A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

An angler, writer and ‘gentle soul’

Sportfishing writer Tim Coleman was a quiet, modest man who preferred to let his actions and written words do the talking for him. An exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer, Coleman didn’t like to put himself at the center of his stories or shine a spotlight on himself.

He preferred to focus his stories on the fish, tactics, other anglers. Comfortable with his accomplishments, Coleman didn’t feel the need to toot his own horn. When he did refer to himself, he often did so in the third person or in a self-deprecating way.

“I don’t think he used the words I, me or mine,” says Peter Shea of Gloucester, Mass., a friend with whom Coleman fished off New England in the summer and fall and off Key West in the winter, where both men spent their winters.

Given his aversion to braggadocio, I will fly a flag for Tim Coleman, who died last Thursday, May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best this time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was 65, and he passed away, literally, with his fishing boots on.

With his passing, our industry lost a strong, reasoned voice for sound fisheries management and sensible conservation. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast. And for those of us fortunate to know him, we lost a good friend.

“A gentle soul is probably the best way to describe him,” says Pat Abate, a tackle shop owner and noted New England angler.

Abate met Coleman in 1974, when the writer was attending college in Rhode Island and working as the founding editor of what would become the New England edition of the weekly fishing newspaper The Fisherman, where he turned out hundreds of stories and fishing reports for the next 27 years. “He was unique. Easygoing guy. Very high morals. He wasn’t motivated by money, just enough to get by,” he says.

Tim Coleman was something of a throwback. He didn’t own a cell phone. Didn’t have an answering machine. Took photographs with a film camera. He was the last correspondent for either Soundings or Trade Only who still sent us prints.

For almost a decade, he wrote a monthly fishing column for Soundings. And each month he and I would spend half an hour or more on the phone going over column ideas and talking fishing and life.

A native of Philadelphia, a Vietnam veteran and a journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Tim eventually made his home in the little corner of southwestern Rhode Island where I hail from. We became friends and often fished the same stretch of beach and waters, sometimes together, sometimes our paths crossing in the night.

He was one of those guys you could just depend on. And he fished the “right way,” ignoring the latest fads, trends and angling geegaws. He didn’t give a hoot about labels or brands. “Status meant nothing to him,” says Abate, the owner of Rivers End tackle shop in Old Saybrook, Conn.

“The words that come to mind,” Shea says, pausing for a moment, “he was shy, understated, taciturn, steady. A good man, and a Christian man. The written word was his primary communication tool. He was just a good guy with good friends.”

And, Shea notes, “He thought like a fish. He really did.” Although he practiced catch-and-release, Coleman also enjoyed putting fish in the box and donated many pounds of fillets to soup kitchens and individuals in need.

Shea plans to have Coleman’s initials, TTC, carved into the port quarter of his 35-foot Mitchell Cove when he splashes the boat shortly. That was Coleman’s spot on their frequent cod trips, where the friendly banter and teasing flowed as smoothly as the fish that came over the rail.

“He’ll be riding with us, for sure,” says Shea, who made the lifelong bachelor part of his extended family of children and grandchildren. TTC stands for “Tarpon Tim Coleman,” the latest in a litany of nicknames Shea bestowed on Coleman and a reference to the angler’s most recent piscatorial passion — night fishing the bridges of the lower Keys in the winter for tarpon. The striper sharpie from New England called tarpon his “newest frontier.”

A surf fisherman at heart, Coleman also was a passionate wreck hunter who teamed up with research academics with side-scan sonar to find long-forgotten sunken vessels. Coleman provided the intelligence, often in the form of Loran or GPS numbers he got from the “hang” logs of dragger captains he befriended. He liked the research, the history, the search for the proverbial needle in the briny haystack — and especially the large cod, haddock and pollock the fishermen would crank up when they finally located a virgin wreck.

In his long career with The Fisherman and later as a freelancer, Tim wrote literally thousands of articles and columns and seven or eight books. He never missed a deadline with us in almost 10 years. Nor did we ever write a correction about something he wrote. Timmy was a careful reporter and writer who knew his fishing cold.

