Dec 18 2006
This one is from the archives. Enjoy:
” Following is the article that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer last
Sunday about the Cape Cod conclave. Many thanks again to David Churbuck,
and it was a pleasure meeting all those who attended.
The Outdoors/ By Fen Montaigne
CHATHAM, Mass. — We had gathered, techno geeks and fish freaks all, for a
night of “extreme” striped bass fishing here on Cape Cod. But by midnight,
the only extremes our band of a dozen had experienced were those of
exhaustion and utter befuddlement: Where were the fish?
Our commander-in-chief for the expedition was David Churbuck, a
writer and on-line editor at Forbes magazine, over-the-top fisherman and
Internet wonk. Churbuck and Devon, Pa., native Thorne Sparkman had recently
launched their World Wide Web saltwater fly-fishing home page, and to honor
the publication Churbuck thought it might be nice to hold a fishing
conclave not far from his home on the Cape.
So Churbuck put the word out to the farthest, fishiest reaches of
cyberspace about a night of “extreme” striper fishing near Chatham
lighthouse. “Extreme” as in standing all night long in the pounding surf in
the dark, casting with a fly rod for phantom fish. “Extreme” as in
“Extreme” as in extremely dumb.
At 6 p.m. on an early fall evening, the gang showed up in the
Chatham light parking lot as the sun set tranquilly in the west and a big
blow lumbered in from the east. It was a jovial crowd, and one that took
its fishing seriously. Churbuck, a strapping, handsome fellow with
shoulder-length brown hair, had warned me about them earlier.
“It’s totally twisted, one of the most Fellini-esque experiences
you’ll ever have,” he said. “It’s geeks on the beach. I thought I (ital);
had a fishing problem! You should see some of these guys! They’re more into
fishing than they are into computers. In fact, they got into computers so
they could get more information on fishing. They’re deranged.’
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. After all, it was
Churbuck who had told me earlier in the day, “We’ll fish most of the night,
sleep on the beach a few hours, grab a couple of Jolt colas and head out
again before dawn.”
With the conclave, Churbuck explained, we were making the
transition from cyber space to “meat space”. As in rubbing flesh.
“Everyone said the Internet and World Wide Web would turn people into
vidiots, that they’d get lost in cyberspace,” Churbuck, 37, said as we
talked in his rambling home in Cotuit. “But the ‘Net has really increased
the value of meat space. Like this conclave. It’s a great chance to meet
people I’d never have met otherwise.”
Our group — software engineers, international business
consultants, hospital workers, etc. — walked down the steep steps and onto
Chatham beach. Fishermen were filing off the sand — fishless, biteless,
glum-faced. Clouds had covered the entire sky and the wind was whipping
into our faces at about 15 miles per hour — not friendly conditions for
For the next five hours we endured what has come to be known in
fish-head realms of the Internet as the Chatham Death March. We fished a
little — with stunning lack of success — but mainly we trudged in bulky
waders over endless miles of Cape Cod sand looking for greener fishing
grounds. At one point, six of us got separated for a few hours, and cries
of “Dave! Dave! Is that you, Dave?” were swallowed up by the black night
and howling wind.
Returning to Chatham light utterly dehydrated, soaked with sweat
and chafed like babes with terminal diaper rash, we cursed Churbuck. Then,
around 1 a.m., we fell dead asleep in our cars.
Stretched out in the front seat of Churbuck’s battered Volkswagen
Fox, I drifted off to the sound of Dave snoring like a train wreck. The
next thing I knew, Churbuck was muttering, “Hey, it’s 4:15,” and we were
rousing ourselves for the dawn fishing patrol. We breakfasted heartily –
Coke, strawberry Twizzlers, extra crunchy Reese’s peanut butter cups,
Oreos, Cheeze-Its and jalapeno-laced Monterey Jack cheese cut with a rusty
fish filet knife. Well fortifed, we donned our waders and hit the beach
* * *
Churbuck and Thorne Sparkman are on the cutting edge of something
that may either become the publishing phenomenon of the future or that
might, as Sparkman quipped, “go the way of the CB radio.” The World Wide
Web — a massive, amorphous, chaotic and fascinating conglomeration of
interlinked computers — is still in its infancy, and Churbuck and Sparkman
are groping to figure out where this beast is headed. Things are changing
so fast, said Churbuck, “you’ve got to burn your hut as soon as you build it.”
