It’s the end of January 2022 here in Marinette, Wisconsin, USA. The temperature where I live was negative 11 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, with negative 30 degree Fahrenheit windchills. Needless to say, I WILL NOT be scuba diving in the near future here. To top that off, I had 9 anchors installed into my right shoulder a month ago, so I am still in recovery. For those of you fellow divers who have had a surgery like this before, you understand how it can drive you a little crazy, knowing that you have to fully heal before you can gear back up.
I began free diving in my local river about 5 years ago. I live in a small city where fishing is a HUGE hobby/business. With just a mask, shorts and shoes, I’d dive in water up to 5 feet deep. I collected hundreds of fishing lures, aluminum cans, plastic/glass bottles and other “treasures” that I discovered along the way. I hauled a bodyboard around with me at all times, along with a knife and pliers, so I could free myself from fishing line when needed and then store my finds (and fishing line) on the board. I attached it to my wrist with a thin rope.
One Spring day, in 2020, I met a scuba diver who was a little younger than me. I had just finished a dive in my shorts, and I was COLD! I decided not to wear my wetsuit that day, because I figured the water was warm enough already. My knees were purple and I could not stop shivering! We introduced ourselves and asked each other many questions. He showed me all of the lures he had found, along with old bottles, which he collected. He then asked me if I ever thought about scuba diving. I said “Nah…I like to be free of all that gear and don’t wanna have to breathe through a tube.”. “Plus, I hear that it gets PRETTY expensive for all the classes and gear!” Well, by the end of 2020, I was officially certified through my local dive shop. I finished up my training just before the ice started forming on the local lakes and rivers. My scuba instructors were very experienced, knowledgeable and had many great stories to tell.
I had already been recording my dives of my cleanup efforts and editing videos for YouTube and Facebook. I learned a LOT through the process, met several other local divers and also starting chatting with others from around the world. My fishing tackle supply was getting out of hand! I would find them, take them home, cut all the fishing line off, clean them, take off rusty hooks, put new hooks on and then hang them up as “trophies”. I figured that I’d flaunt them on my Facebook page to sort of “show them off’. In no time, I had fisherman from all over the place wanting to buy them from me. It took a while, but I finally gave in…when I ran out of room on my large pegboard. It wasn’t too long later that I was getting phone calls to retrieve people’s cell phones from local bodies of water and marinas. It was then that I decided to start my own legal business…you know, so I could pay taxes on the money I was making from fishing tackle and recoveries. I started to claim all my scuba diving gear and equipment on taxes also. The money I was making from scuba diving was helping me buy more gear and pay for my air tank refills. I wasn’t getting rich from it, but the hobby/job/adventure paid for itself. I was still working my full-time job to pay all my other bills and support my teenage kids.
Back in March of 2021, I decided to branch out with my social media channels and even had a group of friends create a website for me… for FREE! They loved what I was doing, wanted to support me in my clean-up efforts and help me educate many more people of how much trash/treasure was in our local waters. A local school even had me come and speak to their 3rd through 6th grade classes, during a field trip, about scuba diving and all the stuff I pull out of the water. I had a blast and they all showed their appreciation for what I was doing by sending cards and letters in the following weeks, through their school and teachers. In less than a year, one of my social media channels went from 1 follower to almost 40,000 followers!
In 2021, I found and sold thousands of fishing lures, along with some anchors, fishing rods, old bottles…all recycled from my local rivers! I pulled out several snag spots (bicycles, branches) for the fishermen and freed many fish, mud puppies and crawfish from fishing line and hooks. My friend and I pulled out over 300 pounds of lead sinkers from our local dam. I found and returned several Apple iWatches and phones back to their owners, with no charge or conditions. One guy even gave a phone (Apple iPhone 11 Pro) back to me for my channel, because his insurance bought him a new one, and he wanted to show his gratefulness for what I was doing. I never expected that! During the summer, I found a metal box, wrapped in a pillow case, full of old jewelry and a few laminated obituaries. Within a few weeks of making my video, the owner contacted me and informed me that these items were stolen from his house a year and a half prior, and that he laminated the obituaries of his mother and wife. He was so happy I found them and insisted that I keep the jewelry, since I found it. He just wanted the laminated obituaries back! Of course, I gave him back the valuable jewelry and he was a VERY happy man! He even offered to be on the news with me and tell people about the whole story. It was an experience I will NEVER forget!!
I have so many more stories to tell, but they’ll have to wait. If you have the opportunity to scuba dive… DO IT! If you have the opportunity to help someone get their property back or clean up your local waters…DO IT! Just remember to dive smart and share your adventures with the world (if you are able).