By JJ Waters
I don’t remember learning how to fish any more than I remember learning how to swim. I always thought I was just born that way. But I wasn’t. The truth is I was taught by one of the greatest fisherman I ever knew.
My earliest childhood memory was when I was 4 years old. I was standing by a slough on Tybee Island. The men were gathering the seine net and I was waiting patiently for my queue. They called out. I waded into the big pool and started swimming about, to drive the fish into the net. When the men pulled the net ashore it was alive with crabs, mullet, catfish, whiting, sting rays and a shark. I remember my granddaddy telling me that we only kept the fish that we could eat. Everything else we sent back to the sea. He told me that God gave us fish to eat as long as we didn’t harm the other fish that we couldn’t eat. It made perfect sense to me then. And it still does today.
My summers were spent at my great-grandfather’s lake in Central Florida fishing for bream during the day and setting trotlines and jugs at dusk. My grandfather, my brother and I would fish the shores for bass until the sun set. Every morning we’d set out before the sun to fish again under the trees and along the fallen stumps, and it was always a thrill to see what we might find. Sometimes we’d catch a turtle or a gar on a jug, and my grandfather, true to his word, would let them go, unless we were making turtle stew. We never did eat a gar, although I know plenty of people who have, and they tell me that it tastes a lot like gator.
When I grew older and moved to Florida for good, I fished inshore, offshore, in the surf, anywhere I could, and was fortunate enough to be invited by friends to tournament fish. Big Game Fishing was a whole new world, and one of which I could not get enough. I was always “available” if anyone needed an extra angler…female or not. By that time my grandfather had passed away; and my greatest regret was that I never had the opportunity to take him fishing offshore.
One winter when I traveled to Lake Tahoe with a bunch of ski buddies, I went to fish on the lake. My friends thought I was crazy and couldn’t believe that I would take a day away from skiing to go fishing. “You can fish at home!” they said. “Not on Lake Tahoe” I replied.
My love of fishing naturally spawned a love for the environment. I started with the Clean Water Action Project in the early ‘80s and worked with and supported a number of other coastal conservation organizations. Most recently I chaired a local organization on the island where I now reside, PBA Beachkeepers, whose members continue to work on a number of environmental issues: Wildlife Conservation, Dune Restoration and Preservation, Recycling and Alternative Transportation.
To make money, (since I couldn’t just fish all day) I found my niche in advertising and marketing. I worked in radio for most of my career, and then with travel magazines. My clients ranged from “mom and pops” to large corporations, from small hotels to large chains, CVBs and tourist boards, and I got to travel to see them! I loved helping businesses learn new and better ways to market their products or services and derived so much satisfaction from their success.
One day I was surfing the internet and found the Guy Harvey Magazine website. I knew immediately that’s where I needed to be! Here was a company whose mission was to promote responsible fishing, to combine the beauty of art with the science of angling, and to help businesses in the industry connect with their customers. What could be a more perfect fit?!
So, “the rest is history”, as they say. I “landed” the job and am now on my way to do what I love with passion. I can’t wait to wake up each morning with anticipation and excitement, to set out to make a difference. My grandfather taught me to fish. But he taught me so much more. He taught me to respect the environment, he taught me patience and perseverance, and he taught me that to be truly happy, I’d have to live my passion. And I am.