Like many skilled trades workers, Paul Hughes wondered how he would make ends meet following the economic collapse in 2008. Construction came to a near standstill in his hometown, so the Columbus, Ohio, Local 683 member became a traveler and took to the road.
|Columbus, Ohio, Local 683 member Paul Hughes, left, casts his reel while a guide gives instructions during a fly-fishing trip to Ascension Bay off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in February.
Not only did the experience provide a financial boost, it led Hughes to rediscover a love of the outdoors he had as a child. He was introduced to fly fishing while working in Wyoming.
That turned into a passion, and a decade later, it has led to an adventure that is being televised nationally this week.
Hughes traveled to Mexico in February for a fly fishing trip off the Yucatan Peninsula that is the feature of this week’s episode of “Brotherhood Outdoors,” the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance series that profiles union members on fishing and hunting trips to legendary locations.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Hughes, a journeyman inside wireman and 24-year member of Local 683. “It was amazing and it all comes back to union membership. That’s astounding.”
The show is scheduled to air Oct.19 at 1:30 a.m. EDT and Oct. 20 at 11:30 a.m. EDT on the Sportsman Channel, which is available on a variety of cable and satellite providers, including DirecTV, Cablevision and Comcast. Shows also are available online.
“This is something you might do when you get your house paid off and when you retire,” Hughes said. “For me to be down there while still paying the bills was like winning the lottery.”
Hughes began working as a traveler along the Ohio River Valley, not far from where he grew up in southern Ohio. He wired and did maintenance work on industrial chimneys as an employee of Bronder Technical Services in Prospect, Pa.
He worked four 12-hour days each week, so Hughes had time to get back into fishing, mostly in nearby West Virginia. It also provided a distraction from dangerous work. Hughes and his co-workers sometimes were suspended in the air nearly 1,000 above the ground in the dark smokestacks.
“You couldn’t ask for a better place to fish. And honestly, it probably kept me out of trouble,” Hughes said with a laugh. “I had a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t working.”
|Paul Hughes, journeyman inside wireman and Columbus,
Ohio, Local 783 member.
After that assignment, he went to work for Chicago-based F.E. Moran installing smoke alarm systems at gas compression plants in Wyoming. One weekend, he drove to nearby Grand Teton National Park and got introduced to fly fishing.
He quickly fell in love with it.
“It’s something about the action between the fisherman and the rod,” Hughes said. “You have more control over that line in your hand than when you’re spinning a reel. It’s a more intimate approach to it.
“A well-placed fly is effortless, just like a good golf swing,” he added. ”You know it when you do it and you feel it. There is more of an impact than I expected when you toss a fly that weighs maybe a gram and the fish explodes after it just after it hits the water. It’s more immediate. It’s more direct. It’s more of a shock when the fish comes up to the line.”
The economy improved and Hughes eventually returned to Columbus. In late 2017, he responded to an online advertisement asking union members interested in appearing on the show to apply.
Hughes wrote the required essay and learned nearly a year later he was on his way to Mexico with Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Conservation and Communications Director Forrest Parker for a four-day trip.
“Ascension Bay is not an easy place to fish,” Parker said. “It’s quite demanding, in fact. Constant winds test casting skills and hours of standing on a rolling boat deck tax both your physical stamina and mental focus. But stepping out of your comfort zone is a big part of what makes a great adventure so great.”
Hughes and his companions fished for bonefish, baby tarpon and snook in deeper waters and windier conditions than he usually faces in the United States, he said.
“To judge where a fish is while dealing with that cross wind is not an easy task,” he said. “It’s extremely challenging.”
Television crews also traveled to Columbus to film segments with Hughes, including a trip to his local fly shop; and to Local 683’s hall, where other members were interviewed. Hughes credits fellow member Jeff Deckard and recently retired member Doug Stewart for organizing an active Union Sportsmen’s Alliance chapter at Local 683.
“Everyone here was so happy and excited when Paul was chosen to appear on the show,” Business Manager Ed Moore said. “He’s a valued member who brings energy and excellence to everything he does both on and off the job. I’m not sure we could have had a better representative of our great union in the great outdoors than him.”
The alliance promotes outdoor activities and encourages union members to volunteer their time to projects that conserve wildlife habitats, improve the nation’s parks and participate in programs that introduce children to the outdoors. Learn more about the USA and its “Work Boots on the Ground” conservation program. IBEW members can sign up for a free bronze-level membership.