Wednesday, April 25, 2007

David Halberstam: Fisherman

David Halberstam: Fisherman

Like many, I was stunned by the news that David Halberstam--one of the greatest journalists of any generation--had passed away tragically in an automobile accident. There are any number of fitting tributes to Halberstam and his great career, but the one I appreciated most was by Jim Caple, an outstanding sports writer for In his fitting threnody entitled
A Tribute to My Hero, Caple rightly declares that "journalism is much the lesser with Halberstam's passing Monday morning in an auto accident."

What is easy to overlook is that Halberstam was a fisherman and a good fishing writer. My favorite fishing article of his was a moving piece entitled "Sea of Dreams" published a decade or so ago in Harper's Magazine. In it, Halberstam describes how important fishing was in his youth, how he gave it up for decades, and how he returned to it with a passion at the age of 60. "I," Halberstam declared, " with the awkwardness of one who has come late to the sport."

As he eloquently declared:

"Fishing runs deep in my blood; it has been a lifelong passion. I have come back to it, finding in it the pleasure that I remember from my childhood, as well as badly needed solace for a man whose life is beset by constant deadlines and equally constant pressures. My wife tells me that almost all of the things that make me happy are associated with being on the water."

Much of this great article centers on stories of fishing near Winsted, Connecticut--home of T.S. Skilton & Sons, a famed tackle manufacturer. The melancholy tone of the story can be understood when one considers the context of Halberstam's life; his brother, with whom he shared a close relationship, was murdered and thus much of the narrative surrounds the two brothers fishing and haunting "Rank's, Winsted's one tackle store. Mr. Rank...ran the only truly enchanted store in town. It was filled with the most beautiful bamboo rods imaginable and the lightest of reels." Halberstam continued:

"We were the ultimate careful shoppers, two boys showing up at least once a week, geared to make the most minute purchases as slowly as possible. Each of us would be armed with perhaps a dollar; more often than not, we ended up buying nothing grander than a packet of hooks with catgut leaders. But we always took out time, carefully studying all the items that were far beyond our means....Mr. Rank also sold the countless wonder plugs, or lures, that we saw pictured in the great fishing magazines of the time, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. In both these monthlies were advertisements for these very same lures, complete with photos showing fishermen displaying strings of awesome bass, each one, it seemed, weighing more than ten pounds. I still remember plugs like the Heddon River Runt, whih lurched as it moved through the water; the Hawaiian Wiggler, a pickerel plug with interchangeable skirts; and the Jitterbug, on which I actually caught some bass."

Halberstam would return to writing about fishing again on's Page 2, in which he described a fly fishing trip to Patagonia in the context of the Super Bowl.

Halberstam was, of course, most noted for his Pulitzer Prize winning journalism that covered everything from Civil Rights and Vietnam to Ted Williams and Michael Jordan. But of everything I have read of his--and I have read a lot--the most personal piece was his ode to a lost brother and an increasingly distant youth spent fishing.

May he rest in peace, reunited again with his brother, a fishing rod, and the eternal hope that a fish will rise.

--Dr. Todd

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