CTF name: Alleycat Real name: Dick Alley Age: Like Mitch said at the Banquet Ė Writing even before the Internet Current city: Manchester, CT Hometown: Born and raised in Rockville, CT - Most of my life in Westport, CT Family members: Wife Ė son Ė daughter Ė six Grandchildren Occupation: Retired Police Officer Ė Outdoor Journalist
1. How did you first get interested in fishing? Morfar got me started. Thatís Swedish for Grandfather and when I was two or three years old, Morfar took me to Walkerís Reservoir in Rockville where we caught sunfish and perch. He managed to include me on many more trips as the years passed. Neither my Mom or Dad fished but my Dad encouraged me, always including new fishing gear at birthdays and Christmas time. Even though he didnít like fishing himself. He sacrificed many golfing days to take me to Crystal Lake, the Snip or other spots until I was old enough to go on my own. When I was 12, we moved to East Main Street in Rockville, directly across from the ďPapeĒ (Paper Mill Pond on the Hockanum River) where I fished on an almost daily basis until moving to Westport in 1952.
2. When and where did you first piece of fishing writing appear? Do you remember how much you were paid? My first newspaper column appeared in the Westport Town Crier in late 1959 or 1960. I did two columns for free and then negotiated for $5.00 a week to do a weekly column. That was how much it cost for the writing correspondence course at the Famous Writerís School. My first magazine story appeared in Tidings Magazine, a boating publication based in Greenwich and owned by Bill Conover. That was huge. It paid $25.00.
Dick in his younger days of striped bass fishing.
3. What newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites have you done work for over the years? Newspapers include the Westport Town Crier, the Westport News, the Minuteman, the Norwalk Hour (still do a Sunday column there) the Norwalk News, the Fairfield Citizen and the New Haven Register. Magazine articles include Tidings, Sports Digest, Boating, Salt Water Sportsman, Outdoor Life, New England Game & Fish, New England Fisherman, Long Island Fisherman. Radio Ė WMMM in Westport CT.- I authored guidebooks for the Saugatuck River & Reservoir and Fairfield County salt water fishing. Internet Ė I did a series of weekly stories in 2001 for Soundfishing.com. The Internet is young and just getting started. Iím hoping Iím not too old to keep up!
4. Where can people find your current weekly column? How long have you been writing a continual weekly fishing column? My current column is published in the Sunday edition of the Norwalk Hour. I started with Westport papers in 1959 or 60 and never stopped. When I retired from the cop-shop in 1986, I was writing weekly columns for the New England Fisherman, the Westport News and the New Haven Register.
5. What are some of the misconceptions people have about being a fishing journalist? First- That we are fishing experts Ė Many of my colleagues are outstanding fishermen, but I am not. I catch a few and am fortunate in being able to communicate about fishing, but I am by no means an expert. Second- Some people think our lives consist of going fishing in exotic places and getting paid for it. While a staff position at a major publication may come with some expense and include paid travel, most writers I know get a fee for their columns and stories and thatís it. I have been to a Bassmasterís Classic in Alabama, a bass tournament in Nashville and a couple of other big events and have enjoyed some good discounts on tackle over the years. Writing about fishing is indeed a labor of love. No regrets- Thatís just the way it is.
6. How has the Internet changed how you do your job? It has made things so much easier. My first computer was a little portable from Radio Shack. When I started doing a weekly column for the Long Island Fisherman, the entire paper ran 4 to 8 pages a week. I would call my list of shops and boats, type everything out, climb into my car and drive to the Bridgeport/Port Jeff Ferry where I would check the column in and send it across. Someone from the Fisherman would pick it up on that end, take it to the office, rewrite it and print for publication. That later expanded to hours of dictating by phone on the weekends and finally we figured out how to transmit directly and later by Internet. Today, I do everything on my computer and send it via the Internet.
