This past weekend I had the pleasure of sitting in on the Florida Fishing Radio show. I’d never done an hour-long interview like this and I really have to thank the hosts, Steve Chapman, Capt. Mike Ortego and Boodreaux. The show is recorded every Saturday here in Orlando, and they broadcast it throughout the state. The guys like fishing of all kinds, from crappie to mahimahi, and they also like to be silly. We had some laughs and the time flew by. Check out the video below to see the full interview. I show up around the 60-minute mark.

 

Fly-fishing is kind of like golf. You alone hold the tools in your hands and you alone are responsible for a good shot, or a bad one.

Sure, you can blame the wind, the light, Mother Nature or the equipment if you make a bad cast or send a ball into the rough. But that’s your ego looking for an excuse to take the blame. The truth of the matter is it’s up to you to make a good placement with the fly, and like golf, you’re going to slice it once in a while.

You may be wading a flat or casting from the bow of a skiff with a veteran guide coaching you along, but it is just you holding that rod. I think that’s what makes fly-fishing, and golf for that matter, so rewarding. When you get a great shot and it all comes together, it feels fucking outstanding. Not just because of the tug of the fish, but the build up. The false casts, the repositioning, the changing of flies and tippet, the break offs, so many goddamn break offs! All of that torture will eventually lead to success. But you have to stick with it. You have to listen. You have to park your ego and take joy in the journey. If you don’t, you’ll end up throwing your clubs, or your fly rod, in the drink.

I’ve heard a lot of frustrated fishermen say they’re going to take up golf after losing a trophy fish. I usually respond to such nonsense by saying, “Golf is even harder!” But at least both sports make room for a cooler full of beer.

A CUBAN GUIDE AND A HAPPY GRINGO

I caught my first bonefish on fly in Cuba. It was not exactly easy, but I had the best coach in the world. I had been invited on a media trip to fish the Jardines de le Reina, the Gardens of the Queen, a vast protected archipelago of mangrove keys that stretches nearly 850 miles. It took me two days to get there, and I embarked from Orlando, Florida, less than 600 miles away. It was 2012, before Obama weakened travel restrictions to Cuba. We had to fly to Cancun, Mexico, where I met up with the group of journalists I’d be traveling with, a ragtag flock of fly guys who wrote for the best fly-fishing mags in the world. These guys were expert casters. Some of them were former guides, most were world travelers and all of them were great story tellers. I felt a bit out of place. I am only a part-time fly guy. I mostly fish with spinning rods when I head to the flats. I was the token bait dunker, but I was among the best group of fly-fishers in the world to learn from.

From Cancun we flew to Havana where we would spend the night in a very nice hotel located in the center of the city next to the central park. My head never hit the pillow. We took a classic Chevy convertible on a tour of the city, ate at a beautiful open-air restaurant in front of a once-grand cathedral that dated back to the 1600s, and we ended up at Cafe de Musica, a music filled nightclub, drinking till five in the morning and admiring the moves of the well-dressed Cubans on the dance floor. A quick shower at the hotel and then we boarded a bus for a six-hour drive across the island nation. We all slept through most of the bus ride. Then we hopped on a boat to take us to the Jardines, another six-hour ride but this time across glistening blue waters. By the time we arrived to our floating camp, there was only one thing I wanted to do… go fishing!

The guides met us on the deck of Tortuga, our mothership / hotel / cafeteria / bar. All of the guides were dressed in yellow ‘Avalon‘ fishing shirts, the company that runs this operation. They were friendly and most spoke very good English. A few spoke marginal English, but wore eager smiles. They helped us get our fishing gear ready. I had brought two travel spinning rods, a 9-weight fly rod and a 12-weight fly rod. They were more interested in my fly-fishing gear. Fly guys make up the majority of their clientele. The anglers paired up and headed out with a guide. I went fishing with Bjorn, a blogger and bonefish junkie. He runs Bonefishonthebrain.com. He was jacked up like a kid who had just drank his first Coke after eating three Oreos. We didn’t go far from the Tortuga, as it was already late in the afternoon. I was a bit slow to bust out my fly gear and opted for a spinning rod. It was strange, I felt a bit inadequate fishing next to Bjorn as he made long beautiful casts, presenting his hand-tied flies perfectly with not even a splash. The loop in his fly line unfolded majestically, like a banana. I flipped the bail on my reel and zipped bucktails and lead-head jigs with soft-plastic shad bodies across the mangrove flat. It didn’t take long for us to catch fish. Bjorn landed a mangrove snapper on his second cast. I caught some too. He also caught a nice jack and a baby barracuda. I jumped a juvenile tarpon that turned my bucktail into a corkscrew before jetting off to the great unknown.

