Whether you know it or not, Mike Sudal has probably helped you catch more fish. If you’ve flipped through a Field & Stream magazine in the last 10 years or so, or gotten your hands on the February 2019 or February 2020 issues of Saltwater Sportsman, he definitely has.
To start, no one keeps a better fishing log than Sudal. While the likes of Alberto Knie or John Skinner might be able to auction off pages from their respective fishing journals to anglers seeking the unredacted wisdom of these master fisherman, if you ever ended up with a page from Sudal’s log, you’d absorb the fishing information and then frame it and hang it in a place of prominence.
I got a glimpse into this logbook once, a few years back, while sharing a room with Mike at the 1880 House in Pulaski, New York. He’d left it open at the foot of his bed, and I stopped in my tracks when I saw a perfect sketch of a bucktail jig embedded in his fishing observations. I couldn’t help myself, so I flipped through a couple more pages, marveling at the detailed diagrams and beautiful sketches before our mutual friend Joe Cermele reminded me that leafing through another fisherman’s logbook was a heinous invasion of privacy. I closed the logbook, ashamed of my impropriety, but I was in awe of Sudal’s attention to fishing detail.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a busybody to enjoy and learn from the artwork of Mike Sudal. He’s been sharing his creations in newspapers and fishing magazines for the past 20 years. His illustrations have graced the pages of Field & Stream and the Wall Street Journal; he illustrated the entirety of the aforementioned issues of Saltwater Sportsman, and his commissioned paintings have brought to life unforgettable catches for anglers in a way that no taxidermist ever could.
Sudal grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, fishing for trout and smallmouth bass in streams and the Susquehanna River. Family vacations to Cape May, New Jersey, introduced him to surfcasting at age 10, when his father said he was old enough to join the other anglers at the beach. After college in Florida and an internship with the St. Petersburg Times, he relocated to the Jersey Shore for a job with the Asbury Park Press, where the hunt for striped bass in the surf consumed most of his free time. At work, he covered breaking news and sports, but his love of fishing drew him to the popular Hook, Line, and Sinker section.
When he left the Asbury Park Press for the Associated Press and eventually the Wall Street Journal, Sudal connected with Field & Stream, contributing artwork for more than 75 issues and illustrating topics from fly fishing for trout to surfcasting for sharks. His angling infographics, spanning a wide range of fishing topics, are an impressive display not only of his mastery as an artist but as an angler.
“The fish are never there by chance,” Sudal explained, describing how he’s able to envision the underwater world, “so when I’m fishing, I’m constantly feeling out the bottom and what the water’s doing. I’m picking apart pieces of the puzzle for why the fish are there.” Then, when he returns home after a trip, he sketches out his observations in a way that he can learn from on future trips.
I saw these skills in action while surfcasting with Mike on the Outer Cape. The fishing had been fair, with stripers stacking up in a few areas of dramatic structure. They were less interested in minnow plugs than eels, so once we figured that out, we put several fish on the sand. A few days later, Mike texted me a photo of his log entry about the outing. His bird’s-eye-view sketch of the structure was flawless, and it was complete with a numbered trail of how we’d covered the beach—it even included the trucks in the parking lot! I’d been on that same beach, right beside him, but by seeing this entry, I still gained a fuller understanding of how and why the fish had set up where they did. It was information I used to my advantage on subsequent trips.
Sudal’s illustrations have had that same educational effect on countless anglers, from the Northeast to Florida and beyond. His work makes it easier to visualize, and better understand, the world of the striper, or the steelhead, or the snook, which then helps the reader catch more of them. That ability to convey information in a beautiful, engaging, and easy-to-understand way, is exceedingly rare, no matter what the craft or subject matter, and that’s why we anglers are lucky that a young Mike Sudal fell in love with fishing instead of, say, golf. Though, actually, if you’re looking to add distance to your drive, there’s a Sudal infographic that can help with that, too.
To see more of Mike’s work, follow him on Instagram at @mike_sudal or visit his website, mikesudal.com
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