7. Why do you think The Fisherman doesnít have a website? Lets talk about print media in general Ė When we first started sending reports via the Internet I hoped we would expand, but it never happened. At CTF, subscribers can get updated reports every day along with a bunch of other stuff. Print media is unable to compete with that. Print media fishing columns are becoming less and less throughout the country. They have space restrictions and competition is high among the many inches of sports coverage. Have you ever noticed that the daily racing reports in local newspapers always get coverage? Really- Are there that many racing fans? In a daily or weekly newspaper, fishing competes with baseball, basketball, football, golf, just to name a few. All except fishing are covered by members of the reporting staff. Chances are, the fishing columnist is simply a stringer and goes on the bottom of the priority list. I just posted a photograph of Steve Franco with his record bass to ad to the discussion in the chatter section. I noted in there that Deeís had first called the Register, but no one there thought a record fish was important enough to send a reporter or photographer across town. The staff on duty at the time wouldnít even take the time to give me a call. Thankfully, Pete made a second call directly to my house and I came up and took the photoís. Print media today are basically ignoring the local readers and either donít know or care what theyíre thinking. The Fisherman does not fall under that category. Itís a good publication but it really plays to the people who are not into computers or the Internet.
I've become a big fan of fishing for northern pike. This one came from Mansfield Hollow.
8. Who is one of the most inspirational people you have written about or met in your travels? No one person really stands out, probably because of the nature of the sport. Fishing is more about friends than about fame. As far as inspiration goes--What inspired me to write about fishing was a letter I wrote to Hal Lyman, then Publisher of Salt Water Sportsman, back in the early 1960ís. I was involved with the Striped Bass Fund at the time, part of a movement to preserve bass fishing in the Hudson River. The effort involved Storm King Mountain and I wrote him a letter requesting they do a story on it because of the importance of the fishery. A couple of weeks later, I received a return letter saying that SWS believed this was a regional issue and that the magazine didnít really get involved in issues that were regional rather than national. At the time, I was happy just getting a reply to mu letter, but only another week or so passed before I received a second letter from Mr. Lyman saying that my original letter had come up at a staff meeting and that his entire staff had agreed with me in seeing the need for SWS to enter the controversy. A couple of months later, a huge story was published in the magazine. I was honored and humbled when I realized that my letter had influenced the entire staff of the magazine and had triggered a story. That along with the encouragement of ďMother MansirĒ, my senior high school English teacher, convinced me to try the writing game. I was even more honored when I met Mr. Lyman several years later at a convention of the New England Outdoor Writers Association (NEOWA) and he recalled the incident. Iíve met many writers and editors over the years including Lefty Kreh, Mark Sosin, George Poveromo and many more and found them always willing to share smiles, handshakes and good advice.
9. Where there any emotionally tough stories or events you had to write about? As a cop, I dealt with death throughout my police career. One Christmas morning, just before going off duty from the graveyard shift, I had to lead the investigation of the suicide of a teenager, who had slashed himself and left Christmas presents, the tree and half the house soaked in blood. That was an emotional Christmas day. Accidental deaths were always tragic. When it comes to the writing career, One of the hardest for me was the death of Al Reinfelder. I worked with Al on early striped bass conservation issues. He was a teacher in Long Island who along with friend Lou Palma, developed the Alou eel line of lures. They were the hottest lures going in the 60ís. Al was also a brilliant writer and was in demand for all of the major and regional fishing publications. He was an excellent speaker and we became casual friends over the short time I knew him. Al and his young son were fishing the Delaware in a canoe one early spring when the canoe capsized. Al was wearing waders and managed to save his son, but himself was lost in the river.
Then there was the story of Gary Johnson. I met Gary on my first trip to Pulaski and he took Bob Byers and I under his wing to teach us the ropes. A conversation we had during that trip haunts me to this day. It was a cold raw day as steelhead days often are and at days end, we pulled into the ramp happy with the day's fishing, but with aching bones and muscles. I groaned as I climbed out of the driftboat, remarking that, " it's tough getting old". Gary had been quiet, helpful and happy all day, so I was surprised when he snapped back. "Please don't say that Dick," he remarked. It was then that he revealed he had had a serious bout with cancer, was now in remission and that he hoped to live to be old enough to see his young daughter graduate from high school. Only a few months later, I learned that the cancer did return and that Gary had died. As old age continues to rear it's ugly head, there are more aches and pains, but while I might feel a bit of discomfort, I no longer complain out loud. There is a beautiful monument to Gary along the river. He was respected and liked by his fellow guides and while I was only able to fish with him a couple of times, I'll never forget him. As a writer I always tried to turn negative events into positive solutions. If there was a drowning, it sparked a safety column. When someone caught a handful of hooks while trying to release a fiesty bass, it called for a column on the proper way to handle fish.
