Think for a moment about the best fishing story you’ve ever heard.
Was it from a colleague, a relative, a grandfather or a good friend? Is the storyteller still there to tell it again?
Anglers have a reputation for exaggeration, embellished storytellers and outright liars. The fish we catch are big and the ones that escape are even bigger.
But setting aside hyperbole and fishing lore, there’s great artistry in a well-told story, no matter the size of the fish or the personality of the angler.
Fishing stories are memorable to us as individuals in a few ways: who is telling the story, where it happened, what happened, why it happened the way it happened, and how it all happened. ‘has passed.
Fishing stories are like folk-American traditions like apple pie and baseball, meaningful and artistically alluring.
The beauty of a good fishing story is not lost on Buddy Seiner. Fish Stories (www.fishstories.org) is the creation of Seiner, an archive of fishing stories that can be downloaded for free.
Seiner launched the website in 2017 with the larger goal of preserving fish stories and the voices of anglers. Today, he is a storyteller and interviewer, as well as a collector and curator of fishing stories.
The genesis of Fish Stories began with fond memories of his time fishing with his family and talking with his grandfather.
Buddy’s grandmother died of dementia when he was young, leaving his grandfather, Selvin Tollefsrud, widowed and alone. Buddy visited his grandfather in Spearfish, South Dakota as much as he could.
“He lived on a small plot of three or four acres in a trailer near the airport with a beautiful landscape in the background,” Seiner said. “We would just sit and talk. Usually we ran out of things to discuss because he didn’t say much. But he always kept these articles handy, clippings from magazines and newspapers – anything to do with fish. He always took them out. I’m sure he kept them because he knew I’d like to talk about them.
“In 2011 he passed away and the thought process behind Fish Stories began. You just miss those conversations after losing that person. I finally decided that someone should create a place for anglers to keep their voices. Story Corps was there but it really covered different issues I kept saying “someone should do this, someone should do this” for many years and finally in 2016 I just decided that I would never get there if I let it be a plan B or side project so I made it a priority I started conversations with a web developer to see if it was even possible and that was the case. Eventually I quit my job and tried to make it work. That was in January 2017.”
Buddy says most anglers are naturally good at telling stories.
“Most anglers are quite eccentric, they’re humble, they’re not going to brag about themselves, but they need the value of trust, someone to step up to them and be part of it” , did he declare. “You need to have this framework where it’s someone you trust and is generally interested in hearing the story. Nine times out of 10 they’re looking for someone to tell the story to.
How much would we each give to hear Grandpa tell a fishing story again? You cannot put a price on memories, experiences or people.
“Through this archive,” Buddy said, “the common denominator of a successful fishing story is the voice of the fisherman. I can tell stories my grandfather told, but I can’t tell them the same thing without his voice. When you hear a specific voice, it’s like a visceral experience. It brings people to a certain place.
There is an art form in the story, in the storytelling, in the emotion and the sensory experience. Fishing stories, Buddy said, are cultural and historical artifacts of angling communities around the world. Recorded stories can convey humor, adventure, a sense of place, good times and hard times, but regardless of cultural experiences that double as voice preservation.
Fishing stories are ultimately about sharing the human experience. Heck, they can be equal parts fact and fiction.
Buddy has tips for recording a fish story.
“Everybody always says, ‘I don’t have good stories to tell.’ There’s a skill in asking the right kind of questions to get a hesitant storyteller started, and you also start to know what questions to ask to get the kinds of answers you need to get people to remember the stories. only with practice.”
Buddy recommends asking for stories in the presence of family and friends. If a significant other or a son or daughter is present, a fisherman is more apt to have a conversation or tell a story. How you ask questions is important.
“I have a whole list of questions that I ask as part of the Fishing Stories Archive, which is also available on the website,” Buddy said. “Questions are a good place to start or if you get stuck you can go somewhere else. The conversation hopefully flows organically. You can ask about trips, fishing buddies or fishing mentors as a starting point.
“Whenever the opportunity arises, ask follow-up questions for more details. ‘What did the cabin smell like? What was the weather like that day? How many fish did you catch before the big hit?Details help tell the story.
