Charlie Levine

At the Miami Boat Show this past February, I was speaking to one of my mentors, Bill Sisson, who gave me my first opportunity as a writer in this industry. Back when I first met Bill, I was a fresh-faced, recently graduated guy living with his mother in Connecticut. I had an English / journalism degree and a decent resume for someone my age. I had been the editor of my college newspaper, the Top O’ the World, and after graduation I got a gig writing for a small weekly newspaper in Ouray, Colorado. But the grind of community journalism had worn me thin, and I wasn’t making any money. I’d work 60 hours a week at the paper and bus tables at a local burrito joint on the weekends to cover my rent. After about a year of covering school board and city council meetings, an awful thing happened that changed my career trajectory.

In the office of the Ouray Plaindealer, the newspaper where I worked, we kept a police scanner. Once in a while something interesting would crackle out of the little speaker on a shelf above the editor’s desk. On this particular day, a call for emergency responders came to assist with an accident at a local gravel mine. The editor told me to go up the hill to the mine and check it out. I had to take my boss’s truck because it was a 4×4 dirt road. When I got there, I saw someone I knew from the local search-and-rescue team. He told me there was a fatality and I wasn’t allowed in. He didn’t want me taking any photos. I kept asking who was killed. He finally told me that it was one of the County Commissioners, the man who also owned the mine.

In this particular county in western Colorado, the County Commissioners were the highest-ranking government officials, voted in by county residents. And this particular County Commissioner was the nicest guy in the lot. He’d gone to the same college as me and he would always smile at me in meetings and show me respect, even when I asked unfriendly questions. The commissioners were all older white men, wealthy and driven by their own agendas. Most of the issues they tackled revolved around land-use issues, water rights and development.

When I got back to the newspaper office and told the editor what I had found out, and who had passed away, he told me to go to the dead man’s house and get a quote from his family. I really did not want to do that.

I knew this family. It was a small town, only 800 or so residents at the time. I knew just about every family. I told the editor that I thought it would be better to give them a little time. He disagreed and insisted I go. So I did.

The man’s wife answered the door. “Hey Charlie, what’s up?” she said.

“I came to talk to you about Joe,” I said.

“Why?” she said. “What’s going on?” She hadn’t heard. My stomach sank into my shoes.

“Well, there’s been an accident,” I said.

Her hands immediately went to her face.

“What happened?” she said sternly, almost panicked.

“He was crushed by a bucket-loader. He’s dead.”

To this day, I don’t know why I said those words. They just came out. I knew it would crush her, just as that giant steel bucket crushed him. I am more sensitive to people’s feelings than that, but this was my job. This was what I was being paid to do.

She cursed me out. Called me a vulture. Screamed in my face.

I went back to the office and quit my job. This wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I broke my lease, packed my belongings into my 1977 Volkswagen camper mobile and headed down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where a college buddy was working on a farm. He put me to work as a caretaker. I spent the winter on that farm, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. I always wanted to be a writer. That much I knew, but my love affair with journalism was over. Or so I thought. I had always envisioned myself as a correspondent, like Hemingway in his war boots. That vision crumbled into a pile of dust the moment I stepped off that woman’s front porch.

With limited funds and limited options, I ended up driving my old bus around the country for a while. I went to Mexico and camped on the beach with my dog Blue. I spent a few weeks in Scottsdale, Arizona, with another college friend, sleeping on her couch and working at a golf course doing odd jobs. I held a microphone boom for ABC sports in the Phoenix Open. It paid $75 a day. I lived off ramen noodles and Natural Light. Many nights I slept in my van. I guess you could say I was homeless, but not in a way you’d picture a homeless person begging for money. I was just wandering. And that got old pretty quick.

When I’d had enough of being broke and lost, I drove to Connecticut and moved in with Mom and my stepdad Corky. I got a job waiting tables at a recently opened, high-end restaurant located on the waterfront in Guilford. It was a beautiful little restaurant with gourmet food. The prices were expensive and I started to make some good money. I pulled myself out of debt and watched the classifieds for potential “real” jobs. And that’s what led me to Soundings. The ad was for a staff writer position at a boating industry magazine that had just launched a website. These were dial-up days… I applied. Having grown up around boats and fishing, it seemed like a perfect fit. I interviewed in their Essex office, and eventually got the gig. That job changed my life. I’ve been writing about boats and fishing ever since.

I didn’t last long at Soundings, just over a year I think, but I always stayed in touch with Bill. We’d see each other at boat shows and media events. He was always kind to me and I always looked up to him. When I saw him at the last Miami Boat Show, I told him about a boat my father had given me that I was fixing up. He asked me to write a column about the boat for Angler’s Journal, which Bill had launched just a few years ago. I’d been dying to write for AJ and I jumped at the opportunity. It’s funny how things go full circle.

