Category Archives: Influence

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.

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

 

Teacher Appreciation Week: Five Teachers that I’m Grateful to Have Had

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Bill Glavin was a teacher that impacted each of his students enormously. 

It seems in the era of social media, every day has some online significance. All you have to do is Google the date, and you’ll find something that happened on this day in the past, and only so many dates or weeks can be noteworthy. But I saw that this past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I could not let it end without trying to articulate what the teachers in my own life have meant to me, from the ones that I was born with in my family, through my time at New Hartford Senior High School, to Syracuse University, and finally to Emerson College, where I’ll (finally) be graduating this coming weekend. These teachers have had a profound impact on my life, and I’m grateful daily that I encountered them:

Tara Healey: Tara is my aunt, my mother’s sister. She began the long and arduous (and largely thankless) road of becoming a teacher years ago, and now she helps learning disabled students in my native Upstate New York. She does a job, daily, that I can’t imagine doing, and she does it all with a spirit and a smile that reminds me why we’re here in the first place: To help those who we’re capable of helping. She’s one of my heroes.

Marilyn Montesano, New Hartford High School: Mrs. Montesano was a 10th-grade english teacher who brought so much enthusiasm, humor, and kindness into the classroom every day, that it even made Shakespeare fun. If she ever had a bad day, she didn’t let it show in the classroom. I’ll never forget her gathering us as students into her classroom on September 11, 2001. We were all somewhere on that day, and I’m glad I had a teacher as kind, patient and helpful as she was that afternoon.

Bill Glavin: (R.I.P.), Syracuse University: Bill Glavin taught magazine journalism at Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications, and there aren’t words to describe this man’s enthusiasm and humor. Anyone who ever sat in his classroom will remember the voice that fluctuated between soft rumblings and booming punch-line deliveries. He told a story that I’ll always remember, and one that I think of every time that I write. He told his students about a student reporter who went to a football game to write a story for the paper the next day, and witnessed a blowout. The student in the story came to Glavin afterward, and explained that there was “nothing to write,” it was a lopsided victory for the home team. Glavin asked about the experience, and the student said that, standing in the tunnel before the game, and listening to the deafening roar from the home team’s crowd, he knew that the visiting team had already lost. “That’s the story!” was Glavin’s enthusiastic delivery of the punchline. That reminds me to be constantly cognizant of everything around me when reporting: Often the story being played out in front of you isn’t the one that you came thinking that you’d find.

Bill Beuttler, Emerson College: Professor Beuttler teaches here at Emerson, where I’m finishing my master’s in Publishing and Writing, and has gone out of his way to help this student. He offered me an internship listening to and transcribing interviews with some legendary jazz musicians, and even took me to a show. His class structure allowed us to act both as aspiring writers and editors, working with other students, so that we could get a better feeling for how we might interact in the publishing world in similar circumstances.

Gian Lombardo: After losing my father in my first semester at Emerson, I felt compelled to do something to raise money to fund a cure for melanoma. I undertook a small Catch a Cure project in Florida through the kind people at Outdoor Sportsman Group, and asked if there were any way to use a repeated trip, with more sponsors, in an academic capacity. Professor Lombardo found a way to make it work, helping me design a survey to distribute to get feedback from fishermen around the country. Even if he knew that my dream of starting my own magazine was a long shot at best, he didn’t dismiss the ambition out of hand.

Each of these teachers has had a profound impact on my life, and I’m enormously grateful.

The Seven Most Beautiful Places that I’ve Ever Fished

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Lake Powell on a calm day can seem like a mirror.

I have been enormously fortunate, thanks to anglers all over the United States, and the editors at Outdoor Life, Game & Fish, and B.A.S.S., to fish a host of different waters from Maine down to the Florida Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle. These days I am working on finishing my Master’s Degree, and I’ve been lucky to help out a tremendously talented artist in Salem named Joe Higgins who runs Fished Impressions, but thanks to a number of people who’ve had faith in me over the years, I’ve had the chance to travel and fish more than most. Any time that we can get on the water, it’s a beautiful day, but there are some places on the American landscape that have stood out in my memory as particularly gorgeous. I haven’t fished everywhere, but I’ve tried, and these are places that belong on your bucket list if you’re an angler.

