Sunset came too soon for a fishing friend


“Fishing on the reefs is good in the evening. We fished twice last week for 26 bass from 25 to 37 inches, plus the first blue of the year. We could give that a whack and then head down the island after dark if you have the time?”
— email from Tim Coleman

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Tim Coleman was living the life that many of us who spend more time in the office than in the field aspire to. From spring through fall, Coleman fished New England waters for striped bass and blues, cod and haddock. He spent the winters chasing fish in the lower Florida Keys.

A freelance fishing writer, Tim was a quiet, modest man who let his actions and his articles do the talking for him. A truly gifted angler and a prolific writer, Coleman penned the fishing column for this magazine for almost 10 years. During that time he never missed a deadline and his work never warranted a correction. Tim Coleman was a careful reporter who could separate the wheat from the chaff in a world in which tall tales and inflated fish stories are so prevalent.

“I don’t think he used the words I, me or mine,” says Pete Shea of Gloucester, Mass., a friend with whom Coleman fished off New England and Key West, where both men spent their winters.

A native of Philadelphia, a Vietnam veteran and a journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Tim Coleman died May 3 in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do this time of year: scouting a salt pond and the ocean beach for spring stripers. He was 65 and passed away, literally, with his fishing boots on.

With his passing, thousands of readers lost an advocate and an authentic storyteller of fishing in the Northeast. We all lost a strong, reasoned voice for sound fisheries management and sensible conservation. And for those of us fortunate to know him, we lost a good friend.

Tim, who was a bachelor, lived his life with the same honesty and integrity that he put into his writing. “A gentle soul is probably the best way to describe him,” says Pat Abate, a tackle shop owner and well-known New England angler. Abate met Coleman in 1974, when the writer was attending college in Rhode Island and working as the founding editor of what would become the New England edition of the weekly fishing newspaper The Fisherman, where he turned out hundreds of stories and fishing reports for the next 27 years. “He was unique. Easygoing guy,” says Abate, the owner of Rivers End tackle shop in Old Saybrook, Conn. “Very high morals. He wasn’t motivated by money, just enough to get by.”

In this chirping, buzzing, vibrating world of 24/7 connectivity, Tim Coleman was something of a throwback. He didn’t own a cell phone. Didn’t have an answering machine. Took photographs with a film camera. And he fished the “right way,” eschewing the latest fads, trends and angling geegaws. He fished simply and effectively, usually carrying a half-dozen or fewer lures. At night he often fished for striped bass with an unpainted jig head with a black plastic worm threaded over the hook. A minimalist, Tim Coleman was searching for the essence.

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“The words that come to mind,” Shea says, pausing for a moment, “he was shy, understated, taciturn, steady. A good man and a Christian man. The written word was his primary communication tool. He was just a good guy with good friends.”

A surf fisherman at heart, Coleman also was a passionate wreck hunter who teamed with research academics with side-scan sonar to find long-forgotten sunken vessels.

I met Tim when he moved to the little corner of southwestern Rhode Island where I hail from. We became friends and often fished the same stretch of beach and waters, sometimes together, sometimes our paths crossing in the night. I got regular real-time fishing reports from Tim via email, but work too often prevented me from acting on them in real time. We talked a lot about the fishing we would do when I had more time. “Maybe, just maybe, we can make our Fishers Island trip this season?” Tim wrote in an email.

The poem “Casting Reels,” by Ted Kooser, to the left is a gentle warning to all of us who plan to “head down the island” to fish or sail or cruise with a friend but then find ourselves too busy — and think we can put it off for another day.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Tim Coleman Memorial Scholarship, University of Rhode Island Foundation, 79 Upper College Road, Kingston, RI 02881.

Casting Reels
Ted Kooser

You find them at flea markets
and yard sales, old South Bends
and Pfluegers, with fancy engraving,
knurled knobs and pearl handles,
spooled with the fraying line
of long stories snarled into
silence, not just exaggerated tales
of walleyes, bass, and catfish,
but of hardworking men
who on Saturdays sought out
the solace of lakes, who on weekdays
at desks, or standing on ladders,
or next to clattering machines
played out their youth and strength
waiting to set the hook, and then,
in their sixties, felt the line go slack
and reeled the years back empty.
They are the ones who got away.

“Casting Reels” from Delights & Shadows. Copyright © 2004 by Ted Kooser. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press,

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.