A Guy Named Mel...

A Guy Named Mel...

Written by Gary Poyssick, Florida Outdoor Writer's Association.

From the publisher:  It's one year ago this week that a guy named Mel Berman died of complications following heart surgery. He had lived a wonderful long life and I think of him often -- especially today (Sunday, the sixth of February). I wrote this article about six months ago -- when the web site you're reading was about four months old. At the time, there was a great deal of drama in the local fishing community over the (still recent) loss of Captain Mel, as he was known.

As his unofficial IT guy, long-time close friend, and co-author of his landmark about the fishing he loved the most, ("Skinny: How to Fish in Shallow Saltwater"){jcomments off}, the day his wife Ginnie told me he had left us -- perhaps a half-hour after he passed -- a part of me left forever. I had to call the radio station and tell them what had happened. I remember like it was yesterday. Despite the common belief that creating TheOnlineFisherman.com was somehow stealing something from my friend, the reality was far from the talk. Talk's cheap; the relationship we shared -- the one that led to that book being done after talking about it for 8 years while fishing together -- ain't so cheap. Of all the people that lost someone very, very important in their lives last February, I was one of them. I swallowed the falsehoods and ongoing commentary from the local peanut gallery while mourning the loss of the best fishing friend I ever had. A staunch progressive through and through, he would almost certainly be on the side of Sector Separation and Catch Shares. And despite it, I would have still loved him and put him on my boat any chance I got.

A long time ago I met a guy named Mel Berman. At the time, I was deeply involved in doing contract work -- writing work, mostly, but programming too -- for companies that would become household names around computer geeks, then designers, and eventually anybody that wanted to surf the web or call their friends on those oh-so-cool iPhones. Companies like Microsoft, Apple Computer, and Adobe.

Primary among my customers, the people at Adobe and Apple were already changing the way the world spoke; communication as we knew it was changing. (Facebook hit 500 million users recently; we had no email when I first worked with Apple). The smell was in the air for what was going to become this thing we're using right now. This thing called the Internet. Neither it nor the program called Photoshop (then called Digital Darkroom, and still to this day owned by the two brothers who wrote the code -- Adobe is the sole distributor) were available to the general public.

apple computer logos

You remember the almost mystical logo on the left? It's Newton sitting under a tree; the glowing apple in the tree the dream that Steven Jobs had for a computer that required less than a basketball court for storage, could work in the same air we breath, and cost less then $14,000,000. He achieved that dream. And shared it with the rest of the world.

The Internet had evolved from a chain of a few dozen university mainframes, whose computer horsepower had been amped-up by the Defense Department. An "Inter-connected Network of computers that would remain functional in the event of a nuclear attack from the Soviets -- then still a daily threat -- the Internet, as it soon got named, was the realm of professors and spooks. Does anybody remember the Cuban Missle Crisis? The project was named the "DARPA".

In the commercial world of computers, video and the early attempts at interactivity was being seen in the form of huge DVDs. The first kiosks you saw in the malls many years ago morphed, along with the technology springing from the University InterNetworks into what has 500 million twitting their way to the crapper (OMG! BG1!).

I had started working with Apple when they had a logo that looked more like a barber shop sign than the shiny titanium brand that's been burned into our minds over the years. Whether you're a Mac-nut or a die-hard PC user, the word (and logo) "Apple" has meant something for as long as many of our readers have been alive.

So here I was, a guy that knew some serious people. I was being paid a lot of money for shooting my mouth off and writing, for God's sake -- it was easy to be self-impressed. But on weekends, when I wasn't in San Franscisco or New York or God-knows-where, I was home in Tampa. And fishing. And like 70,000 or-so other people in the area, on Saturday mornings, I listened to this guy with a soothing voice talk about fishing. Once you heard this guy named "Mel" talk fishing -- the show hooked you more than you ever hooked those snook we were all chasing.

One morning Mel had one of his always-incredible fishing-expert guests on his show. Scott Moore, if memory serves correctly. After saying that we had been catching some beautiful bull reds north of the Courtney Campbell Bridge, I asked him a question that changed my life in a lot of ways. Thinking back to that saturday morning, and after all those years I finally know how much it's changed me. Now having worked with Mel writing and publishing something he was very, very proud of during those final months, and working on this incredible jewel of a web site my partners have built while I drew pictures on whiteboards, it was that morning that eventually resulted in this web site's being born. Dedicating this site to the memory of Mel Berman was something easy to do the day we launched it.

"Do you fish with anything but professional guides, Captain Mel?" I was nervous. I was speaking publicly for crowds of 800 pretty often; Apple drew big crowds, and I had just been the 'talking head' for the "Infomercial" introduction of the Power Macintosh. But when you talked to Mel Berman, you were talking to every fisherman listening to his SHOW! -- some in India, for God's sake (people didn't STOP listening, and could be drawn to the remote corners of the world yet still find a way to hear him on Saturday mornings)

"Sure. You inviting me?"

