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A conversation with a fisherman

Our Northeast fishing expert shares the answers to some commonly asked questions

Our Northeast fishing expert shares the answers to some commonly asked questions

Such is the power of the printed word. When people hear you are a writer, the questions begin: maybe inquiring about the day’s fishing if they are your companions on a trip, or advice on how one gets started in the business. Some will send something they wrote, looking for a critique and advice on submitting it somewhere. Of all the items that cross people’s minds, below is a small sample of what I’ve found interests them.

What’s the biggest bass you ever caught?

With striper bass the king of our inshore waters these days, that question often comes up. Back in November 1985 the Good Lord — or Lady Luck, whichever you prefer — brought me a 67-pounder off Block Island. The fish was landed one day to the year after I caught two 50-pounders in one night after 19 years of trying to catch one that size. The week I caught my big one, three other anglers on Block also landed what likely was the fish of a lifetime. A young fellow on vacation with his dad caught a 61-pounder at Grove Point; a gent from Cape Cod, a 64 from the beach behind Ballards Restaurant; and a young man from Massachusetts, a 63-pounder from Southwest Point. It was indeed a unique time when trophy linesiders gathered around that stopping point on their migration south.

How did you get started?

Fishing fever was so great as a youth the only thing I could think of to quench it and still earn a living was writing about fishing, specializing in saltwater only. It would give me an opportunity to put food on the table and still be on the water. Please keep in mind I didn’t aspire to be a Tom Clancy. I just went to work after college for a small publishing house on the coast. The pay was modest, but a Spartan lifestyle allowed me to save a few dollars giving me a retirement income and job I loved to augment it with. Starting out freelancing, aiming for a life like that, yet still saving money for retirement, seems a very tall order in today’s hyperactive world.

Did you ever write a book?

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, co-worker Mary Motherway of Stonington, Conn., and I formed a small book company to self-publish a series of seven paperback books on various aspects of local fishing. These all sold out with the exception of one title. The money was put aside for a rainy day: me to fish, her to enjoy her five grandchildren in New York City and Vermont. Without money coming back from a few outside sources, the modest pay running a small business would never have added up to even semi-retirement with hope of a middle class lifestyle.

On my “gonna” list will be someday to do a book on New England shipwrecks, perhaps my other avocation in life. Over the last 20 years a small group of friends accumulated enough material to fill four, four-drawer file cabinets with locations and histories on lost vessels. We’ve been able to identity some thanks to the help of such people as Capt., Eric Takakjian of Fairhaven, Mass., the first man to dive on the Nantucket Lightship, struck by a liner many years back. Others remain unknown lumps on a color fish finder, waiting for someone like Eric to swim down for a look-see.

Eric is a smaller man, possessed of great skill and courage, able to dive down to 300 feet with special equipment to take a look at what we find after many hours of looking. Just recently he and three other divers made a 15-hour trip from New Bedford, Mass., to swim down to 220 feet of water to 40-plus-degree temperatures on the bottom in Great South Channel. They found a 130-foot, steel, eastern-rig fishing vessel, identity as yet unknown.

That kind of material induces people to buy books on wrecks, offering a window into the unknown. I might add, when a ship sinks, it becomes an artificial reef that draws all manner of fish to its deteriorating bones. Where fish congregate, fish nuts like Tim Coleman seek them out.

What type of fishing do you like best?

Many different situations literally color that answer. The yellow glow from a full moon on quiet night behind Fishers Island comes to mind, casting lures into the shoreline rocks, striped bass fighting hard against a light spin rod. At night’s end you enjoy the flat water as the big outboard heads past North Dumpling Island, legal limit of fish in the box, later cleaned, iced and on their way to the Warm Shelter in Westerly, R.I., the next morning.

Gray also comes to mind, 75 miles off Block Island, early on a calm morning after running the distance in a 42-foot Wesmac owned by Capt. Jack Fiora of East Haddam, Conn., to jig pollock on a wreck in 336 feet of water. Such times and situations were repeated over and over again with different skippers all over the far waters of New England.

Last might be bright orange or red, as the sun slips over Key West, anchored up off Pelican Shoal, a hefty spin rod arched over, a pugnacious mutton snapper refusing to join his comrades in the forward box. Maybe, just maybe the wind will shift before it’s time to head into Geiger Key; a cold front afoot, time coming to hunker down, enjoy a late supper, sleep in the next day, comfortable and waiting for the next sunset and more muttons.

Got any regrets?

Maybe a few small ones; one could always use a nicer boat or more fish, but writing helped me attain my goal of being on the water, catching fish, keeping body, soul and checkbook together. It’s very hard to have one without the other two.

Self-help gurus tell us to follow what you enjoy as way to a satisfying life; be it delivering mail, writing about catching fish or buying, selling and shaking the financial world. Set your sights on what you enjoy, what gives you zing. Godspeed, fair winds and leave a few fish there for tomorrow’s trip. n

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.