 

 

Sometimes you just have to jump in, clothes and all…

I like to post cute pictures of my kids. I especially like posting pictures that make me look like a great dad. I sometimes fall victim to wanting to be like all of the ‘perfect’ families on social media. Their kids eating sushi and performing righteous piano recitals. I’ve seen plenty of honor society inductees, athletic scholarships and college announcements. I get you parents. I get why it feels good to post the good news. I also like when fellow parentals go off on a rant about their struggles to keep mountains of laundry from taking out the entire neighborhood, the ongoing dinner dilemmas or the never-stop-screaming two-year-old. We all have our thresholds. We all have a breaking point.

This weekend was another fun-filled, errand-packed two days of nonstop movement. Well, almost nonstop. My wife was at a Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida board retreat on Friday night and Saturday morning. The boys and I watched a bit too much TV but managed to get to Costco, where I discovered I had misplaced my membership card. We were there early so it wasn’t a big deal to get a replacement card, but when you get to Costco right at opening time, you miss out on all of the oddball samples at the end of the aisles. Max was mighty displeased with the lack of frozen raviolis, pimento cheese spread, nut clusters and energy drinks. He took it in stride and I offered to buy him a slice of pizza on our way out.

After shopping and somehow talking Cooper into staying in the cart, the boys chowed down on pizza, sitting on the bright red plastic tables as I fretted about getting all of this protein home without Central Florida’s June heat soiling my meat. It’s damn near triple digits already. When we got to the car, the monster that parked next to us was so close that we couldn’t open the doors on one side of my truck. I had to get in the back seat of the truck from the opposite side with Cooper so I could get him buckled in his carseat. No big deal, but enough of an annoyance to visibly annoy me.

When we got back home I quickly made the boys a snack as I put the provisions away. After eating, we decided to take a swim. Our pool resurfacing project is finally complete. The company we used did a fine job but they somehow managed to get concrete and slurry into the drain at the bottom of the pool, so the project was extended by three weeks plus as they slowly worked the clog free so our pool pump could operate with a normal flow. Cooper, my four-year-old who has Down syndrome, is not very drawn to the pool. He’s downright scared of it, so I don’t worry about him jumping in by himself. However, I was not ready for Max’s callout: “Dad, Cooper fell in!”

I was a good 25 feet away, looking through a storage bin for some goggles when I saw Cooper, all of him in the deep end of the pool, kicking his legs and frantically moving his arms. There was no noise. No screaming like the flailing victims you see in the movies. I ran over to him in a flash. His eyes were as wide as saucers. Pure panic. His eyebrows and the top of his head were above water. Everything else was below. He was right next to the wall, just far enough that his little arms couldn’t reach. I yanked him out and held him as he coughed and screamed. Had I not been there, I think Max would’ve gotten him out. I don’t want to think about what I would be writing if things had gone a different way.

“Dad, I saw him,” Max said. “He was pushing that raft into the pool and he fell over it and into the pool.”

“I know,” I said. “Thank you.”

I held Cooper for a long time, letting him cry. I think I got to him fast enough that he didn’t ingest much water. No liquid came out in his coughs, and he calmed down after 10 minutes or so. He was visibly shaken and he told me he was scared and wanted to go back inside the house. A year ago, I probably would’ve yelled. At him, at someone. That’s my way of displacing my anger toward myself onto someone else, and it’s a useless act that I’m working on fixing. I didn’t yell. I didn’t blame anyone, except maybe myself, but I did that internally. If I was a good parent, I thought to myself, this wouldn’t have happened. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that accidents happen to everyone. The fact that this fall into the pool wasn’t tragic is because my wife and I are good parents, and we were close by. I feel for all of the good parents who deal with tragedy even when they’re close by or doing everything possible to watch out for their kids. That is the heaviest burden to bear.

I think I will see Cooper bobbing in the pool again in my dreams some day.

He starts swim lessons (for the third summer in a row) this week. Hopefully it sticks.

That night we went to see a movie, and it was fun. I posted a cute picture of Cooper hiding amongst a large cardboard marketing display in the theater. That was the post. Not the near drowning. Not the tears. Not the burdens of life. I posted a cute photo of a smiling, happy child. That’s what I want to share most of all. That’s what makes the struggles worth it. To see them smile.