Gary Johnson was my guide on my first trip to Pulaski. He taught me more than fishing.
10. Who are some of your favorite or longtime fishing partners over the years? I fished with Lou Tabory and Nick Curcione on many occasions. Unfortunately, many of my fishing partners are dead. Ed Stalling and I were like brothers. He knew more about fishing the Norwalk islands than most people. Captain Pete Kriewald was an old classmate who ran his own charter boat out of Norwalk. Win Cyrus was a good friend and frequent fishing partner. Ed Boland, Johnny Posh, Len Orifice, Bob Stanley --thereís not near enough space to list everyone I would like to. Bob Byers shares my fishing time these days. We canít wait for spring to fish for trout in Crystal Lake. Then thereís my bride. Weíll be married 50 years in June. We havenít fished together all that much and thatís probably good because every time I brought her along, she outfished me. Now that the kids and grandkids are growing up we hope to fish together more this summer. I hope my ego can handle it.
11. Who are some of the famous or notable people you have fished with over the years? To me, fishing better connects with friendship than it does with fame. Some people Iíve fished with have become quite famous. We would put Lou Tabory and Nick Curcione near the top of the notables list when it comes to salt water fly fishing. However when the three of us enjoyed fishing together, it was long before either of them were into writing. Win Cyrus broadcasted weekly about fishing over WICC in Bridgeport, but to me was simply a good friend who loved fishing with a passion. We managed to meet and know many ďfamousĒ outdoor writers, but they were all anglers first and friends and most would argue that there is no real ďfameĒ attached.
12. Do you have a dream fishing trip or destination youíve yet to experience? Not really! Iíve always been fascinated by stories about Peacock bass, but figure a trip to anywhere they are found is out of the question at this stage of my life. Iíve fished Alaska and Montana and all over the northeast and caught fish I couldnít even dream about as a kid. I hope to get in another trip or two over to Pulaski for steelhead before my arthritic knee gives up.
13. Are there any species you have not caught that you would like to? I would love to nail one of those broodstock Atlantic salmon in the Naugatuck or Shetucket before I leave this earth. Had one on in the Shetucket two years back but lost it.
Nice rainbow from Foxwoods Ponds when they were in operation.
14. What is one of your most memorable fishing experiences? In July of 1989, I was doing a story on cod fishing out of Gloucester, MA on assignment for the Fisherman aboard the Nicole Renee. It was a good active day and we were catching fair numbers of fish. The skipper, Captain Tom Lukegord, called me to the cabin and pointed to the fish-finder which revealed a very large fish among the cod. Everybody continued to fish, among them Sonny Manley, a regular aboard the boat . He suddenly hooked up and began reeling his cod towards the surface when it stopped. The bigger fish had grabbed hold of the cod and the battle was on. The skipper was sharp and immediately sensed that something out of the ordinary was taking place. He ordered everyone to pull in their lines, announcing that Sonny was hooked into something very big. Captain Tom then lined up a team of regulars to help boat the fish, assigning four men to gaffs. It wasnít a quick fight, but Sonny followed instructions to the letter and battled the monster to the surface where it was gaffed and brought over the side and into the boat. It turned out to be a world record Atlantic halibut, weighing 255-pounds, a record that held for 8 years until a fish of 355-pounds was caught in Norway in 1997. Once the fish was aboard, Captain Tom maneuvered over another school of cod, letting his clients catch a bunch more fish while we took photographs and cleaned up. I was the only person aboard with a camera and subsequently sold several stories on the world record day. It still holds the 50-pound line class record. Iíve fished for many different species with many different skippers and crews of charter and party boats and value their friendship.
15. Do you have any fish that got away stories that still haunt you? Just that one broodstock salmon Ė My fishing enjoyment comes easy. Iíve caught tuna, shark, stripers and blues of good size in salt water and salmon, trout and bass that were respectable in the sweet water. I have tons of fun catching spawning bluegills on flies in the spring and yellow perch almost anywhere I go. Iím not hard to please and at that stage of my life where the numbers and size of fish I catch donít really matter. Simply being outdoors, enjoying the weather and surroundings is enough.
