Tuesday, March 15, 2016

'Yo, Paulie

Instead of going apple picking one fall weekend in 2013, The Beast and I went albie fishing off Montauk with Bryan Goulart of Point to Point Charters. Bryan had told us that the albies had not shown up yet in typical Montauk fashion but that if there were any around, we would find some. I’m confident that Bryan put us on the ones that were there.  The Beast and I each caught a few and the day was, for lack of a better word, perfect. Bryan was up for staying out longer but we had a boat to catch so we headed back in to Star Island. Once we got back to the marina it was a mad rush to hose off the gear, break it down and load up to get on the road to make the ferry.

Looking up from the pile of gear at my feet I saw Bryan talking to someone as he washed his boat down. If a fifty year old man can still have idols or heroes, Capt. Paul Dixon is on my short list. There was no way I was leaving Montauk without meeting him. I grabbed Beast’s arm and said, “That’s Paul Dixon, I gotta’ go talk to him.”

I walked over and as I got close, extended my hand to shake Paul’s and began to introduce myself.

“Paul, I’m…”

“You’re Mud Dog,” he said as he reached out to shake my hand, “Steve Bechard gave me some of your flies and they’ve been fishing well, you got some more with you?”

For the next few minutes we went through my personal fly boxes talking about profiles and colors and what the albies had taken earlier in the day. For those who don’t understand what this meant to me, it would be like if you made baseball bats and Ted Williams asked if you had a few lying around that he could hit with. What I thought had been a perfect day turned into one I will never forget.

Capt. Paul Dixon grew up surfing and fishing in southern California and started his fly fishing career while working a summer high school job in Idaho. Paul came east to Long Island in the 80’s with throwing flies at striped bass on his mind.  The problem was there were none, or very few, to be had. Eventually the striper population rebounded and the moratorium on fishing for them was lifted. In the years since, while working for Orvis New York and later running Dixon’s Sporting Life in East Hampton and To The Point Charters, Paul has been instrumental in developing fly fishing for striped bass and false albacore and making the sport what it is today. He may not have been the first to target stripers in skinny water but he is the one who spent the time studying their behavior and movements and pioneered sight fishing for stripers on northeast flats. Along the way, through his efforts promoting the fishery and training and mentoring many local guides, Paul has helped make Montauk and the water around it a world-class destination fishery.
Photo courtesy of Rise Fishing Co.
Paul now splits his time between Long Island guiding clients for stripers, albies and bluefish during the northeast season and the winters in Key Largo chasing tarpon, permit and bonefish. In the midst of all that he guides and fishes in the Redbone Tournaments, works with Rise Fishing Company to develop high performance fly rods and is very involved in fisheries conservation with The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the plight of the striped bass and the restoration of water into the River of Grass and the Everglades. Having seen first-hand and up close the historic restoration of the striped bass population and the gradual slide back to the brink of collapse he is deeply concerned for the life of the waters that he not only guides clients on, but waters of which he has become a part of.
Photo courtesy of Rise Fishing Co.
Since our first meeting I have had the chance to talk with Paul in person a few times about all things from fishing to being a dad. A few weeks ago I sat with him at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ while he ate lunch and listened to him talk about what he has seen on the water over the years. He told me about the first time he cast to stripers on the flats and his realization that they could be sight cast to similar to a tarpon or redfish. The conversation then drifted to how he learned to navigate the Everglades by trading boat time with a seasoned guide down there for boat time with him back on Montauk. I sat spellbound listening to him recount learning areas in the Everglades I have fished myself. He learned them a little at a time, sometimes by getting lost and finding his way back, no GPS or chartplotter backup…Hansel and Gretel style.
At AMFF, photo by Mud Dog Saltwater Flies
Paul is included in the saltwater portion of the “Wonders of Fly Fishing” exhibition at the American Museum of Fly Fishing which documents the evolution of fly fishing.  Each time I talk with him I am humbly aware that this man, my friend, is a large part of the history of the sport I love. Like Lefty, Bob Clouser, Flip and Pops, it’s not just the technical aspect and fishing side of things Paul brings to fly fishing, it’s a bona fide love and respect of the sport and genuine personality that have helped make it what it is.

If you get a chance to talk with Paul on the water or at a show, take advantage of it. If you get a chance to fish with him, do it.

Paul Dixon. There are none better.

North River, MA
15 March 2016

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