Eighteen years or-so later, the Bay area lost Mel. I never did. He's changed shape, and form, but he's still here. If you're new here, the site came to life the night of March 28th 2010. It is, in so very many ways, Mel Berman's legacy, despite its name. I've called him "The Patriarch of Fishing Web Sites", and he really is.

The story goes on. A few years, a few hundred snook, more redfish than you should catch, a huge cobia, 120lb tarpon in two feet of water in Oldsmar, schools of ladyfish we would chase all day just for the pull, cold nights, and non-crowd-appropriate jokes. Oooh, the jokes.

The company that's paid the bills in my life for the past 25 years is a publishing company. Saying you're "a publishing company" doesn't really mean much to the average guy I talk to. It's not difficult to do, really -- be a publisher. You need content, money to produce the content in a form that people can read, hear, see, experience, and remember, and you need to show it to people that will (hopefully) pay you for the ability to read it. In the company my partners (different) and I own -- two of us wrote the books we published and one did all the rest. They're how-to books about Adobe software. How to "click this, push that, print this, and check this out" books.

They're used in colleges, and are popular; business was doing well 14 years ago when we took on a writing project for Microsoft. The assignment was exciting; we were testing and documenting a piece of software called FrontPage. FrontPage was a 'layout' program that let you mix pictures and text (no video back then, much less animations) into something called a Web Page. I called Berman.

"Wanna do a web site?" I asked. He was excited. Although politically I was to the right of Ghengis and he left of Mao, we closely shared three things since the day we first met: a love for fishing, a love for technical stuff, and a love for each other. He loved geek, and I was the ultimate geek-friend.

A friendship that had started in a school of redfish entered the world of the worldwide web. Even now, while updating it long after I wrote it, I smile thinking of first looking at his web site -- and how very, very much he loved it before he died. I so love having helped him experience that whole thing in his life.

He was a perfect guinea pig for a web site. All those Saturday listeners might start 'surfing' the web. You gotta realize, this was 14 years ago. People didn't have Facebook accounts. Facebook wasn't born yet. Come to think of it, I don't think the founders of Facebook had been born yet. If they had, they were not driving cars, unless they were made of plastic and you could reach the floor with both feet.

Image of Captain Mel Berman by James Juntilla 

This shot by professional writer James Juntilla was taken a year before Mel passed away after heart valve replacement surgery. Of all the pictures I've ever seen of Mel, it's the best.

Mel Berman was a unique man. After an incredible career that included interviews with the likes of Nehru and Margeret Thatcher, he retired to Florida with the intent of being a charter captain. Purchasing an offshore boat to hunt grouper, the writer, author, renowned and recognized broadcaster and communcator, his fate brought him to our lives on the Gulf Coast.

The guiding thing didn't last that long. If you knew Mel, you'll know that as much as he loves fishing, he loves the people he's on the boat with even more. That said, the steady stream of strangers on his boat -- the black shoes, the attitudes that sometimes crossed the line -- and the demand to always be nice to people even when they weren't so nice 'back' resulted in Mel's looking once more to the career he loved so much; talking. He called the local newspapers to see if they had any work for a good outdoors writer. 

He wrote the regular Friday fishing column and was an often-read and always-loved feature writer for the St. Petersburg Times, was a contributing editor for Gulfcoast Angler, The Fisherman, Suncoast Fisherman's Guide, and Sports Tampa Bay Magazines.

A broadcaster with more than 40 years of radio and television experience, Mel was what he called "air talent", and had worked with NBC, Metromedia, Storz, Rollins, Strauss, and many others. The names mean nothing if you're only a fisherman, but if you're around the radio industry, they're the names that formed the industry behind the sound coming out of your radio. He was one of the "Good Guys" at WMCA in New York during the '60s, and was a reporter for Metromedia in NYC (where Captain David was a State Policeman) Mel covered the United Nations and other major events, and won the Peabody for work at the UN. He was a recipient of a Freedoms Foundation George Washington medal for documentary film making, and was the producer of the first network broadcast segment of the actual birth of a baby for the NBC Radio documentary Second Sunday.

While operations manager for WJAS, an NBC owned and operated station in Pittsburgh, he instituted one of the nation's first news/talk formats, garnering top ratings in the nation's 9th market. The Captain Mel we came to love for his fishing talk show was one of the minds behind talk-radio worldwide. Mel was Mel. But behind the Mel we heard talking about drifting the flats for trout, and the Mel that stood strong despite threats when supporting the net ban for the CCA, and the Mel that told the greatest 'off-color' (let's say plain dirrrrty) jokes was a man whose accomplishments in his field were worthy of national and international recognition by his peers. I'm in the writing business. They don't hand out Peabody's because you're somebody's buddy. Trust me.

He could write about anything he loved -- fishing was only his favorite. One of the last toys I remember Mel buying for himself was a beautiful Canon digital camera. He had a good eye for it. He had been a regular contributor for Popular Photography, US Camera, and Modern Photography magazines. He wrote product reviews for PP for years. Like Frank Sargeant's highly popular Sailing for Dummies, Mel's writing had an audience totally beyond the one we consider ourselves sitting in.