16. Did you have any heroes when you were growing up? My Dad - Ted Williams Ė Joe DiMaggio. Al Hewitt was my fishing idol. He was my next-door neighbor and one day came home with this enormous striped bass, truly the biggest fish I had ever seen at the time. He also took me shad fishing on the Connecticut River for the first time and one fourth of July, teamed up with my Dad to take me out crabbing and away from the fireworks. They brought a good supply of beer along so it ended up with Al and my dad getting just a wee bit inebriated. The bushel basket of crabs that accidently spilled out all over the kitchen floor when Dad stumbled across the back doorstep on our arrival home caused my Mom to scream and jumped up on the nearest chair as crabs skittered all over the kitchen floor. She didnít talk to Dad for days, but it took almost that long to recover all the crabs. It was almost as much fun as the fireworks.
17. Which CT fishing record do you think has the best chance of being broken soon? Which record has the least chance of being broken? Northern pike jumps out as the best opportunity for a new record in fresh water. Maybe walleye have a shot as thatís a fairly new species in the State. Striped bass are always in contention and a banner year for bluefish could happen. Flounder and blackfish are least likely to see any records broken as the fisheries continue to deteriorate.
18. Youíve witnessed many changes in fishing gear and equipment over the years. Are there a few that standout as the most major advances? Technology-Ainít it great? I still remember the morning on Crystal Lake many years back when Bob Lukeman showed up to fish with this funny-looking reel. I think it was made by Ashaway and Bob explained it was a spinning reel. It wouldnít backlash like our bait-casting reels and he was able to cast about twice as far as he ever did before. That was one invention that changed fishing in ways no one could imagine at the time. Iíve witnessed the evolution in rod-making from steel and bamboo to fiberglass, graphite and boron. I still have a solid steel bait-casting rod and a tubular steel fly rod that I purchased as a youngster. Fly-fishing became modernized with balanced outfits, a simple numbering system for lines, rods and reels and a revolutionary approach to fly-tying and lure manufacture. Plastic lures have changed the way many of us fish. Electronics has gone bonkers with many improvements I can only dream about owning someday. GPS will be fantastic for boaters and shore-bound anglers alike.
19. For whatever reason, anglers in Connecticut havenít organized as one group. And, more often than not, they will complain about issues surrounding the fishery without doing anything about it. Youíve witnessed angler behavior over the years. What ideas or advice do you have so that fishermen in Connecticut can have more say or get more involved in how the fishery is managed? There is no shortage of people willing to be involved. God bless each and every one who gives of their time and knowledge. Been there Ė Done that! Iíve been involved in so many committees and projects over the years that Iíve lost count. All were good-intentioned. Many fine organizations were formed and faltered, then failed. It takes money folks. Many anglers, writers and conservationists with far more talent than I have given of their time and talents. Therein lies one of the problems. Almost all of these efforts are made on a volunteer basis. If I had a fraction of the money I spent from personal funds over the years for gas for the car, food & lodging to attend a meeting, these retirement years would be more comfortable. That doesnít begin to include the time away from family. People do get involved, but after several meetings with little or nothing accomplished, their interest wanes. There is hope. Ė I was very impressed with the dumping in the Housatonic issue last year. That was probably the fastest solution to a problem that Iíve witnessed in my lifetime and the credit goes to this website, the people on it and the Internet. Digital photography and those who take the pictures get a second round of applause. TV Networks are more than happy to receive a good photo or video story from a viewer today. I also believe that steps must be taken in a reasonable manner. Putting a story that makes an agency look bad may not be the necessary first step. Maybe a quick call to discuss the matter with someone in authority can solve the problem and establish a relationship at the same time. Ė Angler behavior can be a real bummer. Bad manners, rowdiness, drunks, slobs, reckless boaters, do irreparable harm to the recreational angling community. The guys and gals in the CARE program (again through volunteerism) do much to negate the bad guys. Government is a bureaucracy and therein lies the problem.
