The Reluctant Angler

downsized_0715091352 I told my wife Janet that this year I was not going to bring my fishing rods and tackle to the beach because I have not had much luck fishing at the South Jersey shore in recent years. I don’t have the patience that my friend Dean Denmead has who is an experienced fisherman and has learned to wait for the catch. Most years I buy at least four different types of bait from old man Moran at Moran’s Dockside in Avalon and when I ask him why I am not catching anything, he always says that this is not a good time of the year to catch fish. So why sell me the bait? I guess a sucker is born every minute. I brought the rods and tackle again this year. I should have known that the same luck would happen when ten minutes into our first beach day, a seagull zeroed in on me at 60 MPH and launched a fecal torpedo at me which blew through the mesh in my hat, splattered my hair, my shirt and dislodged itself on my beach chair. Bad omen for the trip and a definite “Welcome to New Jersey” from the real fishermen- the gulls.

I have had more successful outings with my grandfather and his buddies in my early years who were all real good anglers. I drove them to Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, fished with them in the Everglades, and at a fishing camp several times in northern Canada above North Bay. There is nothing like being with experienced fishermen and eating a fresh fish dinner on the shores of a crystal clear lake or landing a state record snub nosed dolphin in the Carolinas. The alligators floating in the canals in Florida provided adventure for the young guy and the veterans. I still use my grandfather’s tackle and rods and although I have been marginally successful expecially when I have taken my son Jack, I am sure that he has a smile on his face in that great fishing hole in the sky.

A couple of years ago, I took matters a little more seriously and went on line to find a fishing service in South Carolina off the coast of Hilton Head. I found a site by Captain Dave Fleming When we booked the morning and arrived at the dock, Dave told me that the fishing was really not that good. Imagine that? But, he added, if we wanted to catch shark, we could do that. I jumped at the chance and my wife and son reluctantly boarded the Mighty Mako with wide eyed wonder as to how this was going to go. Dave used mackerel heads and instantly Janet’s line tugged ferociously as she hooked a shark and Captain Dave helped her bring it ot the side of the boat. Janet was not at all thrilled at the prospect of touching the sand shark and Dave brought it up for her to see and then cut it loose. The next snap of the line was Jack’s and the same protocol was observed by bringing the beast in view and then cutting it loose. My grandfather spoke in my ear when my line snapped and he wanted me to land it myself. After all those years with Judge Miller, Bill Marcus and George Beran, and my grandpap, I better net and land the shark myself. Dave sensed that I had some experience and let me net the small shark and instructed me to grab it firmly by the back of the head and he would take a picture. I had never held a shark before and was amazed at the sandpaper feel of sharkskin. After the picture, I cut it loose and we continued to land shark after shark until a bull shark snapped Janet’s steel leader and Dave smiled and said, ” That was one we would not have wanted to be in the vicinity of the boat.” As I gazed off into the sound, I remarked to my son that we were only about 800 yards from where he and I were sitting on a sandbar the previous day. Little did we know that we were surrounded by sharks curiously looking at us from the depths of the sound. Needless to say, my fifteen year old at the time never went back in the water.

An interesting sidebar to fishing is that you can have the opportunity to have some good family time and conversations that will be remembered for a lifetime. Even when I fish with my friend Dean, we laugh about our time at the beach and the friendship of dropping a line in the water to see what happens is intoxicating. Captain Dave told us aboard the Mighty Mako that he was born and raised in the Hilton Head area and that his father is a successful attorney. His siblings were all successful stockbrokers and professional people working in New York and he was the only “black sheep” of the family who chose fishing as a career. He was a little sheepish in his description of himself and his very tightly wound family, but I assured him that in my mind, he was the smart one. People come to a beautiful place and pay him money to take them fishing. He makes a living at what he loves and lives in Paradise. The stressful lives that most people live trying to take that one vacation to where he lives all the time is a testament to Dave’s good judgement. Personally I believe he is the most successful one in his family. What really is important in life? I may not be the most successful fisherman in the world, but the quiet time on the water either by myself or with my family is worth its weight in gold. I need to be more patient. I need to get better at being a fisherman and the sport will teach me what Dave already knows. Slow down and enjoy what life has to offer. Whether you catch a fish or not. Wish me luck. Probably buying some more bait from old man Moran tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

