Meet Todd Longley. When he isn’t working the midnight shift ensuring things run smoothly in our Winnipeg warehouse, he is reeling in massive channel catfish out on the Red River. Known locally as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fisherman”, Todd has served as a fishing guide to thousands of visitors over the years. Todd has a deep passion for angling though that goes beyond his guide business as he works tirelessly to promote the sport to youth and families across Winnipeg. I chatted with Todd to discuss how he started fishing and why his community work is so important to him.

How did your passion for fishing begin?

I’ve been fishing since I was 10 or 11 years old. Back in those days I’d take the bus out to the country, fish all day and take the last bus home. I’d make that trip all the time because I loved it but I never had anybody to take me out in a boat.

Once I started working for Coca-Cola, I became friends with another guy in the warehouse who had a boat. In some ways we learned how to properly fish on a boat together. We learned how to fight a fish and catch it without hurting it and where the best places to anchor were. I took to fishing out on a boat right away and eventually got pretty good at it. Before I knew it I was entering tournaments all around Manitoba.

When did fishing make the leap from hobby to profession for you?

I started City Cats and became a fishing guide in 1999. I was a tournament angler when the talk of starting up an urban fishing guide service first came up. I thought it was a great idea because there were lots of people who just didn’t have the time to travel far to fish. It’s a way to give folks a chance to see us, get in some fishing and get back to their hotels or homes that same day.

There is more to you than just City Cats though. What sort of charitable projects do you participate in and how did that start?

It started with the odd request here and there to donate fishing trips to different fundraisers. Soon I was asked by the city to take kids out on my boat and teach them to fish as part of a fishing camp. I also started doing seminars for families on all the basics of fishing: how to cast, which lures to use and all of that.

I have a few different things that I’ve personally helped start up over the years. One is Generation Next Angler which is an annual fishing tournament where families go out and fish as a team and compete for prizes. Then there is the Urban Fishing Derby which is another family event in support of Never Alone Foundation and Marymound.

The most recent project I’ve started is Keeping It Reel where a few buddies and I take a group of children with disabilities out fishing for the afternoon. This will be our second year doing it, last year I got 10 friends to volunteer their boats and time. We were all so moved by the end of the day – some of us to the point of tears – by the outpouring of love and enthusiasm from these kids that this year I had 20 guys ask if they could participate!

Where does your drive for all these different community initiatives come from? This seems to go beyond simple civic mindedness.

To be honest I grew up in the inner city, I got into trouble a lot as a youth and ended up in a group home. My parents were divorced and as much as my dad tried his best, he just couldn’t handle my brother and me. The saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future” comes to mind because I was hanging out with a bad crowd. Thankfully I eventually had a moment when I looked at myself and my friends and saw where my life was going. I didn’t like the look of it and I knew that wasn’t me or the life I wanted.

After I turned 18 I got a job in the Coca-Cola warehouse here in Winnipeg and never looked back. There is a real sense that we are all family here at Coca-Cola and it gave me a feeling that I belonged at a time when I really needed it. The work I do with the community is very personal to me because it’s my way of giving back all that I took as a youth. I don’t want to see other kids growing up the way I did., If I can get these kids hooked on fishing then my hope is I can give them something to do that will keep them out of trouble. We have a saying at Generation Next Angler, “the family that plays together, stays together” and I think that’s very true.

I normally ask #OutofOffice guests how they apply skills from their hobby to work but in your case, I’m curious how you apply working at Coca-Cola to fishing?

I’d say there are lots of things that work both ways but the number one thing for me is work ethic. Back when I started in the warehouse I used to sort glass bottles and build orders by hand. We didn’t have a power jack so you’d slide these big wooden crates around on the floor to put your order together– it was exhausting! Fishing today, you have lots of gadgets to help you out but at the end of the day it’s still all about patience, technique and experience. I learned a lot about what hard work looked like in those early days here at Coca-Cola and it is a lesson I’ve never forgotten.