20. Youíre put in charge of the CT DEP. What are some of the first things you do while in office? Thatís way above my pay grade. Running a big bureaucracy inside a massive bureaucracy is practically impossible. The guys and gals who try do a reasonably good job. Over the years, my relationship with the DEP has had its ups and downs. Iíve served on several committees within the framework of the DEP, but please remember that once there was almost NO relationship between anglers or outdoor writers and the DEP. There have been many crisisís over the years. Pioneers like Al Bennett of the Bridgeport Post, Len Harris of the Hour, Pat Carroll from Fairfield, Senator Doc Gunther and others were instrumental in establishing communications among the higher-ups in the DEP. That resulted in the working relationship that exists today. Ė I would encourage further steps be taken. In my personal dealings with DEP officials, I am more than satisfied. Ed Parker, Bill Hyatt, and Bill Forman have never refused a request Iíve made when needing information for a story. I would first try to increase the budget to make a dramatic increase in Conservation Officers, but Iím sure that that has already been done. In fact, the present Commissioner appears to be doing an excellent job. While I have never formally met her, I have noted that she is present at many fishing events throughout the year.- I occasionally do hear complaints from the public, but over my lifetime have witnessed many achievements by the DEP, especially on the fresh water side. Walleye-Trophy Trout Ė Wild Trout Ė TMAís Ė Catfish Ė Northern Pike Ė Broodstock Salmon- are only some of the many programs that have been developed in my lifetime. When I was a kid, a foot-long trout was bragging size and none of the programs mentioned above were a reality. Salt water has its problems and Iím not sure just what the DEP can do about it. Striped bass and other migratory fish fall under federal regulations. Iíve been to the meetings in Washington. The commercial interests dwarf the input by the recreational fishing people. Connecticut DEPís own attitude towards commercial and recreational fishing in Long Island Sound could be a lot better. Our flounder and blackfish fisheries are abysmal. Porgies and black sea bass are good while fluke fishing continues to be micromanaged to the point where that too will probably be a disaster in the years ahead. There are no short-term answers and I fear that any long-term solutions will vanish within the bureaucracy. Were I put in that position, I would try but I sure would worry a lot.
21. How many years were you a Westport, CT police officer? What were some of the most rewarding aspects of police work? What were some of the least rewarding? I spent nearly 27 years in law enforcement, starting as a patrolman and retiring as a Shift Commander with the rank of Inspector. Rewards come in working with exceptional colleagues, helping enormous numbers of people, putting a few real scumbags in jail, making the right decisions when necessary and being able to focus on family when off duty. The Police Department taught me how to write. The basic rules of investigative work include writing good reports and I was able to transition those rules into writing about my favorite sport. Least rewarding were the hundreds of graveyard shifts and the many tragedies I had to investigate. Stress plays a big part.
22. You wrote a book on the Saugatuck River. When was it published, and can a person still pick up a copy today? I think it was published in the mid-70s. I only have one copy which I hope to someday update and expand upon. Iím at that stage where I donít believe it can be published again without some changes and updates.
23. Do you have any stories surrounding the Westport surf fishing scene that stand out? If I start, I may not know when to stop. Striped bass and bluefish are the big drawing card in the western Sound, but many young anglers of today are unaware that there was a time when bluefish were a rarity and when striped bass were in danger of extinction. There were also times when weakfish provided a fantastic fishery and when Boston mackerel were caught by the garbage pail full. It all happened within my lifetime and every fishery influenced both the surf and boating scene. Some summer seasons saw Sand eels invading the surf every night all along the Fairfield County shoreline. Fall brought shiners and spearing along with baby bunker into every beach at various times. There were the days of the bunker kills when schools of big blues herded tons of menhaden into the different harbors until the oxygen was used up and they died. It created a stink in the aftermath but while it was happening, the fishing was phenomenal. Bluefish Friday was the biggest day I remember. It was late October and I arrived at Burying Hill Beach in Westport shortly after coming off duty at 8:00 AM. There were only a couple of anglers there and bluefish were cornering the schools of peanut bunker, chasing them up and down the shoreline and up into New Creek which divides the Beach and Sherwood Island. I caught fish for the better part of an hour and made a decision. Jumping back into the car, I drove to Burr Farms Elementary School where son Todd was in third grade. I walked inside the office and told them that Todd had a Doctors appointment and wouldnít be back for the rest of the day. Ten minutes later, we were back down at the Beach. Todd waded in, clothes and all and we caught fish for hours. We were so tired that our arms were sore. I donít know what Todd missed in class that day, but today heís a high school teacher with a Masterís Degree so I doubt that missing school did him any harm.
It looked good, but this 28-pound Lake Ontario salmon was a real wuss when it came to fight.