The Happiest Guy in the Whole World

downsized_0715091352richard-dix-2-sizedphoto John E. Reynolds- born August 8, 1899. Heads used to turn when nurses at the doctors office asked my grandfather his date of birth. Not many people had met someone who was still living a vibrant life and had been born at the turn of the 20th century. I spent a lot of time with my grandpap and the picture you see above is of me and my grandpap deep sea fishing off of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. More on that in a minute.

John E was a character. Apparently in the days of prohibition, my grandpap had a key to every speakeasy in Pittsburgh. He liked a party and no government regulation was going to stop him from making gin in his bathtub upstairs or frequenting the joints that had music playing and liquor flowing. The other picture above is of Richard Dix the famous silent film star. My grandmother was friends with Alice Mills who was a silent film heroine and it was not unusual for Alice to visit Pittsburgh from California and bring other stars with her like Richard Dix. The reason they came was not only to see the Mills family but to get together with John Reynolds at the speakeasies and have a good old party in the middle of prohibition. My grandfather was actually pretty well known in the Hollywood circles and more and more stars came to Pittsburgh. They wanted to take my mother back to Hollywood and get her started as a child star but my grandmother would have no part of that. So Hollywood came to the North Side and had much revelrie with John E. Reynolds. The Feds came to my grandpap’s house one time and asked him if they could look out from his pantry to see the illegal wine making operation happening with the neighbor. Apprently there was some wine trafficking and the Feds wanted to use my grandparent’s house as a lookout. Well obviously when they told John E when they would be back, he immediately called old man Volpe and tipped him off. The day the Feds came back, there was no activity and they gave my grandpap a quizical look. Needless to say, the wine always flowed at 2815 Stayton Street courtesy of Volpe the bootlegger.

Fast forward, I came on the scene right before my grandparents stopped drinking. They had had enough and decided to quit cold turkey. The Abbot Beer Distributor was never the same without my grandpap and his cases of Duquesne Beer. But, all was well and they embarked on a mission to educate their grandson on the weekends. On Friday nights, they would always take me to dinner as a young lad and then we would make a beeline to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in the horse races at Waterford Park. My grandparents were purists. No trotters for them. They liked the flat races and taught me how to read a tip sheet, how to look at the horses and the jockeys, how to wait until the last minute to see the odds before placing a bet. My grandfather always swung for the fences and placed money to win. My grandmother was much more conservative and placed show bets. In her mind she would win if she hit either a winner a second place or a third place. But not John E. He went for the gusto and made me go to the window to place all bets. The people behind the windows got to know me and allowed me to place my grandparents bets even though I was woefully underage. My grandpap smiled and laughed no matter what happened. He just liked to watch them race. They took me to Hollywood in Florida, Pimlico, Churchill Downs, and all the other major tracks on the east coast. We had a ball and my grandpap smiled the whole time.

My grandpap always took me fishing as a young guy and to this day, I still use all of his tackle and rods. His cronies were Bill Marcus(an attorney), and Judge Bill Miller. Both of these gentlemen loved to fish and we went everywhere together. They had quite a racket. My grandfather was a real estate appraiser and bankruptcy referee. When Interstate 279 was going to be built, all the houses in the East Street Valley had to be appraised so that the government could pay people to leave their houses to make way for the new road. The three amigos did all the appraisal and legal work and it was years of work due to the scope of the project. They would work from April to November, take December off for the holidays and then spend the next three months in Florida fishing and playing golf. I would visit and fishing became second nature to me. When I could drive, it got better for the three amigos because they could sleep in the car while I drove to Canada, North Carolina or Florida. Lots of miles logged, lots of Canadian fresh water fishing with little to do for a teenager at night after those guys went to bed at 8:00PM. But at 4:30 AM they were ready to rock. They always let me drive the boat and run the outboard. It got a little dicey when we were in the Everglades and my grandpap thought it was funny to sneak up on an alligator and poke him with the fishing rod. Their mouths would always open in a menacing smile and as a cherubic young lad, I was in shock as my grandfather laughed hysterically. I dinged the propeller a few times in Canada on hidden rocks and almost tipped the skiff in the Everglades due to some jerky operation of the outboard motor, but the kind and patient instructions from the three amigos was always reassuring.

