New York Local 3 Member Rises
|‘Everything in life comes down to timing, even in fishing,’ says Sancho, who has been fishing since he was a teenager.|
Many dedicated sportsmen are enthralled by experienced competitive anglers, a good number of whom are world-class characters and all of whom are students of fish habitat, water currents and temperatures and other factors that tell them whether they have a shot of landing a big one.
One New Yorker has risen to the elite level of competitive bass fishing. He’s self-admitted “character” Joe Sancho. And the big guy with the braided goatee who never takes himself too seriously, even when he appears on TV, is a 15-year journeyman wireman member of New York Local 3.
“Being an excellent fisherman requires a lot of the same attention to detail that it takes to be an excellent electrician,” says Sancho, who grew up on the western shore of the Hudson River about an hour north of the city. “If you see the birds gathering [above a section of water], you pay attention, just like you always pay attention to what wires you’re working with,” says Sancho.
Bass fishing combines solitary, quiet time with the loudness of other competitive sports. Individual fishermen can choose either or both. Some small clubs of 15 or 20 join the sport’s national federation and members compete outside their area. Most have little success beyond their home lake and region. They stick with bass for the challenge and the tranquility of trolling a quiet corner of a lake, taking in the foliage and rock formations on the banks.
At the top rung, bass fishing is as different those contemplative moments as flag-football is from the NFL. Guys like Sancho who collect enough points in local and regional tournaments to move to the elite level can put some real money in their pockets. Winning usually requires significant investment in boats, electronic gear, fishing apparatus, tournament entry fees and the cost of covering time away from a regular job.
The paybacks can be huge. Bass Madness, a book by Ken Schultz, details how cable sports channel ESPN bought rights to the 36-year-old Bassmaster Classic tournament in 2001, building the winner’s purse up to $500,000, making it what one reviewer calls a “NASCAR-like phenomenon.”
Some tournaments last three days, says Sancho, who is also a member of the Union Sportsman’s Alliance. First, there’s practice to scope out the fish habitats, water depth and temperature other hidden and submerged features and plan a strategy. Then fishermen go to work to find the sweet spot where the bass are hiding. All fish are kept in a live well on board, a place cool enough to maintain sufficient oxygen to keep them alive. Each angler takes the five largest live fish to the weighing station. Competition is stiff, but when anglers converge on the same spot, we are “gentlemanly,” says Sancho.
Away from the water, Sancho says, “everybody wants me to fish [competitively] and are 100 percent behind me” including his wife, Evelyn, his co-workers and his employer, Konsker Electric.The National Labor Management Cooperation Committee of the electrical industry is one of his sponsors.
Sancho also secured sponsorship from some local businesses in and around his hometown in New Windsor. He is sending out resumes to prospective sponsors, including fishing equipment manufacturers. And, since he’s the only New Yorker in the Elite Series, he is even touching base with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo for help.
In a post on the JoeSanchoBASS Facebook page, displays the IBEW colors with the words: “A huge THANK YOU to my fellow Union Brothers and Sisters at Local #3 IBEW for their support of my dream.”
Underscoring the link between hobby and union, Bassmaster joins the AFL-CIO and the Union Sportsman’s Alliance as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, helping win legislation to protect lakes and tidal areas from environmental damage.
Sancho fishes from a Ranger 520, with a 250-horsepower engine. Like all tournament fishermen, he gets quickly to his spot and then uses a small electric motor to maneuver. He is aided by electronic “fish finders,” but says years of experience, reading, viewing videos and speaking to other successful anglers, including hotshots like Mike Iaconelli, are just as important as the help he gets from instruments.
“I’ve learned from guys who are really good and also from trial and error and the school of hard knocks,” says Sancho, who, like all optimistic anglers, is always looking to locate his lure in the thermocline layer or above, usually a lake’s most hospitable zone for bass. But even the thermocline changes with the seasons and one has to adapt, he says.
A November story in the online blog, BassFan recounts how Sancho and a buddy approached a local bass fishing club in when he was only 15 and asked for membership.
“I was the only one in my family with a bug for fishing,” says Sancho who speculates that the club’s leaders hesitated to admit him because “guys didn’t want a couple kids tagging along with them because part of their routine was going to the local tavern together after a day of fishing.” After debating the issue, the club’s president, Frank Ceriello, won agreement to admit Sancho and his friend.
Ceriello is now “Uncle Frank,” a close friend who takes care of Sancho’s pets when he is away at tournaments.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but Joe has something special, he’s a natural who always finds fish. His success isn’t luck. It’s skill like in golf or any other sport,” says Ceriello, who sometimes fishes a quiet reservoir with Sancho, away from the competition. “It’s just me and him and the eagles and deer and wild turkeys. We use a rowboat. But Joe can still catch 150 to 200 bass.”
“I fish as much as I possibly can when I’m not working,” says Sancho who has seen the sport change completely since he started. Nowadays, there’s even college and high school competition, more multi-media coverage and magazines.
Sancho has fished tournaments in Texas and Canada and several on the Potomac and is a five-time qualifier for the EverStart Series championship, one of the sport’s most-respected levels.
He sharpens his skills by fishing in tidal waters. Unlike on lakes, the water, he says is constantly moving; only slowing down for one hour of black tide where currents are relatively stable. “You have to keep following the fish around,” says Sancho, whose wife, son and grandson have accompanied him on fishing trips to Canada, Lake Champlain and Lake Erie.
In his appearance on TV’s Lunkerville, Sancho participates in the Lake George (New York) Challenge for the Wounded Warrior Project. The confident, but not cocky Sancho is interviewed fishing for small mouth bass, baiting his hook with live smelts, dropping them into the grasses 40-feet down. He told BassFan, “Everything in life comes down to timing, even in fishing.”
“Fishing full-time would be a dream come true,” says Sancho, who never forgets that a good union job is indispensable to his success.
Sancho told BassFan: “At the end of the day “I still have my job. When I’m fishing, I’ll be fishing, but when I’m done fishing, I can come back and go straight back to work,” says Sancho. “That was another hugely important factor in this for me—that I’m not unemployed. I do have a job to fall back on and that takes a lot of pressure off. I wasn’t going to take a second mortgage out to do this. I’m going to do it based on sponsorship.”
Asked why he stands by a journeyman who misses work to go fishing, Dave Konsker says the company, founded by his grandfather in 1924 and signatory with the IBEW since 1979, is a small shop, where “we all get to know each other.”
Unlike some of the larger shops where the owners may not know the identity of “electrician number 92”, says Konsker, “We’re one of 175 shops [signatory to Local 3] with 20 or fewer electricians and we have a give and take relationship with our crews.”
Alongside his appreciation for his union and his employer, Sancho reserves gratitude for Ceriello.
“I owe everything to Frank,” he told BassFan. “Nowadays you see all of these high school clubs and college teams. It’s awesome. It’s because somebody realized you have to take a kid fishing.”
While he says he’s proud of his accomplishments, Sancho welcomes any help he can get, modifying Ceriello’s take on luck. “The competition is intense and I’d always rather be lucky than unlucky,” he says.