I met the pilgrim several days ago on my first afternoon on Striper Island. A big school of fish was breaking out wide, and this tall, lanky character ran down the beach and waded out up to his shoulders, literally, to try to reach them with one of his big, sweeping southpaw casts.
It looked to me like a fool’s errand — the fish stayed just out of reach. I was content to keep my powder dry until they came into range, saving my energy for the night tides, which is when the real striper action takes place.
Wide-eyed and excited by the close encounter, the pilgrim sloshed back in, and we talked as the fish cavorted safely beyond our miniature ICBMs. I liked him right away. He was open and energetic, and his size and scraggly beard reminded me of a colorful dragger captain with whom I’ve had a long friendship. The two-year anniversary of Buck’s passing took place just before I left for the island.
“Got a bunch of bluefish earlier this week,” he told me. “Big ones. Twelve, 14 pounds. Real nice.”
“Too bad these guys didn’t get a little closer,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “It’s frustrating. That’s why I bought a boat this year.”
That kind of talk gets my attention — the part about buying a boat.
“I’ll be out chasing those fish later this afternoon.”
We talk frequently in Trade Only about the need to stay close to our customers. And there certainly are plenty of effective ways to do that, ranging from social media efforts — which have gotten so much attention of late — to boat shows, tournaments, rendezvous and other initiatives.
With the tremendous reach of the Web these days I sometimes wonder whether we have overlooked the value of getting out of our offices more, out of that safe world where everything is plum and square and “wicked” fast (Buck liked that expression). Where every angle is 90 degrees, and where we are constantly connected. There is real value, I believe, in meeting the tribe in its own element, which is a little waterlogged, a little shaggy and a lot passionate.
They’re the ones still fully engaged in cruising, sailing, fishing and knocking about in boats. They’re the ones who are getting us through these lean times. They’re the ones who never left.
Three days later I met the pilgrim coming off the dock with four small bluefish, strung on a piece of rope. And he gave me an excited rundown on the size and color of the lures he’d used, several big fish that had gotten away and how he liked to cook his bluefish on the grill with barbecue sauce. Or smoke them. Perfect. Passion is the best word to describe this newest member of our boating family. And I’m the better for having met him.
Get out of the office, the dealership. Push the chair away from the computer. Put down the phone. Most of us got into this business through our love of boats and the water. That’s still the best way to replenish your spirit, recharge the batteries. Lord knows we all need it. The last three years have been a tough go.
After fishing four consecutive night tides, I’m starting to feel punch-drunk from lack of sleep. My hair is matted, my eyes are bleary and I haven’t shaved in five days. I’m wearing orange Crocs, a salt-stained cap and a pair of ripped shorts, one eye on the weather, one on the tides. It’s nice to be back with the clan.