After my grandmother had passed, my grandpap lived alone in their new condo in the north of Pittsburgh. I say new because my grandpap almost burned the house down on the Northside when he had about 3 adapters and 9 plugs in the wall with his new computer and other electrical devices that overloaded the circuits. As the house smoked and the firemen put out the flames, they took it as a sign to move and they bought the condo. My mother would always look out for my grandpap on the Access bus every day, feed him his dinner, and then watch him return on the bus. I helped her by cooking dinner at the condo from time to time and taking John E. out after my run or bike riding. We always laughed about the old days, the fishing, the horse races and life on the Northside. My grandfather always wore a coat and tie as was the custom of the old time Irishmen. In fact, he was the only guy to walk every day down at North Park lake with the coat and tie and hat. He always bought a new car every year and one year when he was 89, he decided to buy a Honda. As a died in the wool Buick guy, this was surely a departure but when he accidentally drove it over the hill and into the woods at my folks house, he climbed out of the Honda and looked at me and said,” Ooh- I guess it is time for the Access bus.” Again we laughed, but deep down we were relieved that he was ok and he was no longer driving. When he turned 90, we sat him in the back of my dad’s vintage Buick convertable with a sign that read, ” John Reynolds is 90 Today”. One smart ass yelled to him ” Are you still getting any John?” And quick as a shot, he hollered back,” Yea- more than you sonny.” We all howled at that one.

The best part about all of this and my wonderful memories of him will always be his persistent smile and good humor. Now I am not a geneticist and I don’t know about traits that are passed down. But I like to think that I am a positive person. I love life and all the interesting, funny and adventurous times that come about in one’s lifetime. I believe my joie de vivre came from my grandpap. My mother always said that I took after him with his humor, his traits, and his quirky way of living. I am definitely a Reynolds and I can say that I am proud of that. Not that there is anything wrong with the McCloskey side of the family, but John E. Reynolds was a great role model and wonderful guy to know and love. Everyone should have a grandpap like I had. Everytime I throw a line in the water and try to land the big one, I think of him. Everytime I watch the Derby and the Preakness, I think about him betting the farm on the big win and my grandmother harrassing him the whole time. Everytime I see a white Buick with black interior( he was color blind), I think of him. The guy was hilarious. I can’t wait to see him again in glory!! Thanks for reading.

The “not so proficient” Angler

IMG00178photophoto Well, I have just sharpened and waxed all the skis to put away at the end of the season. It is April here in Pa. and although there is still snow in other areas, we are moving on here and I don’t have any ski trips left. Our local hill is closing this week and it is time to think spring. It is also time for a little self deprecation here as I tell some more stories of the 58 year old kid. When I think April, a number of thoughts come to my head but fishing seems to be the opener for the new round of posts. Now if you look at the picture above, my proficiency in the fishing world will be revealed by my question of ” where is the fast fishing area?” As I ponder this sign, I often wonder why people fish slowly versus quickly? Oh well, that will haunt me for a while as I begin my saga of my fishing experiences.

My earliest memories were in the Florida Everglades with my grandfather,John Reynolds, and his two cronies Judge Miller and Mr. Bill Marcus. The three of these guys introduced me to fishing by taking me in airboats and small skiffs in the canals of the Everglades. My grandpap thought it was funny to sneak up on a floating alligator and poke him with his fishing pole. I almost soiled myself as I saw the mouth open and look at us with a menacing smile. The three cronies would laugh and then turn over the outboard to me so I could practice canal navigation. Almost tipped it a few times much to their concern, but they insisted that I was the captain of the skiff. Didn’t catch a thing but had fun watching the gators.

