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Mountain Home Magazine

A Tale Worth Telling

by Janet McCue

Lake Guntersville is a long way from Corning, Cornell, or Cayuga Lake—Coleen and Mark Fabrizi’s typical haunts—but for two days in October, this upstate New York couple joined elite angler Justin Lucas in northern Alabama for the trip of a lifetime.

As the executive director of the Gaffer District for the past eleven years, Coleen manages and promotes events such as downtown Corning’s GlassFest; Mark is a facilities coordinator at Cornell University. They are passionate about their close-knit family—just ask them about their seven grandchildren—and also about their pastimes, most of which are centered on the water. Avid anglers who enjoy largemouth bass fishing, the Fabrizis favor Cayuga and Keuka lakes, and Maine’s Cobbosseecontee (Cobbie) Lake, for their fishing excursions.

As a child, Coleen did some smelting and fishing for bullheads, but it was Mark’s passion for angling that finally lured her into the sport. “I was minding my own business, reading a book by Luanne Rice, while Mark was catching one fish after another on Cobbie Lake when I said to him, ‘maybe I’ll try that,’” she recalls. Mark showed Coleen the basics and on her first cast she got a fish, then a dozen more. “I was hooked,” she admits.

A decade later she no longer brings books on the water nor does she confine herself to one rod and reel. Instead, the lefty of the family, Mark, has his three rods baited in the bow of the boat while Coleen, a right-hander, has her three rods, each with a distinctive lure suitable for different conditions, in the stern. Both are catch and release anglers, following the ethical guidelines and conservation practices of the sport.

When they are not fishing themselves, Mark and Coleen follow major league fishing—national competitions for professional anglers. At the elite level in tournaments, each angler has a marshal on board, serving as the eyes and ears of the sport and guaranteeing that the rules are being followed. Five years ago, the Fabrizis qualified as fishing marshals. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and we’ve encountered nothing but integrity from the anglers we’ve marshalled,” Coleen states. Although marshals are observers and prohibited from fishing or distracting the anglers while on board at a tournament, Coleen suspects that she and her husband have picked up many tips just by observing these elite anglers.

But it was the opportunity to fish with one of these pros, Justin Lucas, that motivated Coleen to enter the Econolodge Easy Escape Contest in August 2018 while at a tournament on the St. Lawrence. A pop-up ad urged readers to share their stories and win a fishing trip with Justin Lucas, 2018 Angler of the Year, by answering the prompt—“If I could spend the day fishing with Justin Lucas, who would I bring and why?” Coleen’s response revealed both her love for her family as well as her philosophy for living. Mark, her mentor and her partner for thirty-seven years, was the obvious choice for her fishing companion, but it was the passion for living expressed by her dad and Mark’s father that inspired her essay. Both men had worked hard all of their lives but also had urged their children to follow their dreams. They believed that “the best thing you can pass along to your children and grandchildren is not to have a list of regrets but a list of joys and gratitude.”

Coleen’s essay must have struck a chord with the judges, for, the following month, she was interviewed as a finalist and soon after notified that she was the winner of an all-expenses-paid trip to Lake Guntersville.

It was a dream come true for the Fabrizis. Lake Guntersville, a seventy-five-mile long shallow lake bound by Guntersville Dam on one end and Nickajack Dam at the other, is a haven for largemouth bass, American’s most popular game fish, as well as a destination for the anglers who pursue them. Here at Lake Guntersville, Coleen and Mark would have Justin Lucas all to themselves. They could pepper him with questions, he could share tips with them, and the three of them could each enjoy the pleasure of fishing one of the best lakes on the Alabama Bass Trail. Lucas, a native Californian, had moved to Alabama in 2014 to pursue his quest of becoming a professional angler. That dream quickly become reality, as he won both the California Delta and the Potomac Elite events as well as becoming the 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, all that since moving to Alabama.

During their day on Lake Guntersville, Lucas shared his passion for the sport with the Fabrizis, taught Coleen to fish with a lure she’d never tried, and introduced them to the beauty and bounty of the lake. The threesome were followed by a camera boat which captured the excursion. The film will premier in Las Vegas at the annual convention for Choice Hotels.

It turned out to be a heady fishing season for Coleen and Mark. On a whim, Coleen entered a contest, won an all-expenses-paid trip to Alabama, and fished with a pro at one of the most famous bass fisheries in the country. Had their dads been alive, they would certainly have congratulated the couple on accumulating more good adventures to add to the list of gratitude and joys. It was Mark’s dad who had taught him to fish, and Mark who had mentored Coleen and later their son, Travis, who became a New York State-certified fly tying and fly-fishing instructor by the age of twelve. Now seven Fabrizi grandchildren are under the spell of the sport.

“It’s a wonderful experience to teach the grandchildren the art and the ethics of fishing,” says Coleen. “We don’t need to have exaggerated stories about the fish that got away. If it’s real, it’s a tale worth telling.”

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