The next day my wife took the kids to the lake lot in our neighborhood so I could prep our pool deck for paint. When I was done, I rode my bike down to meet them. Max was casting his fishing rod on the dock with two young girls, a neighbor’s granddaughters. Cooper was soaked from head to toe from playing in the water. My wife was chatting with a neighbor. I fished with Max for a bit, then took Cooper to the swings. Coop was laughing and having a ball. I didn’t have my phone on me. If I did, I would’ve posted a picture of him on the swing. Smiling. Hair swaying. Sandy fingers and toes. We stayed much longer than we had intended. It was a nice afternoon. We managed to load the kids up in the wagon and head home. About two houses from the lake lot, my wife screamed for me. Cooper had grabbed the fishing rod in the back of the wagon and got stuck by the hook. Luckily it didn’t go in past the barb, but it was a startling scream. If we were good parents, the fishing rod wouldn’t have been there in the first place… And so it goes. But there was no blood and he had a tetanus shot not too long ago. He’ll be fine.

Sometimes living a full life means you’re going to get stuck by a fishing hook or fall out of a tree or cut yourself. It makes you stronger. It teaches you in ways no words can. It means you are living a life worth living.

Many sports have a marquee event that they refer to as the “Super Bowl of…” For largemouth bass fanatics, it’s the Bassmaster Classic. This is the granddaddy of them all. A full-on media blitz built around the sport of competitive bass fishing. And I’ve never been to the dance.

Everyone who goes to the Classic regularly has told me that I have to go and experience it for myself. I did attend a weigh in once, when it was here in Central Florida a number of years ago. The size of the crowds and the amount of companies involved was staggering. Everything is sponsored. (The full name of the tournament is the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.) The expo, the weigh in, the televised coverage, the boats and anglers are covered with sponsor logos. In that way, I’d say the Classic is more Daytona 500 than Super Bowl, but let’s be honest, the sponsorships and advertising attached to the Super Bowl are valued in the billions so I guess I’m cool with that monicker.

So when I was invited to attend the dance, which is held in Knoxville, Tennessee this year, I was pretty stoked. I look forward to seeing if what I am envisioning in my head (a giant bee hive of red necks screaming at guys hoisting 5-pound fish) is in fact true. I have a feeling it isn’t. I have a feeling I will be blown away. In doing a little bit of research, I am already blown away. I’m impressed at the organizers ability to sign on non-endemic companies. I am shocked to see that the accompanying Bassmaster Classic Expo will cover 220,000-square feet across two venues. Combined attendance is expected to topple 100,000 people! Last year’s classic saw 143,000 fans show up. Maybe this really is a Super Bowl?

More than anything, I’m looking forward to just seeing how the event unfolds. I am always fascinated with the logistics involved to host massive events like this. The amount of details that must be addressed is nothing short of staggering and I have mad respect for the people who put these events together. I’m also curious to see how much of the fishing industry I’ve been missing out on. I’ve only ever covered the saltwater side of things. And I really do love freshwater fishing. I love the fact that it’s easier to find freshwater, and while the fish may more closely resemble bait than game fish to a billfish guy, I’m more than happy to fish 8-pound test for a 6-pound trophy.

I’ve always found it interesting that most of the innovation in saltwater fishing comes from the freshwater scene. Soft plastics, braided line, stick baits… There’ve been tons of innovative products that moved from the pond to the ocean. I’m sure I’ll see a lot of new products that find their way into my tackle coffers.

The Classic has a field of 52 anglers. The winner takes home a $300,000 check and if they are savvy, they can easily earn upwards of $1 million in endorsements following their big win. Most of the hype has been surrounded around Jordan Lee, a 27-year-old angler who has been lighting the bass world on fire, winning back-to-back Classics in 2018 and 2017. Will the old dogs come clawing up to take back the big win, or will the young guns continue to move up into the winner’s circle?

I leave for Tennessee tomorrow morning and will be reporting daily on social media and here on the blog. It should be a cool trip!

On March 28th, Charlie Levine, FishTrack.com Editor/Publisher and fishing novelist, will take to the “On-the-Water” podium at the Moorings Yacht Club in Vero, Beach, Florida to explain how to use sea surface water temps, current, chlorophyll and other tricks and techniques to locate and catch offshore fish, including local sailfish and dolphinfish. FishTrack is a leading recreational fishing website known for its combination of advanced satellite imaging and weather-forecasting tools, coupled with articles and news relevant to all saltwater anglers. Charlie’s perspective, honed by his decades-long career writing about sportfishing, is peppered with humor and anecdotes guaranteed to make you laugh as well as bring you up to date. He’s also bringing copies of his 2017 novel, Sucked Dry; the Struggle is Reel. To purchase a signed copy, please bring $13 cash or check. The event kicks off at 12 p.m.

If you would like to attend, please contact Anne Lewis. The event is primarily for yacht club members and their guests.

