Tag Archives: hemingway

If You Build It…

Fillet
The finished fillet table, constructed and stained.

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.”

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Dircks and I holding a pair of bluefish during an incredible blitz in 2011.

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.

Life had changed for both of us, but the tradition did not.

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 will catch 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.

Keeper
The first striped bass that made it to the table.

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.

 

 

 

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

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An atlas and a Jeep… all you really need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stationary Motion: The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises
So many tremendous human beings have come to the aid of Catch a Cure.

My favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. There’s beautiful language, it’s concise and moving and it’s important from a literary standpoint, but that’s not why I love it.

In the book, the fictional character Jake Barnes, because of injuries sustained in war, cannot be in a physical relationship with a woman, despite being in love with one.

When I first read the book, in my freshman year of undergraduate school at Syracuse University, I was immediately taken aback by what type of modesty and openness would propel a man to write something that many men would spend a lifetime trying to avoid the mere suggestion of. There are many causes for insecurity among men, and we all deal with them in different ways, but few seem as harsh as the one described by Barnes. What I loved most about the book was the honesty, even if it were fiction. It seems that some of the most honest writing is.

I think that to admire a quality without trying to emulate it constitutes some type of cowardice or hypocricy, so here goes.

I was on the train into Boston yesterday, working toward a Directed Study that would function in the capacity of a repeated Catch a Cure project, in Texas this time, and I was trying to post something on Facebook in commemoration of my father’s passing on that day, two years prior.

I just started crying. There have been plenty of times, his birthday, Father’s Day, talking to my mother, when I’ve swallowed those tears but the well where I put them must be full. I just miss him, I guess. Emotion isn’t typically terribly complicated.

When I was 24-years old I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler at the time for 200 nights, to fish my way across the country. I lost 42 pounds. Some nights, toward the end of that trip, were brutally cold, and I mean like 20-below, Ketchum-Idaho cold. I’d shiver myself awake in the night to blast the heat and fall back asleep. Since I was about 18 I’ve been covering myself in tattoos that I hope act as some means of telling my story even if I’m too quiet to. Some were smaller and took less than an hour, but others took three-plus hours and the needle lingered on the skin that barely covers the bone. When my father passed, I flew home from Boston, stood in front of a crowded church, and did my best to eulogize the man I loved. I say all of this to suggest that tears aren’t an easy thing to extract from me, by any means. I could count the times I’ve cried in the past decade on one hand, with fingers to spare.

And I was very hesitant to write this, but two notions gave me some solace. First, I am fairly certain that only a few human beings actually lay eyes on these words, and most of them know me well enough to know these things about me anyway. Secondly, I thought: perhaps, and more than likely, there are others out there feeling this too, going through what I’m going through, and what purpose does it serve for us all to smile and hide our pain so that we might, on the face of the matter, all seem to be utterly alone in how we feel?

Two years ago yesterday I was on a plane back to Boston, having visited my father for the last time, when my mother called to tell me he’d passed, and yesterday at that same time I was on a train into the city.

It’s pure coincidence that I was aboard public transport both days, but I find the circumstance strangely fitting.

On a train, or a plane for that matter, you both are, and are not, moving. You might be said to be sitting still while speeding over land at dozens, or hundreds of miles per hour.

And losing a parent, as many of you might know, feels oddly similar. I know it has been two years since I’ve held my father’s hand, heard him speak or tried to make him laugh. I know that time has moved, and me with it. But, like on a train, it does not feel as though I’ve moved away from the son who would call every night to exchange casual pleasantries and assurances that I am okay, along with questions about his well-being.

I remember the first thing I did when I’d heard that he’d passed: I tried to call his cell phone. He was a nervous guy, and because he was constantly afraid of losing potential business as a criminal defense attorney, he’d answer his phone no matter the time of day or night, without fail. It just rang. And rang. I was 27.

I’ve undertaken a battle against melanoma, the cancer that took his life, and absolutely everyone who has shared my content, purchased a T-shirt, donated a product or given a dollar has meant more to me than I can express. It feels like I am fighting back against the evil that did so much harm to my family’s life. It is not happiness, but it is some solace.

So when I thought about sharing this, I heard the voices of those who might potentially respond, and I’ve heard them aloud. “Nobody wants to read about cancer.” “Death is depressing, move forward, find happiness…” And I’m trying. Friends here at Emerson in Boston, friends from back home in New York, and so many anglers in Florida have made that so much easier for me than it might have been otherwise.

But I thought that perhaps out there there might be one other person, going through something similar, something equally painful, if not more so.

And I’ve read and debated and listened a great deal about the purpose of writing, or any art, but only one thing has ever made sense to me in a way I can’t shake. I believe that whatever we are saying, in words, images or with paint or drawings or photographs… should be some variation of one simple idea:

“You’re not alone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of All He Loved the Fall

Fishing Montauk's coast during the Fall Run.
Fishing Montauk’s coast during the Fall Run.

Those words aren’t mine, they were spoken by Hemingway eulogizing a friend, Gene Van Guilder, although many suspect he was talking as much about his future self as his lost friend.

To many, the Fall symbolizes a death of something pure and beautiful like summer, but for outdoorsmen, it’s more. Autumn is motion. While walking our golden retriever in the Fall in Upstate New York, my father always kept an eye skyward for migrating geese, he’d point them out, and perhaps utter a word or two, nothing more than sheer amazement at the pure beauty of it.

I was lucky to meet a fellow striper fisherman while studying at Syracuse University, Curt Dircks, and we began a Fall tradition of fishing Fire Island, where his family has a camp, every October and sometimes even into November. It’s hard to believe it has been ten years since that tradition began, but we haven’t missed an Autumn. I was a triple-major at Syracuse, and working two part-time jobs, so the escape to a remote barrier island was a relief and then some.

The Island doesn’t allow motor vehicles, so every October we pack our gear, the necessary groceries, rods, waders and bucktails and hop the ferry to the thin barrier island south of Long Island. Sometimes I was taking a break from editing the magazine I worked for, sometimes I was up visiting from where I lived in Florida and now I drive from my adopted home of Boston, but there’s always the bass to come back to, there’s always motion.

As I sit on my small deck in my adopted home on the North Shore, I watch those same geese unsettle themselves for a southward journey as the sky’s light seems to become more crisp in the cooler evenings. I can’t help but think of my dad. I talk with my friend, neither of us can believe it’s been a decade, and we plan this year’s attempt to take part in the Fall Run, hammer out some tentative dates, swap pictures from years past, and dream ever so carefully about the fish stirring along the Southern Coast. A fisherman’s dream uttered aloud becomes a curse.

To me, Autumn is motion, and of the most beautiful sort. Often in life it behooves to step back and look at our circumstance with some perspective to better handle it. Move away from the calendar and see it for what it is, and you’ll notice we’re moving toward summer again, we’re moving already.

Often in life there are moments, years even, full of hardship and pain, that simply must be dealt with. “The only way out is through.” But if we have faith that those times will pass and we’ll bask in the comfort of summer’s warmth again, then the winter is only a period to be weathered, not feared.

And so, with some perspective, the Autumn is motion toward summer again, and it’s damn beautiful motion at that. The crisp sharp leaves of light in the morning, the geese overhead, the stripers schooling along the coast and then those days when you’re outside and the air is just perfect, as though it were made to soak your skin in comfort.

Stagnation is the only thing to be feared, and motion, and the form it takes in Autumn, is pure beauty.