

Before anglers had cameras to capture and share the story of a catch, they had to be slightly more creative. By placing ink on the fish and carefully pressing paper over it, they were able to create a lasting impression to remember their catch after it had been sold or eaten.

Higgins has given this ancient art a new life, and he creates and sells “fish prints” out of Tomo’s Tackle in Salem. His prints are on display and sold in various places throughout Massachusetts, and you can find more information about seeing and perhaps purchasing some prints near you on his site. 

The stunning and memorable thing about a gyotaku print is how it almost brings the fish back to life in front of your eyes. With each carefully added detail, Higgins creates an image that is in many ways is more beautiful, alive and unique than a picture of the same fish might be.

Higgins has printed everything from squid to swordfish, and he’s seemingly up for any challenge. I’ve seen prints of false albacore, flounder and even a few redfish come through the shop, and each is fascinating in its own right.

It’s a constant reminder that as fishermen, we’re exposed to more beauty than most, and we shouldn’t take any of it for granted.

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 Guys at BassOnline: The Best

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Steve Niemoeller of BassOnline shows off the trip’s biggest fish no the St. Johns River in Florida.

I’ve tagged on Facebook, thanked and thanked again the guys at BassOnline in Florida for their help with both Catch a Cure I and II, and still every day I find myself thinking: “What more can I do? How can I demonstrate how much of a difference these guys made in this project and in my life?”

When I set out on the second Catch a Cure, after sending e-mails to everyone in the iCast catalog to see what sponsorship or contributions I could solicit for the Melanoma Research Foundation, truthfully I had no idea if it’d work. For all of our planning, effort and hope, a lot of any attempt or endeavor boils down to faith, luck and persistence.

I knew that I could crash in the Jeep or find the most “interesting” (see: cheap) possible motels on the road. In South Carolina it came down to grabbing every card from nearby tackle shops and just dialing number after number until I finally found Brian Roberts, an incredibly kind and cool guy who helped me explore the freshwater rivers flowing into Winyah Bay. Roberts is an aspiring entrepreneur himself and is trying to get his “Keeper Reeper Jigs” on the market.

In Oklahoma it was still February when I arrived before the Bassmaster Classic, and while I’m used to freezing temperatures in my native Upstate New York and adopted home of Boston, fishing on open water in February in Oklahoma was a new experience for me.

But when I got to Florida to pre-fish the tournament on the St. Johns River, the BassOnline crew, for the second time that year, were more helpful than I ever could have imagined or asked them to be.

These guys had almost single-handedly made Catch a Cure I possible, and for a second time, they saved the trip.

A great deal of this effort is done behind the scenes, e-mailing potential sponsors like the great people at Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing and Sunology Sunscreen to get backing. For every sponsor that gets on board, there are a dozen who, understandably, can’t. And it just takes faith and persistence to keep reaching out until you find the people who can help.

The guys at Bassonline, though, didn’t hesitate for a second to help this trip and effort in every way that they could. Steve Niemoeller is a combination of one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and one of the best anglers, too. He is completely responsible for the largest fish (a bass of about 4 pounds) that I encountered anywhere on either journey. While we fished he offered several insightful ideas on how, if the project was repeated, it could garner even more support.

Brett Isackson understands the Florida fishery so well, he even invented a snake-like rubber lure to take advantage of the biggest bass that were feasting on snakes in the Sunshine State.

Todd Kersey will absolutely amaze you with Florida’s (relatively) newfound peacock bass fishery if you give him the chance. I’ll never forget Todd and his wife putting me on an incredible peacock bass bite on Catch a Cure I.

All of which is to say, if you ever get the chance, please do yourself a favor and fish with these guys. There are no guarantees in fishing, but I’d bet everything I’ve got that you’ll have a fantastic time, catch more than a few fish, and… like I am now… you’ll be wondering how quickly you can return to give it another shot.

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.

 

 

 

The Amazing Eight, Take II

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Brooke Hidell, on Sebago Lake in Maine.

Alright, I undertook the ambitious attempt last week of naming the eight (okay, nine) best anglers I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with. As soon as I started the list, I knew immediately that it’d require a sequel. There are far too many amazing anglers who have helped me along this journey to name them, or rank them, in a single blog. The following anglers deserve every bit as much credit for being incredible fishermen and great human beings.

