Dean Ween on dawn patrol in New Jersey.
Since getting his captain’s license last summer, Mickey Melchiondo, better known as Dean Ween, has been leading fishing tours off Long Beach Island, New Jersey. He’s the kind of skipper who also kindly gives shelter to anglers when there’s room in his trailer the night before and books it all himself through the magic of a lo-fi internet information page, mickeysfishing.com. Mickey also has his own online fishing series called the Brownie Troop Fishing Show that’s kind of like that old Fishing With John series hosted by actor and musician John Lurie, but without the irony. The Deaner is dead fucking serious about fishing. “Lurie’s show was more about the guests,” Mickey told me. “Mine is about the fishing.” So far Mickey’s posted 11 episodes on brownietroopfs.com, a site that also looks like a 16-year-old designed it in 1996. Go there to watch guests like Butthole Surfers’ own Gibby Haynes get blind drunk and say stuff like “I dunno where the fuckin’ stern is.” Like the rest of the world, I’ve been a fan of Ween since the early 90s, so of course I had to sign up for a Mickey-helmed fishing trip. As a committed landlubber with wobbly sea legs, I was plenty OK when Mickey called and said he’d prefer to surfcast. He had just returned from tour and finds it more relaxing. But at $300 a whirl, you might want to consider making him hoist the anchor instead.
It was really cold but Mickey seemed fine with it.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2 8:30 PM I’d just exited the freeway near Long Beach Island—a barrier sliver popular with tourists during the summer. I had arrived Sunday night because Mickey likes to start fishing before sunrise. He also suggested we could get “fucked up and watch the Yankees lose” the fifth game of the World Series. How could I resist such a proposition? It’s off-season, so the island was mostly deserted. Deep puddles of seawater were covering much of the road—remnants of a nor’easter and a rapidly vanishing beach. Mickey called and suggested we meet at his favorite island drinking hole. 8:45 PM I stepped into a plywood tavern with a neon sign out front that said Buckalew’s. Mickey was at the bar. He had messy hair and definitely looked like Dean Ween. In front of him was a draft of Beck’s alongside a rocks glass filled with Jameson. The World Series was on. He introduced me to his Brownie Troop fishing buddy Nick, a mid-Atlantic beach bum and fishing writer. Mickey informed me that the bartender—a sinewy old dude who looked like he could kick all of our asses at the same time—had won the Mega Millions lottery twice. 10:00 PM We headed to Mickey’s trailer to watch the rest of the game. It was tiny and lined up symmetrically with about a dozen other matching mobile homes. Mickey shares the vacation home with his sister—she’s there during the summer, while Mickey prefers the desolation of the colder months. He said he finds the retreat conducive to fishing and writing music. 10:15 PM We flipped the game on and cracked open some beers. I noticed the plastic container of dog food on top of the refrigerator. Then Mickey told me his border collie had recently died. “I loved that dog,” he said. “It fucking sucks, man.” “You ever heard of a skate helmet?” Nick asked, changing the subject. It felt like a trap, so I stood there unmoving, like an idiot. “That’s when you throw a skate on someone’s head—they wrap around like a helmet and dig their thorns into the side of your face. We did that to one of my buddies a few weeks ago. Fucking hilarious. I’ll have to show you how tomorrow.” The skate he was talking about, I finally realized, was the delicious-tasting fish. That is hilarious. 10:40 PM Mickey looked through his cabinets for booze for a few minutes, finished off the remnants of something (I’m not sure what), and lamented forgetting to pick up a bottle of Jameson. “It’s probably best we don’t have a bottle. We won’t be hurting too much tomorrow,” he said while opening another beer, the seventh I’d seen him drink since meeting up with him.
And then Mickey’s buddy hooked one! That’s a 30-inch, ten-pound striped bass.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3 12:15 AM The game was finally over and—thank God—the Phillies took it 8-6. Then we watched Jaws to get us in the mindset of hoisting some big motherfuckers up from the sea. “There’s a shitload of sharks out there just beyond the breakers during the summer,” Mickey said. “I sometimes think it would be funny to fill the water with chum and bring a bunch of them in while the beach is filled with tourists. It would ruin their vacation. Some teenage lifeguard saw me pull in a shark last August. He was just shaking his head like, ‘I’m not going back in that water.’” 12:45 AM I returned to my hotel to get a few hours of sleep. 5:30 AM After about four hours’ sleep, I forced myself to roll out of bed and make my way to Mickey’s trailer. I knocked on the door and, of course, he and Nick were wide-awake. I felt like shit. “Let’s fucking fish,” Mickey said. 6:15 AM As predicted, the beach was still too eroded for Mickey’s truck, so we carried the bait and his rods down to the water. Nick sliced up some bunker fish with a knife and began baiting the hooks. As the first rays appeared over the horizon, Mickey sang “Here Comes the Sun.” 7:00 AM No one had caught anything yet, and I asked Mickey whether he enjoyed fishing with the fans. “It sucks if you’re trapped all day with someone you don’t want to spend five minutes with,” he said. “But overall, I’ve been lucky and had mostly positive experiences. I forget that people come here mostly to hang out with Dean Ween, which is weird.” Then I asked him whether women ever signed up to fish, and he told me that thus far only men had hired him. Nick looked disappointed. “I do this for the bitches,” he said. 7:45 AM Mickey told me he doesn’t think about music while fishing. In fact, he doesn’t think about anything. “Waiting is 90 percent of what you do while surfcasting,” he said. “It’s like meditation. It’s the only healthy thing I do.” 8:50 AM After feeling a few bites, Nick finally had something on his line. “It’s a bass,” he said. “They don’t fight much.” Moments later Mickey was pulling the hook out of a 30-inch striper. They estimated it to be about 10 to 12 pounds. I looked down and noticed Mickey’s hand was bleeding. “Bass don’t have teeth,” he said, “but their mouths are like sharp sandpaper.” 9:00 AM Mickey grew annoyed because some old codger with a decorative fishhook in his hat had set up camp next to us. “This guy’s got no shame,” he said. “When you wait till someone catches something and then set up shop—that’s called mugging. I’ll give him the stink eye.” 11:00 AM After two hours of waiting and a lot of silence, Mickey said he hoped to catch another bass so we could at least hit our limit of two, but nothing was biting. 11:30 AM I asked Mickey whether Gene Ween ever accompanies him on his fishing trips. “Oh yeah,” Mickey said, “but he’s not as obsessed with it as me. We actually recorded The Mollusk just down the road from my trailer.” I also asked him whether they’re planning to record another album anytime soon. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got some songs. He’s got some songs. That’s what we always do.” 12:00 PM I told Mickey I had to call it a day. I was tired and I still needed to drive home to Brooklyn. “We caught one big striper,” he said. “In surfcasting, that’s what’s called a successful day.” Tightening up the slack on his lines, he said he was going to fish for a couple more hours. “If I didn’t have to drive home to see my son, I’d be out here all day,” he said.