When Jay Rodriguez, a New York steamfitter, read about Captain Conway Bowman in Sportfishing Magazine, he never dreamed he would soon join him in San Diego to fly fish for 100-200 pound mako sharks.
Jay generally fishes for summer flounder, blue fish and striped bass that weigh between five and 10 pounds off the shores of Long Island, but he always wanted to fight something on the line that weighs as much as he does. He made that dream a reality when he applied for Escape to the Wild, a TV show of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), VERSUS Network and sponsoring unions and contractor associations that takes hardworking union members on the hunting or fishing trip of a lifetime.
“I thought fly fishing was only for small fish,” said Jay. “I mean, a mako shark is like a great white. We were in a 20ft. open boat. The sharks could have come up and bit my toes off!”
A member of United Association (UA) Local 638, Jay learned aboutEscape to the Wild through his union journal and decided to take a shot. “You just fill out entries and send them in. You never think about it or expect to win,” said Jay.
But Jay did win, and his dream trip took him from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast to experience a completely different style of fishing. “I learned a lot about conservation-catch and release. In Long Island, you keep what you catch. If you keep a mako, you only get to catch two,” said Jay. We saw a bunch of sharks in the water at once. You could almost pick the one you wanted to go after. I realized that if everyone kept what they caught, this wouldn’t be possible.”
Jay learned a lot about conservation in San Diego, where the wildlife is a lot more vibrant. “That wouldn’t have been possible without the TRCP,” he said. He also learned about the TRCP’s new Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, a hunting and fishing club exclusively for union members (www.UnionSportsmen.org). “Honestly, nine out of 10 guys on the job hunt or fish or do some kind of outdoor activity,” said Jay. “I just think it’s a great opportunity.
As passionate as Jay is about fishing, he is equally passionate about his union and wishes every union member could experience a fishing trip like he did. Before joining the UA, Jay was a Recruitment Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy stationed in Hawaii. During that time, he met his first wife, Rebecca, who was stationed in San Diego. They were married a year and half later and soon had their first son Evan. Tragically, Rebecca passed away in her sleep at age 22, leaving Jay to raise their 18-month-old son. Jay’s mother and sister helped take care of Evan, while Jay worked 60-70 hours a week to make ends meet.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, Jay stumbled upon the Steamfitters through a friend. “If the Navy was the best decision I ever made, applying to the Steamfitters is a very close second,” said Jay. “It is so similar to the Navy with the camaraderie, the tradition and pride in your work. Being a father and becoming a steamfitter saved my life.”
Later, Jay met his second wife, Euffrasia, who lovingly took over the role as Evan’s mother, and together, they had a son Justice. Remembering the quality time he spent fishing with his father as a child, Jay now enjoys taking his own sons fishing and crabbing.
“My father taught me to respect all fishing rules and guidelines because we will not be able to enjoy them now or in the future if we don’t,” said Jay. “I pass my knowledge onto my sons, so they can teach their children.”
Join Jay Rodriguez as he chases mako sharks with a fly rod on Escape to the Wild. Tune in to VERSUS Country on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 10 AM Eastern.