Brooke Hidell, Maine: I had the pleasure of fishing with Hidell in 2010 on Maine’s Sebago Lake system, and it was not only a great time, but it was a fantastic learning experience. Hidell fishes in a number of ways, but one of the more interesting ones is trolling flies around the perimeter of Sebago Lake. Now you’re saying: “Trolling flies? What?” But that’s not a typo. Hidell has mastered an art of dragging flies at just the right depth, depending on the season, to target the landlocked Atlantic salmon and lake trout that populate those bodies of water. It’s truly a unique experience because unlike traditional trolling, where you’re fighting the fish on a stout rod, wrenching it up from the depths of the lake, with Hidell’s system the fight is every bit as much fun as if you’d hooked the fish on the fly.

Gary “The Toad” Stevens: I first met Gary when Field & Stream sent me, as an intern, out to Montauk to cover the Fall Surf Classic. Stevens is without a doubt, a hilarious character. The nickname “The Toad,” I believe, came from stunts in his younger days when he used to attempt to jump over an entire car in one bound. It’s that kind of crazy courage that makes him great in the surf. He seemingly has no fear and will chase stripers in any conditions and at all hours of the night. He’s definitely one of the characters that gives Montauk it’s unique and wonderful charm, and fishing with him is an unforgettable experience.

Rom Whitaker, OBX: Whitaker and his son fish one of the most abundant offshore grounds off any coast, the Outer Banks off North Carolina. Whittaker was a master at devising and setting a trolling spread to target the yellowfin tuna and mahi that we were going after in 2010. Finding and catching offshore species like yellowfin can be a difficult task, requiring a tremendous understanding of the climate, the ecosystem, and how even a few degrees in water temperature can make a world of difference in finding fish. If you need proof that Whitaker has it down to a science, click here.

Clay Cunningham, Georgia: Cunningham targets striped bass on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, one of the best striper lakes in the South. Cunningham is a master at finding the exact depth that the freshwater stripers will be holding at, and targeting them with a specific approach dependent upon the season. One of the coolest parts about fishing with Cunningham was seeing these fish actually “blitz,” almost like saltwater stripers, forcing bait into shallow areas and going to town. And if website-name creativity counted for bonus points, this guy would get it with catchingnotfishing.com.

Mickey Delamar, Texas: The first thing Mickey would say if I told him I was including him on this list, is that he doesn’t belong. He was one of the kindest, most humble people I met on my journey across the country. One look at the wall inside his house, however, would prove him wrong. He’s got a trophy wall of largemouth bass mounts, the largest of which, the last time I checked, was 11 pounds. He lives near Texas’s bass-famous Lake Fork, and is hands down one of the best anglers on it.

Kevin Shaw, Texas: Shaw is another Texan, but he’s a master of the saltier side of the state. Shaw targets redfish off the Texas coast and he’s one of the best I’ve ever met. It takes a certain amount of toughness to take to the water either as a guide or in a competitive arena. Sure, you get those bluebird days where the weather’s perfect, but more often than not, something goes wrong. When I fished with Shaw in 2010, it rained. And let me tell you, rain is like everything else in Texas: Bigger. I mean… it poured. But we stayed out on the water, waited through the storm, and kept chasing redfish.

Gregg Arnold, Louisiana: Nope, that’s not a typo, Arnold spells his name with two ‘g’s. Arnold is an absolute master of one of the most famous redfish areas in the world: New Orleans. Arnold is known throughout the state as one of the best redfish guides, and with good reason. When we fished in 2010, he met me first for breakfast. I was a little taken aback at the relaxed start to the day, but when I got in the boat, he started tearing to the nearest flat so fast that I tipped over and nearly flew over the side. Suffice it to say that Arnold might seem laid back and relaxed, but he takes targeting giant redfish very seriously, and he’s great at it.

Jimmy Fee, Cape Cod: Jimmy Fee is by far one of the best surfcasters I have ever met. I’ll share one anecdote, and that should be sufficient evidence to back up the claim. Fee timed the dropping tide on a saltwater pond in Cape Cod one evening, and thought that bigger bass would be pushing bait back near the shore. We crept up near an empty area by a saltwater pond without another fisherman in sight, and we each caught and released bass in the 20-pound range in a matter of hours. That type of understanding of the species and the fishery is what sets him apart from so many other anglers in and around the Cape Cod area, all chasing the striped bass that have made the place famous.

The 22-pound striped bass that I caught that night is one of my favorite fish of all time.

 

 

 

The Amazing Eight: The 8 Best Anglers that I’ve ever Met

 

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Matt Wettish shows off a large Connecticut brown trout in 2010.

Now, first let me say that I am by no means an authority on America’s greatest anglers. I’ve been lucky to fish with a lot of men and women who are spectacular at the sport, from Maine down to the Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle, but I’m only 26 (alright, 30) and it’d take eleven lifetimes to meet the myriad of talented and knowledgable anglers in this nation. Having that said, I have been fortunate to meet a few, and these stood out above the crowd.

