Outdoors writer Kelly pens Finger Lakes fishing guide

Marcellus retiree’s book a culmination of a career spent covering fishing

'Fishing the Finger Lakes' by J. Michael Kelly.

'Fishing the Finger Lakes' by J. Michael Kelly.

“He was one of the first people who actually made me believe I could make a living in writing,” he said.

As a student in Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Kelly got his first paycheck as a journalist when he submitted a story on fishing in Otisco Lake to Outdoor Life magazine.

Kelly tells the story of that article in “Fishing the Finger Lakes,” and the backlash the magazine received when fishermen descended on the lake to find that the abundance of brown trout Kelly had described in the article had ended.

Despite a negative response, getting paid for the story further convinced Kelly he could make a living as an outdoors writer.

After finishing school Kelly contributed stories to various publications, including the Skaneateles Press which at that time was combined with the Marcellus Observer. He eventually took a job covering county government at the Syracuse Herald Journal for a steadier income, though he continued to write about hunting and fishing on the side and to date has had more than 2,000 outdoors articles published in magazines.

He later became the outdoors beat writer and columnist for the Syracuse Post-Standard. Shortly after retiring about six years ago, he self-published a collection of his favorite columns titled “Farewell, Old Girl and Other Stories of the Great Outdoors.”

He was then contacted by Peter Burford of Burford Books a publisher who prints, among other things, regional outdoors guides and works on nonfiction.

Though other books have been written on fishing in the Finger Lakes region they were all dated and often dull to read, so Kelly and Burford agreed that there would be a market for a comprehensive guide for the Finger Lakes region, and due to his experience, Kelly was the right man for the job.

He was given a small advance to work on the book and started doing research which consisted mainly of something he already did all the time as a retiree: fishing. Though many of the anecdotes and knowledge in the book come from his past experiences as both an avid fisherman and outdoors writer, he also went out and fished at the 11 lakes he covers in the book to do additional research and talked to people knowledgeable on ecosystems and biology whom he knew from his years spent on the beat.

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