Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

March 14th, 2005

Fish and Tell
By Dave Micus

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 it is.

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

About 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.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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