Take a walk along the beaches in Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, or Long Beach Island, or stop at the marinas or any of the fishing tackle shops around the Jersey Shore, and if you mention the name “John Geiser,” most fishing folks know his name.
Today, those comments will likely be of the same vein: He will be missed.
John Geiser, known to many as the long-time fishing and outdoors columnist at the Asbury Park Press, died on Friday, Oct. 5, at his home in Wall, according to the obituary published in the Press on Oct. 12.
He was a tireless advocate for recreational fishermen in New Jersey, harshly critical of any and every attempt to install a saltwater license in the state, but also harshly critical of federal fisheries regulations that he felt were aimed at denying people the ability to take part in an activity that existed at the Shore long before Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of America.
But John’s career was far more expansive than his columns on fishing. He joined the Asbury Park Press in the early 1950s, working in sports. Old newspapers from those years have Geiser’s byline on high school football games and any number of stories, in addition to the outdoors columns that would make him an icon at the Jersey Shore.
Over the years, his career progressed and changed — he spent time as sports editor at one point, he mentioned on a few occasions — but he settled into a role as a columnist that garnered him a multitude of fans. His “Rural Delivery” columns that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Press took a look at life in general, and were loved by many readers.
Those columns often spoke of life on his farm in Wall, which was known in its own right for its produce market that was often busy with customers in the spring and summer especially.
But it was John’s strong opinions on and in-depth coverage of fishing that created his most loyal following.
I was fortunate to work with John during my own tenure at the Asbury Park Press, first as an editor reading his columns and later as his partner on Hook, Line and Sinker, from 2003 until I left the Press in 2007. He shared his knowledge on fishing and fisheries freely.
At the same time, John was a very private man, very much desiring to stay out of the spotlight. He was frequently asked to speak at fishing clubs and dinners, and always respectfully declined the invitations — so much so that people would at times ask me if John was a real person.
“Oh, yes,” I assured them. “He is definitely a real person, and not someone using a pen name.”
I still recall the awe and surprise when John attended a rally for the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund, which was just getting started in early 2008. John was a tall man — at least 6-foot-1 — and the face that appeared on thousands of columns in his more than 50-year career stood out to those in attendance. His quiet presence meant a great deal to those organizing the efforts, and I remember saying to a few folks later, “See, I told you he was a real person!”
In addition to working with John on Hook, Line & Sinker, I was fortunate enough to call him a friend. We often traded messages at work or would spend an hour talking on production day for the section about everything from the latest fisheries issue to our families.
His family — including his beloved wife, Nancy, whom I had the pleasure to speak with on many occasions — was the most important piece of his life. The farm dueled for his attention with his writing, and often I would get messages from him saying, “If you need something, leave me a message. I’ll be out working on the farm today.”
Even after the Press cut his fishing column altogether, it was his family that remained at the forefront of his life. At one point he told me how he was renovating the kitchen at his home in Maine and how he and Nancy would likely be spending more time there in the coming years than at the farm in Wall.
The farm is the place I last spoke with John. I was in Wall on business late last spring and, on a whim, stopped by the farm market to see if he was around. George, his son, pointed to a tall figure in a wide-brimmed straw hat who was tending to crops not far from the parking lot.
As I walked toward him, John recognized me and greeted me warmly. We talked for 20 or 30 minutes — it was the first time I’d spoken to him since Nancy’s passing — and I told him (as I had on a couple of occasions) how much I appreciated everything he had done to help my career and my work in the fishing community.
We parted with a hug and he thanked me for stopping. I headed home, glad I had stopped to see him.
Today, I’m even more glad that I did.
RIP John. You will be missed.