24. Youíre surely met or heard about some strange things fishermen have done in the pursuit of fish. Are there any funny or outrageous stories that stand out? My trip aboard the Sunbeam Express doing a story on a party boat trip for tuna comes to mind. It was a three-day and the fishing was great, but on the first day fishing the Canyon, it was sunny, warm and calm. I was on the upper deck with a couple of cameras draped around my neck busily photographing the guys fishing below and never saw it coming. A big swell suddenly rocked the boat in an otherwise calm sea and I was propelled across the deck. Lots of things happen in a hurry when the body sense danger. A picture flashed through my mind of being launched over the side of the boat and no one even knowing I was gone, so I did the most logical thing and threw my oversized body into the low rail. Problem was, my head hit first. I saw stars, but made enough noise in the process that several of the guys came scrambling up the ladder from the lower deck to see what had happened. A big goose-egg popped up on my forehead but luckily the skin didnít break. I asked for some ice, and waited. Mattie, one of the mates, was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and so was I, so we agreed to keep an eye on my behavior for the next few hours and not let me go to sleep. I remembered thinking that it would be a real bummer if a Coast Guard chopper had to pick me up and take me to shore for treatment as it would interrupt the fishing for the other guys and I wouldnít be able to do the story and take the pictures if it came to that. Luckily, the swelling on my head subsided and I was even able to catch a couple of tuna before the trip ended, although I had a pair of black eyes for a few days afterwards.
25. What were some of your favorite CT locations to fish while growing up? What are some of your current favorites? As a kid, Walkerís Reservoir and the Paper Mill Pond (Hockanum River) in Rockville were daily fishing spots. Dad bought me one of the rental rowboats from Sandy beach on Crystal Lake and a used Martin 2-1/3 hp engine, so I fished that a lot and the Snip (Schnepsit Lake) was another favorite, especially for yellow perch in springtime. I moved to Westport in 1952 and did some fresh water fishing, but didnít really get into salt water until 1958 after my military service. That coincided with the beginning of my writing career and my own learning curve and the ability to write about my adventures eventually took me to fishing spots across the northeast. I know the western Sound from Bridgeport to Norwalk very well and have fished many other salt water spots. Likewise with the Saugatuck River and Reservoir where I spent a lot of fishing time. Joe Pysa introduced me to northeast CT trout fishing and I fell in love with the Natchaug River. When the family started camping more than 30 years ago, the Natchaug became our springtime trout fishery. I also like the Yantic River in Bozrah and list the Shetucket as another favorite spot since the Atlantic salmon fishery became a reality. Iím trying to learn more about the CT River, while Mansfield Hollow has become a favorite summer pike spot. Trips to Crystal Lake continue to bring memories of my youth and I fish it as often as I can.
26. What do you think of Cabelaís coming to CT? Iíve visited Cabelaís twice since it opened and havenít been all that impressed. Itís a nice place to show the Grandkids the animals and fish displays, but the selection and choices can be overwhelming. I have always valued the individual tackle shops as vital to the Connecticut fishing scene. They provide information, friendliness and services that the Big Box Tackle Stores do not. An experienced angler might save a couple of bucks if he or she knows what they want, but the neighborhood tackle dealer is much more likely to provide the time, good advice and follow-up service to a better overall fishing experience.
27. Have you ever been caught in a life threatening situation while fishing? Not really Ė I guess the Sunbeam story I related earlier could have been serious, but turned out OK. Iíve always been concerned about safety, probably due to my police background. Iíve written many stories over the years about the importance of being prepared for emergency situations and have tried to practice what I preach. On and off the police job, I was involved in way too many accidental death investigations due to drowning, serious injuries and worse over the years not to be painfully aware of the consequences of carelessness. I have a great deal of respect for weather, wind and water and base my decisions on conditions.
28. In 20 years, when a person mentions Connecticut fishing and Dick Alley in the same sentence. How do you want to be remembered? I hope they remember me as a guy who enjoyed fishing, didnít take himself too seriously, tried to make some worthwhile contributions to fish conservation, but most of all helped others to enjoy this God-given sport as much as I do.
Steve Franco with his CT state record striped bass (75 lbs. 6 oz.) caught in 1992, and a young friend who puts the size of the fish into perspective.