There's nothing that quite matches the exhilaration of reeling in a 25lb striped bass: the white-knuckle grip on the pole as your forearms feel the sweet burn of success before marveling at the size of your catch. Dean Ween, one half of the joyously unclassifiable rock band Ween, is addicted to this feeling. When he's not touring or recording, he's either running fishing charters as the skipper of his own boat, The Archangel, or fishing with his friends in the rivers of Pennsylvania, the Jersey Shore, and pretty much all over the world. His charter was some of the most fun we've ever had. We talked with Deaner (AKA Mickey Melchiondo, Jr.) about fishing minutiae, his Ween-crazed clientele, and the best boat name he's ever seen.
So your blog says the MTV crew was on the boat today? It was good. Where are you located? New York?
We're in DUMBO, yeah. You've got the same weather today, it probably touched 82, I think. So it was nice to be out there. We smoked em.' We caught a shit ton of fish. We caught so many fish that we stopped after forty minutes, they had enough. How many do they need to see? It was a beautiful day. [See the video here.]
It's the time of year and we haven't had a spring this year and I don't think we're going to get one, I think it's going to go from winter to summer. So these fish have been waiting and waiting and waiting and you get a warm snap like this and it just explodes everywhere. I had my choice today of taking them three or four different places, it's been on fire for three or four different species. It's a good problem to have.
What species did you fish today? We did American Shad because it's a lot less rugged than striper fishing down in the southern part of the river, which is tidal water. We had to have two boats, so they had the camera crew on one, and cameras on mine. But shad fishing you're at anchor, and it's right here in New Hope, so we didn't have to go anywhere. And it's guaranteed slam-dunk fishing, so it worked out perfectly.
Were they doing a piece on you or Ween? No, it was a piece on me. They have a show called Offbeat that chronicles musician's other hobbies. So I guess their first episode was that one guy from the Pixies has been a magician his whole life, and he comes off tour and does parties and bar mitzvahs, and no one knows he's in a band.
And you're a certified captain? Yeah, a 100-ton master.
How does one go about doing that? You have to go to sea school. You study at home. It's a coast guard test. And you have to learn, well you have to learn everything. You learn navigation and chart-plotting, how to read the chart, using a compass, dead reckoning. It's actually really cool shit to learn. It's nice stuff to know. I could take a bearing, there actually a lighthouse 35 degrees south, and twenty minutes later it's at 40 degrees... figure out how far you drifted, what direction you drifted, how fast you drifted.
So if GPS fucked up, you'd be able to get yourself home. [Laughs] What's funny is the reality of the test, it doesn't allow that GPS has ever been invented. I must have, between me and my passengers, I must have five back-up systems on my boat between my iPhone, my GPS unit, their phones. But it's good to know anywhere, doing it the old-fashioned way. And honest to God, the more I do it, the more I come out of my inlet—you know I have places marked off—rock piles and reefs. When I come out of my inlet, I know that it's 265 degrees heading on the compass, and I don't even really look up at the unit. 5-7 miles to run—I just look at the compass. I look at the unit in the last 500 yards to make sure I'm right on top of it.
When do you rely on the GPS? When the weather's bad? No. For structure. Certain kinds of fishing, where you set up on structure, you set up on a wreck or a reef. You want to figure out which way the wind is blowing, which way the tide is going, and you want to anchor so when you swing around, your anchor is right on top of it, on your piece. That's when GPS is handy. Or if you're running a long way where you're out of sight of land, you have to, you have to know where you're going. Because it all looks the same, you could be going in circles and not know it.
The fishing you do, with all the different types of lures and strategies and species, to a casual fisherman who throws a bloodworm on a hook and hopes for the best—it seems pretty complicated, and it's obviously impressive. Who taught you how to fish or is it just years of experience? It's a lifetime of learning and it doesn't end. I'm learning every single day. That's what's great about fishing, it's one of those things where you can never completely master it. You listen a lot, you keep your ears open, you listen to old-timers, people in tackle shops. It's just a lifetime of learning. But that's why people hire a guide, too, you know what I mean? If you've been out fishing your whole life and you've never caught a striped bass above 20 lbs. and you want a shot at the 40 or 50 pounder, you hire a guide. And you might not have the tackle because how often are you going to encounter fish that size?
What made you want to start running the charters? Because no life sounded better to me than getting paid to fish, other than getting to play the guitar and get paid for it. So being able to do both things, I'm blessed. And one thing benefits the other. Being in Ween, I have a lot of trips, but my next availability is in December right now. I'm booked up for the year, and it's a tough economy and a lot of my friends don't have anything like that. I get to travel because of the band, I get to fish all over the world, which is great. Having something else in your life when you're in a band other than the band is very important. Because we all start doing it not to get paid but because we love it—playing guitar, writing songs. You know, and when you start getting paid for it, that's a privilege, and you want to keep that intact. It's important that you don't ruin your hobby because it's a job.