The Florida Keys: The sunrises are surreal. You’ll swear that the ocean is temporarily alight with fire when you see one from a flats skiff. But the variety of species that are available for an angler to target here is almost enough to overwhelm you the minute you get on the Overseas Highway that will lead you out of Miami. Tarpon are the big draw out of Islamorada and Key West, and rightfully so, but yellowtail snapper, barracuda, spotted sea trout, permit and bonefish are all available depending upon the season you choose. Waking up in the Keys is something like waking up on Christmas morning, on repeat, for any fisherman. There are a host of beautiful places in the lower 48 to fish, but you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that any are, in any sense, ‘better’ than the Florida Keys. The guys at Bud N’ Mary’s are the ones to talk to if you find yourself Keys-bound.

New Orleans: Start an argument in the Southeast about who has the biggest redfish, and you’ll never hear the end of it. Having that said, the environment in New Orleans, the potential forage base, and the climate all give it as good a claim as any Southern city to “Redfish Capital of the World.” Fishing out of New Orleans is such a memorable and incredible cultural experience, that even if, let’s say… Texas had bigger redfish, it’d still be tough to argue that New Orleans is the single best place to go if you want to fish for them. Both Gregg Arnold and Rocky Thickstun are excellent New Orleans guides, and you can’t go wrong with either.  The city is overflowing with art of all varieties, from music to artwork to photography, and where the city stops, the natural beauty starts.

Seattle: Seattle gets a reputation as a rainy city, and it is, but all that water creates an environment rich with life. Whether you want to chase king, silver or chum salmon, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful to do it in than Western Washington. If you do get there, try fishing for sea-run rainbows on the fly, too. It’s an incredible experience, especially from shore. The lush greenery, the mountains and the crystal-clear water all make for absolutely stunning scenery. The Seattle expert to talk to, hands down, is Chris Senyohl. 

Montauk: I’ll first say that during the prime striper months, like May, June, October and November, Montauk gets crowded. This is the place to travel to and set wader boot on for striper fishermen in the spring and fall. It is true that more striped bass pull closer to the end of Long Island, here, concentrating in a way that they do in few other places, but the culture is really what makes Montauk memorable. It is seemingly, for a few months anyway, a city built on striped bass, or at least the pursuit of them. Whether you love the crowds, the competition and the frenzy, or you can’t stand it, Montauk is a place to experience as a striper fisherman at least once in your life. The sun rising and casting the day’s first light on all the wader-clad, or wetsuit-wearing fishermen who have been fishing all through the night is simply a sight to behold.

Grand Lake Stream, Maine: This isn’t the southern part of Maine that most of Boston flees to in the summer months for their bumper stickers (although that part of Maine is beautiful, too). Grand Lake Stream is about four hours north of Maine’s southern border, and has some truly rugged and wild country. The landlocked Atlantic salmon that you’ll chase, and perhaps catch, in Grand Lake Stream are every bit as beautiful as the scenery. The crew at Weatherby’s are the guys to talk to if you’re headed to GLS.

Apalachicola: It might seem unfair that I’ve put Florida on this list twice, but the state just has that many unique and amazing opportunities for fishermen. Traveling through the state, many visitors never make it to the Panhandle, which, in the Panhandle, is just how they like it. The Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce has actually trademarked the name, ‘The Forgotten Coast.’ The Panhandle of Florida feels very different from the remainder of the state: The attitude of the locals is more relaxed, the sand on the beaches is even a lighter shade, and they take oysters much more seriously. Offshore fishing out of nearby Destin is popular, but I’d fish with the Robinson Brothers again for redfish if I ever made it back down: Those guys are the best.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah: This one might surprise a few people, but this lake itself, thanks to the surrounding geography, is absolutely stunning. Oh, and the smallmouth bass that inhabit it are a blast to catch on topwater. Seeing the rock formations that have been carved and weathered by time, wind and water reflected in the lake’s mirror-like surface on a calm summer afternoon is a sight that you’ll never forget. Danny Woods at This Side of That Guide Service is the guy to talk to about fishing here, no doubt about it.

Many of us, as fishermen, are hesitant to admit that the beauty is a big part of the reason that we love the sport. But I don’t think any of us could deny that it’s integral to the entire experience, either. If you get a chance to fish in any of these places, take it.