My father’s college roommate Steve was a precocious go-getter, a scholar and an athlete who came from exceptionally humble beginnings, raised by his severely handicapped mother and grandparents in a cramped, dilapidated beach shack. He put himself through college by working as a waiter in the Catskills during the summers and during his medical residency he made semi-legal late night house calls to the roughest neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn to support his wife and three young children at home.
Throughout his childhood, and indeed throughout his life, Steve always pushed the boundaries, experimenting with certain substances, and engaging in other behaviors that neither his family nor mine want in print – so I’ll leave it at that for purposes of this article. His grandmother was aware that he had a tendency to get in trouble, but she also knew that he was intellectually thirsty. Thus, in order to keep him on the straight and narrow, she’d bribe him with reading material. Just one problem – for their impoverished makeshift family the cost of a magazine was a substantial burden, so in order to get the most bang for her buck she bought him Field and Stream, which cost less than other newsstand favorites.
As a result of that reading, by the time Steve got to college he knew how to pack an elk out of the Montana woods, which lures Papa Hemingway preferred for massive marlin, and how to bait a trotline for alligator gar, despite the fact that he had probably not been outside of Queens. As far as I know, up until his death about a decade ago, he’d never fished nor hunted, but he could always be counted upon for a good tip or to insert himself into a story previously scripted by Robert Ruark or Ted Trueblood.
This all worked to my advantage when I first showed an addict-level interest in fishing as a seven year old boy in the suburbs. My bookish parents didn’t know the first thing about the sport, nor did they have any organic interest in learning about it, but they wanted to encourage my passion. Remembering Steve’s boyhood reading material they bought me a subscription to Field and Stream for my 9th birthday in 1979. I devoured every issue, and indeed that served as a gateway drug to further learning via the pages of Bassmaster, In-Fisherman and just about any other fishing publications I could get my hands on.
Twenty five years after reading my first issue of Field and Stream, I started writing for some of the fishing publications I’d consumed, eventually working my way into some of them, including In-Fisherman, and becoming a Senior Writer at Bassmaster, but Field and Stream was my great white whale. In an era of decreasing page counts, I figured it was unlikely that I’d get published in a fully-staffed newsstand publication. That’s especially true because F&S is an outdoors generalist, typically with only one or two bass pieces per issue.
A few years ago I met F&S fishing editor Joe Cermele at a media event on Lake Erie. His “Hook Shots” series of videos are brilliant and engaging, and we corresponded a bit after he went to El Salto, but I figured that given the current media environment there was little chance that I’d ever get to check F&S off of my writing bucket list – too few opportunities, too many writers with an “in” clamoring for them. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised when Cermele contacted me about five months ago with a dream assignment, writing thousands of words all focused on the magic of catching a 10 pound bass. I dove into it, calling experts big bass freaks including Mike Long, Oliver Ngy and Matt Allen, swimbait manufacturer Mike Bucca, guides like Lance Vick and Jimmy Mason and pros including Keith Combs, Kelly Jordon, Ish Monroe, Alton Jones, Clark Reehm and Jared Lintner. I even yelled across the pond to get info from five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Gerry Jooste. It was a thrill not only to talk to the best of the best, but also to see the result of that work on the cover – not just inside – this month’s issue of Field and Stream.
It’s another goal attained, just one that took almost 40 years for me to accomplish – or closer to 70 years if you’re counting Steve’s preparatory work.