Around the start of the year, my 6-year-old’s karate instructor explained the importance of goals to the class. “There are short-term goals and long-term goals,” he told them and made sure they understood the difference. He then asked each student to go home and write their long-term goals on their mirror so they would see them everyday and remember to work toward their goals. Maxon gave his goals a lot of thought and came up with three really good ones:

  1. Do a pull up
  2. Learn how to ride a bike
  3. Be a good helper so I can go out on the boat more

Goals have always been important to me, and I routinely write them down, just as Max’s instructor suggested. By writing down our goals they stay with us. They stick in our subconscious mind and we tend to work harder at achieving them. The goal I set for this year was pretty simple.

To use my boat at least once a week.

I am sad to report that I have not lived up to my goal and it’s truly upsetting. I have good intentions, I swear, but life has come at me fast this year. First, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and that’s consumed our family. She’s fighting like a bull but it’s an emotional ride with many peaks and valleys. Then my nephew ended up in the hospital, but thankfully is okay. And our tenants moved out of our rental property and we had to turn it around as quickly as possible. And of course there are our two boys, one who has special needs and a team of therapists. And there’s work. And my wife’s work. And our advocacy efforts, my wife and I are both on various boards and groups. And birthday parties. And family time. And travel. And shitty weather at the worst opportune times… and, and, and…

I keep telling myself that I will use the boat tomorrow, if even for just an hour, but then the phone rings. A meeting pops up in my calendar. So what is a guy to do?

I guess the only thing I can do is make this goal more important. Going out on the boat brings me joy. It eases all of the pain associated with the many reasons I just listed for not using the boat. So maybe I’ll sneak out on my lunch break tomorrow. Or the next day. But I think I need to cut myself some slack, otherwise I’ll just feel like crap every time I pull in the driveway and see her there sleeping under a moldy boat cover.

For some reason this inner battle to find time to boat made me think of one of my all-time favorite poems, written by Langston Hughes in the 1920s.

(Harlem) A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

My four-year-old and I have been butting heads. And I don’t like yelling at him and I need to work on being more patient. I think all parents can agree that there are times when you just lose your mind. And he has been fighting me on everything. Put your shoes on. “NO!” Cry cry cry. Eat your dinner. “NO!” Cry cry cry. Go potty… You get the idea. But having Down syndrome makes things more difficult for Cooper. And while I don’t want his disabilities to be a stigma, I see how hard he struggles.

Cooper has things to say and he can’t get the words out. So my new philosophy is to try to put myself in his shoes. To understand the frustration he must feel when he wants something but he can’t vocalize what it is he wants. And when I spend time in his shoes, it makes me realize how the world is so impatient. And I am right there at the top of that list of impatients. Everything is go go go. If you don’t immediately take off when the traffic light turns green, you get a fuck you. We’re constantly being rushed.

Cooper can do things on his own like getting dressed or brushing his teeth, but I usually end up doing them for him because I can’t slow myself down and I don’t have the patience to let him do tasks on his own. What I often forget, however, is that when he does complete a task, it gives him a great sense of pride and accomplishment. And that’s something that I can easily change, and I have seen the immediate effects it has when I just take a breath and slow down. Who cares if we’re not right on time? Who cares if bedtime gets pushed aside by 20 minutes? Who cares if you are wearing two different colored socks? Well, I care, but I’m trying not to.

And I’m going to use this blog as a way of talking about my feelings. I plan to be completely true to myself and anyone reading this. I have yelled at Cooper enough and I always feel bad and ashamed afterwards. I think we all yell at her kids at some point and the good parents try to explain why they became upset, and the good parents know how to apologize if they yelled for no reason. I’m trying to be the good parent. I’m trying to be more patient. And I know Cooper is trying too.

The other day I took Cooper to the hardware store to return some piece-of-crap electronic digital reader I bought to test a bad outlet, and it didn’t work (or there is a very real chance that I did not know how to use it correctly). He was so good at the store. I let him walk instead of putting him in a cart. And I gave him a job. He held the bag with the item and handed it to the cashier. He listened and waited patiently. When she took the bag, he clapped and she was very nice to him and he made her smile. I need to take that tactic from now on.

I love both my sons. They come with their individual challenges but they are the most important things to me and I love being a dad. It is the most important thing in my life. I am a family man. That’s a beautiful thing to be. And I’m going to work at being a better one in the years to come, and I’m going to do my best to be more patient and temper my temper.

There are many unspoken fishing rules out there. You could call it a code of fishing etiquette that we are expected to abide by. However, because the so-called rules are not available anywhere in black and white, they are often broken. This can cause arguments, vandalism and other devious behavior. In the new fishing book ‘Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel,’ author Charlie Levine takes a shot at producing the 10 Commandments of Fishing in an effort to keep such shenanigans at bay. This a set of rules applies to just about any type of fishing. Inshore, offshore, freshwater or saltwater. If you’ve ever had a googan run right up on you as you’re fighting a fish, you’ll appreciate these 10 commandments. Enjoy. The book is now available on Amazon.