Some people I respect have counseled me not to write this post. Their advice is sound, so I’ve kept my mouth shut as long as possible. I’ve edited myself despite my on-going frustration. Of course I know they’re right, it’s never worth it to burn bridges. But last night it occurred to me, there actually has to be a bridge there in order to burn it. Now if you’re just here to read about push poling, scroll waaay down and I hope you enjoy! Otherwise, here we go.
Over the past five years I have sunk untold hours trying to get a story in a magazine. Not one magazine in particular, I’ve tried many different mags, many different flavors. I’ve even had one publication decline my story and then publish an eerily similar piece. But more typically the process goes something like this… I like the story but it needs to be longer. What? Hmm, I’ve never seen this story before, we’re only accepting short pieces right now. This is great, we need some new voices. Sorry we’ve already got an article from a woman. We need saltwater stories. Sorry, there are just already too many bonefishing stories out there. This is great piece, you’re saving me, we’ve been looking for something just like this! I’ve got two hours until deadline can you get me a bio and no less than a dozen high-res pictures to go with this? Payment? Do we pay per word or per story? I’m sorry, you’re breaking up on me. [Call dropped.] Can you make the bio shorter? Longer? Can you make it funny? Actually we need a more traditional headshot. Do you have any action shots, this picture is too staid and we have made a strategic decision to be more organic and counterculture moving forward. Can you give me links to at least twenty other sites where I can get some more background on this topic? What do you mean FTP isn’t working? I can’t don’t open zip files. You don’t use Dropbox? WTF? Just download Dropbox on your computer and send everything to me that way. Scratch that, actually we need your article written in fresh bison blood on Egyptian papyrus and flown to us via carrier pigeon, that is simply the only way we accept stories. We have strict new policies at our edgy, organic magazine. And I need it in the next hour. But this is really great writing, this is going to be great, just great. We simply don’t run the typical stuff like everyone else, we are totally different than other magazines, we’re edgier, and this is just what we are looking for. It’s great, really fresh stuff, just great. Oh, sorry, bad news. We had to cut your piece at press time.
And another one bites the dust. This cycle of rejection, at various points in the process, spans different industries and multiple demographics. National magazines, fly fishing magazines, small town startup fashion magazines, big southern lifestyle magazines, regional travel magazines, menopausal women’s magazines, even flyshop newsletters. You name it. The only publication that has actually run an original story of mine is the alumni newsletter for the summer camp I attended, and believe me I am very grateful for it! Although frankly I don’t know how they could have passed on that one, it was a riveting piece about the summer I was a senior counselor and placed in charge of making sure all the girls camp bathrooms stayed clean.
The image of shoveling manure seems an appropriate segue as I have just received yet another Dear John/Christine Email letting me know I was cut at press time – for an article that I wrote because they approached me and asked me to pitch/contribute. To be transparent and totally fair, the editor offered to provide feedback on my piece in the hopes it might run in a future issue. I just wish we’d done that three months ago when I submitted the draft (ahead of their deadline) and asked for feedback and what his editing process would be.
I no longer have hard feelings about my magazine hex. (At least not many.) I have no inflated illusions that my writing is somehow on par with the talent they already have on board, I just don’t have the time or energy to keep jumping through hoops, responding to fire drills, and redefining myself to fit their agendas, only to once again not make the grade, not fit the mold, and have to see one issue after the next hit the stands with the same old clique of contributors. Now within the fly fishing world, many of those contributors are friends of mine and very talented writers, so I get it why they made the traveling team. I just don’t understand why the magazines pretend to want to play in the sandbox with me when we all know at this point it’s nothing more than an exercise in mental square dancing and simply not going anywhere.
When Willie Nelson fled Nashville establishment and landed in Austin, not only did he find more creative freedom, he cut out the middle man that was blocking his path. He took his music straight to audiences in the live music venues that Austin had to offer but Nashville didn’t. Of course I am not comparing my meager efforts with the talent and career of my hero Willie, but it does occur to me I need to count my blessings. First of all, I’m already in Austin and feeding wildly off the vibrant people and creative energy here. And secondly, I already have a venue that cuts out the middle man and gets my writing to an audience that wants to read it: this blog.
I appreciate you all so much. If I don’t say it enough, I am sorry. I am very grateful that yall stick with me through my bizarre experimental topics like the time I wrote about recovering some living room chairs. Yall cheer for me when I catch a fish, and cheer for me when I miss them. Yall have helped me get podcast interviews, radio interviews and countless speaking engagements. You have championed my first book and encouraged me to proceed with the next one. You come out to bookstores to say hello. You have become friends and followers and shared your own work with me. This is clearly where I am most at home…my own little outlaw writing scene, unedited typos, run-on sentences, dangling participles and all.
