By Lisa Rose
Mickey Melchiondo is hoping to make a transition from rock musician to television star.
The ex-guitarist of the band Ween and lifelong Jersey Shore fisherman is prepping to shoot a pilot for a quirky TV series about saltwater angling. He's going to embark on nautical adventures with fellow musician and fisherman Les Claypool of Primus.
"The show is personality-driven," says Melchiondo, 42, a Trenton native. "The idea is to get the show on after Anthony Bourdain or 'Tosh.O.' It's a fishing show that you do not have to be into fishing to enjoy."
The past couple of months have been quiet for Melchiondo, who operates a charter boat out of Belmar. Although his vessel, the Archangel, survived Hurricane Sandy, he canceled all his autumn trips and won't resume sailing until spring. Ween broke up last May, as vocalist Aaron Freeman quit the group to pursue a solo career. The split ended a songwriting partnership that dated back to high school.
When Melchiondo learned that the fishing show got the greenlight to shoot next month, it was a welcome bit of good news. Produced by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the series will fuse sportfishing with music and comedy, following Melchiondo and Claypool as they go out on the water with celebrity guests in different locales, including the Garden State.
"Part of the plan is to do music on the show and also create the soundtrack," says Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween.
Primus and Ween have long legacies of sea-themed music. The opening song on Primus' 1989 debut album, "Suck on This" is "John the Fisherman," the first chapter in a four-part saga about questing for mythical aquatic creatures. Ween's 1997 album "The Mollusk" is an ode to the Jersey coast, composed and recorded in a Holgate beach house. (The track, "Ocean Man" is featured on "SpongeBob SquarePants.")
"Holgate was my refuge," says Melchiondo, who commutes to fish in Jersey from New Hope, Pa., where he lives with his wife and son. "My parents had a house in Holgate. My father built it. He bought a little sugar shack, and he tore the roof off and built onto it. My sister and I bought a trailer and that was our place until we sold it a year and a half ago.
"Now, it's piled up like a Lionel train. The house where Ween recorded, it's like 20 feet in the air now. It was built on stilts and all the sand eroded under it. I've seen pictures. I don't want to see it in person."
For nearly three decades, fishing was Melchiondo's hobby while music was his profession. Ween built an international following via eclectic albums, epic concerts and irreverent humor. Things slowed down in recent years, however, as Freeman struggled with substance abuse issues.
During downtime from the band five years ago, Melchiondo earned his Coast Guard captain's license. He purchased a 23-foot watercraft, launched Mickey's Guide Service and documented select trips on video with a 12-episode web series, "Brownie Troop Fishing Show."
Although Melchiondo shut down the Brownie Troop Web site in 2011, he still goes out angling with his co-star, Nick Honachefsky, an author and outdoors columnist whose Normandy Beach home was destroyed by Sandy. Melchiondo played a November benefit show in Asbury Park to help his fishing buddy.
Even though January is the off-season for striped bass, Melchiondo and Honachefsky have been surfcasting in Manasquan, spending hours on the cold beach awaiting a nibble.
"Fishing is normalcy," says Honachefsky, who is living in FEMA housing and hooking stripers with borrowed rods. "I'm very thankful for all the help, but it's almost like you can never get away from it. The first thing people say is, 'How you doing? Can I help?' It's like, I just want to go fishing and chill out. Surfcasting in the winter is slow fishing. It's the entire mass of the ocean in front of you and you cast, hoping for one monster fish."
Melchiondo is booked up with charter trips through the summer. Most of his clients are out-of-towners who make a pilgrimage to Belmar to spend a day on the water with their rock hero. The Archangel accommodates a maximum of three passengers and the fee for ocean jaunts is $650 and up.
"It's kind of mind-blowing to go fishing with someone in a band that I listen to," says Brian Plant, 24, of North Haven, Conn., a pool construction worker who was scheduled to go angling with Melchiondo the week Sandy struck. Their trip is rescheduled for spring.
John Sumber, a Ween fan from upstate New York, is visiting Belmar in May.
"Normally, I go fishing on Long Island because it's closer to me but because it's Mickey, I'm going wherever his charter is," says Sumber, 33, an advertising sales representative. "Mickey is bringing business to the Jersey Shore. I'm going to come down, and bring my money and my business to Jersey because of him."
Melchiondo hopes his fishing show will be an eye-opener for TV audiences who associate the Shore with a lifestyle centered on nightclubbing, rather than angling and boating. For him, Belmar is a place of serenity.
"I go alone and I don't do anything alone, except fishing and Shore-related stuff," says Melchiondo, who has a solo album in the works, as well as a new release from his experimental hard rock band, the Moistboyz.
"I've stayed in every room in the Belmar Motor Lodge multiple times. I know the nuances of which rooms have bad cable. With fishing, I can go down to the shore and not (anger) my wife. 'Babe, I have a charter trip tomorrow at 5 a.m. I'm gonna go down tonight.' Every year for 20 years, I've watched the World Series alone under a blanket in a motel because I stay there in the fall when the stripers are running."