I asked Bjorn for some casting tips and he happily obliged. It was nice to know that he didn’t think less of me as a bait dunker. And he had me casting a good 10 feet farther with just a couple of tips. One thing about fishing, and anything in general, is it’s okay to park your ego aside and ask for help. In fact, people respond to it. It’s a lot easier to learn this way, rather than trying to figure out everything on your own.

The sun began to fall and we headed back to Tortuga for dinner, drinks and some much-needed sleep. 

We motored out early the next morning, and I told the guide, named Michael, that I really wanted to catch a bonefish on fly. He patted me on the shoulder and assured me that he would make it happen. “But first, tarpon!” he said. We ran to the “boca” or mouth of the mangrove creeks to catch a tide and cast for tarpon. We staked out and made blind casts for 30 minutes or so until we saw the brown submarines closing in. Big fish. My knees began to knock. We took turns on the bow, casting. I made a decent enough cast and a 3-foot-long beast turned on it. To set the hook on a tarpon requires a solid tug on the line. These fish have bony mouths. I was hooked up for about 15 seconds. It was the craziest 15 seconds of my life. The fish went airborne, took an immediate left turn and the fly line zipped out of my hands like hot rope. Ka-pow. The fish was gone. The line had wrapped around the butt of the rod. Game over.

Then I got to watch one of the seasoned guides from Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures catch one of these beasts so perfectly and with such ease that I nearly bowed at his feet. But he was cool about it. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “You have to pull the opposite way the fish is going, and a little luck never hurts.”

That afternoon Michael beached the boat on a sandy flat and had me hop out with the 9-weight. He put a couple of flies in his shirt pocket and walked with me. “We go find your bonefish,” he said. Poling up onto a fish is exciting. Wading up to one is gratifying. We stopped about 300 yards from the boat and he asked to see me cast. He pointed to rocks and things to see if I could get close to the targets. I was off about two feet off on average. He stood behind me and held my right arm in his hand, pulling it back and forward saying “stop” at about the eleven o’clock and two o’clock positions. Before too long, my casts were looking more like Bjorn’s. We started to walk again, but he let me get ahead about 20 feet ahead of him. I was stuck in my own head, thinking about my cast. Wondering if I had the best fly tied on. Was the tippet okay? Then Michael whistled. I stopped dead and turned back. He pointed out to my left. I looked and saw the fish tailing, head down in the mud. I began my cast… eleven o’clock, two o’clock… back and forth a few times to build momentum and get more line out. Then I let the fly land. “Strip, strip!” Michael said. The fly went by the head of the fish and it bolted after the little shrimp pattern. I didn’t have to set the hook on this one. The fish took off like a happy dog, flying across the flat. The slack line ran through my fingertips and came tight on the reel. I wish I could’ve seen my face. So proud. So happy.

I landed the bonefish. It was beautiful. Built for speed. Silver lightening. I’ll never forget that fish.

 

For a limited time you can purchase the Kindle version of ‘Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel’ for only $2.99 through Amazon.

If you don’t have a Kindle, have no fear… Download the Kindle App at the Apple Store or Google Play for Android.

Check out what people are saying about the book: 

 

“I spend a lot of time on the water and found it to be both authentic and hilarious. Always been a fan of the short-story format and it really keeps you reading to see what craziness will happen with the next. Well-written with plenty of colorful details that really capture the far-flung fishing adventures and Parker’s wild ride.”
“My husband bought this book and read through it quickly and said I would like it even though fishing is not really my thing. I teared up by the end of chapter two and I was hooked! Really enjoyed the main character and loved reading about his adventures and misadventures. Highly recommend this read! Would make a great gift too.”

“Wow, where do these kids get all of their energy?”

They suck it out of us.

Today was Maxon and Daddy day. A day I look forward to every time it comes around. On the agenda today was fishing and tacos for lunch. Other than that, I didn’t have any plans.

