I once asked Al Ristori, at 83, if he had anything left on his bucket list. “I really don’t,” Ristori replied. “Looking back on it and thinking of all the things I’ve done, there isn’t anything that drives me to any particular goal that I haven’t met.”
There’s nothing worse than ending a year with regret; and isn’t that really what a “bucket list” is, a compilation of personal regrets? On December 29, I got a call from friend Nick Cicero with the regrettably tragic news of the passing of Big Mohawk skipper, Chris Hueth. Capt. Chris was ashore for one day between blackfish trips when he suffered a heart attack. He was just 59.
My first response was shock, then grief, followed by a deep sense of condolence for his wife Kathy, their three children, and Chris’ twin brother Greg. The Hueth brothers were ever active on many fronts, leading the Shark River Surf Anglers Children’s Trout Contest at Spring Lake for over two decades, while helping pioneer the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund. After finally processing the heartbreaking news, I found myself overwhelmed by regret.
Chris and Greg grew up on the Belmar docks, cutting their teeth aboard the Monmouth County charter and head boat fleet. Professionally, Greg would take the Wall Street track, while Chris got his captains license and began co-captaining several local head boats like the Golden Eagle and Capt. Gary Fagan’s Big Mohawk III, the boat Hueth would eventually own. Hueth’s passion led to his becoming one of the very best captains on the entire coast, his Big Mohawk always first to leave the dock, and often the last one back. As his obituary noted, “Chris gained legend status in the fishing industry as one of the hardest working captains on the coast.”
“Chris was an excellent fisherman and party boat captain,” recalled Ray Bogan, a captain in his own rite and a longtime fisheries advocate for the for-hire community. “He could sometimes be brash – an intense bull in life’s china shop. He was also quick to show appreciation, was a great father and brother, and was a dedicated captain who succeeded in providing his customers with unforgettable fishing experiences,” Bogan said.
“His passing leaves a big hole in the industry, he was unquestionably one of the best,” added Bob Matthews from Fisherman’s Den in Belmar, saying “Chris had one of the most dedicated following of any captain I have seen.” There was good reason for this loyal, hardcore following; Capt. Chris was not one to kick back in the wheelhouse watching the clock; he worked hard to find fish, putting in long days at sea for his customers, evidenced by the trophy catches brought aboard the Big Mohawk season after season.
“When it came to fluke he would sometimes drift just 50 to 80 feet before running the boat back up to start again,” Cicero told me, describing how Hueth worked the tiniest of pieces to find doormats, no easy task at the helm of an 80-footer. “Most people never get to live their dream and far fewer still can claim to be the best at what they do,” Cicero said later, describing Hueth as succeeding at both.
For all the times I said, “I have to get out fluking with Hueth,” or “I should jump aboard the Big Mohawk for a tautog trip,” I never did. That’s why Cicero’s phone call before the New Year struck me in a rather profound way. Dealing with the loss of a friend or loved one is always hard; eliminating regret is a bit easier, so long as you don’t procrastinate. Empty those bucket lists, do what you love, and do it to the best of your ability.
That’s what Chris Hueth did; it’s what made him one of the very best there ever was.