So I politely declined the editor’s offer to provide feedback on my piece for the unlikely shot at ever seeing it on the glossy pages of a magazine. Not because I don’t think the piece needs work, no doubt it does. I simply have too much on my plate with Book #2, new speaking gigs, upcoming podcasts, parenting, wifing, and a slew of unanswered emails and phone messages that desperately need attention. Plus the pay is 10x better here at FLY FISH CHICK than it is with the magazines. So in the spirit of getting cut, I am cutting out the middle man and handing the push pole story over to yall just as it is. Why should I make you wait another three months, at best, just to have you pay for a story yall deserve to read now for free. Hell, you deserved in it September when I wrote it. Mea culpa for getting caught up in the machine. Below you will find the original draft as I submitted it — uncut, untouched, and unedited.
And in the meantime, like Willie, I’m just going to keep on smiling and doing my own thing.
ROMANCING THE PUSH POLE
by Christine Warren
Have you ever seen the Chris Rock standup comedy bit about becoming a father to a girl? He groans about what a drag it is to date women with “daddy issues” and then has an epiphany that as The Man in his baby daughter’s life, he has all the influence as to how she’ll turn out down the line. In this crystallizing parenting moment Rock proclaims, “I realize my only job in life is to keep her off the pole! Keep my baby off the pole!”
So we’re supposed to stay off the pole? Whoops.
I don’t know what it says about me that the two most important men in my life, my husband and my father, are all about keeping me on the pole — a push pole that is. I think they’ve seen how advantageous it is for them out in Montana that I can row a driftboat and put them on fish, so now they’re keen for me to be able to push pole a skiff. And I am up for the challenge, anything to spend more time on the water and earn my keep in the boat. Besides, as a 42-year old suburban PTA mom, I seriously doubt anyone is confusing me with a stripper anytime soon.
But it seems that poling around looking for redfish and writing about poling around looking for redfish are two wildly different things. When I told my husband, Tom, that I had the opportunity to write a magazine article about learning how to push pole, he responded adamantly, “Keep it clean. You are a wife and a mother. Nothing inappropriate this time.”
What? Huh? Who, me? Of course I would never shamelessly leverage any glaringly obvious phallic pole imagery in order to hook the reader in, ever-striving to entertain first and foremost. That’s so below my pay grade. Right?
When I told my father that I had the opportunity to write a magazine article about learning how to push pole, he merely replied, “Just get the money upfront.”
Stay off the pole, get on the pole, don’t talk about the pole, the pole is money. What’s a girl to do with all of these mixed messages? What would a psychologist, say…Freud for example, think about all of this? Well of course Freud would claim my desire to learn to push pole is an ambitious display of power driven by a frustrated phallus envy that can be traced all the way back to some psychosexual developmental stage of early life. But let’s be honest, Freud thinks that phallus imagery is everywhere, are we really going to trust that perv? No, we are not. In fact, just the opposite, I am going to prove him wrong. I am going to keep this piece delightfully clean and appropriate. I am going to explore the art of the push pole with ladylike grace and a poetic eye. Screw Freud. (Okay, so the ladylike grace starts… now.) I am going to uncover the romance of the push pole. Consider this an old-fashioned quest to learn how to travel watery trails and stalk the sometimes stupidly cooperative but at other times elusive redfish.
My relationship with the push pole is in a nascent stage to say the least. To this point we’ve just been flirting with the idea of getting to know each other. A few years ago when my now-husband was my then-suitor, our courtship included taking his v-john skiff from his home in Mobile AL just down I-10 into Mississippi to look for reds. On a whim one day he bought a refurbished Stiffy push pole. (Hey, I didn’t name the brand of pole, don’t pin that on me.) The first time I tried my hand at poling was nothing short of hilarious. The pole stayed firmly planted in one place while the boat traveled around it in dizzying circles, round and round, doing 360’s with me squealing for help and Tom holding his rod dutifully as if there might still be a glimmer of hope that this might turn into a fishable moment. Instead you would have thought it was May Day and I was wrapping the push pole with ribbons, readying the monument for the arrival of dancing villagers.
But at some point things clicked and I started moving the boat in the general direction we wanted to go. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I couldn’t analyze or articulate what started to work, but I could feel the boat respond as I guided us more effectively. My next challenge was to avoid decapitating Tom when I switched the pole from one side of the boat to the other. Or to lower the pole and duck quickly without falling off the platform as he backcast toward the pole and me.
