A few years back, Michael Kleamenakis, OD, excitedly called his family and friends to share some big news: “Our son was born, and I just bought a new boat!”
It was tough for people on the receiving end of the call to tell which newborn excited him more. Actually, it was a tie, recalled Dr. Kleamenakis, a private practitioner in New Orleans.
Dr. Kleamenakis, a native of the Big Easy, is a natural-born fisherman. He caught his first fish-a half-pound perch-when he was just 3 years old. Since then, not a week has gone by when he hasn’t baited a hook, dropped a fishing line in water, or ate fish he caught the same day for dinner. For more than 40 years, Dr. Kleamenakis has been the quintessential fisherman, always trying to catch the next fish.
Dr. Kleamenakis said his father introduced him to the sport. He remembers spending many Saturdays with dad and his younger brother, catching fish in local marshes and lakes. When he turned 10, his father taught him how to fillet fish, then hand it over to the family chef-his mother.
“I don’t know of anything else that compares to fishing,” Dr. Kleamenakis said, adding that nothing is more exciting than feeling a tug on his fishing line and waiting to see what’s on the other end. “Fishing is in its own category of fun.”
While attending optometry school at the University of Houston, he purchased a pirogue-a 12-foot long, 40-pound, flat-bottomed canoe-that he used for fishing in the marshes off Galveston Bay. But the pirogue, which was designed for shallow waters, had its limitations. Because both Dr. Kleamenakis and his wife enjoy fishing, they shopped around for a 16-foot motorboat. “When my son was born, the deal was already struck to buy the boat, so I simply closed the sale,” he said.
After graduating from optometry school, Dr. Kleamenakis and his family moved back to New Orleans where he started his practice. Four years later, he purchased a 20-foot motorboat, which he named Daddy’s Toy. Because it was more seaworthy than his previous craft, he ventured farther from shore and began deep rig fishing, catching red snapper, grouper, king mackerel, and black fin and yellow fin tuna.
Then a fishing tournament sponsored by the Southern King Mackerel Association came to town. Dr. Kleamenakis and several of his buddies decided to enter their first competition, sometimes called a rodeo. There was just one problem: They didn’t know much about mackerel. Worse yet, Dr. Kleamenakis’ 20-foot boat could barely compete in ocean waters against the 35-foot boats of competing fishermen.
Not easily intimidated, the friends entered the competition anyway, catching a 25-pound mackerel. “We were really excited, all proud of ourselves with our chests pushed out,” he said. “As our boat was docking, I lifted up the fish to show everyone. I heard the announcer say, ‘And Daddy’s Toy just pulled in with a small king mackerel.’ Our egos were so deflated.”
Throughout the years, Dr. Kleamenakis has learned a variety of techniques to catch different species of fish, which is part of the sport’s attraction. In the mid-1990s, he purchased a 24-foot boat so he and his fishing friends would stand a better chance in tournament competition. Dr. Kleamenakis explained that fishermen must enter many state or regional tournaments and consistently perform well in order to accumulate enough points to qualify for national tournaments.
While he and his friends won first prize in a statewide fishing tournament, earning $3,500 for catching the largest combined speckled trout, red fish, and flounder, their hopes are still high for winning a national tournament. Dr. Kleamenakis said that in 2004, they placed sixth at the Coastal Conservation Association’s national redfish tournament held in Slidell, LA. More than 100 fishermen competed for the $25,000 grand prize and, more importantly, bragging rights, he said.
The rules were simple: try to catch the heaviest redfish that wasn’t over 27-inches long and keep it alive so it could be released into the ocean after being weighed.
Early on in the competition, Dr. Kleamenakis and his friends were in first place. Still, one fishing partner grew concerned when their fish lost some scales during the struggle to remove it from the boat’s holding container, thereby reducing its weight. “Those missing scales knocked us down thousands of dollars,” he said. “We wound up in sixth place, collecting $8,000.”
Because Dr. Kleamenakis knew he wasn’t the only eye doctor who loved fishing, he began organizing annual optometry meetings that included fishing trips. Twelve eye doctors attended the first conference, and 24 registered for the following year’s event.
“We tell our fishing stories and our lies,” he said. “The camaraderie makes it fun, as well as doing something natural that’s been pretty much the American way of life since Daniel Boone.”ODT
Mike Kleamenakis, OD
For more than 40 years, Dr. Kleamenakis has baited a hook, dropped a line in the water, or eaten his own catch for dinner-every week.
Dr. Kleamenakis knows he’s not the only optometrist who enjoys finishing, and now he organizes annual optometry meetings that include a fishing component.
Throughout the years, Dr. Kleamenakis has learned variety of techniques to catch different species of fish. (Photos courtesy of Michael Kleamenakis, OD.)