A fishing rod might just be a great leveler.
Gather a group of avid anglers together and they will run the gamut. You will have minnows, flounder and big fish - skillwise.
But then you have Russ Newberry.
The Alaska-born deckhand was aboard the crabbing vessel Time Bandit for the second season of a show about the deadly job of catching king crabs in the rough waters of the Bering Sea. Four years later - thanks to Discovery Channel's "The Deadliest Catch" - he is at the top of a previously nonexistent list of famous fishermen.
Put him in a room with other fishermen, the conversation will revolve around their biggest catches.
Stopping in Pleasantville on Sunday, Newberry was met by a small crowd of fans at Pistol Pete's Saloon and Steakhouse.
"I've caught an 82-pound wahoo, off Cape May," gushed Dawn Kennehy, who lined up to exchange war stories with Newberry.
Where Newberry goes fishing, he often has to use hydraulics to bring up fishing lines - or else wind the lines in by hand for hundreds of feet.
The boat, as seen on TV, may look solid, he said, "but everything's rolling, up and down, all the time," he said, miming the motion of the turbulent Alaskan seas. So he has to laugh when he meets people who think, despite the danger, that they could fish there, too.
"Everyone has a little bit of fisherman in them," he says. "It doesn't matter how much or how little you've learned- everyone wants to be able to catch a fish."
Up stepped Carl Epps, of Egg Harbor Township, ready to talk about saltwater fishing for halibut. He said his largest catch was 150 pounds.
Then came Bob Kelly and Rich Carty, friends who share a pastime of flounder fishing off a bridge near Longport.
In friendly fashion, Carty said of Kelly, "He has trouble catching water."
That was just the start of casual one-upmanship.
While an 8-pound Alaskan king crab sat at a place of pride in Pistol Pete's dining room, Newberry, who had come to promote two local businesses, Pistol Pete's and Chispanic Foods, nonchalantly pointed to the posters he had autographed, where he stood on the Time Bandit, holding a 14-pound specimen.
More than a few area residents said they had gladly ditched their Fourth of July weekend plans to hear him brag.
"For any of us who grew up at the shore, this is truly exciting," exclaimed Markilyn Warlow, of Ocean City. At 23, she was one of the younger fans who could actually fish. And with a passion for crabbing, she said she proudly told Newberry she once caught a dozen blue crabs at one time.
Reflected in every small catch, said Newberry, is the sense that there's always a bigger fish out there for next time.
Even he sees the appeal of the water as the unconquered territory, with the fishermen the frontiersmen of the sea.
With every catch, he says, "it's like a modern-day, gold rush."
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