Tag Archives: road-trip

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.

The Real Reason Behind Catch a Cure: Coming Clean

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The sun sets over an Atlanta highway in 2010.

Alright, it’s time I fessed up, came clean and leveled with you guys and gals that have been reading this blog. I’ve taken to the road under false pretense, claiming a grudge against melanoma and a desire to build, with your help, the best fishing magazine you’ll ever read. But there’s more to it…

I left out a key component: The Road. Since I turned 16, nothing has given me more joy, relaxation, hope, inspiration and faith than the American open road. My best memories are behind the wheel, I’ve dealt with the hardest times in my life by just putting the key in the ignition, and when it seemed like there was little else, there was always something on four wheels with at least a little gas in the tank, an invitation to everywhere.

My first vehicle was a 1996 Chevy Beretta. For those of you who think this is either a gun, or a car that doesn’t exist, I’ll give you a brief primer on the now-extinct Beretta: It was a sports car for people who couldn’t afford sports cars. Mine was a hand-me-down from an Uncle, and while it was a two-door with a V6, it wasn’t exactly a Corvette. But at the time, it felt like one.

When it became apparent that all my fishing gear would never fit in a coupe, my parents helped me upgrade to a used regular-cab Dakota. Here again, if you’re new on the road, you might be going… “Wha…?”

Because, you guessed it, Dodge has stopped producing its mid-sized Dakota. It was a great little truck, but it has gone the way of the Beretta.

Finally, realizing that I needed a vehicle that I could live in, if I was going to fish the entire country without paying for motel rooms, I became a Jeep guy, which I remain to this day.

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to contact Jeep, hoping to enlist their support for my effort, but haven’t had any luck. Still, I can’t help but be a walking Jeep commercial. These vehicles are everything they claim to be, and I’ve tested them to the limit. I’ve had my Wrangler buried in snow in Wyoming, mud on things you’d only call “roads,” to be nice in Florida and Alabama, and most importantly, I lived in one for more than 200 nights from Maine to Montana.

I have never been able to articulate what it is about the open road that calms me down and makes everything in life seem, if not ideal, then at least manageable, but I know when I meet a person who “gets it.” My uncle, Charlie Jones, drives an 18-wheeler back and forth from Upstate New York to Harlem several times a week, and used to drive all over the country before opting for a more local route, and his father before him was a truck-driver. All we need is a road map for hours of mutual amusement. You can try to describe the beauty of the Oregon Coast, the strange feeling of staring into Mexico that you can get in some parts of Texas or the sheer Majesty of the Florida Keys to someone who has never been, but it’s much more rewarding to just talk with someone who has, to just point to a map, nod, smile and say some guy-thing like: “Oh, unbelievably beautiful, for sure…”

Being born on the East Coast, the 3,000-mile expanse to another ocean always seemed to me like a dare, a challenge or an invitation. It seemed as though we were born on the starting line, and a gun went off when we were handed our license for the first time.

But if driving across the United States, or down the beautiful East Coast, has an exact antithesis, it’s a race. There are more beautiful small towns, amazing beaches, breathtaking views and unique communities in America than you could visit if you had a lifetime and spent only a minute in each.

The truth about the road, or what I’ve found, has nothing to do with America and everything to do with you and who you are. When you’re traveling from place to place, town to town, from Maine’s rocky shoreline to San Diego’s beautiful harbor, you discover something that most of us search for our whole lives: Yourself.

The road allows you to be anything and anyone, and at the same time forces you to be something, someone. You cannot hide unnoticed in a cubicle on the road, you cannot lock a door and stare at a television: you move, interact, introduce and become.

At the same time you are introducing yourself to the amazing people of each huge city and small town, they are introducing yourself to you, by forcing you to become just that. Behind the wheel, on the road, you are not an employee or a boss, you are not a son or a nephew, you are not a neighbor or a tenant: You are, and you only are, yourself.

You choose when and how to define yourself with each interaction, introduction and discussion and while the beauty of our country defies description and should be something everyone tries to see all of at least once, the best, most liberating and beautiful thing about the American open road is that it allows you to become who you are, who you’ve been underneath all along, and who you were always meant to become.