Angler, educator no longer needs to catch fish for a smile

October 17, 2011
By Chris Saunders

08-gator2-22may08-006-crop2Benjamin “Mac” Currin takes a deep breath over the phone to give the question he’s just been asked some thought. The marine biologist, zoologist and angler pauses a little longer, really giving the inquiry adequate consideration. What’s his best personal fishing story?

Currin answers with a chuckle: “It’s probably one where I didn’t catch a fish.”

A funny answer for a sport fisherman whose career is, well, fishing. Currin owns Sport Fishing Adventures in Raleigh, where he bases his operation of fishing schools around the state. Currin leads classroom seminars  on identifying fish, equipment, conservation and fish and natural resource management.  He also takes his classes fishing.

Currin has loved the ocean and the life racing underneath its surface ever since his family had a house at Wrightsville Beach when he was a child. He parlayed that love into work at NC State as a zoologist in 1975, studying zooplankton in Wake County and around the state. In 1978, he started studying fish migrating to estuaries from the ocean, work he continued at NC State until 1991, obtaining a master’s in zoology along the way.

After a few years of contract work as a biologist, Currin started his fishing schools in 1993. The idea arose out of his time as director of NC State’s Sport Fishing School, a position he first took on in 1986 and continues to hold today. Currin’s love for education — his own included — comes through when he is asked about teaching novices and knowledgeable anglers.

“I get a big kick from seeing the faces of the folks when you tell them something they didn’t know or when you introduce them to a technique,” he says. “It’s not always about me and the other instructors teaching students. We learn and pick up something as well.”

big-snook-2-autocorr1 Like the time a man from Pennsylvania hooked a nice dolphin several years ago. Currin offered encouragement and the man landed the fish. Just another day at the office for a teacher. But a couple of years later, the man’s son contacted Currin, informing him his father had died and that he had always talked about how special the time had been on the boat knowing he had Currin at his side, championing him.

In 2003, Currin was appointed to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the federal body responsible for conservation and management off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and East Florida. More political in nature, that post is tougher than his day job. The council has to make tough decisions about issues such as over-fishing of certain species, like speckled trout in North Carolina or red snapper on the national level. Those decisions, which often lead to the reduction in catchable numbers or pounds for fishermen, may mean a slowdown for commercial fishing businesses. Currin works to make sure there are robust populations so that his children and and future commercial fishermen can enjoy fishing.

“People ask all the time, ‘What’s going to be more important, people or fish?'” he says. “Unfortunately, the fish have to be more important because I’m thinking not just about the people of today but about the next generation.”

At 61, Currin has come to appreciate his role as teacher and purveyor of a healthy future for natural resources just as much as a textbook cast and a perfect catch.

So it makes sense that his best fishing story doesn’t involve catching a fish. It involves Mary, his wife, who was on a boat with him in Belize in 2010. It involves a weightless artificial worm designed to sit and twitch close to the surface. It involves a tarpon, an unexpected 50-pounder, rolling and jumping on that bait. The fish jumped out of the water, and Currin saw it for the first time. It went under the boat and jumped on the other side, allowing the expert fisherman to see it one more time. Then it tore away.

“Just to get two jumps out of that fish,” he says, “was very satisfying.”

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