Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

February 16th, 2004

My Short, Happy Career as an Outdoor Writer
By Dave Micus

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 be damned.

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 not fishing.

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 soul.

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 lower.

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

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.


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