If you're driving along an interstate and spot a couple of fly fishermen standing hip-deep in a runoff ditch, don't be surprised. They're probably readers of Christopher Arelt and Sebastian O'Kelly's sweetly subversive book, The Offbeat Angler, published this year by Flat Hammock Press.
Those intrepid fishermen might even be Arelt and O'Kelly (pictured, left to right). The co-authors avail themselves of a cast or two every chance they get.
One recent expedition preceded a reading at a bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. "I had scouted out a classic offbeat angling destination [while] out walking with my dog," says Arelt. "I came upon a remote pond. When Seb came up for the reading, we hiked out to it carrying an inflatable raft with a foot pump. And in that pond I caught a seven-and-a-half pound largemouth bass—one of the biggest fish I ever caught. For Connecticut, that's amazing, especially considering that the car noise from I-95 is very audible in the background."
At the reading that night, Arelt was still tingling from his catch—but he kept the pond's location secret. Not so hidden are some of the fishing holes described in the book, including power-plant outflows, Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, and the Potomac River and C&O Canal in Washington.
The co-authors, who met as roommates at Duke, fished in the summertime in upstate New York, near O'Kelly's home, and took longer trips together over the years. These days, Arelt is an architect in Deep River, Connecticut. O'Kelly, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, works as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, where he has been known to take a fishing break at lunchtime.
The book was Arelt's idea. "Seb was trying to write political thrillers, and he was getting the door slammed in his face. He was bemoaning this, and I said, ‘Why not write about something closer to home? What about our wacky fishing adventures?'"
The collaboration began. Each wrote essays for the collection, and Arelt contributed whimsical line drawings.
The Offbeat Angler has found a niche, even among avid fly fishermen—known as a purist bunch. It reached number one on Amazon.com's top sellers in the fishing category, and has gone back for a second printing. O'Kelly even spoke about the book at the Anglers Club of New York, which is "to fly fishing as Augusta is to golf—the high end of the high end," he says.
Another title may be in the works. "A lot of the fishing books out there are either instructional-scientific or philosophical musings on the river of life," says Arelt. "We keep it light. Our next book might be How to Fish Golf Course Ponds in the Dark. We're trying every angle, so to speak."
Fishing doesn't have to involve meticulous planning, O'Kelly says. "Ours is a quick-strike approach: Keep the gear minimal and at hand at all times. You never know when you'll be someplace and see a body of water. You can get your fishing fix in that way."
Case in point: While in Florida on business, O'Kelly had a six-hour window free. "A guy I met at a conference had bought the book and e-mailed me saying that if I was ever in central Florida there was a body of water right behind his in-laws' homeowner's association building that looked promising."
O'Kelly had packed his reel, some line, and a few flies and had carried on his fishing rod, so he headed for the development. "On my very first cast I caught the biggest largemouth bass of my life," he reports, "right in sight of the cabanas and the condos."
That's offbeat angling.
Christoper Arelt '85, M.B.A. '87 and Sebastian O'Kelly '86
November 30, 2006