We both knew that Mel had a book in him. After talking about writing one together for eight years, in August of 2009 I began working on it in depth. Mel's work on his show, and CapMel.com didn't allow him to spend the thirty-to-forty hours a week it would take to finish a real book without a co-author; I write textbooks for the college market, had helped Mel for years on the site, wrote articles he considered solid and published without edit, and above all, we trusted each other. We agreed to write the book together. We shook hands on a 'deal'.

Since Adobe's CS5 software was just going into what's called "beta testing", I had the new cool software to use on the book itself, and a partner in ATC that's a book-designing genius. Working with Mel, I wrote the primary copy. Writing a book isn't about the name, or if one author spent x hours while writer #2 writes y words in z hours. There's voice and content. The voice was pure Berman; I had twenty years of articles, instructional manuals, and understood voice. I do something Berman never did; I write step-by-step instructions. Exactly how to put a bait underneath a winter dock, and which side of the pilings the snook would sit behind depending on tidal flow was something that I knew how to draw fairly well. I had years of experience drawing with Adobe Illustrator. The marriage was perfect. And the book is good. It isn't my biased opinion, Frank Sargeant said it was excellent; he doesn't say things that aren't reality -- especially when he's talking about somebody else's writing. A lot of people loved the book.

The work had to be of the same quality as anything else our company put into the market. So I worked on it, and Mel did the copy editing, and we took years of Mel-stories, three months of full-time how-to writing, and a dozen-or-so articles I had written over the years for Mel's site. When all was tightened down, we produced and published Skinny: How to Fish in Shallow Saltwater. Mel's fame, his folksy and charming writing style (already loved by years of listeners), and a solid structure produced a very nice work. For a fishing book, the sales were good. You don't get rich writing one fishing book -- by any means -- but the success of the book while he was still alive, and for a short period following his demise -- showed some of the love our community had for the man.

Skinny: How to Fish in Shallow Saltwater by Mel Berman and Gary Poyssick

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK

The cover image for the book Skinny was done by a good friend by the name of Sam Root. His website -- SaltyShores.com -- will show you a glimpse -- a mere glimpse mind you -- of work unlike any sports photographer I've personally ever encountered. His photography has enhanced mostly all the magazines you're likely to have ever read on the sport, including, of course, Florida Sportsman, among many others. We strongly encourage you to visit Sam's site and check out his work both online, but most-of-all behind the lens of a still-or-video camera. If you're like us, you will be more than impressed. Thanks, Sam, for giving me and Mel the perfect image for his nearly-perfect book.

In December of 2009, Mel told me he was going to enter the hospital for heart surgery. Mel was tough -- I didn't give it much thought. Mel was gonna be around for a long time. We did, however, talk about the pressure that his growing web site cost him. It had been -- from the moment I helped him set it up long ago -- his absolute pride and joy. As much as he loved his radio show (he often said "as long as I have my voice, Poyssick, I have something to do"), the site fired him up like nothing else. He spent more than 30 hours many weeks in the room he shared with wife Ginnie's sewing equipment, and a collection of rods that couldn't have been used by thirty Mel Bermans in 20 years. I provided technical support to him, and kept him in legal Adobe software as part of my group on Adobe's testing teams. He still loved FrontPage, though, and the site was still running it the last time I was there (before getting banned for thievery, I guess lol). But for all the fishing sites around -- including this one -- as far as I know Mel's was one of the first. And before he died one of the best. We had planned on re-designing and re-launching CapMel.com, and this site started as a drawing I did for his.

A lot has transpired in a year. Keeping my friend's legacy truly (and technically) alive in the form of a powerful, friendly, easy-to-use and hopefully helpful and entertaining website, and committing that site to protecting our beautiful environment is something I was able to do. The form my honoring my friend's contribution to our community -- and to my life on a very personal level -- is TheOnlineFisherman.com. And my argument with him about general progressive vs. conservative politics has taken the form of my becoming the Communications Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance. Poor Mel never got to tell me that the T-Party were a bunch of racists. He left before I joined.

So this article's about writing a book, I guess, but it's more about that wonderful, touching, often-inappropriate, politically progressive man named Mel Berman. It's been said that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' refering to the site; that it somehow was an attempt to take advantage of my friend's leaving our lives, when in fact, the reality couldn't be further from the truth; the site was done to honor him, and to keep him here -- in a form I could never forget. A simple web site.

Gary Poyssick, Publisher

Interestingly enough, though I was the one accused of somehow stealing from Mel, everything he had ever done -- and been so very proud of doing -- has been somehow "inherited" by people he really didn't talk about all that much while alive. His "Fishing Conversations", his web site, the Saturday morning time slot, his name on tournaments -- you name it -- are all being done in his absence and in many cases "in his memory". Best of luck to all; Knowing him as well as I did, I'm sure Mel would have been charmed by your actions :) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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