An angler, writer and ‘gentle soul’

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Sportfishing writer Tim Coleman was a quiet, modest man who preferred to let his actions and written words do the talking for him. An exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer, Coleman didn’t like to put himself at the center of his stories or shine a spotlight on himself.

He preferred to focus his stories on the fish, tactics, other anglers. Comfortable with his accomplishments, Coleman didn’t feel the need to toot his own horn. When he did refer to himself, he often did so in the third person or in a self-deprecating way.

“I don’t think he used the words I, me or mine,” says Peter Shea of Gloucester, Mass., a friend with whom Coleman fished off New England in the summer and fall and off Key West in the winter, where both men spent their winters.

Given his aversion to braggadocio, I will fly a flag for Tim Coleman, who died last Thursday, May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best this time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was 65, and he passed away, literally, with his fishing boots on.

With his passing, our industry lost a strong, reasoned voice for sound fisheries management and sensible conservation. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast. And for those of us fortunate to know him, we lost a good friend.

“A gentle soul is probably the best way to describe him,” says Pat Abate, a tackle shop owner and noted New England angler.

Abate met Coleman in 1974, when the writer was attending college in Rhode Island and working as the founding editor of what would become the New England edition of the weekly fishing newspaper The Fisherman, where he turned out hundreds of stories and fishing reports for the next 27 years. “He was unique. Easygoing guy. Very high morals. He wasn’t motivated by money, just enough to get by,” he says.

Tim Coleman was something of a throwback. He didn’t own a cell phone. Didn’t have an answering machine. Took photographs with a film camera. He was the last correspondent for either Soundings or Trade Only who still sent us prints.

For almost a decade, he wrote a monthly fishing column for Soundings. And each month he and I would spend half an hour or more on the phone going over column ideas and talking fishing and life.

A native of Philadelphia, a Vietnam veteran and a journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Tim eventually made his home in the little corner of southwestern Rhode Island where I hail from. We became friends and often fished the same stretch of beach and waters, sometimes together, sometimes our paths crossing in the night.

He was one of those guys you could just depend on. And he fished the “right way,” ignoring the latest fads, trends and angling geegaws. He didn’t give a hoot about labels or brands. “Status meant nothing to him,” says Abate, the owner of Rivers End tackle shop in Old Saybrook, Conn.

“The words that come to mind,” Shea says, pausing for a moment, “he was shy, understated, taciturn, steady. A good man, and a Christian man. The written word was his primary communication tool. He was just a good guy with good friends.”

And, Shea notes, “He thought like a fish. He really did.” Although he practiced catch-and-release, Coleman also enjoyed putting fish in the box and donated many pounds of fillets to soup kitchens and individuals in need.

Shea plans to have Coleman’s initials, TTC, carved into the port quarter of his 35-foot Mitchell Cove when he splashes the boat shortly. That was Coleman’s spot on their frequent cod trips, where the friendly banter and teasing flowed as smoothly as the fish that came over the rail.

“He’ll be riding with us, for sure,” says Shea, who made the lifelong bachelor part of his extended family of children and grandchildren. TTC stands for “Tarpon Tim Coleman,” the latest in a litany of nicknames Shea bestowed on Coleman and a reference to the angler’s most recent piscatorial passion — night fishing the bridges of the lower Keys in the winter for tarpon. The striper sharpie from New England called tarpon his “newest frontier.”

A surf fisherman at heart, Coleman also was a passionate wreck hunter who teamed up with research academics with side-scan sonar to find long-forgotten sunken vessels. Coleman provided the intelligence, often in the form of Loran or GPS numbers he got from the “hang” logs of dragger captains he befriended. He liked the research, the history, the search for the proverbial needle in the briny haystack — and especially the large cod, haddock and pollock the fishermen would crank up when they finally located a virgin wreck.

In his long career with The Fisherman and later as a freelancer, Tim wrote literally thousands of articles and columns and seven or eight books. He never missed a deadline with us in almost 10 years. Nor did we ever write a correction about something he wrote. Timmy was a careful reporter and writer who knew his fishing cold.

“I don’t think he kept a diary, but he had a very good mental recognition of things,” Abate says. “He was very observant and had a very good memory. It’s not what he had but what he did with what he had.”

He fished simply and effectively, usually carrying a half-dozen or fewer lures. At night he often fished for striped bass with an unpainted jig head with a black plastic worm threaded over the hook. Tim Coleman was searching for the essence.

“He was absolutely a minimalist,” Abate says.

In the 1980s Coleman often could be found fishing off Block Island, R.I., the site of what Abate has called the “last great buffalo hunt” for very large striped bass. Tim’s largest was a 67-pounder — a fish of a lifetime for a man who was happiest when he was in or on the water, gazing seaward, fishing rod in hand.

Donations in remembrance of Coleman can be made to the Tim Coleman Memorial Scholarship, University of Rhode Island Foundation, 79 Upper College Road, Kingston, RI 02881.


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