The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

August 17, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Real sucker when it comes to fishing

Sports Editor

Paying a rare visit to the fishing variety store...

Hook, line and...

With Mother Nature apparently already turning us all toward fall, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some fishing items before The Summer of 2013 has the curtain come down on it.

When it comes to using the rod and reel, there is plenty of reasons to *ahem* cast more than a few doubts about my abilities.

With that having been put there on the table, it should come to the surprise of absolutely none of you, Loyal Readers, that the few times I’ve been lured or baited into putting a rod and reel in my hands have turned into real sinkers.

For those who might believe this is not a real fish story, I offer the following exhibits of evidence...

Down south jukin’

Many moons ago, when I was 9 or 10, I think, my parents herded the four kids into our very cool school bus camper and headed south, way south, in fact, all the way to Key West, Fla.

While that journey to one of the world’s most beautiful locations was something none of us kids will ever forget, when we rented a boat and headed out onto the water it turned out to be a nightmare for yours truly.

It began oh so innocently, landing these neat silver-colored fish in water that was only 10 to 20 feet deep.

On top of that, the water was crystal clear and we could see the bottom.

That was not a good thing.

Somehow, I accidentally bumped Dad’s tackle box, sending it off the side of the boat to the bottom. Only my heart sank quicker than the tackle box, for I knew what was coming.

“OK, smart guy, you know what that means...” he said, his voice trailing off.

“Well, since we’re using bait, can I buy you a new tackle box out of my allowance?” I asked, feigning some hopeful enthusiasm.

“Nope, get your ass in the water and go get that tackle box,” he said. “You can see it on the bottom. It’s just sitting there. You’ll be in and out before you even know youre wet.”

So, in the water I went, headed toward the tackle box, which was really in only about 10 feet of water.

Unfortunately, when I grabbed the handle and began to head back to the surface, the tackle box opened and a good portion of its contents spilled onto the sandy ocean floor.

It took three or four more trips to the bottom to get the stuff that had spilled out and the dives were uneventful... until I saw The Shadow move across the bottom.

Quickly, I turned my head and, there he was the star of Jaws.

OK, he wasn’t the 35-foot behemoth of Hollywood fame, but he was a shark and knowing what it was capable of, it scared the fish out of me!

As you can probably imagine, I surfaced as quickly as possible and scrambled back into the boat.

But, were not finished with Key West, Fla. just yet, Loyal Readers.

The next day, we were drifting with the current, the salt-water mass taking us this way and that.

As Dad was busy getting quite a kick out of being able to feed seagulls fish right out of his hands, my thoughts began to drift, much like our craft.

All of a sudden, my fishing pole jerked in my hands, startling me back to coherency.

Eagerly, I reeled in the line, only to see this ugly looking green... pseudo fish... on the hook. At least it looked green, though Dad made sure to correct me later, saying it was brown.

“Uh, Dad, I think weve got a problem,” I said as the fish suddenly made itself onto a balloon.

Yup, I had managed to hook something called a blowfish.

To me, with its round shape and its puke-green color, it resembled something that looked like it came flying out of Linda Blair’s mouth in The Exorcist.

“Don’t be a (wuss)!” Dad said. “Take the damn thing off the hook and throw it in the (storage) well.

“We’ll see what it tastes like when we fry him up.”

OK, sure. So I put Mr. Blowfish on the floor of the boat because his skin was like sandpaper and begin to attempt to extricate the hook, which it appeared had been swallowed, from his mouth.

No problem, right?


Suddenly, Mr. Blowfish must have thought my left index finger was bait because he flashed his white fangs at me and bit down on the finger. Out of both shock and pain, I let out a screech that could have been heard back home in Northeast Ohio.

Seeing Dad was going to do absolutely nothing with the exception of sit on his butt and laugh, I began thrashing around, smacking Mr. Blowfish against the side of the boat in an attempt to free my digit.

