Stories From Afield • Updated Sun, Jul 30, 2023
People tend to make a lot of generalizations about anglers, but one of the most widely-held and glaringly-reductive beliefs has to do with their stories. Continuously and without fail, the proverbial “fisherman’s tale” has been codified into pop culture and modern lingo as an exaggerated, farce-ridden narrative — deceptive by design and meant to be received with default skepticism.
c/o Mill House Podcast
While these portrayals are often somewhat comedic and mostly harmless, they certainly haven’t done any favors to the credibility and value of stories from the water. Over the years, certain folks have championed the fight against the societal depreciation of angler wisdom, and for good reason. Notably, Ted Ames — a commercial fisherman from coastal Maine — knew his fleet had invaluable information to improve local fisheries management. However, he was consistently criticized for not being a “scientists.” Motivated by declining fish stocks, Ted started interviewing his fellow fishermen. He used these insights to pioneer a nuanced understanding of fish populations that is crucial to modern fisheries science — an undertaking that even earned him a coveted MacArthur Genius Grant to continue his research.
In recreational fishing, some folks have similarly worked hard to rekindle an appreciation of angler insights. One such person who has been crucial in rewriting the narrative on angling and storytelling is Olympic-ski-racer turned tarpon-whisperer Andy Mill. With a lifetime of impressive angling accolades under his belt, Andy now spends much of his time at his house in South Florida where he has easy access to some of the best flats fishing in the U.S. With the help of his son, Nicky, Andy launched the Mill House Podcast in February of 2020 to showcase stories from the angling community — and is helping set the record straight on the value of fishermen and their “tall tales.”
Andy credits Nicky with the conception of Mill House. “Nicky may disagree with this, but I remember very clearly when he was trying to sell it to me,” Andy recounts:
"He said, ‘it’s easy, we’ll sit around and talk fishing.’ The convincing took over a year, maybe longer, but when I finally agreed, I told him we’re going to conduct these interviews differently from how he initially presented it to me. I told him we’re going to identify our guest by digging deeply into who they are as a person and as a fisherman."
From the very beginning, the Mills’ steadfast commitment to deep discussion of personal ideologies and unique fishing experiences has been central to the success of the podcast. “That’s the only way people will care about our guest,” Andy explains. “And in doing that, their influence on our sport will be recognized and history will be preserved.” Historical preservation of angling stories holds numerous upsides. Mill House guests have included the likes of Steve Huff, Flip Pallot, Stu Apte, and Chico Fernandez — all pioneers of saltwater fishing in their own right. Through this shared history, listeners learn about the evolution of practices, changes in resources, and lenses for coping with the decisions of yesterday. Andy believes that fishing naturally breeds great storytellers — perhaps even some of the best — as it is ingrained into the fabric of the sport.
"The culture is about the journeys taken to catch a fish. It's about relaying the details to fellow friends about the one that got away, or a captured trophy expressed with open arms and bulging eyes."
Andy's characterization acknowledges that, yes, hyperbole may sneak into a narrative here or there. However, the embellishment is not meant to deceive, but rather to get at the truth that certain moments on the water are simply ineffable. Andy believes that “storytelling is everything in fishing, as it is in life. Stories are about the moments that made our hearts race.”
A large part of Andy’s own interest in fishing stems from a love for crafting and interpreting narratives. In fact, he feels that reframing the angling process from the fish’s perspective is for him the most consuming part of the sport.
"Fishing takes me out of my head and into the fish’s — into the elements where they live. Fish are so vastly different and live in every body of water imaginable. They can be monster tarpon from the deep or beautiful, finger-length brook trout from a tiny creek. They’re all compelling to chase and catch in their own unique way."
Indeed, every fish has a story, and internalizing what motivates their behavior is perhaps the surest way to catch more fish. Andy remembers realizing the value of this cerebral exercise at a young age. “When I was 9 years old, I caught a fish on a fly I had just learned to tie,” he recounts. “That was a lightning bolt for me because it confirmed a narrative I had in my head on what the fish wanted to eat.” Understanding the fish is certainly a good foundation for any angling story, but years on the water showed Andy that there is so much more to great stories than just the fishing. “Hunting down the biggest fish and bringing it boat-side used to be everything for me,” he admits. “Nothing else mattered, and I missed out on everything great in between. The sunrises, the rainbows — I was blinded by my target, but that was a very important stage in my fishing life. Now, as a seventy-year-old man reflecting over my many decades on the water, I feel differently about my time fishing. Every time I go out now, it’s all about having a sense of freedom and being aware of everything that comes at me — whatever it is. I’m now whole.”
Time on the water certainly helps reframe our time on land, and Andy acknowledges fishing’s monumental influence on understanding himself more fully off the water. “It always led me to silence,” he explains:
"I find silence on the water, even though the music of nature is so vibrant. When I’m home, I value silence so much more. Silence alone without any sound is so beautiful. It can be loud or soft. It gives my mind clarity when I’m alone and still. My mind can move about much more easily in the company of silence."
Admittedly, Andy has spent hours listening to the sounds of words as they're spun into tales from the water, so his realization may seem somewhat paradoxical. But perhaps Andy just understands better than most that complete presence and immersion in our angling adventures is the dirty little secret to the very best fishing stories.
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