(Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)
NEW HOPE, Pa. - It’s a scintillating autumn morning and Mickey Melchiondo is in his usual haunt: drifting down the Pennsylvania bank of the Delaware River near New Hope, casting plastic wacky worms into the current to entice smallmouth bass.
What makes Melchiondo different from other anglers is that he’s just as comfortable with a guitar in his hand as a rod.
Off the water he’s better known by his stage name, Dean Ween, half of Pennsylvania’s enduring avant-goof band, Ween.
For more than 20 years, Dean and Gene Ween (born Aaron Freeman) have explored every imaginable genre, from campfire songs to prog-rock. The titles (“Pork Roll Egg and Cheese”) and lyrics are often tongue in cheek, but the instrumentation is note-perfect. Ween lands on the pop continuum somewhere between Frank Zappa and Beck.
Still, all in all, Melchiondo would rather be fishing. Although the way he goes about it is hardly rock-star style. He’s got a banged-up 12-foot johnboat with an anemic four-horsepower outboard.
“This is my third boat,” he says. “The first was stolen and the second washed away along with the dock in one of those floods.”
The fishin’ musician misses no opportunity to drop a line in the water. “If my wife is going out for an hour,” he says. “I can get in 45 minutes of fishing, and she never even knows I’m gone.”
Oops, until now. Sorry, Mickey.
He even pulls shifts in a local tackle shop, mostly because he spends so much time there anyway.
His passion has grown into a thriving sideline. Melchiondo is filming his often raucous fishing expeditions with friends and the occasional celebrity (like Gibby Haynes of the B—-hole Surfers) as Webisodes of an Internet-based show called the “Brownie Troop Fishing Show” (available online at www.brownietroopfs.com).
“This is what fishing is actually like,” he says. “It’s not some guy in a tournament bass boat wearing a uniform covered with patches for his sponsors like some NASCAR driver.
“Fishing is bunch of dudes drinking, usually with hooks stuck in the sides of their hands, (peeing) in the water and having a great time.”
Most of the seven episodes to this point have been filmed on the river or at the Jersey Shore, where Melchiondo loves to surf-cast during the spring and fall striped bass runs.
“Right now we’re doing it where we know,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have some of the best fishing on the East Coast right where I live.
“What’s next for us is we’ll start traveling. We’re going to Montauk later this fall. We’re going to Florida in December, and we got an invite to catch sturgeon on the Snake River. What is that, Idaho? I would love to catch a sturgeon. They can be 10 feet long.”
The “Brownie Troop” project grew out of Melchiondo’s role as keeper of the Ween Web site (www.ween.com).
“I do all the content,” he says. “I had sections for audio links, tour dates, blah blah blah. And then there’s this ‘Waste’ section. It was my random dribblings about the Phillies or the Flyers or some record I bought. Whatever I wanted. I even put recipes on there,” he says, laughing.
“I started posting fishing reports, and I got all this response from Ween fans that were fishermen. It got to the point where the tour dates were from last year, but my fishing page was updated daily.”
Eventually he moved the baited content to its own site and started getting responses from fishermen who had never heard of Ween.
Melchiondo’s love of fishing predates even the band, which he and Freeman founded with a tape deck in 1984 when they were both 14.
“I started where everyone starts: bobber fishing with worms and corn and stuff down at Yardley Pond and in creeks catching sunnies and chub and carp,” he says.
“I went to the same hockey camp in Minnesota for three or four years, and I spent more time out fishing in a canoe than I did (on skates).”
Chris Gatley, a guide who works the same waters Melchiondo does, met the musician 14 years ago, when he was a frequent visitor at the New Hope party house where Gatley lived with other twentysomethings.
“I was leaving at 3 or 4 in the morning (to go fishing) when these guys were stumbling in from the bar,” Gatley says. “Mickey liked to fish, but back then it was all about the music, all about going out and carrying on.”
Melchiondo, recently turned 38, has eased up on the carousing. “We got over the whole ‘party every night, all night’ thing. We’ve been in the band so long now, you realize the body can’t sustain that - unless you’re Keith Richards. Although I try,” he says, laughing.
After a couple of hours on the river, we head over to the 8-by-15-foot shed (Melchiondo calls it “the crack shack”) where he keeps his fishing gear and the video equipment to edit the “Brownie Troop” footage.
Each episode has its own sound track, either instrumental music the guitarist recorded but never released or selections of everyone from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Bruce Springsteen.
Melchiondo’s big SUV has an Island Beach State Park sportfishing permit on the rear window and more sand on the floorboards than Brian Wilson’s living room.
Sitting outside the shed, Melchiondo allows that his music career often gets in the way of his fishing, especially over the last two years, which Ween devoted to its most recent CD, “La Cucaracha.”
“We went right from the (song)writing to the recording and right from the recording to rehearsing and touring,” he says. “Really, since ‘06 I haven’t had a break.
“While we were touring, I’d be sitting in hotel rooms in the Midwest having dreams about stripers. Since the tour ended I’ve been fishing with a vengeance.”
And chronicling his exploits.
Yet considering how obsessive Melchiondo is about “Brownie Troop, he’s also surprisingly casual.
“When I tell you I don’t really care what anybody thinks about it - it’s one thing to say that - I truly mean it,” he says. “I don’t give a (hoot) what anybody thinks about it. I hope that they like it, honestly, but it’s kind of like my band: I’m not doing it for anybody else. I’m doing it completely for my own entertainment and fun.”
Chances are that long after his musical career is over, Melchiondo will still be flipping wacky worms into the current.
Says Gatley, “He’ll be an 80-year-old man in a 12-foot tin can out on this river.”