Cup of Joe

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Joe Cermele, the fishing editor of Field & Stream, is someone I want to hate but I just can’t do it. 

In an era of declining print opportunities, he retains what I consider the industry’s plum job, head fishboss at what is one of the handful of remaining iconic outdoors publications. Historically that’s a position that would go to some gravel-voiced, technology-hating, quit-at-1pm-to-go-to-drink-scotch-at-Toots-Shor’s, grouch. Joe, on the other hand, is still in his thirties and his voice is remarkably grit-free.

So here’s why I can’t hate him: homeboy totally deserves the job.

In fact, he might deserve something better.

All too often, when I see someone in a position that I’d covet, I’m shocked at how ill-qualified they are for it. They might have gotten it through nepotism, or a called-in favor, or because they have nekkid pics of el jefe. I spend hours asking myself how they got the gig, because I know in my heart of hearts that I could do it better. I can’t say that in this case – not only did Cermele work his way up through the ranks the right way, but he has the number one qualification for the gig – he’s obsessed with fishing and that passion shines through in both his written and verbal communications.

Yes, there are many people who claim to love the sport, but typically they’re passionate about only ONE ASPECT of it. Maybe they’re skilled and dedicated anglers, often for a single species. Maybe they’re dialed in on the business side of things. Some of them know 800 knots and the Latin names for hundreds of forage species. But it’s rare that I find someone who loves the TOTALITY of fishing more than I do, someone who cares about the sport’s history and big blue catfish, with every bit as much passion as he cares about yard sale finds and native brookies slurping size 22 dry flies.

Joe’s that guy.

Engage him in a conversation about his Etsy timesucks, bucket list trips, or some character he met on a fishing trip to Texas, and it’ll lead you down an irresistible rabbit hole of stories and contacts and brain meanderings. 

When he joined me on a trip to Mexico’s Lake Picachos last week, it was all I could do not to be the crazy fanboy 24/7, asking questions about his angling travels and relationships. All fishermen have the oneupsmanship gene – when someone tells us a fishing story we need to come back with one of our own. You caught an 11 pound largemouth? Well, I caught an 8 pound smallmouth. You hiked into the Andes and discovered a new breed of mountain trout? Suck it, bro, I caught the world record.

In most cases, I’m not an exception to that rule. For a layman, I’ve fished a lot, traveled a lot, and caught a few exotic trophies, but nothing I was going to say was going to put me in Joe’s category. He’s younger, but he’s done more, and will continue to do more. He’s Keith Hernandez, dammit, and when it comes to fish stories, you don’t live in his world except when he lets you in. And that’s where Joe is different than most of the legends – he’s eminently accessible. He could be off on some junket to Costa Rica or the Seychelles or Saskatchewan every week, but he gets just as excited about golf course bluegills as he does about billfish. He’s the guy who you want to sit down with over a beer, or a chicken fried steak, or a piece of pie (but probably not a salad) and just listen.

There weren’t enough gaps in the storytelling and banter to allow for all of the questions that I wanted to ask, but when I got one in, his answers were comprehensive, thoughtful and insightful. For example, I’ve never caught a tarpon, so I asked him to suggest a place to try for one. He told me about trips to Costa Rica where he’d caught multiple tarpon between 100 and 200 pounds. He didn’t disparage the trip, or the lodge – on the contrary, he said that he’d highly recommend them – but then he added, “My suggestion would depend on how you wanted to fish for them and what you want to get out of it.” In other words, catching a bunch of 20-pounders on a fly, or a few fifties sight fishing with conventional gear, could on the whole be a better experience than whacking a mega (or even a bunch of megas) in some less sexy manner. In a sport where the lingua franca among participants is typically couched in terms of a genitalia-measuring contest, it’s refreshing to find someone with a plum position, who has accomplished so much so soon, who doesn’t seem to feel that he has anything to prove.

It’s not bragging if you can back it up, but it’s even more powerful if you don’t need to brag in the first place.