BERLIN – Howard Martin was the baggage porter, his wife Karen was the driver, and their friends Bob and Helen Morrison acted as the scout and trip coordinator.
In a team effort, the group would set off on yearly trips that would lead to a 15-year quest to complete Martin’s bucket list. The goal: to catch a fish in all 50 states.
The task started as an innocent fishing hobby that Martin started after dealing with serious health issues.
“I started fishing locally here and fell in love with it over a period of time,” Martin said. “The more I fished, the more my health improved.”
But this love soon turned into fishing trips along the Eastern seaboard, which coincided with his moving company’s many out-of-state jobs.
By the time he created his bucket list, Martin had fished in every state from Maine to Mississippi.
“When I got to 15 states, I thought we could actually do this,” Martin said.
After retiring, the Martins found themselves leaving the comforts of their Bishopville home to join the Morrisons on yearly treks to different states.
While the ladies planned the trips, Martin thought about the fishing. From Hawaii’s salty water to Maine’s rocky rivers, Martin caught fish of every shape and size.
His largest catch was a 9’6”, 350-pound sturgeon, which all four friends reeled in from Oregon’s Columbia River.
Success, however, did not always find its way onto Martin’s hooks, as weather and poor fishing conditions meant having to take another trip back to Kansas and Wyoming.
“We were fishing in Kansas and had a few bites when a tornado touched down,” Martin said. “It ran us all the way out of the state.”
Martin and his wife just returned from their last fishing trip to Missouri two weeks ago, officially completing his quest.
With an entire photo album to prove it, Martin and his wife can now look at all the memories they made.
“When we visit our friends, we can’t even watch TV or go to the movies without saying, ‘Oh, remember when we went there?,’” Martin said.
But reflecting back on the journey, Martin said the people and views were more impressive than the fish.
“This is weird to say, but it wasn’t the fishing that was most memorable,” Martin said. “It was just the things you see along the way that moved me.”
From pine-rimmed ponds surrounded by bald eagles to fights between a grizzly bear and lone wolf, Martin said the sights were breathtaking. But the people he met were just as great.
Through word of mouth, and with the help of his daughter, many people in other states heard of Martin’s bucket list and helped him along his journey.
But some meetings were more spontaneous, like meeting business mogul Ted Turner on a fishing trip in New Mexico or talking to a downtrodden woman who was starting a new life and was walking on foot to California.
The latter even went so far as to leave Martin and his friends a note of thanks for cheering her up.
“There are little things we do that don’t amount to anything, but it meant the world to someone else,” Martin said.
He got more out of the experience than he bargained for, but Martin said it has been fun. But he isn’t stopping there.
Although he completed his goal, Martin said he is now adding to his bucket list. He may visit every baseball stadium or he may visit every presidential library. The possibilities, he said, keep his 74 years of life worthwhile.
“It gives me a reason to put one foot in front of the other each day,” he said.