As 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.
This 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.
To build something, anything, there are two necessary ingredients: You need a careful plan that allows for some error, and determination to create a desired, finished product. This is true of building a friendship, a magazine, or a fillet table.
In 2004, during my freshman year at Syracuse University, I met another freshman named Curt Dircks. The first thing I do, when moving into any type of residence, is put up photographs of fish. Filling an apartment, a dorm room or a house with images of the water reminds me, between trips, of a part of my journey that has brought more joy, excitement and wonder into my life than all other elements combined.
So, as you might imagine, it didn’t take long for Dircks, a fellow freshman and striper nut, and I to strike up a friendship talking about the water and what we love so much about it.
In 2004 we took what would be the first of thirteen years worth of fishing trips to Fire Island, a thin, 32-mile-long barrier island south of Bayshore, New York where his family has owned a small cottage for decades.
During those first years, the conversation went something like: “Do you want to go back this fall?” By now, it has evolved into a short exchange of dates during which we’re both free. “How about the 13th?” “Perfect.”
Dircks has moved from New Jersey to San Diego and back to New York City, while I’ve moved from New Jersey to Cape Cod, back to New Jersey, down to Florida and finally up to Salem, Massachusetts.
This past fall we decided to attempt to construct a fillet table. We’re not ‘sharpies’ by any means, but we’d filleted enough striped bass on newspapers on the back deck to realize that there must be a better way.
We discussed table size, placement, stain color, and amenities like a slot to hold a fillet knife, a ruler on a lip at the table’s base to double-check fish length, and a back panel with a wood-burned quote so that something that was utilitarian in function might have a bit of sentiment, a little soul.
I researched fitting quotes for a week prior to first fall trip, and we decided on one, from a hero of mine, Ernest Hemingway. “It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when the luck comes, you are ready.” The quote comes from Santiago, Hemingway’s famous protagonist in The Old Man and the Sea. I borrowed an electric wood-burner from an artistic aunt, Bridget Roberts, and we were set.
I thought the quote was fitting, because a fillet table is about being exact, keeping only fish that are big enough to kill, and attempting to pay homage to the nature of the pursuit by getting every ounce of meat off the striped bass that you are lucky to harvest.
Dircks is pragmatic, punctual and prepared. I, on the other hand, will lose track of time in the surf, walking a few football fields (okay, running) at the sight of dropping birds, and can spend an hour searching for the perfect quote.
A pragmatic person will think, and understandably so, that a fillet table will be a useful tool when preparing striped bass of legal size that we willcatch in the future. A guy who looks for signs and believes in omens will inherently wonder whether that type of hubris would be frowned on by the Fishing Gods. It perhaps warrants mentioning that we’ve never brought a banana on any trip, or even had them the house. There are some superstitions no fisherman in his or her right mind fools with.
I can’t say, in all honesty, that I did ‘half’ the work on the table. When we’re on the island, I’m constantly wondering if there are bass pushing bait right into the beach. It’s hard to drag myself away from the wash to sleep, let alone work on something besides fishing during daylight hours.
I did wood-burn the quote into the table’s back panel, and help with some sanding and staining, but the credit for much of the table’s construction goes to Dircks.
In my mind’s eye, I secretly envisioned the table being taken out and placed on the brackets we’d screwed into the back deck, and being removed at the end of every trip without ever holding a fish. I just couldn’t help but wonder if ‘preparing’ to catch fish you could legally kill wasn’t some kind of bad luck.
Then, on the second trip of the fall, I hooked into bass that felt slightly larger than the shorter fish we’d been catching earlier that morning.
Throwing a green bucktail with a matching pork-rind trailer, I hooked and landed a 31-inch striped bass, three inches larger than they need to be to legally keep.
There are few things in the world I like as much as the feeling of a bass that you know is slightly larger than the rest you’ve been catching, hitting your bucktail as you hop it along the ocean floor.
We’d just finished the table, and we carefully set it on the rail of the back deck and filleted our first striped bass on it.
There are, undoubtedly, more superstitions involved with the sport of fishing than almost any other pursuit in human history (except, maybe, baseball).
But preparing to catch fish that you might have the chance to bring back to family for dinner, and creating a table that ultimately aids in that effort, is not bad luck. In fact, it might have even helped, as far as I’m concerned now. I guess you’ve got to believe something’s possible, and perhaps even likely, before undertaking a single step toward achieving it.
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
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.
It seems, nowadays, that almost every piece of information or news that we get comes electronically. The mailbox outside your front door has been mostly relegated to bills, flyers and takeout menus. That reality, however, makes it all the more surprising and uplifting when you do get something in the mail that has some worth or value on a personal level.