Mike Coppola, Montauk, N.Y.: I love striped bass fishing, and the surf is especially endearing. Whether it’s the sun pulling itself form the ocean and turning the night into day, or bluefish pushing bunker up onto the beach with such ferocity that the baitfish are literally leaping onto the sand to escape being eaten, there are so many moments when fishing the surf that just make the entire experience an incredible one. But I am far, far from a great surf fisherman. I’ve been lucky at times, I’ve read enough to have a basic understanding, but grouping me with a guy like Coppola is tantamount to saying a Formula One racer and a Go Cart driver are “about the same.” I got the chance to fish with Mike on Fish America for Outdoor Life, and he had the entire endeavor down to a science. We waded into the Montauk surf at night, fished until sunrise, and he swam out to rocks in a wetsuit through breakers that crushed me back onto the beach when I attempted to hold my ground. I count myself fortunate that I survived but Mike? Mike, of course, landed a 20-plus-pound striped bass right before the sun came up. Gary “The Toad” Stevens, is right up there, too, in the Montauk scene.

Preston Clark, Florida: If you grow up in an area where you do enough largemouth bass fishing, a funny thing happens. You remember, distinctly, the days when you couldn’t get a lure back to the shore or the boat without landing a fish, and you tend to forget the fruitless days on the water. This can lead to the misconception that bass fishing is “relatively” easy, or something that “everyone can do.” Truth be told, if you do anything enough, you’ll succeed at some point, which is exactly the reason I prefer the driving range to playing 18 actual holes of golf. Something about rooting around in the woods for another lost ball is harder to forget than driving a practice shot into the woods for the umpteenth time. For that, and many other reasons, there’s no shortage of people who’d describe themselves as “good,” or even “great” bass fishermen. Clark, however, is the real deal. I was fishing with Clark in 2010, on a million-degree June afternoon when the Florida bass were impossibly hard to fool. Me? I managed one small fish on the afternoon. Clark caught a largemouth that was in the seven-pound-plus range. Think that was “luck”? Nope, me neither. Clark has been both a professional angler and a guide and I’m here to tell you, he’s one of the best.

Chris Senyohl, Seattle: Seattle gets the reputation as a place where it rains all the time and is generally unpleasant. Guess who is responsible for maintaining that reputation? The people in Seattle, who are aware of the amazing outdoor opportunities that they’d like, if they can, to prevent the rest of the country from finding out about. Senyohl guides in and around the Seattle area and is one of the absolute best (not to mention kindest) anglers I’ve ever fished with. Senyohl, in only about a week’s time, put me on a silver salmon, a pink salmon, and his brother even scared the life out of me on a whitewater rafting adventure. If he could hook a novice salmon fisherman like me up, I can only imagine the wonders he could accomplish with a more experienced angler.

Todd Kersey/Brett Isackson/Steve Niemoeller: I’ll group these guys together because all three work for BassOnline, Florida’s largest freshwater guide service. Kersey amazed me with his knowledge of targeting and catching Florida’s favorite invasives, the peacock bass. Isackson actually invented a lure that looks and acts like the snakes that live near Florida’s freshwater ponds and lakes. Isackson noticed that larger bass, looking for a more substantial meal, were eating snakes that either fell from a tree branch or were slithering over lily pads, and designed and crafted a rubber lure to take advantage of that phenomenon. It takes a certain amount of faith to cast a “snake” bait to largemouth bass, but it’s quickly rewarded when the thing gets devoured. Niemoeller is another guy who invented a lure, his Steel Shad, which you can customize to fish exactly the way you’d like to to target finicky bass. All three are absolutely amazing bass fishermen.

Randy Oldfield, Texas: Randy is another bass guy, in another great bass state. If I were to dare speculate that Texas is second to Florida in terms of its ability to produce giant bass, I’d need to change my name and enter witness protection, so I’ll say that the states are about equal as far as producing big bass goes. Oldfield, however, is (in my opinion) without equal in the Lone Star State. He guides on and around Lake Fork, one of Texas’s most prized bass lakes, and he’s another one of those guys that has bass fishing down to an absolute science. While fishing with Oldfield in 2010, it was overwhelmingly evident once again that bass fishing involves about as much luck as most things in life, which is to say, some, but not much.

