After a pretty long hiatus, I’ve stepped back ‘onstage’ twice over the last month to give seminars on surfcasting. I think my last seminar might have been pre-COVID, which is pretty crazy to think about and also really illustrates how quickly time has passed since those strange days of the pandemic.
Public speaking used to really freak me out. I remember when I did my first one, I felt like a deer in the headlights. It was at a Massachusetts Striped Bass Association meeting and I was probably 26 years old. When I walked into that room and saw how many of the members were a lot older than I was, all I could see were years of experience that far surpassed mine and I was intimidated. That feeling of being ‘less than’ crept in throughout the entire 75 minutes and I found myself saying over and over again, “You guys may already know this” before making a point. It was my girlfriend (now wife) that rescued me from making that mistake again she basically told me “you’re supposed to be the expert.”
A few years later I stood onstage at the Plum Island Surfcasters Show; it was as close as I’ve come to a complete crash and burn. I put so much time into that Powerpoint and had so many points I wanted to make that instead of a couple notecards, I had a clipboard with pages of copious notes. As I struggled follow my notes I was stuttering so badly, I heard a few people in the audience sigh sympathetically, as if to say “oh, this poor guy!” Finally I just threw the notes on the ground and went off the cuff…that experience taught me to trust in my passion for the sport.
Fast-forward a few more years and I was down in Lincroft, NJ for JSS Surfday. I had spent the last week running myself into the ground trying to finish a huge batch of plugs for the show. This culminated in me bagging the last plug right as the clock struck midnight and with a 5-hour drive ahead of me, I slept ONE HOUR before packing my Honda CR-V with all my stuff and driving to New Jersey.
Of course, my seminar was the last one of the day, so I had lots of time for exhaustion to reach a level seldom seen in a human being who’s still standing upright on two feet. I set up my laptop and the A/V guy wired me with a mic, the next thing I knew, there were more than 200 people in the room. I was flattered, but I was also completely cooked, thanks to the lack of sleep. Once again I started the presentation with nine examples of how someone can ride the razor’s edge of crashing and burning. But then I think my brain took pity on me and sent a reserve course of adrenalin through my body, I dug deep and, by the end, I think I delivered a solid presentation.
More than a decade has passed since the New Jersey Exhaustion Debacle of 2012, but I have since analyzed all these hard-won lessons and public speaking has become something that I really love to do. My favorite thing that comes out of these presentations are the organic discussions that evolve out of what I’m talking about.
The other night I was at a Connecticut Surfcasters meeting talking about the importance of subtle presentation, how to do it and when to use it. I was going into great detail about this 10-second video clip of a juvenile blackfish swimming around a rock and why it was significant in illustrating the fact that a subtle presentation is far more natural than just cranking your plug through good looking water. When a guy I’ve known for a long time and someone I really respect as an angler and plug builder chimed in about needlefish and other ‘seemingly dead’ plugs that catch big fish. Before I knew it, we launched into a conversation that lasted several minutes about how the water effects these plugs and makes them look alive, despite what they look like when you pull them through the water on a 5-foot leash of line.
It’s moments like these that make all the false starts, stutters and near disasters worth it. At the end of the day, we’re just a room full of guys that love fishing too much. But when a deep discussion blossoms out of the ether, every single person in the room – including the supposed expert – walks away a better fisherman.
What more could I hope for?