Kevin VanDam’s approach to competitive bass fishing can be described many ways: fast, cerebral, clutch, prepared, confident, unyielding. In a word, relentless. VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has been a professional bass angler for three decades, and in that span he’s ...
Dr. Art Garcia and Mercury Pro Dale Stroschein are the embodiment of how angling brings people together.
Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame angler Dale Stroschein is out on the water almost every day from April through November, showing clients some of the best freshwater fishing in North America. He has been a professional guide for 38 years and was a competitive pro angler for 15 years, so he’s probably logged more hours fishing his home waters surrounding idyllic Door County, Wisconsin, than just about anyone in history.
But it turns out there’s someone else who has become just as passionate about chasing lunkers in that corner of Lake Michigan, and this newcomer probably doesn’t fit the picture that comes to mind when you envision a skilled, insatiable big-water angler.
Meet Dr. Art Garcia, a retired ophthalmologist and smallmouth bass aficionado who has fished with Stroschein a total of 30 days per year for each of the past five years. He also happens to be 80 years old.
It all started in 2003 when Garcia booked a one-day charter with Stroschein’s Wacky Walleye Guide Service in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Garcia said he went fishing with Stroschein just to learn a bit about the fishery.
“He’s a local celebrity around Wisconsin,” Garcia said of Stroschein. “I was just trying to get the lay of the land since I’d just bought a new boat. And I always remembered how nice he was and how he took care of me.”
Fast-forward a decade or so, and Garcia made the fateful decision to try his luck with Stroschein once again.
“I used to go up to Canada a lot, but I got tired of the 10-plus-hour drive, so I wanted to start going closer to home,” Garcia said. “A friend and I decided to go up and fish with Dale the first week of fishing season for prespawn bass – that was May, five or six years ago – and we did very well that first week. I had commitments that summer, but I managed to book another week in September and another one in October.
“I decided then that this was a very nice thing to do, so now I book a week once a month from May through October. With five days’ worth of fishing each time that’s 30 days for the year.”
That first week that Garcia fished with Stroschein happened to coincide with Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, which spurred the veteran guide to give his monthly reunion with his most loyal client a name: Art Week.
While it’s a guide-client relationship, Stroschein – a longtime Mercury Pro Team member – is quick to point out that Garcia is no slouch with a rod. In fact, Garcia has been able to teach Stroschein a thing or two at times.
“Art showed up using a Ned rig, which I’d heard of but never used,” Stroschein said of a finesse-fishing rig and technique that was popularized in the mid-2000s by outdoor writer Ned Kehde. “And he cleaned my clock. He out-fished me 5-to-1, on average.
“Not to mention, in 33 or 34 years of chasing bass, I’d never seen a 7-pound smallmouth except in pictures, and he got a 7 1/4-pounder with me that trip. I thought, ‘Man, there’s something to this Ned rig. I’d better figure it out.’”
“Sometimes I do better, but a lot of times he does quite a bit better than me,” Garcia said. “He got one that was 7 1/2 (pounds) that September or October with me. One of the cool things is that he’s more of a power fisherman, and I’m more of a finesse fisherman, so we’ve got kind of melding of the ways.”
For each of his fishing trips, Garcia spends six nights in Stroschein’s lodge, the Sand Bay Beach Resort & Suites. Stroschein also makes it a point to take his friend out to dinner at least one night each trip. As for the fishing, despite the numerous species that are plentiful in the waters surrounding the Door County peninsula, Garcia is focused purely on the legendary smallmouth population found in Lake Michigan and its connected waters of Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay. Stroschein makes it a point to never take Garcia to the same spot twice, which serves to keep the fishing pressure to a minimum as well as to allow Garcia to experience as many different scenarios and opportunities as possible.
Garcia, of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, divorced decades ago and has no children, but he’s become well-known enough from spending so much time in the area and because of Stroschein’s social media posts that he’s developed a bit of a fanbase in Sturgeon Bay.
“This dude literally is a rock star,” Stroschein said. “I mean, he's got people that know him. It's partly because they follow me on Facebook, but they want photographs with him, they've asked for autographs, they want pictures. It's awesome. You know, with him being 80 years old, he knows nothing about Facebook, but when we posted about his birthday, he had 143 people comment and about 250 likes. He just thinks it's hilarious.”
In 2019, when Stroschein realized that Garcia didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, he invited Garcia to come spend the holiday at the lodge and join Dale, his wife, Karyn, and the extended Stroschein family for dinner.
“So he came up, and we had a great time with him,” Stroschein said. “We put on a big spread and play a bunch of different games and have a football pool. All my family got to hang out with him. It was really cool.”
Garcia has agreed to come back again for Thanksgiving 2020. His 80th birthday happened to occur during Art Week in late summer this year, and the Stroschein family made sure to honor the occasion.
“My mother cooked a big meal for him at home, and we went out and got a big birthday cake for him,” Stroschein, 55, said. “So he's kind of like family now.
“I lost my dad a number of years back, and so it’s been kind of tough for me, you know, losing a parent like that. Art, it’s kind of like he’s my second dad.”
Stroschein said he prides himself on treating all his clients like VIPs, but Garcia does occasionally get some perks even beyond the meals and birthday parties. Like once getting to fish for two days with legendary bass angler Skeet Reese when Reese and his family visited the lodge between tournaments. Stroschein also got Reese and television personalities Mark Zona and John Gillespie to record and send video messages to Garcia for his birthday.
Fishing is known for its ability to bring people together despite differences in age, vocation and other interests, and Stroschein and Garcia’s friendship is living proof of that axiom. After all, what else in life would allow a retired ophthalmologist and lifelong fishing guide to form a bond that induces them to spend 30 days a year alone together, not to mention sharing family holiday events and milestone birthdays?
With a little luck, Garcia said, he’ll be coming back for many years to come.
“I’ll keep going back to fish with Dale as long as I can,” Garcia said. “I’m hoping for 20 more years!”