Chris Robinson, Florida: Now, I’ve told you about the best Florida bass guides that I’ve met, but you can’t mention Florida without talking about the salt. The Robinson Brothers Guide Service is located in my favorite part of Florida: The Panhandle. Miles away from the traditional “Disney” atmosphere that most people picture when they think of Florida, the Panhandle has beautiful white sand beaches, delicious oysters and some great inshore saltwater fishing. Robinson guides out of Apalachicola and his ability to dial in and target big redfish is incredible.

Tommy Scarborough, South Carolina: I have a distinct memory of the first time I ever fished with Scarborough in 2010. Tommy decided it would be fun to see if I could handle a shark on some lighter tackle, and I’d been lucky to hook up. I’d asked him if he’d be willing to film the fight so that I could later document it for Outdoor Life. As the dusky shark peeled drag and I stood there helpless with the rod bent, Tommy howled in his distinct southern accent: “Looks like you’re getting your butt whooped!” Aside from being a great guide, like all of these guys, Tommy is a great human being. He put me up on his couch (to spare me a night in the Jeep), fed me a home-cooked meal, and continued making fun of me even after he’d put me on enough sharks and redfish to make anyone jealous.

Matt Wettish, Connecticut: This wouldn’t be a list if we didn’t have a trout guy, right? But Wettish isn’t just any trout guy. He designed a system that allows conventional spinning-gear anglers to get (almost) as much fun out of trout fishing as the fly guys do. He fishes in and around Connecticut’s trout water with mealworms on ultra-small hooks, using super-light spinning gear. We’re talking about line as light as 2-pound test, used with a six-foot rod. Connecticut might not seem like it deserves to be in the conversation with Vermont and Montana in terms of “Trout” states, but I changed my mind completely about that notion after seeing a 20-plus-inch brown trout caught out of the Farmington River with Wettish in 2010.

(Joe Demalderis: Okay, I have a tattoo that says “One More,” did you really think I could keep it to eight? Demalderis of Cross Current Outfitters guides on the Delaware River and is an absolute trout savant. The man seemingly knows more about targeting trout on the fly than I know about any single thing. His understanding of the river system and his ability to find and target fish is among the best I’ve ever seen from any trout guide, anywhere. Period.)

If you get a chance to fish with any of these guys, take it… and take notes.

The Most Fascinating Guides I’ve Ever Met

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Texas bass guide Randy Oldfield shows off a Lone-Star-State largemouth.

Fishing guides, of their nature, are a fascinating type of person, almost all of them. The fishing guides who think: “Oh, I’ll get paid to fish!” are fishing guides for about three days. The good ones realize that fishing doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Yes, you have to be a great angler, but the job is equal parts tour guide, babysitter, PR rep. for the region, knot-untangler, therapist, conversationalist, storyteller, and… well… suffice it to say that if you can’t multitask, you’d be in the wrong line of work. I could never do a guide’s job, for even a single day, but I’ve met some who do it better than you might imagine someone could before you got to fish with them. Because I’ve been lucky enough to fish with guides in almost all of the lower 48, I could never list all the deserving ones who’ve helped in one blog, and this is by no means a “ranking,” of “best guides,” nor is it meant to be. But these guides will always stand out in my memory as fascinating people to have shared the water with.

Brett Isackson, Florida: Isackson is a bass guide with Bassonline, and these guys have the best. From Steve Niemoeller to Todd Kersey, this group is just hands down a crew of top-notch anglers who are fun to share the water with. The amazing thing about Isackson is that he invented a snake bait. Yep, this guy noticed that largemouth bass, and big ones, were eating small snakes at the water’s edge and he set to making a mold that allowed him to replicate the snake to target those big bass. Now, I’m a fishing nut, but I’ve never said to myself “Let me go home and in my garage try to create a bait from plastic that I melt from other baits, which will fool the bass nobody else is catching.” Genius takes many forms, and Isackson is a largemouth savant if ever I’ve met one.

Brook Hidell, Maine: If you cross the border into Maine from Southern New England, you’ll run into all the “Maine” things: a picturesque coast, more lobster restaurants, shacks and shanties than you could shake a stick at, and beautiful coastline. It’s when you keep going that it really gets interesting. Now, Lake Sebago isn’t way up, as far as Grand Lake Stream, but it’s far enough removed where you’re out reach from the day-trippers from Boston. Hidell trolls flies on Lake Sebago (yep, he trolls flies) for the landlocked atlantic salmon and lake trout that inhabit that beautiful part of the country. Again, he’s just one of those guys that took a unique approach to a legendary American fishery, and like Isackson, he couldn’t be nicer to the people he fishes with.

