Turning into ashes

The death of Al Pelini has me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. I didn’t know Al all that well, I mostly admired him from a distance. In the times when big alpha males beat their chests at seminars about their greatness, Al was a polar opposite.

But you should never make assumptions about a person before you meet them or if you don’t know them well…I never seen person his age swim to the rocks in the middle of the night alone. I never seen a man of any age swam further in pursuit of his bellowed striped bass. I never met a man more fearless  then Al. Maybe his death is a poetry in motion, passing away in the place he loved the most. For me , and I am sure for his family and friends too, it was too early. Too sudden.

Just last week Bear’s Den shop called me for some books after two years because Al was giving  seminar there on weekend. I meant to get in touch with him to ask him if he would consider writing story for the Surfcaster’s Journal Magazine but I never did. Most of all, I wanted to sit with him on the camera and capture some of the events his experiences in his past….and there were many. Not everyone gets to catch 60 pound plus striper during the heyday of Block Island, gets to sample the best of Cape Cod fishing and swims to Cuttyhunk rocks and tangle with giant stripe.

But I never did get around to asking. And I know why, fear of rejection. There was a time not too long ago when I had this crazy idea of sitting down with the old guard and interview them o camera. Maybe turn it into the documentary about the history of the sport. I was less interested in their catches than I was in their experiences. And I definitely wasn’t interested in their secrets spots. The questions about the spots wasn’t even on the list.

But after talking to few who were gracious enough to sit an hour for camera like Rhode Island sharpies Steve McKenna and Dennis Zambrotta, I found nothing but doors slammed in my face. I expected some of that, the older generation was not about promotion, about publicity. They just fished. But most of them declined the idea of talking on camera. Heck, some walked away as soon as I brought up the subject. Not just people I don’t know, my own friends, people I fish with, refused to even consider it.

But the Father Time waits for no man…there is less and less of them around every day. And their experiences, the history of surf fishing as we know it today is dying with them. I hope that someone else , at some other time, in some other place, considers doing this. There is a lot written about old lures and tackle. Very little is written about the people who used them. How great it would be if two generations down, a new surfcaster could meet those who blazed the trail for them, in person , on their monitors. How great it would be for our grandchild to say, I heard about those men but never met them. Sadly, I don’t see it happening. Some stories are just meant to be turned into ashes.

Here is Dennis talking about Ted’s Tackle in Brooklyn, NY.


19 comments on “Turning into ashes

  1. Pete F

    Zeno, It might be easier to get guys to talk without a camera first, maybe just a sound recorder and then get them to do it on camera. Lots of people are camera shy, guys who wander in the dark alone tend to be more camera shy than most.

  2. Chris A

    Zeno this is (history of surfcasting) I think is greatly needed. I Have an old fiberglass lamilgas rod and older Penn 704z. On occasional I ll take this outfit out to feel how the the guys back in the day felt when they hook into striper. If there one person out there that can do this project it you Zeno.

  3. Jim Kavanaugh

    Zeno, this kind of article is what separates your website from the many others.I appreciate your work Thanks.

  4. Rich S.

    I was at an Eel Rigging seminar that Al gave four days before his passing. He lived within a few minutes of me, and I could not wait to show him how his teaching had paid off for me.
    You are right Zeno, get them on tape now, while they are still around.

  5. Bill K.

    I’ve asked, and had doors slammed in my face. These guys don’t want to promote the sport. They just want to promote themselves. Selfish, self centered nightcrawlers…lol…
    Here’s to bringing up the next generation of cynicists!…

  6. Jim M.

    Talking to oldtimers always struck me like trying to get Houdini to give up his tricks, or a sorcerer their spells. Some of it was zealously guarding a long lost trade/livelihood, some seemed regret over perhaps too much fish being taken at some point. I;ve been lucky to bump into folks that seen things by witnessing old timers fishing, like some of the vets that served at Montauk or LIRR employees working the fish train, and I wish I had recorded some of what I heard. Thanks for trying, it is definitely something alot of us would be interested in!

