Those of us who write about the outdoors
do so because we love writing and love the
outdoors. And while just putting together
a lucid piece about, say, fishing, can be
reward enough, we all harbor the secret
ambition of becoming one of those 'last page'
columnists for a major magazine, having our
insights read by millions (well, thousands),
and making a fair buck to boot (not to mention
fringe benefits like gratis fishing trips).
The problem is this ambition is very hard to
realize. First off, when you think of major
sporting magazines, only a handful come to mind,
and all of the last page columns are pretty
well tied up by the likes of Bill Tapply and
John Gierach, which is pretty stiff competition.
So you start small, with a column in the local
paper (free of course), and maybe a web site or
two, and it's gratifying because you are able
to write what you want, and you even begin to
hear from an occasional reader who enjoyed a
column, and you continue to write in the hopes
that a publisher notices your literary efforts
and offers you a lucrative book deal, or at least
a column. You send things off to magazines and
watch the mail, hoping for that letter that will
launch your career, but it doesn't take long to
realize that jobs like fishing writers and Playboy
photographers are few and far between. Most editors
aren't even courteous enough to send a response.
Still, if you persist, one day you might get a
little lucky. And this is what happened to me
recently when I submitted a piece to a regional
fishing magazine. The editor rejected the article
as not being of sufficient interest to his readers,
but enjoyed my style and asked if I had anything
else in the queue. I sent him a brief 'how too'
article which he purchased. Noting my address,
he asked for an article on fishing my home waters.
This put me in the ethical quandary of writing
the dreaded "Fish and Tell" article. I should
have seen it coming. Peruse any fishing magazine
and you'll see that the majority of the articles
fall into two categories: how too, and destinations,
neither much fun for the writer but a required write
of passage, similar to covering City Hall for the
beat reporter. Now I usually fish from a kayak so
the article wouldn't impact my fishing, but if
readers took my glowing reports to heart it might
queer things for some pretty good fishing friends.
On the other hand, it's not as if any of the spots
I'd write about are secret, and anyone with a decent
topo map of the area could easily find them on their
own. If that sounds like rationalizing it's because
Not sure about submitting such a story, I began to
do the research none-the-less, and I'm not certain
if the literary gods were with me or the fish gods
against me but the story began to write itself.
A brief tour of the area provided detailed
instructions on locations, and just a little bit
of digging provided plenty of antidotal information
(one spot, unbeknownst to me, had even been
immortalized in not one but two poems, one of which
was written by Longfellow) that keeps these kind of
destination articles interesting. And now the story
was all but complete.
Still unsure what to do, I toyed with the idea
of contacting my fishing friends and asking
their opinion, but knew my query was as loaded
as a Jeff Gannon question. Their answer was
obvious. So it was entirely up to me.
I wish I could say I threw the article away
but that would be a lie. If writers never
put to paper stories that were potentially
objectionable to others, Nixon would have had
a complete second term. I recalled a time when
I mentioned to Jack Gartside that I had read
his article in a major magazine about fishing
Boston Harbor. "You know," he said, "I thought
that once that was published I'd see lots of new
people fishing that area, but it never happened."
If readers ignored Jack Gartside's advice, they
would certainly ignore mine. So maybe I can
advance my literary career without damaging my
friends fishing spots.
At least I hope so! ~ Dave
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.