A sponsored Swedish fish-eating contest? Dinners at the Union League Cafe? Rumors like these are all most Yalies know of the elusive and mysterious Yale Angler’s Journal, a semiannual undergraduate publication that features prose, poetry and photography –all related to fishing. Much of the Journal’s history, and many of its eccentricities and realities can be discovered simply by asking its editor in chief and dedicated staff member, David Haltom ’04. He can answer any questions one might have, ranging from “What is ‘angling,’ anyway?” to “Where is this alleged publication and why does it only come out twice a year?”
For starters, “angler” is a term for “one who fishes with a hook.” In other words, an angler is a fisherman. The Angler’s Journal is something of an evolution from the concept of the “literate fisherman,” illustrated by the 16th-century book, “The Compleat Angler, Or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation,” by Isaak Walton. Haltom said he believes that fishing tradition — both in publication and in practice — has a definite place in Yale history.
An outlet for anglers
The Yale Fishing Club, started by Tom Migdalski and his dad, Ed, was a fully competitive organization back in the day. In fact, the Fishing Club traveled to places as exotic as Bermuda and Nova Scotia to compete on an intercollegiate level in — that’s right– catching fish, which continued until the mid-1990s, when the numbers of other colleges willing to participate in the sport and chances at catching fish both significantly decreased. The Angler’s Journal was founded in 1996 as an “outlet” for fishing interest inside and outside Yale, when senior James Prosek and freshman Joe Furia teamed up with faculty advisor Nelson Donegan to drive it into existence. Prosek, who is the author of several fishing publications, helped get the journal off the ground, but it was really Furia who came up with the Journal as it is today. After Furia retired as editor in chief, Alexis Surovov took over, and Haltom is the third person to fill the position. The publication served — and serves — a dual purpose: a haven for those at Yale looking for an opportunity to be with people who like to fish and an outlet and source for those who, frankly, just want to read and write about fishing.
The articles published in the journal come from a wide variety of sources: college students, professors, deans, high school faculty and professional guides. The staff members, who are not necessarily all knowledgeable or interested in fishing, do not actually write its articles. Their only job is to edit the ones that come in on a rolling basis between the fall and spring publications. Members solicit contributions to the journal through advertisements in popular sport and fishing magazines like Gray’s Sporting Journal and Atlantic Salmon, mailings to members of the American Museum of Fly Fishing, and visits to fishing shows around the country. The Journal staff attended a large fishing expo in Denver last year that boasted attendance of over 20,000 fishing enthusiasts. The Journal also sponsors an annual nationwide competition for the best prose and poetry angler entries. In general, Haltom said that there is enough material for them to pick and choose among the submissions in accordance with a general format. The last four or five issues have had 13 pieces, divided about equally between prose and poetry. Each written work is accompanied by an illustration. The editing process is not intrusive — pieces are almost always left in their original form.
Fly-fishing clinics, Swedish fish, and a $25,000 banquet
Enough Journal history. What are they doing now? The mysterious publication that only comes out twice a year is clearly no Yale Daily News or Yale Herald. The Journal is a low-key bound volume without bells, whistles or gimmicks. The Journal is also not distributed widely throughout campus — in fact, none of the Journal’s subscribers are students. Its readership includes a few scattered professors here at Yale, but mainly rests in other parts of the United States, along with Mexico, Canada, England, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Iran and France, to name a few. Even without any student support, the subscriber base is surprisingly high — 400 people pay to have the two issues published per year mailed to their places of residence. The subscribers, Haltom said, are generally very loyal. Most of them are anglers who nostalgically remember the days of Gray’s Sporting Journal before it “sold out” by placing advertisements in their now-glossy pages. By choosing not to accept advertisements, the Journal gives itself an added challenge: to secure alternate sources of funding. The money for production has to come from somewhere; therefore, as solid as a 400-subscriber count is, the Angler’s Journal must rely on private contributions.
The answer to the funding question, as well as an example of the kind of external support the Angler’s Journal has, is its annual dinner, given in April. This dinner, hosted in the President’s Room above Woolsey Hall, sells $100 tickets to alumni. The attendance is capped at 100, and there is a keynote speaker — usually an artist or literary figure — who is related to fishing in some way or another. After the dinner, the Journal auctions off fishing trips led by members of the staff and other fishing guides. The $25,000 brought in by each annual dinner may make eyes bulge. As Haltom put it, “Yale has a niche rich market.” Whereas it might be impossible to find such a large, wealthy market of contributors to angling in any other arena, Yale seems to be the perfect breeding ground for benefactors of such an esoteric publication. Since the funds raised at the annual dinners are well in excess of the publication’s yearly budget, the staff can spend time soliciting entries and learning about the publishing process rather than recruiting advertisements. And, as Haltom said, “Without alluding to the number of times the Yale Angler’s Journal visits the Union League Cafe, I can tell you that the staff is very well fed.” Enough said. The staff also takes periodic fishing trips.
Publicity here at Yale is the Journal’s one weakness, as indicated by the school’s general lack of knowledge about it. Haltom says that the Journal is working on changing this — the annual Swedish Fish Eating Contest approaching is one of the publication’s serious attempts to get its name out there. Last year’s contest involved participants eating 25 or less to advance to the next round, which continued until all but one person was eliminated. The person who consumed the most fish and received the cash prize ate several hundred fish without chewing. Incidentally, there was also an unclaimed $20 “catch and release” prize, for those who just could not keep those fish down. Aside from enticing people to consume massive quantities of gummy fish, the contest helped to raise the profile of the Journal on campus. This year’s competition, to be held in November, promises to be an even larger affair. The Swedish fish company is sponsoring it this time around and will be providing fish, T-shirts, and posters, which Haltom said the club is very excited about. A less prominent publicity attempt has been the Journal’s fly-casting clinics, offered on Cross Campus on select Sundays. According to Haltom, the turnout has been good.
Now that the community behind the Journal has been revealed, and you know all about “anglers,” the Union League Cafe, the Swedish Fish Eating Contest and all else that is the Angler’s Journal, investigate a little further on your own. You can visit the Yale Angler’s Journal’s Web site at http://www.yaleanglersjournal.com, or the office at 305 Crown St. At the very least, see if you can track down an actual copy of the book when it comes out this fall. n