By Michael Wright
The Hamptons Offshore Invitational, an annual charity big game fishing tournament hosted by the Shinnecock Marlin and Tuna Club at Oakland’s Restaurant & Marina in Hampton Bays, will this year be the subject of an episode of the Versus network’s television show “The Best and Worst of Tred Barta.”
The filming, which will take place during the 11th annual event, will focus not just on the eight-day tournament that’s scheduled to run from August 13 to 20. Rather, it will center on the homecoming of the show’s host, Tred Barta, a longtime East End resident, and a renowned fisherman and hunter, who was paralyzed by a spinal stroke after being diagnosed with Waldenström’s disease, a rare blood cancer, in 2009.
In the years since, the show has chronicled Mr. Barta’s laborious efforts to continue partaking in the same rugged fishing and hunting adventures that the show’s cameras followed him on before his illness. A year ago—almost exactly one year after being struck suddenly by spreading paralysis while on his way to Alaska to film an episode of the show—Mr. Barta felled a 600-pound black bear with a bow and arrow that he made himself, and shot from his wheelchair.
Mr. Barta has earned a name for himself, and a fair number of critics of his robust ego, as an offshore fisherman in the 1980s, angling for tuna out of Shinnecock Inlet. In the 1990s, while living in Florida, he started a series of big game tournaments in the Bahamas and Caribbean benefitting youth angling programs and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Aided by the publicity of his monthly column in Sport Fishing magazine, and then by the popularity of his show, the tournaments have raised more than $1 million for their charities.
His upcoming visit will mark the first time Mr. Barta has been back to the East End since being struck by his illness.
“I’m a little embarrassed coming back like this, but I live a pretty good life,” Mr. Barta said by phone from his home in Vail, Colorado, last week. “That community rallied around me when we needed money for medical expenses, and I plan to come back and thank everybody—Doug Oakland, Anthony Prudenti and everyone else—for their kindness.
“I do miss Long Island and I miss my friends,” he added. “Colorado does not have a delicatessen equal to anything on Long Island. I miss proper buttered hard rolls. I’m going straight to the deli on the highway next to the True Value Hardware in Southampton, with the best egg sandwich with bacon, egg and mayonnaise in the world.”
Mr. Barta’s show is in its 10th season on Versus and is among the network’s highest-rated programs. Before his illness, the show followed Mr. Barta on wide-ranging excursions, focusing on his efforts to catch fish and hunt game animals “the hard way,” with very light fishing rods and primitive bow-and-arrow, and highlighting his “rants” about traditions lost to modern life.
Since his paralysis, everything has become difficult, and some of the benefits of modernity are a crucial component to the show. Mr. Barta, who is paralyzed from the chest down, now makes his way through the forests of Alaska, British Columbia and Colorado with the assistance of a specially outfitted all-terrain wheelchair. He fishes for big game species with the considerable assistance of several people who help him board boats and set him into a brace that can support him offshore.
The struggles, he says, are worth the experience.
“You take for granted so much every day,” said Mr. Barta, who most recently lived in Water Mill. “When disaster strikes, you forget what is important. I think now [that] having coffee and a poached egg on toast on the porch with my wife, Anni, is worth two million bucks.”
Mr. Barta will be fishing during this year’s tournament aboard a boat owned by John Bauman, the owner of White Water Marine in Patchogue and White Water Outfitters in Hampton Bays. He said that Mr. Bauman has agreed to give him control of the boat’s fishing plans throughout the tournament, something he has not enjoyed since his illness struck.
“We’re going to do it the same as we did it back in 1982,” said Mr. Barta, who will also emcee the tournament awards dinner on August 21 at Oakland’s. “Maybe we’ll get skunked. Who cares? It’s pretty cool that somebody is allowing me to do this.”
The Hamptons Offshore Invitational has raised more than $1 million since its inception for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island. Shinnecock Marlin and Tuna Club President Scott Horowitz said he expects about 75 boats for this year’s tournament, noting that it could be one of the best fundraising years ever, thanks to the publicity of Mr. Barta’s show.
“I’m so happy that Tred wanted to come back and do this,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s an inspiration to see a guy in his condition want to come back to a port he fished out of for many years and be involved in the fleet again. And I think this will be phenomenal for the entire community. Hampton Bays will get the recognition it deserves for what it has done with this tournament over the years.”
Mr. Barta moved to Colorado in 2006 when he married his former college girlfriend and Vail native, with whom he reconnected after placing an unabashedly egocentric personal ad in The Press announcing that he was searching for a new wife. His search drew national attention, and a truckload of “applications” from women, after The New York Times profiled Mr. Barta’s bombastic personality and uncompromising sportsman’s lifestyle.
His illness, while life changing, does not seem to have changed much of that side of Mr. Barta’s personality.
“Being paralyzed and surviving cancer is all about one thing: attitude,” he said. “If you want to rip the life out of every day, that’s what you do. It’s that simple. Nobody wants to be around a guy who is feeling sorry for himself.”