John Kobald, Meeker, Colorado: Now, first I’ll start off with a confession here… I’ve caught fish on the fly, I love fly fishing, but I’m far from great at it. So if a guide can put me on fish on the fly, he’s truly one of the best. Kobald not only got me some of my biggest browns on the fly when I was in Meeker, he even had his son Shane, who could not have been older than 10 at the time, catching 15-inch brown trout on the long rod. Like Isackson, he’s a guy who loves to create, and he is as good of a sculptor as he is an angler.

Matt Wettish, Connecticut: Although Wettish doesn’t guide for a living, he could if he wanted to, and he guided me to one my biggest trout ever. Here’s a guy who really seems to have pioneered a unique way to catch enormous trout. He fishes for them with ultra… UTLRA-light spinning gear (we’re talking 2- and 4-pound test) to almost create a hybrid method between fly and conventional angling. I’ve only caught a few “truly big,” trout in my life, but one was with Wettish, it was all of 18 inches, and the way we caught it had the ultralight drag singing for seemingly endless seconds.

Randy Oldfield, Texas: If all you did, while fishing with Oldfield, was listen to him tell stories about his life before he became a guide, you’d get your money’s worth and then some. But this guy is one of the best bass guides in Texas. He’s truly one of those guys that just has an absolute fascination with, and appreciation for, all the subtleties that make big bass tick, and he puts that knowledge to great use on behalf of his clients.

Chris Senyohl, Seattle: Seattle was one of, by far, the most beautiful parts of the country I got to see, and I have little doubt that it’s because guys like Senyohl took the time to show it to me. Senyohl chases the native species around Puget Sound in a lot of different ways, but backtrolling for chum salmon from a drift boat was about a cool a thing as you could have asked me if i wanted to do at 24, and I’m grateful every day that I did. Letting him talk me into whitewater rafting? That might be a first- and last-time thing for me.

Chris Robinson, Florida: The Robinson Brothers guide service on Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” are the guys to go to if you’re looking to get away from “Disneyland” Florida for a few days. Robinson is one of the better redfish guides I’ve ever met and a joy to share a day on the water with. He introduced me to oyster rockefeller, a part of Florida I’d fall in love with, and put me on some nonstop redfish action for an entire afternoon.

Tommy Scarborough, South Carolina: This is another one of those guys who, if all you were doing was taking a boat ride with him to hear stories, it’d be worth the money and then some. But Scarborough, who put me up on his couch, hooked me up with a shark and a few redfish in the same week, and managed to even make fun of me while the shark was, in his words “Whupping my butt,” is both a hilarious character and a first-rate angler.

Rob Alderman, North Carolina: Alderman’s specialty, out of the Outer Banks, is kayak fishing. And let me tell you, the OBX is known across the country for its legendary offshore bite, but if you make it to Hatteras and don’t fish from a Kayak, you’re missing something truly special. Again, I’m no kayak expert, but Alderman had me launch in the surf, put me on a few fish, and even made sure I got back to shore in one piece. When, trying to execute a surf landing with the kayak, I flipped the kayak in the wash (waves were breaking hard on the beach) and snapped one of my rods, he said: “At least it wasn’t your neck.” I’ve never felt so good about a broken rod in my life.

Dan Harrison, Massachusetts: I bet there’s a lot of people from the greater Boston area who, in an attempt to see beautiful wilderness, catch wild trout and drift scenic rivers, drive about 40 hours farther than they’d need to. The Deerfield River in Western Mass. is truly one of the most unique bodies of trout water I’ve fished, and when you’re on it you have to keep reminding yourself: “I’m smack dab between New York City and Boston.” The Harrison Brothers guide the Deerfield the way they did out West, and even in Chile, and they bring all that knowledge and experience to bear on a body of water you won’t need to fly back from if you’re a Northeast angler.

(One More) Joe Demalderis: I have the words ‘one more’ tattooed on my arm, you didn’t really think I could stop at ten, did you? Demalderis guides on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New York and is one of the more experienced and accomplished trout guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of fishing with. Again, he’s one of those guys who is a wealth of information to share the water with, and will send you home laughing with stories to tell regardless of how the fishing is… although I can’t imagine for the life of me this guy floating a body of water without getting his clients on at least a few trout.

Now, it goes almost without saying that I’ve been luckier than most, and I’ve fished with some amazing guides who I didn’t get the chance to list here, because… well, these blogs are supposed to be relatively short, right? But some day I’ll make a list of the best 100 guides in America, although even then I doubt I’d get to list as many amazing anglers as have helped me on my journey and… anglers who… you should definitely make a part of yours.