Beyond the Tide is a blog series meant to tell the stories of those with deep ties to our local fishing communities. For those with a passion for fishing and writing who would like to guest blog for The Atlantic Surf, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's avid fishermen, with an unshakeable passion for their sport, find themselves in the precarious situation that our addiction might translate to droopy-eyed afternoons and less-than-par work performance. That's how I found myself last Saturday, anyways, spending the first 4 hours of my morning meandering along Popponesset Spit, keeping a keen eye for jumping fish and diving birds. By the time I reconvened with the rest of the daywalkers, I felt satisfied with my Saturday knowing I had found the bass, but a bit disheartened that the best of the day had passed me, and my next best moment would be the evening's flood at Long Beach.
Today though, was a bit different. The expectation I had for a mediocre workday was disrupted by the opportunity to speak with a man who felt like one of the more authentic fishermen I'd met in some time. Most anglers can differentiate a pencil popper from a spook, and many can tell you the benefits of conservative fishing practices, but few anglers express their love for the sport through a commitment to study and community, demonstrating very seriously their lifelong passion for a pastime they've developed morning-to-morning, tide-by-tide, over many years.
Kevin Blinkoff of On The Water is such a fisherman. I dialed the offices of On The Water and was pleased to receive the calm, confident editor on the other end of my line. My first impression of Kevin was one of humility, not in a lack of passion or appreciation for his achievements, but simply in the way he approached our conversation. In a world of millisecond attention spans and relentless notifications, people that spend their time with you, while talking to you, are fewer and further between. Maybe this focus and patience stems from his early morning kayak trips, the way he spends the majority of his time on the water these days. I was pleased to hear that like me (and many others), On The Water's Executive Editor had a soft-spot for the peace and tranquility of the sport, as I did.
Our fishing stories almost always begin with friends and family, with childhoods set near landscapes that feel as though they're asking to be fished. The Niagara River which flows from Lake Eerie to Lake Ontario was such a place for Kevin. If the burgeoning anglers of Cape Cod spent their weekends in search of bass and bluefish, Kevin painted a picture of mornings seeking freshwater fish; sunfish, carp, and interestingly enough, sheepshead (or freshwater drum as they call them in Buffalo), who are partial to the cold and once-dirty waters found in the Niagara. Feelings of nostalgia could be felt across the telephone line while while the editor spoke of family jaunts to the lodges of our brethren to the North, where Canadian pike and walleye were waiting to be summoned by Kevin and his father. Kevin's description of these trips was engaging, his thoughtful tone of voice and paced description of the time with his family made me feel as though I sat there with him, fishing the Canadian shores, anxious for our the next hookup. For many modern-day anglers, passion for fishing is ignited in the salt, and Florida was Kevin's spawning ground for a lifelong commitment to fish, fishing, & fisheries science. The Florida fishing scene is vibrant, an environment that provided the young angler exposure to new species and techniques he could fall in love with. Fast forward to today, after 15 years in the seat, the Executive Editor of the Northeast region's authority on fishing didn't always dream of a life of composition, but of study & academia. I'd never met a man who could explain the differences of habitat between largemouth and smallmouth bass and how it effected small-pond fishing patterns. From Buffalo, to Canada, to Florida, Kevin's story eventually brought him to graduate school nearby some of the greatest striped bass fishing waters in the country. For Kevin, Cape Cod was an opportunity to study things that mattered to fishermen. A precursor to writing things that mattered to them. Sitting in a cubicle at NOAA Fisheries, across the street from On The Water's headquarters, he pondered about what exactly went on between the walls of the building across the street. One day, he met one of the publication's writers and after accepting the opportunity to freelance a couple of columns on fisheries regulation, he accepted a full-time, entry level position as a copywriter with On The Water. The rest is history. A fisherman's tale.
On The Water has undergone quite an evolution during Kevin's tenure. Years ago, although some fishing knowledge was available, the beaches were mostly walked by those fortunate enough to have an upbringing rich in saltwater fishing and experienced anglers in the family to learn from. A lack of publicly available knowledge and the rise of the internet carved out an opportunity for On The Water to fill a knowledge gap and spread one of our greatest pastimes to more people. In Kevin's words, fishing is local, Cape Cod fishermen calling menhaden, pogies, but bunker in Rhode Island. From state to state, shore-to-shore, the conversation on tackle and techniques varies, and the opportunity for a regionally focused publication became a need to have versus a nice to have. The Striper Cup is another big evolution of On The Water during Kevin's tenure. Inspired by the fishing tournaments of old (notably the R.J. Schaefer Salt Water Fishing Contest), On The Water's Striper Cup has evolved into a competition more aligned to how most fishermen today fish; for fun versus for competition. Fishing for many is a very personal experience, and the May-September tournament for a lot of people is as much something they belong to each year as something they compete in. The Catch and Release element of the tournament is an example of this, a low barrier of entry for participation, getting more people involved, while still promoting ethical conservation practices. For Kevin, it's been a pleasure to see how fishing and fishing publications like OTW have evolved, and he seems to only look forward to what the future will bring.
By this point in our conversation, my droopy-eyedness had disappeared, the nervous awkwardness from only completing two interviews in my life had dissipated. Our conversation turned from our backgrounds and experiences to the events of the day; where we spent our time on the water, what we were catching, and how we preferred to experience the outdoors. Though you might expect that the editor of a fishing magazine might be addicted to the deep, with weekends spent on multi-day tuna fishing jaunts to Stellwagon Bank. Like me, and most fishermen, that isn't the case. Kevin spends his early mornings mostly on his kayak, exploring different towns and the inlets in them across Cape Cod. "Years ago, kayaks weren't necessarily built for fishing, but since they added pedals, you really got the use of your two hands back and that changed everything", Kevin explained. "There comes a point on the kayak when you're just far enough out, that everything goes silent, and you reach this moment of peace, and I love it". A Cataumet resident, many mornings are spent on the peaceful shores of Stoney Beach or in Quissett Harbor.
As I circled my bedroom, listening intently to a man's fishing story unfold, I began to ponder about my own circumstance and story. There's something about hearing another person's journey, and more importantly their satisfaction with how it's unfolded, that is both calming and encouraging. Kevin's story is set in a community that he loves, surrounded by people who share that same love for how they spend their days. Kevin and his colleagues aren't writers, photographers, or editors; they're fishermen, who happen to support themselves with these other hobbies. I think this is what keeps readers of On The Water coming back for more. In a world of photo filters and advertising, maybe this authenticity is what we're looking for. In closing, I'd like to thank Kevin for his time and openness while telling his story. Kevin - I wish you all the best, and most importantly, hope you finally land the elusive 50lb. bass you're searching for.
Some additional quick hits on Kevin below:
- Favorite species to catch? False Albacore
- Favorite species to eat? Walleye
- Prefer lures or bait? Lures
- Prefer freshwater or saltwater? Saltwater
- Deep sea or shore fishing? Shore fishing
- Favorite seafood restaurant? The Lobster Trap in Bourne, MA
- Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard? MV in Spring, Nantucket in Fall
- Fall fishing or Spring fishing? Spring for Stripers, Fall for Albies
- Favorite place to fish? Buzzards Bay
- Preferred fishing setup; rod and reel? 11ft. Surf Rod & Spinning Reel