BY JERRY MCBRIDE
Funny how things work out.
Any chance that I’d become a fishing magazine editor should have evaporated the moment my parents hauled the family across the Florida state line, bound for Nebraska. Nobody in Vegas would lay odds on a kid from Nebraska ending up in a career relating to watersports.
I arrived just in time to start kindergarten, the only kid in my class. Classic one-room country schoolhouse—you’ve seen it in every old Western movie. To enhance the culture shock, we showed up just in time for the worst winter since 1949, so bad my father sometimes delivered us by tractor when the Jeep that survived WWII couldn’t battle the six miles of snowed-in roads. No one told snook stories as I huddled among the older students near the potbelly stove in the back of the drafty classroom. Worst of all, I had inherited an unqualified, disinterested teacher, because country schoolkids back then didn’t merit an actual instructor with a college degree. My odds of encountering the word “kayak” or using it correctly in a sentence weren’t promising.
But fate intervened.
My older brother, who died a few months ago, inherited Mom’s teaching gene. While the teacher filled in crossword puzzles—hopefully in pencil—Bob, a precociously helpful seventh-grader at the time, anointed himself the de facto classroom instructor.
After supper Bob marched me downstairs to a row of dilapidated school desks, complete with stained inkwells and the jackknife art of reluctant learners from the Great Depression era. Boxes of yellowed textbooks scavenged from abandoned country schoolhouse auctions constituted the curriculum.
Geography played an even more fateful role in my outdoor education.
Had our ranch been just one mile south, it would have instead been a farm, as flat and nondescript as the stereotypical portrait of the Great Plains. But I got lucky, landing amid rolling, oak-covered hills; cold, clear water sprang up in every valley. Three miles of personal trout stream. Granted, you could stretch a kayak across it, but the lessons that its rainbows and browns taught me over the next dozen years applied to every saltwater venue I’d later kayak. Fish are fish.
At the urging of several fisheries biologists, Dad constructed a fish hatchery around all that water. He’d build it, they’d operate it. We’d stay in the ranch business.
Fate saw things differently.
Just about the time Dad finished bulldozing 37 hatchery ponds and plumbing them with miles of underground pipe, the law stopped by and left with our biologists. Seems all those nets, egg spawning jars and other gear they’d stocked the new hatchery building with were misappropriated from state warehouses. The McBride family suddenly had to learn the fish business.
I couldn’t get enough of it. While my siblings learned skills needed to become lawyers, corporate headhunters, insurance agents and CIA analysts, I was ridiculously content on the end of a net opposite Dad, or just traipsing around the hills or trout stream on my own. My skewed view of kayak fishing as a solo sport can be blamed directly as attempts to re-live those happy expeditions.
Years later, having grown up and moved back to Florida, fate delivered a new next-door neighbor. Based solely on inadvertently reading my annual Christmas letter, she told me I should give up teaching and apply for a rare editorial opening at her office. Turns out she was the office manager for a fishing magazine. There were probably 50 applicants with superior journalistic credentials—I had none–but not one of them spoke the exotic language of fishing. What are the odds of that happening in Stuart, Florida, where fishing is a religion? Fate, I tell you.
A dozen years later, that statistically improbable string of occurrences allowed me the privilege of fishing with Kayak Fish editor Paul Lebowitz, and writing for the magazine.
Paul’s a big guy, with shoes to match; I can’t fill them. My expertise lies in kayak-fishing a Florida grassflat, not editing a magazine in the digital age. My mother frequently claimed I was born two centuries too late, the truth of which is going to prematurely age an exasperated Kayak Fish editorial team. I use my smart phone to actually talk to people, and find fish with my eyes and ears rather than electronic wizardry. The beauty I find in kayak fishing lies in its simplicity and self-reliance. I’m counting on my friend Paul to ease my learning curve. If you want to talk to him, I suggest you call soon, before he drops his phone into the Pacific to avoid my incessant pleas for help.
Please keep answering your phone, Paul.
Jerry McBride is the new editor of Kayak Fish. He takes the reins from founding editor Paul Lebowitz, who has left the magazine to advocate for Autism awareness and build a scholarship fund in the name of his late son, James.