hen a New Jersey Webmaster introduced himself and made me an Internet proposition, I had no idea what he was talking about. Back then in 1999 I had never accessed the Internet and had no clue about its purpose. He wanted me to host a Message Board for surf casters that would be called “Ask Frank Daignault” -- the aim of which was to field questions about shore fishing on his website, StriperSurf.com. It was quite an experience.
Message boards serving the variety of interests which bristle in our culture can be found for just about anything: If it runs swims or flies – ducks, deer, salmon, trout, to name only some – somebody is talking about it.
There are rough spots in member interaction at times, but it is otherwise educational and entertaining. The bright side is the sales opportunities from banners scattered around the pages.
In exchange for my “Ask Frank” service, the webmaster set up a book order section where site visitors could order my books. Early years orders were through the mail. However, when PayPal came on line, orders increased by a still rising multiple. Members point and shoot their book orders and charge costs to their account then I print shipping labels right off the order. It is easy, accurate, and popular. Transferring funds from PayPal to my bank account is no harder than the ordering is for them. It's not big money but, when added to my other activities in the outdoor field such as article and photo sales, along with seminar engagements, it covers our outdoor vices. Other spin-offs, also hard to count, have been a steady stream of radio interviews which add to my exposure. The main thing is that at this stage of the game – 73 by the time you read this – if I am not enjoying what I do, I don't do it. Here is another part we can't measure.
Writers are obliged to stay abreast of tackle developments, social trends, and sporting opportunities as they evolve. Well and good to be out there in the boonies and swamp muck doing “research” but if you are not connected to the psyche of the others doing it, there is something missing in your reader relationship. Fielding Internet questions gives me a chance to hear what is on surfcaster minds, enhancing my understanding of their issues. Concerns over striper population trends, beach access, tackle choices, even their love lives as fishermen, have been addressed over those years. There are issues and, as with most activities, there is a price.
Widespread disdain for message boards is justified. Boards are probably the socially most dangerous medium any of us is likely to ever encounter. People anonymously post rumors intended to degrade products, attack publications, even discredit fishing spots they seek to protect. Indeed, trial by Internet was the one thing that had me rethinking my role on the message board I ran. The proliferation of message boards and chat rooms has become a highly competitive Internet contagion. It has evolved into a battle for ad space which is based upon visitation “hits”. Some message boards compete so fiercely that they will discredit other boards for even the most benign or even contrived issues. I did lose one steady writing job because of “advertiser” influence from a competing website. Looking back, I don't know how I could have prevented it.
In any medium, as a writer you are putting your head through the hole in the tent wall. It is even more dangerous where anonymity is permitted. Where do you think policies rejecting unsigned editorial letters came from? Still, with shrinking newspaper outdoor coverage and increased Internet activity, the give and take of message boards may end up being the only bright spot left in outdoor writing. In the 10 years that I have been involved, I have posted just under 16,000 messages and have sold many books. Some of the activity has been wildly enjoyable. Let's look at some of the goings on, proof they love to get slapped around.
I employ a lot of “Frankisms” that are delicious digs popular with the gang. When I think that a question deals with junk science, I say that people today were taught these things by their uncles. I fished with their uncles and I can tell you that little has changed – uncle-wise. Or, a variation in the expression of disagreement: Guys like you remind me how lucky Momma J – my wife Joyce's cyber identity – and me are that one of our daughters never brought you home. Or, more trivializations from today’s people who can’t, won’t, could not have then, and will never achieve. People who think they know everything annoy those of us who do. One time, and this is one equipment-wise that the gang loved, “weapons of bass destruction.”
Those with fake identities and lacking experience in striper fishing often show a propensity for exaggeration. At least once a year somebody will strut over a striper they supposedly caught that exceeded the World Record. I'll answer first to satisfy the protocols, congratulating the guy and let somebody else rip him to pieces. (You can't sell books to people you've miffed off.)
I make a point of digressing frequently to women and romantic experiences. When asked about a tackle choice, I'll often respond by comparing a surfrod to a good woman and then point out that I lack suitable experience with surfrods. They love it. A favorite on surfrod issues is that I keep all my surfrods the same because, like women, I want them to feel the same in the dark. One time in a discussion on social issues I brought up an Old Canadian saying, “If you can’t fish with the one you love, then love the one you're fishin’ with.”
Incessant attacks on boat fishing are a necessary part of any surfcasting blog. One time, while addressing a thread on women fishing, I seized the opportunity for two kills with one shot referring to women fishing in boats as Babes Interested Mainly in Boating Offshore. (“BIMBOS”)
New members posting a first question, which shows in their post through the site software, usually get a greeting, choose one: Welcome to the Dr. Ruth of the striper surf, the Ask Suzie of the Striper Surf, Mister Smarty, or Geriatric Surfcasting. Or, welcome to the Center of Advanced Study of Trophy Stripers (CASTS). I'll stop.
Something that I doubt anyone ever gets used to is the influence the aging of the moderator, me, has upon the members. Prior to entry in this new media form, I had never thought about the notion that for many of the people fishing today 60 is viewed as old and 70 ancient. This has caused a heightened sensitivity with me which I have dealt with only through comedic over-reaction. Making frequent use of “back whens” I hoped would both introduce humor and send the message, through sleight of hand, that I didn't care about my age: Back when only boys had tattoos, when hats were removed for dinner, when we drank beer from a glass, before the advent of panty-hose (BPH).
In one telling example, after enduring any number of changed identities from a real nut-case who was well known both on the Internet and in his real world home state, someone set up a discussion on big stripers being taken on pogies. Participants on the site had some serious doubts about the validity of this guy's claims. Certainly, when the same person who has experienced any number of UFO sightings and who gets 47 mpg on a weapons carrier sized beach-buggy, why would you start believing him now? Who comes forward but that same nut case wildly out of sorts saying that it was he who caught these fish. My response was, “After 10 years of Internet name changing and cyber-vandalism, now that you have caught a 90 pounder, a new World Record, you have an identity?”
Frank Daignault has six books in print on striper fishing from shore. The message board he hosts is available at StriperSurf.com/Forums/AskFrankDaignault.