Buddy recommends making a plan and following it to preserve the voice of a favorite angler and to ensure your favorite fishing stories become memories.
“The biggest difficulty with getting more stories into the archives is people thinking it’s a great idea but not acting on it,” he explained. “They commit to it in their head and you can see the light bulb go off, but they don’t follow through. They put it back. It’s like sending a thank you card, if you don’t send it right away, you’re not going to write it down, stamp it, and put it in the mailbox. You are going to get caught somewhere in the process and it will get away from you. Fishstories.org accepts all audio formats. All you have to do is upload the audio file and include all necessary tags and information.
Today everyone’s smartphone has a voice recording app, hitting the record button is the easy part.
“A fish story may only be important to one person, but to that person it means everything,” Buddy said. “The regrets I hear from others tell me I’m doing the right thing. “I wish it was there when my grandma was alive” are the types of responses I get when people find Fish Stories. The purpose of archives is to preserve these stories. It’s not for me, it’s for anyone who has something they want to keep forever. For anglers, it’s our heritage. That’s what we’re good at. This is what I have to pass on to the next generation. When those stories aren’t told, when that person dies, the story dies with them. Even though we think we can keep these stories alive, it’s not the same in someone else’s voice. I want this to grow as a benefit to the angling community. Fish Stories will not grow without the people supporting it financially and without the voice uploads. People can upload stories and donate to the archive to ensure it continues to grow, to make the archive resilient and able to stand on its own.
Buddy’s work curating angling stories reminds us all to take advantage of his unique, wonderful, and free platform to preserve angling stories. As he likes to say, “all fish stories deserve to be told”.
Preserve a great story for future generations, create a keepsake with family and friends, or tell your own big fish story.
Buddy’s Fish Story
“I started fishing in 1983. I went fishing with my dad on a hot November day at Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was 2 years old.
“It was my father’s first time fishing for trout. We learned to fish for trout together. We caught a limit that day. Dad was always the initiator. My uncles were all great fishermen, just like my grandfather.
“We would cast sinkers and hooks to the bottom of the lake or stream, and that’s how my dad learned. We used to go with my grandfather and we used sinkers and marshmallows at Spearfish Creek.
“I thought about fly fishing in the creek as a kid, but never asked about it because I didn’t know any better. You would know when you had no bait and needed another marshmallow because you would see it floating in the stream.
“My father used to organize fishing tournaments with family and friends in the Black Hills. We had a dozen or two dozen people and we were camping at Sylvan Lake. We would invade the lake! Dad made ribbons and a trophy for the winners. We were so competitive when we were kids.
“This fishing trip has always been the thing – the Memorial weekend fishing trip was the thing we looked forward to most every year. We were able to see all of our friends and play wiffleball and soccer.
“One day I remember there was this crowd gathered around the dock on the south side of the lake. We went there and this guy had the biggest rainbow trout I’ve ever seen. He looked like a king salmon. He had a big red and white daredevil hanging from his mouth.
“And from that day on, I was only going to fish for trout without bait. I was only going to throw spoons and spoons to catch fish. I got good at spoon throwing and caught even more trout.
“Then you would see these fish jumping around the lake. I should ask myself, why the hell are they jumping? They ate hatching insects. I went to the gift shop and bought some prepackaged flies. I remember casting a clear bobber and a simple blue-winged olive, and I was catching fish with every cast.
“People started crowding around me, asking questions – what do you use, how do you catch so many fish. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was catching Fish.
“I started talking to my uncles who liked to fly fish. Soon they gave me gear, rods and reels, and I started practicing casting, doing it myself here and there. I worked through the frustration and caught a fish here and there to keep my interest. Now I teach people to fly fish and tie flies.
“I became a snob in some ways. I don’t like sitting in one place at a time, I don’t like hanging out back bouncers unless I’m with people I really like and want to talk to. I started with crawlers on the bottom and have now moved forward to fly the tackle.
Scott Mackenthun has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. Email him at [email protected]