You don't perceive that happening with running charters? I do and I'm very, very cautious about it, of not burning myself out. I've been able to keep this—this is my third year of guiding full-time and I've been able to keep it interesting. I started out only doing the river and bass trips, and that got really old. I knew that I wanted to do the salt water a lot more, which is way more interesting, there's more fish in play, bigger fish. So I started that. Now I don't do but three weeks of river fishing per year, and it's all in April, and then I'll be in salt water til December. Now next year I'm going to move to off-shore fishing: tuna, sharks, marlin. And I'm in a position where I don't have to do it to put food on the table, you know what I mean? I don't have to fish everyday, but I want to, and I love it. I look forward everyday to getting up and going to the boat at 4 o'clock in the morning, and I get the same satisfaction out of putting people on fish as I get out of catching them myself.
Is it possible to sum up the sort of clientele you have or is it really just eclectic? It's all over the place. I have a certain amount of clientele that comes from tackle shops, where my business cards are just there, they need a guide and they don't know I'm in a band, and I don't tell them. And I get a lot of Ween fanboys, with their little bowls of weed, fucking annoying. [Laughs] And I get chicks. It's all over the place. I get Ween fans that are hardcore anglers and I get Ween fans that have never touched a rod. I have fathers and sons, husbands and wives. It's kind of like Ween's fanbase, actually, it's all over the map.
I guess, that's my point—you mentioned that you were really active in Ween's online community initially, and then you had to back off. Is this gig a way to still interact without having the entire focus be on Ween? It is, it is. We've always been very available to our fans. Always. My address is on the Ween website still, and my phone number is on my guide site, it's my home phone number. There's no secretary, you can call and the phone rings in my house and my son answers it or I get it. I book the trips, I pick people up at their hotel or whatever, the train station or airport, take 'em fishing and drop 'em back off. We're approachable and we're nice. There's boundaries, but I haven't had too many bad experiences, only a few.
When we went out in November of '09, we limited out completely. Were you with me?
Yeah. Oh, I didn't realize that.
Yeah a buddy and I are poster boys on your website. What did we do? Did we striper fish?
Yeah, someone had forwarded me an article where you had mentioned it, and I was like, "there's no way he's doing this." We limited out with bass. How often does that happen? Oh yeah, that's right okay. Well it's fairly typical. It's two per angler. No, I mean I wish it was that day everyday, I won't lie to you. Fishing is fishing.
So getting skunked is relatively rare on one of your charters? I think it's only happen to me one time. But I'm not trying to get people's money. And um, the advantage of fishing every day is putting together a pattern, and knowing where and when and why the fish are going to be there. If it sucks, I tell people. Hey listen, just so you know, it sucks. And I give 'em the option of rescheduling. It's like, you know, whatever, for whatever reason, the wind is blowing out the West for four days, or out of the South, the bite is shut down. But I'm not one of those people. I'm not trying to just get your dough. It hurts me more than anybody when there's a slow day of fishing, I just get fucking furious.
Does that happen to you personally, when you go out by yourself and you just get skunked? That's just fishing, I mean, that's just fishing, you know? But no, not often. Not often.
It's an old adage that fishermen lie. It's on a million beer cozies. It's true.
Have blogs like yours or digital cameras sort of dented that perception or is it still. I tell you man, it used to be an expression, "Pictures tell the story." When you're talking about fishing, you always want to have a camera. I have an HD flip video and shit on my boat so it's so much better. You can really capture everything. And everyone's phone has a camera or whatever. I think it's great, personally. I always have a camera with me on the boat, a video camera.
Has there ever been a time that you caught something and you didn't have a camera and you were like, "Dammit." Anything recently? Yeah, the first thirty years of my life.
So seeing as you're a Phillies fan, it's safe to say you hate the Yankees, right? No, no. To be honest with you, I grew up a big Yankees fan. Clemens put a bad taste in my life, and then A-Rod ruined it forever. I love those '90s Yankees teams with Paul O'Neil and Jeter and Bernie Williams and Brosius and Tino Martinez, and I'm not a front-runner, I'm a huge Phillies fan. But they're just—the Yankees didn't used to go buy every single free agent. And they do now. It's amazing that Cliff Lee is the first guy to say no and come to Philly for less money. I'm not a Yankees fan right now, no. I love me some Derek Jeter. I like Joe Girardi.
So you would take Derek Jeter out on a charter? Oh yeah, I'd absolutely take Jeter out. But A-Rod—I really hate that guy.
But I mean, I think it's sort of his MO, right? Is that, he gets people to hate him and then he performs. He's a super talented ball player. I think he kind of lied about how long he did steroids and how much he did. Anyway, let's not talk about that. You're going to get me all charged up.
You named your boat the Archangel, right? And I guess we were tossing around names for your boat because you hadn't bought it yet. A few were "Inoperable Brain Tumor" or "Full-Blown AIDS." Are you going to go straight Archangel 2 or are you going to mix it up?[Laughs] My next boat will probably be Archangel 2. Same Michael as the archangel, one of 'em. I'm a Michael so I wear the same Michael medallion around my neck, so archangel seemed like a really good vibe. That just sounds mean.
That's my middle name and my parents told me that when I was little to psyche me up, too. It just sounds mean. "Oh they killed themselves an archangel. A 500-lb mako today on Archangel."
What's the best boat name you've heard besides that one? There's one I see out there that's, JEFF. [Laughing] Yeah, I just love that! I see one that comes out of my inlet that's just JEFF.
With a G or a J? With a J. J-E-F-F. Jeff.
That's pretty good. It is, it's just so bad, it's like naming your dog, "Jeff." [Laughs]