Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Writer Name: Pete Robbins
Location: Vienna, Virginia
Years of Experience: 20
Available for writing projects: Yes
Portfolio website: www.halfpastfirstcast.com
Favorite food: Thai or Mexican -- hot sauce is my friend Writing tip for fellow writers: When in doubt, get on a plane or on the road (in non-COVID times, of course). Many of my best ideas and best opportunities have arisen because I had boots on the ground when something happened or met someone distinctive. I can craft some very good articles from the comfort of my office, but most of my best work has been born in remote locations.
Pete Robbins has practiced law for 25 years. He never realized that the simple act of helping out a friend with his fishing website would lead him down a path toward food and travel writing, his own website, and book ghostwriting.
Tell us how you first started writing professionally.
I've practiced law for 25 years, and during that time I’ve also fished high-level bass tournaments and traveled the world chasing finned creatures.
Eventually, I realized that I was not going to make a living fishing competitively, but I did have a chance to make a mark on the hobby/obsession that I love by writing about it.
A friend started a website for a local fishing organization and asked me to help out with some content (for free).
After helping for a few years, I happened onto a story that I thought a fishing magazine might like, pitched it to one of them, and got the article accepted on spec.
After that, a series of happy coincidences led me to many opportunities. In 2007, I was introduced to the editors at Bassmaster and asked to contribute, which led to tons of opportunities to travel around the country in my “free” time. It also led to more opportunities with magazines like Field & Stream.
Eventually, my hobby became a second full-time job. Additionally, I’ve been blogging at the website of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits (a major fishing tackle manufacturer) at least twice a week since 2008. That has led to more opportunities than anything else – just writing about things that interest me but might not merit a full-length article.
Through fishing, I met the CEO of a large wealth management company who asked me to ghostwrite his book, which in turn led to ghostwriting an autobiography for one of his clients.
As the opportunities have grown and my income has increased (I’m 50 years old), my travel has expanded – fishing in Brazil, Zambia, Alaska, Guatemala and Mexico numerous times.
I realized that you don’t have to be a billionaire to fish in exotic places, so earlier this year my wife and I started a website called Half Past First Cast devoted to travel tips and experiences, aimed at convincing people who might not have fully considered such trips to test the waters.
Of course, we started a website devoted to travel right before a pandemic, which limited such travel. That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because with no commute (other than from the bedroom to the home office) I now have extra time to write each day. Instead of our planned three pieces of content per week, we’ve been producing four.
How often do you write about food?
In tournament fishing for bass, catch and release is highly encouraged. Besides, in my opinion, largemouth and smallmouth bass are not particularly good to eat. However, as we’ve expanded our reach, we’ve learned that responsible harvest is part of the fun.
Last year, I sent home 50 pounds of Halibut from Seward, Alaska. This year we brought home 96 pounds of king and sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, Alaska. We also had mahi mahi for lunch on a boat in Guatemala that we’d caught just a few minutes earlier.
Eating fish directly from the waters where we caught them, whether it’s redfish in Louisiana, or piranha in the Amazon, further connects us to the places we visit.
Even if we don’t eat the local fish, we’re foodies, so we like to seek out the best local restaurants in the places we visit. We’re also “maximizers.” I hate going someplace exciting and not getting the truest taste of the place.
Eating at a national chain in those situations hurts my feelings. So whether it’s po boys in Louisiana, churrascaria in Brazil, or just a great hole in the wall, I want my experience to be authentic.
One of our favorites was tambaqui (fish) ribs in Brazil – they look like white meat, but taste extremely sweet because the fish feed on local berries. Another favorite was eating ramen with fishing lure designers near Kyoto, Japan. Watching how they ate, and how the staff hustled without expectation of a tip, told me a lot about the culture in a way that words could not.
That’s part of what makes for great travel – not just the fishing, but the food, the scenery, the culture, and the people.
We write about a lot of our food experiences on the website. Here are a few examples:
How has fishing and food helped your writing?
Fishing is often a very solitary, or non-social activity, but it often takes place in remarkable locations with distinct food – and, of course, anglers love to tell fish stories.
Great food (with or without alcohol) encourages people to linger, and spill secrets, some of them true.
I’ve gotten some of my best material over a sandwich or Mexican food or sitting around the campfire on the Zambezi.
Most fishermen also think they’re great chefs and you can learn a lot about their talents across-the-board by seeing what and how they cook.
Any favorite kitchen products?
This may not qualify as a kitchen product, but I'm a hoarder when it comes to water bottles and koozies.
I work hard to remain hydrated in the middle of the Amazon jungle when it’s 95 degrees, 95 percent humidity, and the fish are biting fast and furious.
I also enjoy a beer or three in the evening, especially if it’s a local brew, like Windhoek in Africa, Gallo in Guatemala and especially Pacifico in Mexico.
They taste much better in the little 7-ounce glass bottles they serve it in down there, but I buy it a lot at home just to remind me of my happy place.
Favorite food travel destinations?
I’m a fairly adventurous eater when it comes to cuisines and species, although there are things I didn’t like, such as grilled turtle on the Rio Negro in Brazil. One of our favorite outfitters always says that the one species he won’t eat is money, “Because it’s too close to home.”
At the same time, the Brazilian food is a winner for me. Not just churrascaria, which is not really endemic to the Amazon region, but the various fish and local fruits and vegetables.
They also sprinkle “farinha” (cassava flour) or “farofa” manioc flour on most things. That led me and my wife to seek out a Brazilian grocery store and we found one just about 15 miles from home. All of our favorites from the jungle, transported to the kitchen.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
On social media I closely follow many travelers more experienced than myself and ask them for the local recommendations before we go to a new place. The outfitters and local guides can usually turn you on to the best options, which are often surprisingly low-cost.
Before we go on any trip, I exhaustively research everything about the place. Again, I’m a maximizer, so I want to make sure that if a “bucket list” trip truly turns out to be once in a lifetime, I don’t miss out on the best meal or best dish in town.
Anything else you'd like to add about being a writer?
Every evening when I sit down to write, whether in my office, in a glamping tent in Africa, or on a houseboat in the Amazon, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
People actually pay me, or comp my travel, to write about things. I get to fish with the best anglers in the world, on many of the best fisheries around.
I’m surprised more people have not figured this angle out. No matter what you’re passionate about, there’s a chance to get on the “inside” by figuring out how your skill set intersects with that world.
The food, of course, is a bonus. I love to discover something new, either that I didn’t know about or figured that I wouldn’t like. Even when you don’t speak the same language, people see you enjoying their area, and feasting on their food, and it brings you substantially closer without saying a word.