And that’s pretty much how things went for the next few years. Life gets busy traveling back and forth between Texas and Alabama, and we’re always trying to spend as many days as possible trout fishing in Montana. So we don’t have as much time to redfish over in the Pascagoula Marsh as we’d like. Each fall I would return to the push pole a beginner, never really advancing to the next level. And each fall I would have a moment where things started to work, just in time for winter to shut down our little DIY redfishing program for another year.
Some relationships putter along this way for an eternity but this past May my push-pull romance with the push pole took a dramatic turn. We were in Port O’Connor Texas for Memorial Day weekend on a rented bay boat when we found a push pole floating in the water. It was another Stiffy, but a longer, heavier version than the one we own. Our goal was to return it to the marina and its rightful owner, but we didn’t have a method to tie it down on the rented boat. So while we were running from spot to spot, I put my leg over the push pole in order to keep it from bouncing all over the place. If I have learned anything useful about push poles, it is that you should use an inanimate object to secure it on the boat, not a body part. Because as we hit some waves and the wind scooped under the front of the pole, it snapped around my ankle in the blink of an eye.
That’s right, a push pole folded around my ankle and cracked in half so fast and so forcefully that it broke into two separate pieces. Oh, and it also broke my ankle.
So after many weeks in a boot cast during prime Montana trout fishing season, followed by several weeks of physical therapy, the summer was pretty much over and I was staring the Gulf Coast redfishing season right in the eye. Fall…time to get back on the poling platform. I was a little shaky wondering if my ankle was strong enough to flex and push and bear the subtle weight shifts that come along with poling. I was nervous about my balance, which was still questionable post ankle break. Most of all, I had the negative push pole mojo swirling inside my head. Did I still have the magic touch or since the ankle incident was I on the outs with the push pole gods?
I decided for the first time I would actually do some research and learn more about poling instead of just shooting from the hip without instruction. But it’s not as easy as you’d think to find information about how to push pole. I started asking people who do it on a regular basis. The common refrain was, “It’s just a feel thing.” Hey, thanks for nothing, Mr. Miyagi. I think I’ll pass on the blindfolded push pole lesson.
While no one could really tell me how to push pole, I heard a great deal about the variety of materials used to make push poles: aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, composite. I heard about using a longer push pole in deeper tarpon water, shorter poles in shallow water fishing…how it’s all about leverage. Some prefer stiffer poles, some more flexibility. And the perfect poling platform? Also personal preference. Some people like a railing system to keep them from falling off the platform, while some people call this a “Sissy Cage”. There was much discussion on when to use the Y end of the pole and when to use the point. Most concur the Y end is for soft muddy bottoms, while the point is for harder rocky bottoms. The Y gets stuck in the mud easily and requires a big pull to get it out, and either end can scrape over oyster beds making noise and spooking fish.
All useful data points, but still, no one really taught me how to steer.
I turned to youTube and queried “how to push pole”. I found a video with a cabling expert who used a push pole device to drag cable across a ceiling. I found a few videos showing how to anchor a boat with a push pole. And plenty of videos on how to perfect dance moves on a pole. Keep my baby off the pole. None of these were helpful.
Articles online were abundant but incredibly confusing. Most included some hyper complex diagram with the boat and currents and wind and so many arrows pointing in so many directions I thought I was going to short circuit. I actually kinda sorta knew how to do this but literally couldn’t understand one single diagram. The only thing I found online that made any sense was a forum post on Fisheyesoup.com by a Captain Tony Petrella who offered these and other valuable tips:
1. “If you want to turn left, you stab the pole into the sand, mud or oysters on the left side of the boat. To turn right, you stick the pole on the right side. To go straight ahead, you position the pole directly behind the motor.” He’s right about this, and it’s clearly the foundation for steering. But I have also found you can subtly override this program by pushing gently with one foot or leaning into or away from the pole with your hips and that can sometimes steer the boat without having to reposition the pole. This is useful if you are trying to be stealthy in fishy territory and only need to make a slight course correction.
2. “Keep the sun behind you whenever possible, and try to avoid poling directly toward a puffy white cloud.” Maybe this will help you but it’s too advanced for me right now. I am just trying to get wherever the fish are.
3. “Wind direction determines whether or not you’ll be able to pole along a shoreline or oyster bar without getting beached. Don’t let stubbornness overwhelm common sense. Remember: the wind always wins.” Truer words, Tony, truer words…
Armed with new advice and tangible tips I was ready to make my comeback with the push pole. One year and one broken ankle later, I was eager to pole the creeks in the marsh and set Tom up on his first redfish of the season.
