When you start thinking of fly-fishing more as
an avocation than a hobby, it is only natural to
try and figure out ways to make it your career.
Of course this is a lofty and selfish ambition,
and, as Thomas McGuane points out, "good anglers
should lead useful lives," with the insinuation
being that spending all of your time fishing is
not being very useful. Still, the more romantic
of us, having reached a certain level of expertise,
hope that maybe, just maybe, we can eek out an
existence as professional fishermen, useful life
Career options that involve fly-fishing for a living
are extremely limited. Not even the most accomplished
fly fisher would imagine that he could make a living
fishing commercially, that is, catching fish to sell
at market, plus it goes against the catch and release
ethos. You could sell fishing tackle, but unless you're
in a position to open a store, you won't make much money
at it (trust me, I know. I was offered a job as the
manager of the fly-fishing department of an outdoors
gear store. The pay was $6.50 per hour.). And you're
There are other choices, though, the most obvious
being guiding, but the glamour of that wears off
pretty quickly. You're not fishing but watching
others fish; you're likely to find yourself stuck
with anglers who, if they weren't paying you, you'd
never consider fishing with; you're giving up your
favorite fishing holes; and there will come that time
when the fish aren't biting and you know it, but the
monthly mortgage is due and you find yourself telling
a potential sport that the fishing is 'stupendous; not
just great, but stupendous.' That has to wear at the
My background was in journalism, so of course I felt
that I could earn my living as an outdoor writer, and
I began writing stories and sending them off to the major
sporting magazines. I would have had a better chance
trying out for the Harlem Globe Trotters. The few
editors who even bothered to respond rejected my
material outright--they had a stable of writers
with names like Kreh, Geirach, Whitlock; why would
they need Micus? I had to set my sights a little
My first break came when a small local paper advertised
for a fly fishing writer on a saltwater fishing bulletin
board on the web. I sent a few of my stories to the
editor, and, surprisingly, he agreed to take me on as
his fly-fishing columnist. It was suspiciously easy.
There is a scene in the movie, "What's New Pussycat?"
where Woody Allen, working as the doorman at a strip
club, is asked by his friend, "What's the pay?" Woody
responds, "A hundred-twenty-five a week." "That's
all????" his friend asks, amazed. "That's all I can
afford," Woody says. That's an apt metaphor for
outdoor writing. I wouldn't be paid, but it was a
start, and I would be a fly-fishing columnist, a
position that you would normally have to work up to.
I hoped it would lead to other things.
The first time I saw the paper, I began to understand
why it had been so easy. There was my column, all right,
but something was askew. The editorial content was the
coalescence of 1960s radicalism and new age mysticism,
and my column was sandwiched between rants against
the government that would have made Ted Kozinski
proud and articles on aroma therapy. I started to
get the feeling that this was not the kind of exposure
I was seeking.
Still, it was a paper, and though I probably could
have found a more suitable venue on the web, I, as
a traditionalist, preferred the permanence of the
print medium. Information on the Internet just
seemed too ephemeral, as if absorbed into the
ether with no trace (though Paris Hilton might
disagree). I decided to keep writing my column
in the hopes that things would get better.
My hopes were short-lived. The paper, always a
marginal enterprise, hit hard times and the editor
suggested that those of us who write might want
to start paying a monthly fee to keep the paper
going. That was it for me. While I might write
for free, I wasn't about to pay to work, not even
as a doorman at a strip club. Without financial
support, the paper went belly-up, and, with it,
my illustrious position as outdoor columnist.
Epilogue: Though I only published
four columns, I am grateful for the opportunity
(but I worry that my name is on some database
maintained by John Ashcroft). And it has led to
another column with a much more established paper,
published by an experienced professional who
appreciates his writers and trusts my artistic
vision, such as it is.
The pay is still zero, but, hey, that's all I can afford.
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.