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Fishing Passion

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Q and Q

An interview with
Jim C. Chapralis author of
FISHING PASSION a lifelong love affair with angling

Q: How did you get interested in fishing?

JCC: I read a story while visiting in Greece about two kids who fished every day at a river in Northern Greece. They wanted to catch a legendary trout that lived in these waters. I was six or seven when I read this story, and, somehow, I was hooked on fishing.

When WW II began to escalate, my mother, sister and I returned to America (my father was exiled to a Greek Island for his political editorials). I trolled much of the way across the Atlantic using thread and a crudely fashioned hook from a hairpin and safety pin and using scraps of food for bait. No strikes. Hey, you have to be patient in order to be a fisherman.

I grew up on the north side of Chicago, near Lawrence and Western Avenues. I used to fish Montrose Harbor for perch and herring. We had long one-piece bamboo poles (we couldn't afford the nifty ferruled models), so we held the poles outside, in the back, of the red and yellow streetcars. We'd buy our minnows at Mayer's Bait Shop on Montrose Avenue. Two dozen minnies for a quarter. My friends and I were about ten years old. We'd catch a mess of yellow perch, and bring them back home on the streetcar. Occasionally someone would offer us a couple of dollars for a stringer of perch. Boy, were we happy! That was big dough in the early 1940s.

Then when we were 12, Don Gustafson and I read Jason Lucas' articles on bass fishing. We wanted to fish a lake that was about 45 miles from our homes, but we had no one to take us. What to do? Now, here was this beautiful Pontiac sedan that belonged to the Gustafson family, just sitting there, in the garage while Don's parents were on vacation for a few days. Don learned how to drive by watching his father. What the heck! Zoom! We caught two bass that day on Flatfish lures at Round Lake, but more important, we didn't get caught!

Q: What was your first big catch?

JCC: My aunt and uncle invited me to their cottage in Green Lake, Wisconsin and I caught perch, bluegills and rock bass from a pier using the traditional cane pole. Then I started trolling from a creaky row boat with casting tackle and hooked a huge carp (about 30 pounds) and landed it with some help from the older boys. This was a very significant catch beyond the size of the fish.

Q: Why was that?

JCC: Well, the carp was greatly despised by locals. It's not a pretty fish. I caught it on the 4th of July and the older boys blew its head apart with firecrackers. Bang! Bam! Bang! Then they buried that great fish in the garden. What an ugly death. I felt bad about this. I felt sorry for the carp, for it had given me a valiant fight. The carp couldn't help being a carp, could it? This incident greatly influenced me to develop a very tolerant philosophy not only in fishing but also for all aspects of life.

Q: Where was your first international fishing trip?

JCC: When I was 15, I talked my mother, sister and cousin into going to Northwestern Ontario, Canada. I hired a guide and he and I portaged into Kishkutena Lake for an overnight at an outpost cabin. The guide and I had the whole lake to ourselves. It was the greatest smallmouth fishing one could ever expect. Lots of muskies, too. Marvelous trip.

The next year I "hustled" some members of the Lincoln Park Casting Club (Chicago) to go there with me as their "guide." It was quite an adventurous trip. We portaged in late in the day and I got us lost, because I thought I saw a shortcut on the map. It turned out to be a swamp, so we had to sleep out. No problem, except that our food attracted bears.

Later on the trip, another fellow and I tipped over in a canoe, halfway between the camp and town (we were going to Nestor Falls for more food supplies). We lost rods, reels, expensive camera, and many things. It was a very costly dunking! Toward the end of the week, lightning struck a tree next to our cabin and set our small island on fire. When you're young you take all of this in stride, but one of the older fellows suffered a mild heart attack.

Q: The casting club seemed to be an important part of your young life?

JCC: It certainly was. I was interested in baseball and football as a preteen, but I developed a health problem, which eventually corrected itself. Tournament casting provided the necessary competition at the time and a sport where one could develop some skill on a continuing basis.

After college I was drafted in the Army, and tournament casting got me into Special Services. After winning the international distance fly-casting championship in Paris, it opened many doors for me. Through casting, I met Charles Ritz [owner of the famous Ritz Hotel and the premier European angler] and we became friends through the years and this started my career in fishing.

Q: After the military service you started a rod manufacturing business?

JCC: Yes, I named the company Sportackle International. It was located at 1523 W. Fullerton, in Chicago. I began to import fine split-bamboo rods from France with Charles Ritz's help. But fiberglass rods were becoming popular, and split bamboo rods were losing out and so I concentrated on fiberglass. I hired one of the country's best rod designers and we had two shifts of workers. I also had permission to use Ritz's name on some of the deluxe rod models.

We sold a lot of fishing rods but the business was a disaster. I still have occasional nightmares over Sportackle. At 24 or so, I didn't know anything about business, my funds were limited and some of the jobbers went bankrupt. The talented rod designer went back to drinking, had to be hospitalized and almost died.

A wealthy family friend became interested in Sportackle International and decided to invest lots of money in my company and provide the business expertise we needed. Happy days were ahead. Or, so it seemed. He died the day before I was to receive the big check. It was a nightmarish experience!

Q: What did you do after that?

JCC: Well, I worked for a music trade magazine briefly and then I guided at Camp Manitou, Ontario, Canada for a season. I wanted the guiding experience. I loved this era of Canadian fishing. No telephone service. Mail once a week. We used to get messages from a regular radio station, which broadcast the Message Hour from noon to 1 P.M.