The best thing about fishing with Max is you get to sleep in. Saturday mornings are all about cartoons and lounging in undies till at least 9 a.m. That part of the mission is easy. I brewed a big pot of coffee, let Max turn on Netflix and then went about digging our little boat out from underneath the mountain of coolers, tricycles, soccer goals, garden tools, rods, buckets and pool noodles that it had been hibernating under for much too long.

My younger son, Cooper, was all set with a Mommy day on the calendar. They had plans to hit the Orlando art museum and Science Center.

Max and I launched the boat and brought the trailer back to the house and walked hand-in-hand back to the lake lot in our neighborhood. He had me laughing, asking me to be Doug, the dog from the movie Up and he’d be Kevin, the rare bird.

The outboard started on the fourth pull. Amen. We trolled around for some bass but the wind was picking up and my little Gheenoe does not like chop. Max doesn’t either. We headed for shelter on the canal that connects Little Lake Conway with Lake Conway.

We settled on a quiet strip of water in front of an old friend’s house, Steve Upp. I know Steve feeds the fish off his back yard. We busted out some bread and oatmeal to ‘chum’ up some bream. It didn’t take long and Steve was there to witness Max catch a couple decent ones. He even hooked us up with four more slices of bread and got some photos of me and Max. Thanks Steve Upp!

We had brought a PB&J, a couple juice boxes, water and a strawberry flavored yogurt. Max devoured it all by 11 a.m.

We caught three nice shell crackers and a big pickerel before he asked me to head back to the dock. My one rule is I always take him home when he asks. But usually I’m the one wanting to go in to be honest.

Next stop, lunch. Max wanted tacos and I wanted a beer so we went to La Fiesta. He ordered chicken tenders and fries. What? Ok. I ordered a Dos Equis and a lunch combo. He loved his. I had a hair in my salsa. But I worked around it.

“What are we doing next Dad?”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ve only done two things. We need to do six things for Daddy and Max Day”

I found a festival downtown by Lake Eola. And it was free! Tents of all sorts lined the lake, a stage was set up for a concert, a bounce house on the horizon and his favorite playground in sight. Thank you, Orlando!

Four more activities and 9,000 steps later, I’m winded. Beat. One more game of tag you’re it might body slam me right on the lawn. He’s happy as ever. Laughing. Smiling. The green face paint from his Mindcraft forehead rolling down his cheeks on beads of sweat. We listened to some country music. Drank a cranberry juice a girl in a Tito’s Vodka tent gave us.

“We got to go home kid,” I say.

“Why? We’ve only done like three things…”

#lovethiskid

If you’re looking for a charismatic, entertaining, good-looking speaker for your next keynote, I’m probably not your guy. But if you want to draw a crowd at your fishing club, boat show or sportsman show, that I can do.

Over the years I have given seminars on a range of topics related to fishing. The first one I ever gave was at a Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Assoc. seminar and tackle show. I was the managing editor of the New England edition of The Fisherman magazine at the time. It was in the early 2000s. I was nervous as all hell, but I had my carousel of slides and a clicker to get me through it. The topic was kayak fishing. I wouldn’t say I nailed it, but I only saw a few people leave during my talk.

I no longer use slides. I don’t even know where you can get slide film developed any more. Like most speakers I use Keynote these days and plug my computer into a projector. My talks, however, are not so much about the images projected on the screen as they are about the stories I share. My favorite topic to discuss is fishing in remote locations. Over the last 12 or 15 years I have been very fortunate to fish some of the most treasured waters in the world. I went to Cuba before it was cool. I spent nine days offshore of New Zealand hunting giant swordfish. I’ve fished Costa Rica, Mexico, Florida, Alaska, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and most recently I lived out a lifelong dream, trolling for black marlin off of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Black marlin fishing in Australia.

On many of these trips I was not so much the angler, but a photojournalist, riding along, interviewing the captain and crew and taking photos. Learning what the crew does, finding out more about the location. Reporting on everything I could find that would not risk my relationship with these men. At the end of the trip I would gather my notes and photos and either publish a gallery on FishTrack or complete a freelance assignment for a fishing or travel publication.

I have more than 25,000 stock images taken from these fishing trips. I would be more than happy to create a presentation about fishing a particular part of the world, complete with information on who to fish with, what to bring and what you need to know.