Unfortunately, my grandiose plan was more of an epic fail. I was a disaster on the pole, perhaps worse than the very first time I did it. I couldn’t get in the swing, and the wind was toying with me like a cat batting around a little yarn toy. Tom offered advice, I snapped, “I got it!” The confusing diagrams I’d seen online were flashing in my mind like images from a horror movie. Stubbornly I tried the pole on this side, then the other, then behind, then on the left, then again on the right as we drifted further and further away from the grassy bank we were trying to fish. Finally Tom commandeered the pole and got us back on the bank, setting things up for me to give it another shot.
“Speed,” I spat out like a coma patient starting to wake back up. “I forgot, I need more speed. The only way to survive the wind is if the boat is moving fast enough. Otherwise I’m a sitting duck.”
I scrambled back onto our poling platform which is a 65-quart Yeti cooler, strapped down. I always redfish barefoot so I can feel the line if it gets under my foot, and similarly I like to pole barefoot so I can feel the adjustments of the boat. Suddenly, just as it had happened in the past, things started to click. I had enough speed, I was holding the bank. It was all coming back to me…there is no such thing as a straight line, you have to keep making subtle corrections. But don’t overcorrect or you will serpentine. Get your whole body into it, it’s less about the arms and shoulders and more about the flex in your hips and legs. Push down on this foot and glide the boat slightly this direction. Bend this knee, stick out that hip and lean into it…the boat glides over that way a bit. Kind of like water skiing. Move the pole over to the opposite side with a graceful little move…I didn’t bang the side of the boat or make a even peep of a noise. It was fluid, I was in a groove. The push pole and I were back in love again! I started singing in my head to the rhythm of the poling. I rocked a little Al Green ‘Let’s Get it On’, then some ‘Funkytown’ lyrics, and a little bit of Michael Jackson’s ‘Ease On Down The Road’. That’s right, I put the soul in push polin’.
Tom spotted redfish feeding on a bank across a small inlet, so it was time to move the boat with a sense of urgency. I dug the Y end of the push pole into the soft mud directly behind the motor in order to maintain a straight course. I tweaked the angle of the boat ever-so-slightly based on the direction the fish were moving. I was setting Tom up perfectly, he would have a great shot. But I sensed I needed to pick up the pace so I pushed off with a little extra muscle. The pole resisted when I pulled it back out but I was unstoppable. We were a team, the pole and I, grooving together in perfect sync. A few more strong pushes and the boat accelerated. I pushed down into the mud even harder trying to step on it, but this time the Y end of the pole was really stuck the mud. So I yanked with all my might to dislodge it. Unfortunately the pole and I weren’t in quite as much love as I thought we were, nor in sync. The pole stayed wedged right where it was while I managed to forcefully catapult myself forward off the cooler and straight into the air.
I think I actually hung there for a bit, frozen in time over the boat. I am pretty sure I was in some awkward, frog-like crouched position when I realized in horror that I wasn’t going to fall into the cushy water, but the hard center of the boat. All I could think about was protecting my recently healed right ankle. So I stuck out my left foot and came crashing down into the bottom of the boat with the most inelegant landing and a violent scream to match. I landed full force onto the heel of my left foot, which instantly burned in pain.
“Oh baby!” Tom yelled as he abandoned the casting platform (which is a 35-quart Yeti cooler, strapped down) and came to check on me. Once I assured him nothing was broken this time, he rescued the push pole that, untethered, was now floating out to sea.
Tom looked wistfully at me, “Have you had enough?”
Crumpled in a pile in the bottom of the boat and feeling thoroughly dejected, I answered honestly, “Definitely.” Keep this baby off the pole.
I suppose some romances don’t follow a fairytale outline, some things just aren’t written in the stars. But even with the sting of this bittersweet rocky relationship, my push poling career is not over, not by any means. I simply have a lot more to learn. What can I say? I’m just a trout girl trying to make it in a saltwater world.
After my less-than-subtle fall from grace, we figured we’d spooked every redfish in the Gulf Coast and so we retreated to land. There I was limping away from yet another push pole and nursing a deep heel bruise that according to the Internet would weeks later become full blown plantar fasciitis. We sought consolation in the form of comfort food at a nearby gas station which has become our post-fishing routine. It’s a local hotspot called PAPA ROCKS that has a sign out front that boasts “World Famous Hot Dogs.” Now as much as I typically relish this tradition I found it somewhat hard to believe that a hot dog was the panacea for my bruised heel and ego. I mean really…a hot dog is going to make me feel better? A hot dog is going to lift my spirits? A hot dog is going to improve my self esteem?
That’s right, a hot dog. I suppose Freud was right all along.
(Copyright 2012 by Christine Warren)