We’ve all been hearing our fellow photographers complain that despite all best efforts, business is not coming their way. I can relate…made me think long on what am I doing wrong. Did I miss some program or fancy campaign, some subscription that I should have taken, a multi tiered service I should have tried? Was I not listening to the well meaning savants advising me on how to dress and smell better to attract that deified client who could anoint me into the sainthood of photography? Depression was setting in quickly, along with some vino, because there is nothing like drowning from the inside , makes your gut float to the top where your brain is and sometimes when they meet, you get a lot of reasons why, like ” it’s them “.. usually followed by ” no.. it’s me…”
But this isn’t about me. Its about business, and it’s also about fishing… the Shark river inlet to be exact.
When I was much younger, ( don’t go there,wise ass) my best friend, high school pal, best man at my wedding (first one) and I , would go down to the Jersey shore on weekends to fish on the rocky jetty along the Shark River inlet. We fished for two elusive things, Stripe Bass (Stripers to the natives) and Bluefish (Blues to them as well..not the Ken Burns type though that came later in life) . Both ran in large schools during Autumn right up until maybe early December depending on the weather and at that time Jersey was cold, cold enough to see the ice form on the end of the jetty from the ocean spraying the rocks and us in our foul weather outfits. We would arrive at daybreak after long studies of the tide with our best gear in hand, surf rods taller than most men and able to land an Orca if we had to or even could. We had all the right lures. Some costing up to $2.00 each, a lot at that time considering that going to a movie cost .75 cents. We were fully dressed with waders that had boots with cleats to scale the higher slippery rocks. We had belted knives, pliers, ammo bags for hooks etc., in fact we looked like an assault team coming in for a strike. Ours was the state of the art gear, the newest and best things the sporting goods store had to offer. We made money, were single and spent it. It would take us twenty minutes just to gear up once we parked the car.
Just above the jetty along the inlet was an older, typical for its time, small NJ luncheonette owned and ran by an old Italian man, salted by the years that he lived by the ocean. He was a real character but he was further trumped by his buddies who held a permanent position on self claimed diner stools that fronted the matching Formica, and pitted chrome bar stools, from where behind, Louie would slap down another grisly greasy patty that served as a burger, before Macs came to town. Behind Louie and above all along the walls, were stuffed tributes to their fishing conquests gathering dust, still having the very lures dangling from their mouths that lead to their capture. If Shark River was the capital of fishing then this luncheonette was its White House. But best of all each of these old Italian men would leave their various rods as old as them, outside, leaning against the building just by the door, perfectly stacked side by side in a row, like army rifles ready for combat at any moment.
It was a different time…try that today and hurry to the pawn shop to see where they went. It was a scene that couldn’t have been cast better for any photographer, but I wasn’t one yet…I was a fisherman…and we were here for business.
A few hours passed after daybreak and as usual my friend and I needed a break, some warmth and a Louie burger.. not a MAC… NOT THERE..you didn’t want to insult Louie. This was an original place where the men inside were more than original. We would take a spot on the outer fringe where the booths hadn’t seen a rag in years, and sat down to order, breaking the silence of dozen or so sets of eyes scanning us, staring us down wondering who “deeze” guys were, despite the many times we went there. They mumbled in Italian looking at us in our foul weather gear, chuckling, occasionally nodding our way. It was NJ Italian protocol of being accepted. The chatter would pick up again and while we couldn’t understand what they were saying, we did understand one thing loud and clear. That was when another older than them Italian ran inside shouting….
” Da Blues are in.”
Like a rehearsed dance troupe they sprang up and ran out grabbing their respective rods while in motion and charged out to the jetty, with us clanking behind. We never could keep up with those guys. Maybe it was all our gear, my rod was too big, our boots too heavy, who knows cause those guys had little, I know since we made enough fun of them about it. Each took his respective spot out there and like a beautiful synchronization of tree branches dancing in the wind, their rods and lines would whip out sending their lines above the crashing surf, and with almost every cast they reeled in a huge Bluefish that they would land behind them. We joined in furiously. Our luck wasn’t as good but still we caught some smaller ones and lost a lot of lures. Frustrated, I went to see what each of the men were using, to find an answer, a magic pill, but it didn’t seem to matter, even a bare hook on their old rods properly cast brought back a good result.
Then it ended like it started..” dats it, der gonna” and they simply picked up the best fish that they kept and went back to where they were, taking their places like extras in a movie, their coffee still warm and continued conversation as though nothing had interrupted it to start with. We of course stayed on the jetty working hard at trying to get more, something bigger, better, but all there was there were the occasional crap fish that often got you tangled in the rocks.
We did that for a few years. Time passed and exposed more and more worn stools and less rods, and finally the very place itself and Louie were gone, and so were we.
Years went by and still I often think of those times, especially in these. I had learned two important thing from that experience about business especially this one.
One…It’s not your rod, your gear, the lure, nor is it the fact that you might not speak Italian…I think it’s very simple. The Blues just aren’t running and like my old friends there who knew how to be ready when they do, pick up your rod, and strike when they when the time comes. Like them, in the meantime, they went inside, met up with friends, got together, had a coffee, talked, and shared a part of what makes up their lives, the things that brought them there week after week. Maybe its not about catching fish after all. Enjoy the process. Take part in getting together… When the Blues start running again, grab your rod and go…meantime don’t get hung up and study why they left or where they went…they will be back..they just run with the tide and run in schools.
The second..and more important..
Remembering my friend… I went back to Jersey one year after hurricane Andrew, to the very spot we used to fish from. They had turned the place into a college town and had even paved over the jetty for those “lilly pad walkers.” I walked out to the end on the now smooth jetty. It did seem different but when I looked out, some seagulls were diving into the water, a sign of a passing school feeding on smaller fish. When I reached the end I looked down and there scratched into what was once fresh cement, now wet by calmer ocean waves, was written,
” Man is never defeated, he just simply gives up ” …
One man had left his mark , .. and this man heard his voice.