My father always said you should learn at least one thing when you go fishing with a new person, even if the one thing you learn is that you never want to go fishing with that person again…

Another talk I have been working on explains how you can use fishing techniques to improve your business. It is called ‘Why Those Who Fish Succeed in Business.’ The seminar takes lessons learned in fishing… matching the hatch, the bait and switch, caring for equipment, putting together a solid team, etc. and puts them to use in the business world. I pull upon my experience running websites and magazines and also interview successful business men and women who love to fish about ways their experience on the water influenced their moves in the board room.

Finally, my favorite talk that I give is a simple book reading, reciting excerpts from my recently published work, Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel. These informal readings discuss the back stories and people who influenced some of the fictitious tales found in the book. I talk about how I created the main character, Parker McPhee, and how my own relationship with my father (and step father) was shaped by the time we spent on the water.

If you’re interested in hiring me for a seminar or ‘Chuck Talk,’ please send dates and contact information to Charlie Levine at editorialoutfitters@gmail.com.

 

I thought writing a book was hard. It only took me five years, but it was 62,000 words. That’s 12,400 words a year. More than 1,033 words per month, or 34 words a day, approximately. I think I can write more than 34 words a day. Whether or not those words will run together to form something worthy of reading, I am not sure. But that’s what I’ll strive for.

When I decided to self-publish Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel, I knew that it would be up to me to promote the book. And every writer’s blog I visited when doing my research said the same thing… promoting a book is how you sell it. The book may be an award-winning work of masterful fiction or a well-researched piece detailing the life of Donald Trump’s housekeeper, but if you don’t get the word out, your words will never be seen.

That’s why I decided to launch this blog, and subsequent Facebook page, and start uploading more content to my Twitter feed and Instagram. But all of that stuff takes time and effort, and at the end of the day, I don’t feel like staring at a computer for one more minute. I feel like staring at my kids, or truthfully, I feel like vegging out in front of the TV or with a magazine. I don’t know why, but there’s something about watching a guy look for treasure in an abandoned storage locker or some barn that hasn’t been touched in a few decades that balances me out and eases my blood pressure.

Well, enough of that shit.

It’s April and my goal is to get this fucking blog rolling! So I have set a target of 20 blog posts for the month of April. I’m not going to count words. I may even try to post a video or two, or a few photo galleries, but there will be 20 new posts by the end of the month, come high water (I’m not too into the hell part of that adage).

I hope you’ll join me for the ride and feel free to leave some comments. I will need all the help I can get.

The following is the first chapter of Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel by Charlie Levine.

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Miles and Miles

You ungrateful son of a bitch! I have been nothing but a dedicated, indentured servant, safely taking you through miles and miles of sun-drenched waterfront existence and you, you wanton show no thanks and no gratitude.

Every day you slip me under your sole, step into my comfort zone, use me and abuse me.

I can feel it when you pivot on your balls, pushing all of your weight into the soft beds that I’ve provided. I can feel you grinding sea salt and sand deep within me. I can feel those trickles of pee that bounce off your knee and dribble down on top of me.

Some days I hate you. Parker, can you hear me? I hate you!

My worst day started off as one of my best. We stood together on the bow of a Costa Rican skiff, fishing the rocks off the tip of the Osa Peninsula. You threw that fly like a savant, casting the flashy bucktail into the rocky surf.

You stood on me and I supported you through every back cast, every double haul and every perfect presentation of the fly that sliced through the heaving surf. I never let go of my grip on the pitching fiberglass deck, even when the bow sunk and crashed into the swells. I helped you. I held you in place, Parker! You didn’t fall, you kept casting and it paid off, dear brother. It paid off!

Finally, the erect dorsal comb of a roosterfish pierced the green water as the head of a fifty-pound marauder pushed up a wake behind the fly. I bet you didn’t even think of me as you stripped that line faster, faster.

Did you once remember me as you put all of your weight behind that strip set? I bet you would have if you had fallen. I would’ve taken the fall. You are a true sonofabitch!

What if I had given up and let you slide off that boat? But no, never! I stuck to that fiberglass casting deck like a hammered nail throughout the entire battle. I couldn’t let you down. I am here to keep you on your toes, so to speak.

