The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 6, 2013

Early-morning fishing trips were a hook for life

By Jim Raykie
An Editor's Notes

---- — Columnists are a different breed of cat. One never knows when the Muse will move them to write about the darndest and at times oddest of things.

That happens to me frequently, when out of the blue, a seed is planted in the creative part of my brain and develops into a personal piece of writing. It's like a thunderbolt from nowhere.

Seinfeld-like moments.

It happened again late the other night when I got into my car amid a summerlike fog that blanketed the area, blurring streetlights and headlights as well as the moon.

As I sat at the stop sign on my way home, the fog ironically provided a clear path to one of my favorite childhood activities - fishing at the crack of dawn, odd as that may seem.

Most folks who know me maybe are surprised by that, especially since I haven't fished in a Pennsylvania lake or stream for more than 35 years. But I really do miss it, wishing I had more time to indulge in one of the favorite hobbies of my past.

The fog returned me, in particular, to Pymatuning Lake in Jamestown, where my dad, grandfather and I would rent a row boat and head out to their favorite holes and fish for crappies for several hours.

After years of renting, my dad bought an aluminum fishing boat that we kept on the side of my grandfather's house. My dad had racks for the roof of the car, which we would attach the night before our morning trip.

We would carry the boat through the narrow opening between the rowhouses to the street, lift it onto the racks upside down, and secure it with rope tied to the front and rear bumpers. Back in the day, we never worried about someone stealing it in the middle of the night.

It was still dark when we arrived at the lake. With my grandfather in the back, I in the front, and dad in the middle with the oars, we quietly paddled our way onto the serene waters.

Being in the front of the boat, my job was to keep an eye out for nearby craft or floating wood and other debris as we rowed our way to a favorite spot.

It didn't seem that long before the sun would begin to pierce through the mist. Soon enough, it was time to shed light jackets and sweatshirts as the fog burned off, providing a clear view of other boats that had been barely visible an hour earlier.

By mid-morning on most days, it was time to get out the old basic Coppertone sunscreen, break out a snack and soda from the lunch pail, and get back at the joy of fishing.

Usually by noon, when the fish had quit biting, we would head back to the boathouse, most times with a nice haul of fish to fillet and fry in the evening.

By all means, it wouldn't have been an outing with the guys on Pymatuning Lake without a post-fishing stop at ShineÕs Grille right outside of Jamestown on Route 322. My dad and grandfather made short work of a few draughts of ice-cold beer, while I was content with a Coke, chips and Slim Jims.

I never was blessed with an abundance of patience - a virtue of most fishermen - making my love for fishing all the more peculiar. But it was something I learned from the most important two men in my life, and the hours in the boat transcended the mere act of trying to pull fish from a body of water.

When I see today's exemplary work by the Men of God, the Rev. Terry Harrison, and other groups trying to provide role models for some of our less fortunate youth, I recall vividly the fishing trips of yesteryear.

I reflect on the mornings in the boat Ð as well as sitting along the banks of the Shenango River at the break of dawn - and I do it with reverence, realizing that the sport was a lot of fun, but the intangible of the learning of life's lessons that accompanied it was invaluable.

When pyschologists, educators, clergy members and other professionals try to combat the absence of male role models in many of the lives of our youth, I listen or read intently.

I remember well the rods, the reels, the backlashes, the snags, the minnow buckets, the nightcrawlers and the ice-cold draughts, and the two men who made them much more than mere things associated with a popular sport.

Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.