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Resilience will save some fishermen just as the Fish Whisperer passes

This week we see the power of resilience as local commercial fishermen draw on their strengths to prepare for a solid future, then say goodbye to the Fish Whisperer whose passing came far too soon.

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Jody King with the tool of his trade

Rodman Sykes stirred his giant pot of clam chowder as local fishermen mingled with industry partners and state regulators inside the Elks Hall in Wakefield. Sarah Schumann, coordinator of the Resilient Fisheries of Rhode Island project, filled the room to discuss the completed RI Commercial Fisheries Blueprint for Resilience, a plan built to address a changing industry and lay the groundwork for the fleet’s adaptability and prosperity.

Over two years, Sarah interviewed 48 commercial fishermen to better understand what changes they saw and how they were or were not adapting, creating a network of 125 industry members who had insight, perspective, suggestions and natural observations.

 

Several fishermen spoke to their natural passions, concerns and observations for a collective future. Jody King’s big voice brought everyone out on the Bay to bull rake quahogs, something he and many others have done since childhood. Tom Hoxie shared his years hauling fish traps and selling live fish. Westerly fisherman Ron Kenyon detailed his work to bring a working waterfront town dock to a harbor dominated by summer homes and gentrification. Then net builder Mary O’Rourke silenced the room with her calm pace, reminding everyone that fishermen work hard but often that’s just not enough.

She said they need to stay engaged because, invoking cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, a “Small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead, photo from Cornell Capa/Magnum

The gathering highlighted a successful study of the very fabric of a coastal state and how Sarah has done a yeoman’s job identifying seven industry strategies and goals.  The Blueprint only the beginning of the process to ensure local seafood remains just that and local fishermen can continue to prosper and adapt. You can learn more at http://www.ResilientFisheriesRI.org.

“You must chop down the mightiest tree in the forest,” said the tallest of the Knights Who Say Nee, “with a herring!”

Everything about that dry British demand, its considerations and obvious logistical trickery is funny.

South County fisherman and friend Tim Benoit repeated that demanding conundrum to me countless times and no one did a better Monty Python imitation. His accent was always spot on, he knew every line, he made me laugh.

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Tim also always made me think because he was just so damned smart and just now, he’s passed away.

He was a husband, father of two, carpenter and fisherman. He was a big guy overflowing with character. He was young by the standards of us aging fishermen.

He was was a surreal fishermen who took to the water for fun and income, through windy days and long nights.

“He was” is the saddest way for me to speak of him.

Tim understood currents, patterns, numbers, fish, he understood nature and oceans on a mathematical level. Elbow to elbow on a jetty or aft deck, he’d out-catch you five to one but rather than protect his secrets, he shared them. That’s just what made sense to him.

I don’t recall many Tim Benoit stories where he got blanked.

A few of us knew Tim as the Fish Whisperer because it was the perfect description of someone with such a natural, common sense understanding of how to find, catch and likely even think like a fish.

As we learn to accept an age where so many peers have “passed”, Tim’s is especially hard to understand. Life continues to take from us, more so as we age, build perspective and get closer to sitting on a perch with a long view of a well lived life, or so we hope. It’s especially hard that life takes people from us before we have time to fully understand their significance, potential or brilliance.

Image result for keep out signYears back, Tim and I fished the Galilee cut. Ignoring some pesky Keep Out signs, we walked in darkness and silence, under an unsuspecting seasonal homeowners cottage on stilts. It was a path he made and showed me because not even a house could keep him from the fish. We cast from that chunky rock wall with a pushy sea fighting a defiant tide racing south at five knots. It’s tricky bottom there and no place to lollygag. After a few dozen casts it was clear there were no fish around.

Like a shadow, Tim deftly walked over a few boulders to lay down a solid twenty-five pound bass and to calmly offer, “They’re three feet off the bottom.”

Can you imagine?

“How the hell do know that?” I sputtered, too quickly, knowing he was right.

Tim knew.

He just knew.

Tim turned me on to a pond right in the middle of our busy town which for years I saw but never noticed. That was Tim in a nutshell, really: he saw what many didn’t then shared the intel. We fished it summer and winter and over the years, my son and I caught and released more bass and pickerel than you might ever imagine on a town pond, all because of Tim.

“I’ve finished life’s chores assigned to me, so put me on a boat headed out to sea,” wrote Delmar Pepper.

For the last year or so we texted or talked occasionally, sharing fishing updates of what we had seen, caught or cursed.

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“Ah yes, Mr. Corayer,” would be his big voice on my phone, “Good kind sir, scribe of the tallest fishermen’s tales, pursuer and catcher of saxatilis…” then a quick and perfect British accented Holy Grail recitation about a herring or a flesh wound.

I’ll miss his frequent, generous donations of fish and advice often when I very much needed both.

Tim Benoit was the fish whisperer indeed and wherever “away” is, I hope he’s perched on a rock wall, in a wind, laying down a giant striper, passing on a little advice to the ultimate fisherman.

So long Tim.

 

Todd Corayer is a lifelong fisherman who lives not far from Rhode Island’s Saugatucket River with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who probably could chop down a tree with a herring.

1 reply »

  1. Thank you for the beautiful words about Tim. He was an amazing carpenter, fisherman and friend with a wonderful sense of humor. He is missed.

    Like

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