“I don’t think he kept a diary, but he had a very good mental recognition of things,” Abate says. “He was very observant and had a very good memory. It’s not what he had but what he did with what he had.”

He fished simply and effectively, usually carrying a half-dozen or fewer lures. At night he often fished for striped bass with an unpainted jig head with a black plastic worm threaded over the hook. Tim Coleman was searching for the essence.

“He was absolutely a minimalist,” Abate says.

In the 1980s Coleman often could be found fishing off Block Island, R.I., the site of what Abate has called the “last great buffalo hunt” for very large striped bass. Tim’s largest was a 67-pounder — a fish of a lifetime for a man who was happiest when he was in or on the water, gazing seaward, fishing rod in hand.

Donations in remembrance of Coleman can be made to the Tim Coleman Memorial Scholarship, University of Rhode Island Foundation, 79 Upper College Road, Kingston, RI 02881.


8 comments on “An angler, writer and ‘gentle soul’

  1. Bill Jameson, Retired...

    This, Bill, is an extraordinary tribute to one who apparently was an extraordinary man… It is easy to see that you have lost a friend to the extent that even time will have a difficult time healing you… Fish on, my friend… fish on… Bill Jameson, 05.09.12

  2. David Kelleher

    A sad day for sure. I had the pleasure of meeting and fishing with Tim at the Sheas in Key West. He was a true fishing fanatic- He took me night Tarpon fishing up the Keys and shared his knowledge, technique and generosity- great guy for sure! I also had the pleasure of fishing on Pete’s boat with Tim as first mate and consultant- we caught plenty of amberjack and what a work out that was. Tim was so good with the young kids too; my wife just told the story of a young girl visiting the Sheas and out fishing with Tim and Pete when she somehow broke Tim’s favorite rod. Tim being the gentleman that he was didn’t flinch and went on without bother.
    God Bless you Tim and I’m sure the fishing is great where you are going.

  3. Mike Shear

    I met Tim a couple of times. He was the mellowest man I ever met. Everything written about him is true. Shearpin

  4. John Harrington

    I had several wonderful opportunities to go fishing with Tim. My fishing skills leave much to be desired. Not asking for help but desperately needing it; Tim would mildly suggest “John, why don’t you try it this way” or “This is probably a good size Grouper, why don’t you bring this one in”, and he would hand me the rod. I couldn’t believe this great fisherman would have anything to do with someone as inept as I am.

    His patience was amazing, even the time I lost a good school of dolphin. All I had to do was to keep the dolphin on my line (not caught by me I must admit) circling around the starboard stern of the boat while Tim and Pete Shea brought theirs in to port and we could then try for more. I am thankful for the important lessons Tim has taught me, some about fishing, more about life. He will be sorely missed whether we’re cod and haddock fishing 20 – 30 miles off Gloucester or at American Shoals off Key West.

  5. Roger Coleman

    Hey All. I’m Tim’s brother. I got back from Westerly on Friday evening after a couple days tending to Tim’s affairs. Peter Shea and Al Golimski were there to help me along and provide support during a sad time, and to tell stories from better times. Those two were like me being handed blessings from the world. A week before Tim died he sent me a photocopy of an article he’d written with the masthead: 48 years as a surf rat. That about said it. And so in going through Tim’s file cabinets I found information about wrecks, hang logs, pages and pages of documented fishing notes. I was hoping for something in the back of one of those file drawers. A small piece of evidence I guess. Something that might point toward the mysteries of life that I wasn’t about to see. That glance into the unknown where someone’s life suddenly turns startlingly visible. Maybe I was looking for something about myself. Maybe that’s what Tim did for others. What I found was a simple and deep portrait. Here was a guy who went fishing. Who wrote about going fishing. Who took photographs about going fishing. And sad as it was to wade through all that, drawer after drawer, where the fishing might be had, the brilliance was there staring me in the face. Facts and numbers and details and photographs. That’s the light I found because that was the light Tim made. It’s heartbreaking to imagine Tim gone. He lived his life doing what he loved to do, and that’s the way he died. Peace on earth surf rat. Be well in the tides.

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