Profile in Angling: The Ballad of Dick Murray - The Fisherman

Profile in Angling: The Ballad of Dick Murray

The Ballad Of Dick Murray The Authors Crooked Painting Of Pequest

Richard Murray is a talented canvas artist and well known on Long Beach Island for his elaborate paintings. But additionally, Dick loved stripers, and he fished every second he got. When I first met Ol’ Dick, he was, as older guys sometimes tend to be, a bit standoffish. But growing up working and fishing on Long Beach Island, I knew the game.  To get in his head I’d need to practice some patience and a little persistence. He sat on a park bench in front of the lighthouse and threw bunker heads into the deep waters of the inlet on a regular basis, not 50 feet from the front door of his condo.  Folks called him “The Judge” because he was a retired court judge; oddly enough, when he fished, he “sat on the bench.” He always carried a jar of bunker oil (I sometimes think it was saved from the 1970s.) and he’d dunk the head and send it out, not far, and sit in wait. I used sit with him; he wouldn’t say much at first. Once he dunked the bunker and pulled back to cast, plastering us and our vehicles with residual stink oil.  Nobody had the guts to say anything.  One time we all up and ran before his cast, Dick laughed hysterically; I believe this was the first time he began to cut loose with some chatter.

Dick was a clever guy.  He’d sit up on the walkway at Barnegat Lighthouse on some days where folks had to go by to get past him, there at the bend, tossing bunker heads into the rip. When he hooked up, he’s just sit in that chair and battle the fish; occasionally he’d stand up, walk a few feet, and then back towards his chair. He had no gaff or net, but alas, Dick had friends. There wasn’t a local angler out there who wouldn’t come running up to help retrieve Dick’s catch from down in the slippery abyss.

Once he got the fish up on the concrete, he’d stay, and wait, not tossing his line back. A nice looking young lady would come by or a family of folks, and they’d stop and admire Dick’s fish. They’d chat a bit, and then the next group would come by; he loved to tell his story.  After a half dozen little pow-wows, Dick would head up to his lovely wife Joanne who’d cook up his fish.

The Ballad Of Dick Murray A Dick Murray Original Of Barnegat Light

Once Dick got used to seeing me around, he starting giving me posters of his work, including a Pequest Trout Club framed print from the ‘50s.  When I hung it on my wall, it was crooked; I tried to straighten it several times, but eventually gave up trying.  Having stacks of Dick’s art reproductions, from Pequest to beautiful paintings of Barnegat Lighthouse, I tried to figure out how to infiltrate Dick’s art collection; I was shooting for an original.  I thought if I asked, he might just slather me with one last dose of bunker oil and send me packing, calling me ungrateful.

One day I saw him on the bench.  I sat up by him and finally asked, “So, Dick, what are my chances of getting a real painting off of you one day? Neither one of us are spring chickens you know.” He looked at me and very calmly replied “slim.”

I was fishing at the tip of the South Jetty one warm day, a full mile from the lighthouse, and I saw an old figure come out, stop, come out further and stop.  As the figure approached closer, I could see it was Dick!  “Wow, you came all the way out here,” I asked. “I came to see what it was you’re out here so much for,” he replied.  We ended up catching a few blackfish together, but it was the last time I ever saw him at the tip of the jetty.

Sometime in the late ‘90s I went to the bench to toss a head. We’d been catching nice fish in front of the park, 38 pounds being my biggest there in a spot that would soon be filled with seasonal visitors. I heard the judge yell from his balcony as he started down the stairs towards me. “You aren’t tossing those heads away like you always do, are you,” he said.  “No sir, I’m saving them for you,” I responded back, just as he was reaching into his vest for a small, original painting of the tip of the jetty, the very rock I fished off regularly. “Here’s your original, and don’t throw those heads away.” Except for that one day together, I don’t remember ever seeing Dick out there at the end.  That night I brought my cherished original home and looked at the signature which read “To Bob; Dick Murray.” It’s hung right there next to the forever-crooked trout shack picture, which to this day is still tipped to one side.

This is not a memoriam; Dick Murray is still around.  He still goes up on that walkway and throws those heads; just not nearly as much. And, when he hooks up, someone is usually always there to help land that next striper. No net, no gaff, yet in all my days I’ve never seen him lose a fish.



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