  7. emgred

    Years ago I gaffed (cinema gaffer) for an independent film maker. We helped pay the bills by doing some “In House Seminar” films for a law firm in NYC. THE senior partner, who had among his clients, represented Arthur Miller before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, decided that filming some of his memories was less time consuming than writing them down. He was so pleased with the results that he ORDERED the other senior partners to do the same.
    We need to find you someone with enough CLOUT to arm twist the trailblazers of our sport to sit down and talk with you and thus, on video, to all of us. This is an important endeavor. Keep at it. Enlist those that don’t slam the door on you to help in opening more doors. I know that you know some of people who could do that!

  8. Ross

    Just a thought Zeno but you may want to try and do this with small groups of old guard members for a sit down that you can film/record – similar to what the Deadly Catch did when they got the boat captains together. You may find that they are more willing and comfortable to do this in small group settings especially if they know each other.


  9. Jim

    I bump into DZ at Saltwaters Edge from time to time and he’s ALWAYS been amazingly gracious talking to a hack like myself. A very nice guy to say the least. I wish he’d put out his book, ‘Snowstorm blitz’……. I tried listening to Pavarotti before fishing myself, but alas, i still stink !!.’ Iron’ Mike Evrin is also another local that is always talking away to anyone willing to listen and learn, not to mention he’s a total character !

  10. richtrox

    Keep at it Z. Some of the above suggestions sound like they’re worth a try. Maybe the group thing would work.

  11. Moses

    Hey Zeno, I like the group idea, too bad that some of the old guards feel it better to let the history that they witnessed first hand die along with stories and experiences of their lifetime. I know the old salts that sold their catch to pay for their childrens college education or to feed the family back when there were no bag limits and it wasn’t illegal to do so,might be inclined by today’s standards not to be known as a meat fisherman. I had a similar thought when reading frank diagnaults books as well as night tides with Billy the Greek.i can understand the whole secrecy thing but it’s sad to let the history and tales die.

    mabe the next one can be plug builders from past to present.starting with the pioneers that made their own creations and paved the way for all the sport. And the designs that are still used today and are proven fish catchers as well as classic plugs that are not made anymore.just a thought. Sorry for the rant

  12. Fishtrek

    What Al speaks of is so very true. The little things are what we remember. The passing of an old tackleshop in my area is a reminder. New owners havebrightened it up , but the treasures that were there are gone. Will see how it develops. Thanks for the memory.

  13. Greg Tucceri

    Great piece,Dennis is a great guy always a pleasure and very helpful guy to talk when I visit SWE,don’t think he knows my real name,but calls me darter man every time I come in the shop.

  14. DZ

    The passing of Al Pellini was one that has really affected me as a surfcaster and writer. Al was someone I knew from years of fishing Block Island. We shared times on Block which are now folklore in striper surfcasting history. He was very gracious in helping me with my book project “Snowstorm Blitz” by allowing me to include his recollections of that historic event.

    I know what Zeno speaks of as he tries to uncover the history of our favorite pastime. Not all casters I’ve contacted to gather input for my book project has wanted to help – but luckily many have. Each has reasons that are private and I’ve always accepted their decisions.

    I am one who believes stories are important in preserving history – that is why I agreed to Zeno’s request for an interview. As you can see visiting Ted’s Tackle during my formative years was instrumental to my future development as a fisherman/surf caster. We all have a story like that.

    Hopefully someday my book project will come to fruition. Zeno and I have discussed it.
    Thanks for the kind comments.
    Darter Man – where’ve you been?

  15. Mike Pellini

    What a wonderful commentary. Interesting and insightful. I really wish you had asked my dad (Al Pellini) to comment for you on camera because I can tell you without hesitation, he would have been more than happy to share his secrets. And what a wonderful tribute it would have been for a die hard fisherman.

  16. bill stahl

    Great story about teddy’s. I grew up in ridgewood and would go to teddy’s to get hooks, line, bait, etc. Ted was a terrific guy. Let me tell this short story.

    This has got to be 55-60 years ago. Go to teddy’s with my friend gerard to get some worms for a trip to breezy point next day by bus from ridgewood. teddy’s asked what we’re going for, we say flounders. ted says OK good luck and to come back after the trip and let him known who caught the biggest fish. Day following trip we give our report. Ted says OK this is for catching the biggest fish and gives me a 100 yards of 6lb. test line. Ill never forget this event.

    The guy was absolutely the best, continued to go to teddys, for many years for all my fishing needs.


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