After about an hour (OK, probably more like 10 seconds), he let go.

I promptly cut the line, tossed Mr. Blowfish back into the drink and watched as he swam merrily away, as if nothing had happened.

If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn the flippin’ thing was grinning at me!

Back on land, Mr. Blowfish’s chomp resulted in me getting four stitches in my finger.

When Dad went back out on the water the next day, I became a landlubber.

Closer to home

More than few years ago, legendary Jefferson girls basketball coach Rod Holmes and then-Falcon boys basketball coach Tim Mizer asked if I might want to tag along as they went fishing on Pymatuning Lake.

As we drifted on the water in Mize’s boat for one hour, two hours, three hours... we caught nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a bite, or a nibble.

Not having the patience of the two esteemed head coaches, I became frustrated at my inability to catch anything.

“Coach Mize,” I said. “Am I doing something wrong? Is there something I should be doing differently?”

“Tell you what,” Mize said. “See that stump over there? Cast your line right at it. That looks like a good spot.”

Well, you guessed it I did just that... literally.

My hook hit the first thing besides water for the first time all day it dug into the tree stump and snagged.

“Unbelievable,” Rod said with a chuckle. “You couldn’t hit water if you fell out of this boat and you manage to hit the exact spot Mize pointed at?”

Being the good guy that he is, Mize put down his pole, took mine and began to attempt to extricate my snagged hook. After about 10 seconds of him whipping the pole around like one of the Three Musketeers with a sword, we finally caught something!

Mize’s poll suddenly lurched into the water. His hook had caught a submerged tree stump.

Feeling responsible, and remembering my glorious training from Key West, I took my shirt off and started to dive in after it, though Mize stopped me.

“It’s not worth it and you’ll never find it because the water is too cloudy,” Mize said.

Of course, I protested, telling him, “The water is only about four feet deep.”

Holmes, never one to pass up an opportunity to, well, shoot fish in a barrel, didn’t miss a beat.

“True,” he said. “But thats still wayyyyyy over your head, Donnie.”

Which brings me to my final fish story, this one also involving Holmes and myself, as well as Steve Locy, now the athletic director and cross country and girls track coach at Jefferson.

Mind you, at the time, Holmes was just beginning to develop into the coaching legend he is now and Locy had not yet begun to work his way up the ladder to the heights he has since reached.

This time, we were back on Pymatuning Lake, though we were in Holmes’ boat.

There wasnt much, OK, any, difference in our luck, though. Steve certainly wasn’t a good-luck charm.

Steve, like me, is not a patient guy, him even less than yours truly, in fact. After several hours of meandering to this spot and that spot, he couldn’t help himself anymore. He just couldn’t.

“Donnie, what does that sticker say?” he said, pointing to a small, white decal on the inside of the boat.

“It says, ‘Weight limit, 900 pounds, are you blind?’” I replied, wondering what the heck he was up to.

“Well, you go about a buck and a quarter,” he said. “And I go about 160. That’s 300 pounds.”

(Footnote — Steve wasn’t a math major at Slimy Pebble... er, Slippery Rock).

Then, he turned to Rod, the burliest of our trio by just a bit, then back to me, then grinned like The Joker.

“I think were in bigggggg trouble.”

Rod made a grab for Steve, who almost knocked me into the murky water trying to escape the big man’s vice-like clutches. Of course, if he had, I would most certainly have drowned because my mouth was wide open as I was laughing uncontrollably.

Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to snare Steve, at least not without capsizing us in the process, Rod relented and didn’t use him as bait, though I certainly would have liked to have seen that.

“Tell you what, Loce,” Rod said. “One more comment like that and we’ll be waiting for you back at the truck as you swim back to shore.”

Me being the innocent bystander, as always, all I could picture was Steve and Rod playing the parts of Gilligan and The Skipper, respectively, after they capsized our boat while Rod was in the process of turning him into chum.

And those, Loyal Readers, are true fish tales.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at