Escape? Do you find yourself daydreaming about ditching your iPhone, casting your work and family responsibilities aside and heading to your favorite lake, river or seaside fishing hole? I can’t explain it, but for many, stepping into the outdoors has an almost mystical pull on our souls. When I’m surrounded by nothing but miles of open water (sweet or salty) and sky—my soul is free.
Many is the man who feels free when the trappings of the modern world are stripped away and he is left to do battle with the quest for an unseen adversary lurking beneath the surface or the hunt for a wild beast of the woods or field or bird of the sky. Nature has a way of challenging a man’s soul and recharging his batteries.
Since my earliest memories I’ve been drawn to the water’s edge. As I crossed the shaky grounds of adolescence the draw intensified and before I turned 20, my course was set and my vocation and career as a fishing guide took me on a wild adventure. But fishing is only part of my job—the responsibilities of a fishing guide require me to wear many hats and to learn skills that I really don’t enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I love fishing even when I’m running my Charter Boat . . . but this is my job. This is work—mechanic, customer relations, and marketing, to name a few of the hats I wear. This is how I make a living. That relaxing, mystical freeing? We’ll come back to that later.
2018 was my 36th year running a charter boat on Lake Michigan—legally. I’ll make a confession; right out of the gate (they say confession is good for the soul) I ran charters the summer before I obtained my Captains license in 1983. I was fresh out of high school, a college drop out, a little lost in life and found myself with the opportunity to take some of my Dad’s work clients fishing and didn’t realize you needed a Captain’s license and a State Guide’s permit. Once that was pointed out, everything was put in order and the rest is history.
Many people think I have the Dream Job. After all, I go fishing every day! But, charter fishing is hard work! Long hours, little sleep, dealing with the wind and waves on an unpredictable Lake that has claimed thousands of shipwrecks! Then there are the people. A fishing guide has to catch customers first.
When a guide actually goes fishing he’s not fishing for himself. I’m fishing with two to six people that can come from every walk and temperament of life and my job is to produce fish for them, and make sure they have a great time and leave the boat feeling important. (Sure, I have an ego and slightly competitive personality, so I want to catch fish, actually, every fish within 100 yards of my boat!) But at the end of the day did my clients leave feeling satisfied with their experience.
Fishing truly is an unpredictable and risky occupation. Whether on the open ocean or inland lakes and rivers fishermen face a multitude of hostile variables that can wreak havoc on their gear, mind, body and pocketbook. From unpredictable and dangerous weather to fluctuating fish stocks to equipment failure to market pressures the fishing industry has no guarantees.
Fishing, much like marriage, or raising kids, or struggling with an addiction or health challenge or adjusting to a new work culture is a world of uncertainty. There are no guarantees in charter fishing—or life. From waiting for the phone to ring for a booking, will the weather allow me to get offshore and fish, to the fish themselves. A fisherman’s world is an uncertain and dangerous place.
I’ve given up much sleep in my career but I’ve witnessed countless sunrises, experienced storms of immense beauty and power, put smiles on the face of countless people as they caught their first fish . . . and I’ve caught fish. I’ve seen more fish cross the transom of my boat than I can remember. I’ve also returned to the dock with 3 more people than I left with! But that’s a story for another day.
As the 2018 season winds down, I’m contemplating what the winter ahead will hold, for my family, my friends, my country and me. I’m also wondering what next year looks like, as once again my Achilles Heel—my imperfect back—has again reminded me that every wave I’ve crashed through, every twist in the spine as I net a fish one handed while moving another rod out of the way, every time I’ve had to adjust my balance as my boat rolls through the waves—has taken it’s toll on my back.
I would like to invite you to journey with me through this blog as we explore life—both on the water and off. I’ll tell a few stories, share some of the secrets that have helped me find and catch fish on a daily basis and look at what I’ve learned about life from my time on the water. I hope you will join me, and share my blog with your friends as we explore the world of fishing, and take a closer look at our lives as men living in a world filled with sunrises, storms and great surprises.