Although he spent most of his nearly 40-year career working as
a journeyman inside wireman — or maybe because of that — Charles Bush has held
a longtime, abiding appreciation for the outdoors, and for fishing in
Recently, the New Brunswick, N.J., Local 456 member has been working on ways to combine his passion for nature with his lifelong commitment to community service.
“My claim to fame is that I was the chief foreman for the New York Times’s printing plant in Edison, N.J.,” he said, noting that he served in that role from 1990 until the plant closed in 2008. He retired in 2018 “mainly to chase fishing,” he said.
Bush also has served for years on the board of trustees for the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J. That’s where he got to know Gerard Robinson, a New Jersey Transit worker and member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART).
Interests in fishing and community service similar to Bush’s had been instilled in Robinson from boyhood, and in 2007, he formed Upstream Productions as an organization with a goal to expose inner-city children to a variety of outdoor-focused activities.
For several years, Bush and Robinson took groups of children from the urban neighborhoods of northern New Jersey — economically disadvantaged boys and girls or those with special needs or dealing with terminal illnesses — out to the country for day-camp excursions.
“It would be a fun day for them,” Bush said, featuring activities such as nature hikes, horseback riding, archery, swimming in lakes and — of course — fishing. Donations from a variety of sources helped support these trips, he said.
“I kept trying to have fundraisers to keep them going,” Bush said. But unfortunately, money for the outings grew scarce over time. “Eventually, there seemed to be just no way for us to generate enough income.”
As Bush and Robinson brainstormed for fundraising ideas, they recalled that the IBEW and SMART, along with other unions and NECA, sponsor a television program on the Sportsman Channel called “Brotherhood Outdoors” presented by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.
“That’s how we came up with the idea to get a fishing program going,” Bush said. They felt that a TV show centered on their fishing adventures would have real potential to bring in sponsorships and donations they needed to help them continue their charity work.
Calling the show “Reel Fishing,” the union brothers set out to record several sample programs in which guests accompanied them on fishing trips to scenic locales across North America. “Our mission is to introduce [viewers] to the fun that is fly fishing,” Bush said.
Paying for these trips out of their own pockets, Bush, Robinson and guests traveled with video crews to a number of picturesque destinations. And to help “Reel Fishing” appeal to a wide audience — not just novice-to-experienced anglers, but also to fishing gear hobbyists and casual viewers — invited guests have included folks like Derik Harmon, the father of New England Patriots safety Duron Harmon, and John Nicholson, star of the ID Channel docudrama “Murder Chose Me.”
Their chances of convincing a network to carry “Reel Fishing” increased significantly after the camera operator who shot Bush and Robinson’s trip to California offered to ask a professional editor friend of his to take a crack at crafting a broadcast-quality demo video suitable for submission to TV networks.
“It looked really good,” said Bush, who quickly forwarded the video to Outdoor Sportsman Group, the company that oversees the Sportsman Channel. The strategy paid off: “They made us an offer to run the show,” he said.
Season 1 of “Reel Fishing” is set to run this month on OSG’s Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network, with aired episodes available to stream anytime online. (Visit bit.ly/ReelFishingUnion for showtimes.) Planning for future episodes is already under way.
“For the second season, we’re aiming toward getting retired athletes. Their schedules don’t change too much,” Bush said, noting that they had already made some connections with several retired professional baseball players in Florida.
Meanwhile, Bush and Robinson spend time between tapings continuing to work with national charities that serve cancer survivors such as Livestrong and Casting for Recovery. “We spent a day with some cancer survivors, teaching them how to cast,” Bush said. That particular event, held in September in connection with York County, Pa.’s, YMCA, was covered by local Fox affiliate WPMT-TV.
Bush hopes that positive media coverage like that, along with continued airings of “Reel Fishing,” will ultimately yield a steady flow of funding for all of Upstream’s charitable efforts.
“We want to get back to doing stuff with the kids,” he said. “We have the dreams, but we can’t follow through until we get the funding.”
Visit reelfishingwithupstream.com to find out more.