Fishing - Nice work if you can get it

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Marine writer finds his lifestyle intrigues, and sometimes inspires jealousy, in part-time anglers

Marine writer finds his lifestyle intrigues, and sometimes inspires jealousy, in part-time anglers

Writing about saltwater sportfishing for magazines and newspapers is like running a charter boat. One can spend a lot of time on or near the water, observing and recording while making a modest living. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to get rich, but I enjoy what I’m doing and see a lot of the watery world in the process.

Along the route, I’ve met all kinds of people: the normal ones, and those who fish. Many have questions about this business and how I came to pursue this path in life.

Fishing was an all-consuming passion for me as a kid, so much so that many of life’s decisions were made to keep me near the ocean. This included choosing a college not so much for the power of the curriculum but closeness to some of the best striper fishing on the east coast. At one point in my junior year we had to fill out forms asking us what we aspired to be. Most wanted to go on to larger fortunes; me, I only wanted to write for papers along the shoreline, and go fishing as much as possible. That career “track” drew incredulous stares when read aloud.

Thanks to a Spartan lifestyle, and saving like a pack rat, I’m now 59, semi-retired, writing and fishing — still following the same salty star.

Writing wasn’t the only contribution to the retirement package. For 27 years I was the editor of a regional, weekly sportfishing mag, a position that always made me laugh inwardly as we’d leave the marina on a beautiful Tuesday morning rather than being stuck in rush-hour gridlock. If you follow your dreams, staying on course through thick and very, very thin times, persistence pays off.

Along with being paid to manage a business and writing, there was also a small book company and a parallel position doing seminars at clubs and boating shows. Put all four together and there was enough for beans, bacon and fishing time at the end of 30 years.

Folks often want to know other perks — like tackle from companies to test in hopes of some favorable ink. I have found that if you’re honest in those endeavors, if you give folks straight talk, more perks often follow. If yours is the shyster route, I argue, the phone stops ringing, be it in fishing, finance or any other of life’s trails.

Some of the perks people never tire of questioning about are the complimentary boats, often given to established writers for a season then returned to the dealer. I can tell you it’s an ego-inflating arrangement when you take a buddy out in a brand new center console, fresh from the factory, ready for first blood in the fish box.

Sometimes you can attract attention with a new loaner boat even while away from the water as I found out one cold afternoon driving along the New Jersey turnpike, southbound, just shy of the DelawareMemorialBridge.

One gent I came across at a gas station came close to offering his first born if only he could stowaway on a winter’s trip to legendary Key West. At such bleak times in the Northeast, a sparkling new, sea-foam green 24-footer on a trailer tends to draw stares. If you want to meet a jury of your peers, pull a fishing machine down I-95.

Sportfishing can be many things to many different people. It can be as intense as tournament angling, where time is money and big dollars are often on the line to the guy who runs farther and pushes harder than others; or it can be as easy as drifting for fluke on a sunny afternoon, the day so perfect, the time so peaceful you’re not sure if you want it interrupted by a tug on the line.

Questions about the sport are often plugged into improving the quality of one’s life. Escape from a high-pressure office is often high on the list, but some who can afford the shiny toys don’t have the time to enjoy them. They’re too busy setting up the next deal to meet the next boat payment. Something may be out of alignment at that point in the journey. Such a state of affairs often comes out during conversations on how to catch more fish.

Big battlewagons end up on the covers of sportfishing books, but many are happy with a humble family cruiser or smaller boat, and able to get in a couple hours on the water after work. A humble work skiff is all most need for a happy, meaningful life that includes both looking forward to their next fishing trip and arriving back at the job, refreshed and ready to address the day’s problems.

People often pick my brain for ideas on what can be done with their small boat, and are sometimes delighted to hear it provides a lot of possibilities — with an eye on the right weather conditions.

Jumbo fish are always high on the agenda. We anglers often easily forget about the bad trips, concentrating on the biggest catches of one’s life, eager to talk the day into the ground to anyone who will listen. I was lucky enough to land a 67-pound bass off Block Island in the 1980s and down south. I can still feel the pull of an 84-pound amberjack or 141-pound tarpon, both caught on 15-pound line, both about two-hour struggles. At one point in the latter battle, a Navy ship coming into Key WestHarbor changed course to allow us to fight our fish in peace.

Boat and boating also opens other, more intangible avenues of experience. This can be getting a great fishing tip, or a life-changing phone call because we did another fellow a good turn. Maybe it’s helping a newcomer with his dock lines while others stood and smirked because he or she couldn’t dock the boat like a pro. Maybe its returning a prized logbook to its owner after it fell out of a back pocket on the way up the dock. Maybe it’s taking out somebody’s elderly father on a trip that bored you to tears — but you go anyway — racking up a good deed in the process. Extending the proverbial helping hand, especially if your bank account can take the strain, often brings 10-fold returns in the full- or part-time pursuit of fishing and all it entails.

In a future column we’ll take a look at specifics to becoming a better angler, but these are some of the most general questions I field, folded together to fit a certain space. People ask all manner of things, but underneath it all is their looking to improve time spent here, often with the aid of a boat and more tugs at the end of a fish pole.

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.