Tag Archives: Boston

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.

Hemingway on Springsteen’s Birthday

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-9-08-49-pmAs part of a class assignment today, I visited the JFK Library in Boston, which if you’ve never been, is an incredible place to go. The view of the city, alone, from outside the museum is worth the trip.

Inside the museum, through December, they have a section dedicated in memory of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose impact on my life, and the lives of many, cannot be overstated.

As you wander through the exhibit you’ll see handwritten letters and notes from Hemingway, a man whose memory and legend have far surpassed anything one might attain in a mere, mortal existence.

I was lucky, earlier this month, to see a Springsteen concert in Gillette Stadium, and with four-plus hours of music, it was incredible. (I’ve gone to 13 Springsteen shows in the past with friends, girlfriends, and even one solo, but this time I took my Mom, who I blame wholeheartedly for turning me into a Bruce nut in the first place).

But between visiting the memories of Hemingway and seeing Springsteen on stage, I was reminded of something important, and perhaps even necessary for any of us pursuing a career in any artistic field.

If we are able, no matter the sum, to earn some amount of money doing this — this thing, or these things, that we love, that’s fantastic.

But if money were the motivation, we’d never have reason to write at all. Exactly no one, in the history of humanity, has ever said: “You know what I’ll do? I’ll get rich writing!”

But perhaps there’s another kind of wealth to be sought. If we can impact, inspire, or move someone with words or images… if we can affect a life in a positive way with something we create… maybe that’s a reward that has a greater value, or higher purpose.

As I wandered through the JFK museum today looking at handwritten letters from Hemingway, I began to wonder…

And in Gillette Stadium sharing more than 30 songs with my mom, a Springsteen fan from the get-go, I began to wonder…

What is this… “worth?” What is the value of what these men have created, shared and left behind for us?

I will never be so bold or confident to think that I, or any writer, might articulate that value in question.

The music, the words, the books and the albums and the concerts and the novels that we share, that we savor, that become part of our fabric as a human being, are of greater value than any material thing we might exchange here.

Both Hemingway and Springsteen, early in their careers, were faced with critics, doubt and rejection. I can only really, for a moment, begin to imagine their “worth,” as human beings when I consider what my life might be like without their influence.

And if we each take a moment to consider what our lives might be like without our favorite author, without our favorite band… we can almost grasp how important these things are to each of us, and to all of us as a whole.

And how important it is, then, for each of us to continue to strive in our own way to make what contribution we can.

The Second Greatest Game Fish… Ever: The Miraculous Striped Bass

 

Hip-Deep in the Fall Run
Fishing Montauk’s coast during the Fall Run.

If you’re an angler who grew up in North America, it’s almost guaranteed that your first love was largemouth bass. For some, it might have been trout, instead, but largemouth bass are almost undoubtedly “America’s Fish.” And for that reason they’ll always hold a special place in our hearts and be tough to top. Your first fish was probably a largemouth, you most likely catch up with your oldest friends while targeting them, and those really old pictures that your mom breaks out, where you’re wearing a Batman bathing suit and have a bowl cut… you’re probably holding a bass in those pictures.

I’d never question or challenge the lore of the largemouth in my, or any American’s, personal past. It’s been an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to target them from Oklahoma to Florida to South Carolina following the B.A.S.S. trail and I certainly learned how much there was that I didn’t know about catching them in the process.

But you know what makes that place you went on family vacations as a kid so special? Perhaps a bunch of things, but foremost among them was that you had to come back, you had to return, it was a limited-time, expiring offer which made every second seemingly more magical.

And I believe that all of us have that fish that, if not first in our book of sacred species, is a close second, and that fish for me is the striped bass.

I was lucky to target stripers from a young age, because our enormous Irish-Catholic family (six aunts, one uncle and a dozen-plus cousins) rented and shared a house on Cape Cod since 1989. Later I’d live on the Cape, then New Jersey and now Boston, and continue to fall in love with them, but it was those first stripers that were caught before I could even drive that endeared them to me more than anything.

And I’ve asked myself repeatedly what it is about these fish that makes them so utterly lovable. Sure, they’re beautiful, they taste great (should you decide to eat one), they fight hard and grow to pretty impressive sizes, but that’s true of a lot of inshore species. And claiming an undying allegiance just because Field & Stream Fishing Editor Joe Cermele designed me a striper tattoo when I interned at F&S seems like a cop-out. There was a reason I was so willing to have a striped bass on my shoulder forever, and it was formed in my soul long before the tattoo artist left the image of a striper on my skin.

I think the thing that is so endearing about stripers is that they bring the mystery of the Atlantic right to our wader boots. These fish, which swim enormous distances from Maine to North Carolina, and range far offshore beyond any angler’s cast, have the curiosity, the decency and the courage to come right within casting distance of any angler with a rod and good timing.

For that moment while we’re connected with one, we’re connected with something more: everything the fish represents, the beauty of the migration, the mystery of the Atlantic, the incredible ability for the species to survive and thrive despite hardship imposed upon it by human beings, and we are connected by the thinnest of possible measures, only a line. When a striper hits a bucktail or a bait, it is almost like hearing a faint whisper on the wind in response to a prayer. We cast, and we pray, with almost certain knowledge that it matters, but that does not change the fact that every surf striper, like every answered prayer, still feels like a miracle come true. And it, I believe, is for one simple reason. No matter how strong our faith in God, we must rationally allow for the possibility that he does not exist, that we are animals, products of evolution, and nothing more.

And along those same lines, every cast we make into the surf is one that might very well be into a portion of ocean empty of striped bass. They may have migrated further down the coast, or be offshore, out of casting distance. On a lake or pond, the body of water is finite enough that it stands to reason that bass must be somewhere, and if we fail to catch them, it’s a reflection upon our inability to do so, not their presence or lack thereof. But with striped bass, no matter how resolute our faith, our rational brain must admit that our attempt might be an exercise in futility. So, every time that it’s not, is though a miracle has transpired before our eyes.