Friday, August 2, 2013

Old Time Radio and the Elusive Bonefish

Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon
Years ago, when I worked as a journalist on the North Coast of California, I got into the habit of falling to sleep to the sounds of old-time radio.

Stan Freberg—a Radio Hall-of-Famer—hosted a nightly show on one of the AM stations we could pick up in remote Eureka, and my sleep began to depend on tinny voices blasting from the clock radio on the nightstand. Half-hour series like “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Life of Reilly,” “Boston Blackie,” “Dragnet” and my favorite, “Gunsmoke,” would put us to sleep, often before we could get through an entire episode. It was comical for a while—a novelty (I think it would be akin to my 11-year-old son putting his Xbox aside and taking up a game of River Run on the old Atari 2600).

Now, it’s no longer a novelty. It’s a necessity for sleep, and thanks to the Google Play Store, my phone is chock full of mp3 files—I’ll wager I’ve listened to every Gunsmoke episode ever recorded. Twice.

What does this have to do with fishing?

A couple years ago, I spent a blustery week on the flats of The Bahamas’ Long Island—the weather was miserable and the fishing was slow. I had never hooked a bonefish before, and when the week expired, I still hadn’t. I watched a few being caught, but took solace in the fact that the wind and the rain made for slow fishing among the experienced group of anglers.

My friend Kirk Deeter, I recall, caught a bonefish while listening to his iPod—I don’t recall the music,
Georgia Ellis was radio's Miss Kitty.
but I remember thinking that such a distraction might be just the ticket to prevent me from thinking too hard… from consciously working too hard against the wind with my hapless trout-fishing fly cast. Overthinking… overanalyzing anything in the sporting realm tends to add complexity to an endeavor, and by the end of a long and frustrating week, it was clear that I let the details that accompany chasing bones on the flats get in the way of actually fishing.

When I made it back to the Bahamas a year later, my phone contained not a single musical track. But it
did have about a decade’s worth of Marshall Dillon’s adventures with Miss Kitty, Chester and Doc filling up its mirco SD card. I borrowed a pair of Disney earbuds from my buddy Marc Payne—who had borrowed them from his daughter back in Tennessee—and I hit the flats of Long Island with “a U.S. Marshall and the smell of … Gunsmoke.”

William Conrad—who later gained a buttload of weight and played the fat man in “Jake and the Fat
Man”—blasted his way through those earbuds and through the streets of Dodge City, and I was sufficiently distracted to become, over the course of a week, a fairly competent bonefisher. I didn’t overthink my cast or my double-haul. I walked stealthily and I zoned in on fish that a year before I had no hope of seeing.

And I listened along as Marshall Dillon foiled “the killers and the spoilers” with regularity. As Dillon and Chester beat back crooked gamblers, rustlers and murderers on the Kansas frontier, I honed my skills on the quiet flats of Long Island.

Now, as I fall asleep to the raucous sounds of a gunfight in the Alafraganza, I wonder if, when I get back to the flats, I’ll need those earbuds again, and a dose of old-time radio.

You know... I'm not about to take that chance.

Distracted enough to catch this guy... 


  1. Great post! You surely must have forgotten The Lone Ranger for I remember him as well.

    1. Howard... do you remember The Six Shooter with James Stewart... only lasted one season, but it was awesome...

  2. That was a seriously random post, my friend. And quite awesome.

  3. Good stuff! A little distraction can go a long way it seems.

    1. Indeed... it seemed to do the trick... Thanks Kevin.

  4. Went to see the new Lone Ranger movie, mainly because some of it was filmed in one of my favorite places on earth, Creede,CO. I was pleased to heard that the voice of the announcer in the the intro was William Conrad. What a great radio voice he had!