I learned a lot about fishing from guiding others and it gave me a different perspective about angling. But guiding is a tough, demanding job, if you do it right. I realized the importance of guides to a fishing camp. The camp owner/manager spends just a few minutes each day with his customers on a one-to-one basis. The guide? He spends a whole day with the customer and can make or break a camp. A fishing lodge is only as good as its guiding staff.

Q: You were a pioneer of the international fishing travel business?

JCC: Yes. Actually, E. L. "Buck" Rogers was selling some international fishing trips to South America in the 1950s, but, like his name, he was well ahead of the time. Pre-jet age. I got into the fishing travel business at the right time . . . early 1960s. I was the first person to promote international fishing to Central America. We booked trips to South America, Bahamas, Canada, Mexico and just about everywhere. Of course, wealthy sportsmen were fishing in New Zealand, South America, and other destinations, but we showed anglers with average incomes that they, too, could fish these special places.

Q: Do you remember your first customer?

JCC: Do I! He was from New York. I think he was in his 80s. I sent him to Belize (nee British Honduras) on a live-aboard fishing trip that outdoor writer Emmett Gowen was operating from a modest vessel. The customer fell from a small makeshift pier into the water and was stuck head first in the mud. Luckily, Gowen returned from an errand on shore and saw these two feet flopping on the surface. He pulled him out. The customer almost drowned but concluded it was a good trip!

Q: What was your most important destination?

JCC: Costa Rica. Most people had no idea where this country was at the time. I worked very hard to promote it and we were successful by getting the media involved. I think there was a time when, through our efforts, Costa Rican fishing received more publicity than any other foreign country. Today, thousands of anglers fish in Costa Rica each year and enjoy it.

Q: Surely you've encountered some danger on your trips. What was your most dangerous episode?

JCC: We were living on a small boat while exploring some of the waters off Coiba Island, Panama. There was a prison at one end of the island. A Panamanian National Guard boat intercepted us and held us at bay with a machine gun and about ten rifles aimed at us. They thought that we were trying to help some political prisoners escape from the island, you know, like in the old Mission Impossible TV program? One of our guides-a Panamanian who served in the National Guard-said that these guys were "trigger happy" and would shoot us if we made any unusual moves. We didn't. After hours in the hot sun, one of the National Guard was able to contact General Omar Torrijos, who had verbally given us permission to fish these waters. He said we could fish anywhere. They released us.

Q: What's your favorite fishing place?

JCC: I ask many people that same question, but it's hard for me to answer. Probably my first trips to Argentina for trout and dorado-before the crowds discovered it-would rank right on up there. Surprisingly, although I've fished in about 40 countries, one of my favorite places today is in Wisconsin for stream trout. These waters are heavily fished, the trout are very wary, the results are usually poor, but I love the challenge. A true fisherman is attracted by the challenge regardless of where he/she fishes or for what species. Fishing is really a series of problem-solving exercises.

Q: Your book, FISHING PASSION, tries to link romantic love and fishing. What's that about?

JCC: Well, there is a parallel. The love for fishing can be almost as strong as romantic love. To experience good fishing, the addicted anglers will travel long distances, put up with the elements and mosquitoes, place their lives in danger at times, sleep in a tent, bathe in an ice-cold river-whatever.

Look, my partner and mentor, Don Dobbins had to decide whether to go on a salmon fishing trip in Alaska and probably die (because of a heart ailment), or give up serious fishing and perhaps live for another ten years. Don chose to go on the fishing trip and died before he returned home. That's passion. That's FISHING PASSION.

The book is divided into six sections to loosely correspond with the stages in romantic love. The Innocent Years, Early Flirtations, Flings and Infatuations, etc. As the book progresses, so does the subject matter of the chapters and hopefully the writing style.

Q: What do you think you've learned from a lifetime of fishing around the globe?

JCC: Fishing is certainly very cathartic. We need to break away from the pressure of today's demanding lifestyle. When I'm fishing, I don't think about any extraneous problems, certainly not business, and I find this very soothing. Some people go to shrinks, others practice yoga; I go fishing to clear my head. The Dow-Jones, Nasdaq, bills, payments, problems? Who cares! They all disappear when I'm fishing.

I also learned that in this country, no matter what you want to do-within reason-you could do it, if you're willing to invest the effort and work hard. I came from a low to modest-income family but was able to fish just about anywhere I wanted to. But I paid my dues.

I've also learned to accept aging. You can fish at almost any age. Bus Duhamel, one of our trout club members, is 91 years old and last year he won our Angler-of-the-Year award. He wades the rivers and often fishes at night. Yeah, he falls in, but gets out of the stream, "dusts" himself off, changes clothes and goes back to fishing.

Q: What do you think about the future of fishing?

JCC: It's bleak, but it's not hopeless. Year by year, we're losing oceans to commercial fishing, and lakes and streams to pollution, especially acid rain. If the world is not good enough for the fish, it won't be good enough for people.

I think we, as fishermen, can do something about it. There are approximately 50 million people who fish in the United States alone. There are millions and millions of fishermen around the world. We need to form a federation of anglers, first in the U.S., and then worldwide, using the internet as a vital communication tool. Politicians will only listen to giant blocks of voters.

In FISHING PASSION, I provide a loose blueprint of how this federation can be formed worldwide and put into play.

I know this sounds far fetched, but I think the anglers of the world can do something about the degeneration of our oceans, lakes and rivers, and in fact, save the very species we seek.

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