This past month, the mailbox has been good to me, and I’d like to share a few stories, and thank some people who went out of their way.
I was excited to hear that a long-time friend and former Syracuse roommate, Andrew Fillipponi, is finally tying the knot. I’m more excited, as a fisherman, that he’s tying that knot in New Orleans… one of the fishiest places I’ve ever set foot in. Congratulations Pinto Bean, we’ve got a few crazy stories to rehash at the next meeting of the… well, Syracuse fans, we’ll say.
If you’ve read this blog or followed my Social Media presence, you know by now that I’m a huge fan of a musician named Brian Fallon. He writes some beautiful songs, and I’d recommend checking them out if you’re in the market for new music (who isn’t?) Fellow fans of the band have formed a group online called Andy Diamond’s Church Street Choir (taken from song lyrics) and actually sent postcards, and very cool ones I might add, to fans around the world. I got mine this past month and it was a touching reminder of how music can connect people who are otherwise worlds apart.
When friend and former Emerson classmate James Spica saw the oyster-inspired Christmas ornaments we were selling at Tomo’s Tackle here in Salem, he naturally wanted one, so I stuck an ornament in the mail for him. This past week, he returned the favor by sending an Orvis gift card, which is all the excuse I need to head to the nearest Orvis and dream of the spring fishing that’s to come.
What do you get when you combine music and fishing (besides the world’s best possible combination)? A fellow Fallon fan, Christina LaMarca, liked one of the fish prints that we’re selling out of Tomo’s Tackle, so I sent a small mahi print to the midwest for her mom. She returned the favor recently by sending a movie she’s insisting that I watch, The Princess Bride.
I’m a fairly quiet guy who lives in a small upstairs apartment in an out-of-the-way part of a North Shore town in Massachusetts. Three people, all from different walks of life, none of whom know one another, went out of their way to send something thoughtful or personal in the past month, and each mailbox inspection has been an uplifting reminder that it’s a beautiful world, full of incredible people.
If you need some inspiration in the mailbox, and want to help a great cause… donate $25 to the Melanoma Research Foundation and I’ll send you a one-of-a-kind Catch a Cure T-shirt, thanks to Rick Roth at Mirror Image printing, who donated the shirts to the project. We only have a few left, and this will sound like a sales pitch, but it’s true so… if you want one, act fast.
Thank you to all of you you took the time, it honestly did bring some cheer amidst the snow-pocalypse we’re currently experiencing north of Boston.
Superstition typically isn’t an impactful element in our everyday lives. Sure, we might notice if a black cat walks by, and we might not walk under a latter, but for the most part most of us believe in cause and effect. It helps us navigate an unpredictable world to believe that, with a few exceptions, things happen because other things have happened in the past that set a series of events in motion that caused them.
This belief, however, stops immediately where the water meets the land. I have never met an angler who was not, to some degree, superstitious. And anglers, for the most part, I’ve found, are more superstitious than most. I’ve never met a fisherman who wasn’t aware that bananas are bad luck on boats, but that’s only the most commonly held belief, and there are countless others that vary by region, body of water and individual angler.
I’ll share a few of my good-luck tricks (tactics?) but I’m honestly more interested in hearing about yours.
First and foremost, I always carry two things in the pocket of any pair of pants or shorts that I’m wearing. The first is my father’s watch. It’s a gold Bulova that he wore for decades. My father wasn’t a man who who cared much for flashy attire or stylish clothes, but the watch was a gift that my mother and I gave him when the one he wore finally gave out. He treasured it, and so do I.
My aunt, Bridget Roberts, collects all sorts of antiques, and she has an incredible collection of antique marbles of all sizes and colors. She selected a half-dozen for me a few years back, placed them in a velvet case, and gave them to me. Of course the running joke about “losing your marbles,” has followed me ever since, so I’m sure to keep the physical ones on hand for luck, and to remember that I have a wonderfully crazy family that cares about me.
I have two rings that I’ve found to be relatively lucky: One is a hand-carved ring with ocean waves from the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, and the other is from a Harley Davidson store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
This past year I was fishing Fire Island with former college roommate and long-time friend Curt Dircks, and was wearing a new hat I’d bought at a Brian Fallon concert (Fallon is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter if you’re interested in finding some more great music). We’d fished all morning, and most of the evening, without landing a keeper striped bass. The six that I’d caught, despite being undersized, might very well have convinced me that the hat was good luck anyway… but when I caught a 33-inch, 11-pound striper right after last light… any and all doubt about the hat’s powers were erased.
So, whether I’m on the water or not, I’ll typically have the hat, marbles and watch for good luck. What do you carry, and why?
One angler's attempt to strike back against skin cancer.