What the two men are building is something called “Reel Time”,
which they describe as the “Internet Journal of Saltwater Fly Fishing.”
(For those who can find their way around the Web, Reel Time’s address is
http://www.reel-time.com). At this point, Reel Time concentrates on
saltwater fly-fishing in New England, and mainly on Cape Cod, Martha’s
Vineyard and Nantucket.
It provides the latest information on fishing conditions, news on
fishing derbies and other events, articles and essays, on-line videos,
photos of the fish readers have caught, archival material and Internet
links to fishing guides and tackle shops. Reel Time is, at the moment, a
hobby for the two men, what Churbuck describes as a “completely non-profit
ordeal.” Neither is contemplating quitting his day job — Churbuck at
Forbes and Sparkman at business school at the University of California-Berkeley.
Eventually, they may make money from advertisers, but for now they
want to make a name for themselves as the best location on the Internet to
read about saltwater fly-fishing, a rapidly-growing sport. Already, they
are getting 6,000 “hits” — visits from readers — a week on Reel Time.
“There are few times in your life when you feel you’re in the right
place at the right time,” said Sparkman, 29, who grew up in Devon, attended
the Shipley School and St. Pauls and graduated from Harvard. “I feel this
is right. The Web is touted as everyone becoming their own publisher, and
that’s one of the problems. There’s so much junk. But there are people who
will survive by estalishing a brand name, establishing a community that
lasts, a place that is really worth going to.
“You have to understand that to capitalize on the net you have to
Sparkman, whose father practices internal medicine at the
University of Pennsylvania, has fished hard his whole life. But he moved
into the fish junkie category in college when, after a serious car
accident, he took a year off and fished his way around the world –
Iceland, Equador, New Zealand, the Florida Keys. Before heading to Berkeley
this fall, Sparkman was working as a consultant to Time Warner for their
Churbuck, a Yale graduate, covered technology for Forbes magazine
before taking over their on-line publications. He works out of a sprawling,
shingle home near here that has been in his family for six generations. He
and Sparkman had known each other for several years before deciding to
launch Reel Time, which first appeared in July.
“It’s gone beyond a labor of love,” said Churbuck. “Reel Time is
kind of on-the-job training for my Forbes on-line job. It’s a stalking
horse. I don’t want to learn the lessons of electronic publishing with the
Forbes name on the line. It’s too high stakes. But hey, if this screws up
+- the Internet Journal of Salwater Fly Fishing — who cares?”
* * *
The wind had not died down. If anything, it was worse. Churbuck and
a handful of conclavers trudged in the darkness to the semi-circle of beach
below the lighthouse and cast gamely — and futilely — into the wind.
Seaweed clung to our flies on every cast. At one point, a monster roller
broke at my feet on the steeply-sloping beach, soaking me.
Dawn broke gray and nasty, and we walked a few hundred yards out
onto the spit of Chatham Beach. It should have been perfect striped bass
fishing, for we were at the peak of the fall migration in one of the
hottest striper spots on the East Coast. But once again, we got skunked.
We repaired to Larry’s PX for some cholestoral and post-game analysis. A
dozen people who had known one another only on a computer screen took
pleasure in finally meeting.
“I really like it — putting names and faces together,” said Scott
A. Sminkey, a software engineer from Littleton, Massachusetts. “I was
getting to know some of these people as if they were my good and close
friends and I had never met them.”
For several days afterwards, discussion of the no-fish conclave
hummed over the Internet. Juro Mukai of Seattle, who did not attend, sent
“I say three cheers’ for Dave and the attendees,” he wrote on one
discussion forum. “As every wise fisherman knowns, not catching is as much
a part of fishing as catching, and comradery more than either . . . I know
that it doesn’t require fishing to have a great outing. Kudos to Dave and
Hope springs eternal in the bosom of the fisherman. Even computers
can’t change that.”