There were a number of influences while I was growing up that led to my love for the outdoors.
Among them was the annual outdoor show in downtown Cleveland. Think of it as the Washington Sportsmen’s Show, but larger by a factor of at least 10. As a young child it was like going to the Disneyland of the outdoor world. Guides and outfitters came from across the world. You could climb into the newest fishing boats. Walking down the fishing rod aisle was like walking through a forest of fiberglass (carbon fiber wasn’t used for rods back then). I would remember coming home with plastic bags bulging with brochures, pamphlets and catalogs, reading material that would get me through the winter as I awaited the arrival of summer fishing.
Another influence was Jerry McKinnis, the host of “The Fishin’ Hole,” a TV show that aired for more than 40 years. As I transitioned from Saturday morning cartoons, this became one of my must-see shows on Saturday afternoons before “Wide World of Sports” came on. I loved listening to McKinnis, with his homespun Arkansas accent, describing fishing trips to lakes I had never heard of. I later got to meet McKinnis, when he came to Cleveland with his Bass Fishing University. My autographed book from that daylong immersion into bass fishing has a place of prominence on my bookshelf.
I never became a bass fisherman, but McKinnis and his show taught me the fun that could be had spending a day on lake with a fishing rod in your hand and a buddy by your side.
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Another person who fed my passion, more so than the famed McKinnis, was my mother.
From childhood to adulthood, she was the one who woke us early to go fishing on Pymatuning Lake, a reservoir on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border where my grandparents lived. While no angling expert herself, she made sure we had plenty of bait, that the cooler and picnic basket were packed, and she always made sure we had fun.
On our summer camping trips to Ontario or New England, Mom was the one who got the campsite or cabin organized. She would lead our day hikes, cook the meals and let us four kids roam the campground without too many rules.
I believe it was Mom who coined the term “adventure roading,” when our family of six piled into the station wagon and went for a drive, no destination in mind.
It was later, when I struck out on my own, that I was able to begin to repay her for all she had done.
She visited me multiple times after I moved to Great Falls, Montana, in the mid-1990s. On several occasions, we went fly fishing on the Missouri River. I remember wanting to take her to the spot where I caught my first Missouri River rainbow trout. To this day, I still feel a pang of guilt because she slipped and made it most of the way down the slight embankment on her backside. There was the hot summer day when, without waders, she stepped out in the river to get closer to the rising trout, her denim dress billowing in the current. There was the time we sat out a rainstorm in our rented drift boat, talking about life.
On another trip to Montana, we opted to head to Glacier National Park. While driving across Going-to-the-Sun Road, I noticed a cascade of water falling onto the road. It was a hot day, so I thought I would help Mom cool off by opening the sunroof and her window on the passenger side. She didn’t seem to appreciate my thoughtfulness.
As age slowed her down, she loved to hear stories from my family’s adventures while we lived in California, Nevada and, finally, Washington.
Our final fishing trip together was to American Lake while our children were fairly young. The four of us took up a lot of space on the dock at Bill’s Boathouse, and there always seemed to be some sort of commotion — tangled lines, hooks that needed fresh bait, curious kids exploring around the dock during lulls in the action. My mom sat in her camp chair, a smile never fading from her face. As we headed back to our SUV, the kids hauling the day’s catch over their shoulders, my mother patted my arm as she expressed pride in her grandchildren’s enjoyment of the outdoors.
How could I not pass along to our son and daughter all she had showed and taught me, I responded.
Unfortunately, all we have now is memories such as those. My mother passed away earlier this month.
I hope at some point to return to her favorite spot on the Missouri River, underneath a cliff she named One-Eyed Jack because it had a large hole in the rock face. I will cast a fly, eager with anticipation that a trout will rise to the surface and eat it. And when I release the trout, I will take a moment to remember all my mother did for me and all the memories we shared from our times together outdoors.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640