Field and Stream
Paul Tawczynski, the hardest working man in the Berkshires
Photo by Jake Borden
Berkshire native Paul Tawczynski, 36, has so much going on, he gets by on three or four hours of sleep. He runs the business side of Taft Farms in Great Barrington, which his father, Daniel, and late uncle, Stanley, founded in 1961. The family grows heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins, and more on its 180 acres. They sell their crops to local restaurants and at farmers markets and the Taft Farm Store, where Tawczynski is manager and chef.
Plus, he founded Charter the Berkshires a decade ago, which has quietly grown to be the largest guided ice-fishing tour company in the United States. He takes as many as 5,000 people fishing on frozen Berkshire lakes each winter, and he escorts another 250 folks on lake-fishing outings in his sonar-equipped small boat during the rest of the year. In the midst of his hectic schedule, he makes it a priority to sit down for dinner most every night with his wife, Renee, and their two young daughters, Cori and Avery.
One might imagine him to be manic or have a big ego, but down-to-earth Tawczynski approaches everything with a calm, methodical focus and a keen, open-minded curiosity. His longtime fishing client, Dr. Patrick Lyden, a world-renowned neurologist from Los Angeles, explains, “Paul is gifted with extraordinary intelligence. Had he gone to medical school, he would have been a superb physician; however, then he would not be available to me as a fishing guide!”
“I have a master’s degree in figuring things out on my own,” Tawczynski jokes. “I came to the conclusion that short of a trade school or vocational school, schools in general were designed to teach you how to learn, not necessarily to teach you useful information. I decided that for me, if I was going to carry forward with either of my two career paths, farming or fishing, there was infinitely more that I needed to experience in the real world than I could ever learn in a classroom.”
Upon graduating from Monument Mountain Regional High School, he turned pro as a bass fisherman, then working for a Wisconsin-based fishing lure company before returning home to the family business.
Four years ago, Tawczynski decided to become a chef and expand the take-out menu at the Taft Farm Store, adding soups and salads that incorporate seasonal produce from his fields. On an average week, he filets and cooks a 50-to-60-pound tuna, steams 100 lobsters for salads, and prepares more than 500 quarts of soup (gazpacho is the bestseller). Chef Paul’s culinary inventions are a hit—prepared-foods sales have quadrupled since he donned an apron.
When you can’t find him in the kitchen, there’s a good chance he’s on the water. Tawczynski has fond childhood memories of ice fishing with his father and brother.
“When ice season rolled around, that was fun. There weren’t crops to take care of, there weren’t fields to plow, so we could take off and go fishing and that was family time,” he says. His Charter the Berkshires enterprise began as a low-key side gig when he reminisced with some customers about his childhood and they asked if he would take them ice fishing. One of those customers told somebody at Groupon how fun the experience was, which led Groupon to approach Tawczynski about offering group-trip ice-fishing deals (like summer party boats) to people within driving distance of the Berkshires. The business exploded.
“I think probably a lot of Berkshire residents when they think of ice fishing, they think Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon sitting on a five-gallon bucket with a bottle of whiskey trying to get away from their wives and that’s not what it is at all,” says Tawczynski. Charter the Berkshires tours attract visitors of all types. The trips are “catch and release” to protect the environment, save for small pan fish that Tawczynski sometimes fries up for clients on the ice. The trips are an invigorating way to experience nature—the serenity of gliding through pristine Berkshire lakes at dawn and the thrill of seeing bald eagles swoop down to steal your fish.
“What I take the most pride in, is not my ability to catch fish, but my ability to help other people who don’t fish catch fish on a consistent basis,” Tawczynski says. “I had an 11-year-old boy who on his first time ice fishing caught a 26-pound pike off of Lake Buel. There are tens of thousands of dedicated ice fishermen who will never catch a 20-pound pike, and this kid catches that on his first try.”
From renting a boat with all the trimmings to taking a guided
immersion, here’s our shortlist:
Berkshire Fishing Club
Open May through October.
Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing
Charter the Berkshires