Marching Orders?

By Zach Harvey

Does Rhode Island really need its own fishing magazine? This question has been ricocheting around the open spaces of my oversized noggin since Mike and Lisa approached me back in December with news of their intent to launch this thing.

Among a riptide of other related mental debris, I keep thinking about the jolt I got at age, say, nine, when I realized that it was Thursday, that the copy of the Projo I’d kicked halfway under the rhododendron in the driveway contained something of utmost personal import—something for me. Thirty feverish seconds later, after I’d sufficiently mangled all the boring parts of the paper with clammy fingers, I’d close in on the Sports page, rifle through it looking for the familiar layout of the “Hot Bites” column. The fact that “Weekapaug” or the “Harbor of Refuge” might as well have been in Southeast Asia for how often I fished them did nothing to dampen my profound excitement over news of “teen-sized bluefish.” I will declare my own fish-writing an unconditional success if any 500 words of my own copy are read as carefully–or as many consecutive times with semi-religious devotion—as I read Tom Meade’s weekly columns in those years. My one gripe, now as then, is that the columns just aren’t long enough.

The next thought process involves the rest of the available pool of fish-writing. I’m generally a pretty engaged reader, especially the stuff related to my own interests. The exception is the stuff that relates to fishing. Specifically, I have less-than-zero interest in most of what’s written about places or species outside my own immediate range. It’s not that I don’t care about it. It’s that when I read the words “roosterfish” or “barramundi,” a reflex fires and I promptly fire whatever publication I’m holding across the room. I’m afraid it’s a Rhode Island thing, some distorted sense we native sons of the Ocean State have about distance. It’s the same instincts that give me vertigo and nosebleeds when I drive north of the Tower (the North Kingstown/South Kingstown line). Rhode Islanders have some very specific notions about the term “local”—namely, that if it happens outside the state, it might as well have happened in Australia.

It’s not that Rhode Islanders in general have some hard-wired disdain for other states, other countries; it’s that we love what is our own to the extent there’s not much headspace left over for all the stuff in the “elsewhere” category—especially in our fishing. One major perk of living in this state is having immediate access to such a wide array of species and an incredibly diverse expanse of prime habitat. One major drawback is that—for reasons obvious—everything tends to come “into bloom” all at the same time. In June, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day.

The irony, of course, is that our state government has done next to nothing to promote the very resources that define us. It’s amazing that the Ocean State treats the industry most involved with its marine resources like some halfwit nephew who’s not allowed in the house when company’s over. It’s always amused me, the number of tourist who describe our lands and waters with some variation of the “undiscovered gem” idea. From a tax revenue standpoint alone, it’s beyond foolish that the best investment/ revenue opportunity our own Economic Development Corporation could identify was Kurt Shilling’s ill-fated tech enterprise.

Among other things, we need this magazine to do what the state never has—to serve as a junction point between our fishermen and the rest of the world, and a vehicle to celebrate the incredible wealth of world-class water within our boundaries. As conflicted as I get at certain points about broadcasting all “my” pet spots to the larger world, L’il Rhody’s status as a pace car in the race toward 80-percent unemployment has tuned the economics in my life to dull-roar levels. I love an uncluttered ocean, but I think it’s about time we started putting the word out about the advantages of fishing our shores—despite our state government’s tireless efforts to keep our tourism draw a top-level-clearance secret.