Over 25 years ago, I was nearly broke. My loving, supportive wife and I had moved to Colorado from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to chase a dream of me becoming an outdoor writer. After a few years, although I’d knocked out a couple books and sold some stories here and there, that wasn’t exactly paying the bills. I was about an inch away from throwing in the towel, taking a corporate PR job with a healthcare company and moving back East. But two things happened that changed our lives.
First, our toddler son fell down the steps and split his head open while we were visiting my parents. When I got the $1600 bill for six stitches, I figured the healthcare industry wasn’t my cup of tea.
A few months later, I applied for a job with Field & Stream magazine in New York. F&S called me in for an interview, and after the screenings, editor Sid Evans took me around the corner from the office on Park Avenue for a beer. And there, he asked me some simple questions. First, he wanted to know how many days I actually fished out in Colorado.
“Dunno, probably 150 or so,” I sheepishly answered. (I really, really loved trout fishing, and still do.)
“And why would you trade that to live back East, ride a train and work in a cubicle on an office floor in NYC?” he prodded.
“Because it’s Field & Stream… it’s like earning Yankee pinstripes for an outdoor writer,” I answered, with no hesitation.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Why don’t you just stay out there in Colorado and write fishing stories for Field & Stream magazine?”
That was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in my professional writing career. I’ll never forget it, and I will never be able to repay that kindness.
I got to work with great editors and write stories millions of people read. I also volunteered to write the “Fly Talk” blog with my buddy, Tim Romano, back when blogs were the rage. I ultimately went all over the world to make stories about fishing for the world’s greatest outdoors brand.
Early on in this, I also met the most gracious, gifted, kind soul named Charlie Meyers, who had been writing outdoor and skiing columns for the Denver Post since the year I was born, and for some reason, he took me under his wing and became my mentor. We even wrote a book together.
Field & Stream’s fishing editor, John Merwin, also took me under his wing. He could be a harsh critic, and he didn’t mince words. But he was a teddy bear under the gruff exterior, and he had a huge influence on me. Merwin was no less than a legend.
Trout Unlimited came calling in 2012, asking if I might edit TROUT magazine. I said I’d do it, because I knew in my heart that none of the “good fishing things” were possible, were it not for habitat. I was a trout angler, foremost, and I had to come home.
My father-in-law, also a fishing mentor, was dying of cancer when I took the job at TU, and I dedicated my first magazine cover to him. That’s all he ever saw me produce for TU, but he was proud.
I still have magazine issues to produce, much to learn and places I want to experience. I have more stories to write, and more importantly, to edit. I still feel a fire. But, especially at this time of year, I think it’s important to remember how a fire gets lit and be grateful to those who lit it, whether they’re still around or not.
The ultimate point I’m driving at is that every issue of TROUT magazine now happens with strong purpose, and they’ve been influenced by many. If you want to write, or shoot photographs, for TROUT, or anywhere else, that’s great. Go for it! If you just like getting out there and fishing, great. If you feel compelled to protect rivers and all that, even better. Tell your story but do it with conscience.
And don’t ever forget that every great story, every image, cause, mission, or fishing experience ultimately happens because of those who shaped you and influenced you.
In a season of gift-giving, it’s important to remember those who gave you those gifts. They were given with great reason.