You ran around the deck of that little boat, retrieving line, swinging the rod tip in all directions to keep tight to that gorgeous animal. It was an honor to serve you in that regard my dear sir. I too felt the triumph as you brought the game fish beside the boat. I felt your pulse race as the fish’s striped flanks flashed brightly through the clear, green water. I was part of that battle.

But that night, Parker… What you did to me… What I saw.

The sticky floors of those cantinas. The gurry of the fish slime you left on me. The bathroom with the grayish, ankle-deep mystery liquid that you tiptoed through. And now, now that we’re out in public and amid all of these pedestrians, I feel ugly and barbaric. I’m stained. Wrought with memories of remarkable fish fights and long, bar-strewn nights. At least you showered. I stink Parker! I stink like a dried pogie in the sun. I’m a warrior, a victor, yet I smell like a piece of dung stick to a cow’s tail. How could you treat me so unfairly?

——

 

The stewardess tapped me on the shoulder, interrupting the music I had blaring in my headphones.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to remove your sandals,” she said.

“I’m sorry… What?”

She pointed to my feet, then moved her hand up to her nose and squeezed her nostrils.

“There have been complaints from the other passengers,” she said.

I looked around and noticed that everyone sitting near me had managed to shift themselves to the furthest corners of their seat. Each person was trying to flee but was trapped by the confines of their narrow, imitation leather chair.

I looked up at the stewardess. Sorry, flight attendant.

“They’re not that bad,” I said, removing my left flip-flop. The sandal made a squelching noise as I pulled it from my skin. It sounded like a bare, hot-and-sticky human thigh freeing itself from a vinyl, cooler-top cushion.

Once removed, I noticed the tan lines on the top of my foot. I had a bright white, upside-down V-shaped mark, and a little black gunk in the notch between my big toe and second toe.

The people around me watched in terror as I held the loose flop in my hand. I bet I could’ve hijacked the plane with nothing more than my sandal. People wanted to run, but they were trapped. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide.

One old lady reached up, trying desperately to crank the circular air vent above her to the most free-flowing position it offered. She longed to breathe in that good, good recirculated air.

I slowly moved the flip flop to my nose. The stewardess leaned back against the seat behind her trying to get away from it. I took a sniff, my nostrils just inches from the black, tar-like sole of the sandal. Fear and dread wooshed through the fuselage.

“They’re not that bad,” I said.

She made a face of pure disgust — her freckled nose crinkled like a piece of beef jerky, her lips pierced tightly, the edges turning white from the pressure. Her eyes got tight, no larger than a pair of dimes as she tried to burn a hole through my skull with her hateful stare and incinerate me, right there in 23C.

She stormed away and returned in a flash wearing rubber gloves and holding a Ziploc freezer bag.

“Surrender the shoes!” she demanded.

“Having me sit here barefoot is not going to help the situation,” I said. “Seriously, is this how you treat someone who’s incontinent and just shit their pants? You embarass them in front of the rest of the passengers. What kind of an airline is this? Maybe I have a foot disorder!”

I couldn’t get the last line out without cracking a smile.

She held the bag open.

“I will get you some footwear,” she said.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “And a drink, please. Captain Morgan and Coke.”

“Deal,” she said.

I acquiesced, handing over my old, trusty pair of stinky sandals. As I gave her the rank shoes, I thought of all the fish I had caught in them. The miles of beaches we’d walked. The rum bars we’d scampered through. Then, the gorgonzola smell wafted up and struck me hard. I cleared my throat.

It’s just as well, I thought.

She zipped the sandals tightly in the plastic bag and pinched it with two fingers as if the thin layer of clear plastic was the only protection from an infectious disease that might overtake her.

She came back with a pair of slippers from first class. White, terrycloth and pretty comfy.

I leaned over and made eye contact with the old bag breathing through her hands next to me.

“How do they look?” I asked.

My name is Parker McPhee. I love to fish. These are my stories.

———-

In the book, Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel, Parker embarks on fishing adventures across the globe. He battles toe-to-toe with an 800-pound swordfish in New Zealand. He smuggles living contraband into the Dominican Republic. He casts flies to triple-digit tarpon. As he tries to catch elusive fish and bed gorgeous women, he also comes to terms with who he is and where he comes from. It’s an entertaining ride that will leave you wanting more.