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Rich Greenough. Photo: Angela Evancie.
Rich Greenough. Photo: Angela Evancie.

It's a fisherman's life

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For many of us, growing up and getting a job meant leaving our childhood hobbies behind. For some, though, play and work have always been one and the same. Rich Greenough of Essex, Vermont is one of those lucky few. He fished as a child, he fished for a living, and now, on the eve of his retirement, he's planning on doing more fishing. Angela Evancie has his story.

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If you ask Rich Greenough where he’s from, he’ll tell you Vermont.  Then he’ll crack a joke he clearly loves: “Guy asks me if I lived here all my life and I said not yet!”

Rich got hooked on fishing as a kid. After that, he probably spent more time on Lake Champlain than he did on solid ground.  “My mother had a picture of me and all the neighborhood kids together,” he recalls. “They all had new bicycles and I had a new fishing rod…I’ve always had boats since I was fifteen. Rich’s hobby grew into a profession, and today he’s the captain of a charter fishing operation called Sure Strike.

It’s one of those perfect afternoons on Champlain.  Blue sky.  Clear views of the Adirondacks and the Greens.  The waves are maybe a foot high- not bothersome, but big enough to play with the light in interesting ways. Rich pilots his 28-foot sport fishing boat out a few miles from the Shelburne Bay.

“I go weeks without seeing a single fishing boat out here.  Nothing, ” he says.

Rich is one of the last full-time charter captain on the lake.  It certainly ups the odds of making a good catch.  When the bait goes down, the lake trout start biting almost immediately.

“Five, fish on!”  Rich uses what’s called a downrigger.  Five poles are mounted on the stern of the boat.  Each line has a weight that can bring the bait down as low as 200 feet.

Today, there’s a quick strike. And when the client lands one he wants to keep, it gets clubbed, and tossed in the cooler. “That’s what we carry the Polish anesthetic there for…baseball bat.” That’s Brian Dunkling, Rich’s mate.  He runs the rods.  Between bites, he guts fish and hoses off the deck.

Brian is 21 years old to Rich’s 64.  And he’s as quiet as Rich is loud.  But the two men have one thing in common, obviously: they love to fish.

He coahes a client,  “That’s the best thing to do right there is watch your rod tip.  Don’t watch for the fish.”

When someone pulls up a sea lamprey instead of a fish, Brian holds up the lamprey, and Rich slices it in two with a small knife.  Head and tail get tossed back into the lake.  The whole thing happens in seconds.  This is clearly a normal routine. 

“That’s how we fix them,” Rich says. He does everything in the name of the fish – that sea lamprey could have attached itself to a lake trout and sucked its blood.  But Rich does more than kill the occasional lamprey.  He’s worked with the state for years to rid them from the lake.  Lately, he’s also turned his attention to cormorant control.  He tells me that struggles with what he calls “special interests” and their resistance to more drastic measures to deal with invasive species.

He says, “I’m kinda there as the thorn you know…Well, I don’t say, I mean I just work little angles here there and everywhere heading off potential disasters.  How I do it is how I do it,” he laughs.  “Don’t want to let that out ‘cuz we don’t want to ‘tell the enemy’ how we do it.”

But he’ll concede that the lake is cleaner than it’s been in years, and that’s bringing more people – and money – to the fishing industry. “As long as there’s a good fishery,” he says. “That’s a good indication of good water.”

This is one of Rich’s last trips of the season – and his career.  He’s retiring this year and selling Sure Strike to Brian.  But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop fishing. “I wouldn’t sell it to anybody that wasn’t good with people and knew how to fish. I’ll be helping these guys next year,” says, laughing, “He bosses me around now so it doesn’t make much difference!”

Brian, for his part, seems ready: “ I’m good at it I think. We catch fish, so…Most of the stuff he’s taught me has sunk in so much, I don’t even recognize it.  I just do it now.”

Rich says he’ll do some logging in the fall.  It’s also goose season…and then there are the duck and deer seasons to look forward to.  And, in the winter, ice-fishing.

“ There’s so many things to do,” he says. “I’m getting old, I want to do ‘em before I’m too old to do ‘em.”

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