Fast forward and now I had a drivers license and grandpap and my mother thought that was great as now I was able to drive the boys to North Carolina and the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center( It was here that finally after all those years we actually caught a fish and much to my surprise the best catch was a snub nosed dolphin( Pompano) that was just shy of the North Carolina record. We had to filet it because we wanted to have a fish fry back at the place where we stayed. We also took some home and as memory serves me, most of the road trip was talking to myself while the old guys slept in the back seat.

Mirror Lake in Canada was another venue for the guys which was north of North Bay. We got there by pontoon airplane and stayed in a little cabin on the lake. The only folks there were the cook and our crew. The boys go to bed at 8:00 PM and rise at 4:00. Not a teenagers schedule but I learned to play the famous Canadian game “Trivial Pursuit” with the cook every night. I was amazed at how fresh the fish tasted each night and how still the night air is in Canada in late summer. Great memories and perhaps the last time with the guys who were in their 80s at the time. I still have my grandpap’s fishing tackle which leads me to the next little ditty.

When my son Jack was little, I took him fishing at the pond behind our church. We used minnows and caught a couple of small mouthed bass( pure dumb luck) but he was thrilled and that is the last time I ever got anything but weeds out of that pond. We went back and were skunked many times. Jack looked at me as if I had lost my touch but I vowed to make it up to him and show him that I was a great angler. Like when we were with good friends down in the Outer Banks and I had my ocean rods. Jack would come out in the morning when he woke up and see how I was doing. Again I was having bad luck as I had tried every bait that the shop recommended. Nothing. I saw the disappointment on his face and I decided to try something drastic. The next morning I rose early and drove to he Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store and went straight to the fish department. I purchased a nice Red Snapper and brought it back with me. As I deftly attached the cold, dead Snapper to my line, I cast it out in the ocean hoping that nothing would enjoy it until Jack came out. As I saw him come on to the beach with my friend Tom, I began a ritual of fightning a big catch. I reeled and pulled and reeled and pulled and said to them, ” I finally hooked a big one!” When at last I reeled it in, it was covered in the most ghastly seaweed imaginable and they both looked puzzled. Jack noticed that the snapper was not moving and asked if it was dead. Tom suspected that something wasn’t right and I whispered to him…..”Piggly Wiggly.” I thought he was going to have a heart attack laughing but the humor was lost on Jack.

Finally a few years ago we went to Hilton Head and I booked a small fishing charter with Captain Dave Fleming of “The Mighty Mako” Dave was an affable guy and was wonderful with Janet and Jack as he said that the fishing was not too good but we could catch………..sharks!!! Now not far from where Jack and I swam in the bay the day before, we were reeling in baby shark after baby shark until Janets steel leader was bitten off by what Captain Dave described as a bull shark that we would not have wanted to bring in anyhow. Jack was thrilled and scared at the shark catch and Janet was amazed at how deftly Dave handled the sharks. Captain Dave suspected that I was a half assed fisherman so he let me bring in the smaller sharks and he took my picture as I held the first shark I had ever touched in a death grip on the back of his head. That was a good day fishing and we have not had much luck since.

So as proficient as I like to think of myself in the ski world, I am really not so proficient in the angler world. I have had dumb luck, assisted success, and dreadful experiences like when I went back to the pond with Jack and didn’t notice that my reel was not tightly attached to my rod. As I wound up for a collossal cast, I ended up casting the whole reel into the middle of the lake. So much for my fishing for that day. Jack and I headed to breakfast. The memories of the old guys, the fun with Jack and Janet, and the sheer buffoonery of my angling prowess gives me many smiles as the opening day of fishing closes in on us in Pa. There is nothing like the smile of a young boy when he catches a fish and nothing like the smile of a proud dad as he sees him bring in the big one. Go fish with your children and your wife. No matter how good or bad you are, you will have a good family time and have lasting memories. Thanks for reading.