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Early-morning fishing makes for a great reunion

For many, 6:30 in the morning is too early for anything other than coffee and a glance at the headlines. But for two anglers earlier this week, 6:30 was the beginning of a day on a lake and the opportunity to catch up on the 50 years that have passed since they graduated from high school.

Fishing truly is the common denominator for millions of Americans. Such is the case with Jim Ellashek and me. Other than being proud Spartan classmates with more than 500 other Boardman High School Class of ’71 graduates, Jim and I are card-carrying members of the unofficial association of people who would rather go fishing than do just about anything else.

We met at the boat ramp as the sun started to take the chill out of the morning air and launched the Bass Cat with high hopes, but also with tempered expectations that come with decades of experience.

We were rigged for largemouth bass, but happy to hook up with whatever the lake might send our way.

Jim and I took different paths from the halls of Boardman High School. But we also took a love of fishing that had deep roots thanks to family experiences.

He was a good football player, with route-running and pass-catching skills that helped the Spartans go undefeated in 1970 to win the Steel Valley Conference. He went on to play as a receiver for the Ohio University Bobcats, joining fellow Spartans Tim Storm, Ron Anderson and Steve Brajak. After earning his OU degree, he studied at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry.

Retired now after a successful career as a dentist in Canfield, Jim today has ample time to scratch his fishing itch. But he also found enough fishing time during his working days to become a member of the Western Reserve Walleye Association and to fish local walleye tournaments, as well as the Muransky Companies Bass Classic benefiting the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

Jim also has enjoyed the kind of exotic fishing trips about which many anglers only dream. He’s fished extensively on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, and he’s traveled to Cabo San Lucas for Pacific sailfish and Belize in Central America for bonefish and permit.

The fishing was a little on the slow side during our recent outing. A chunky largemouth of about 4 pounds gulped a beaver-style plastic bait, and a long and toothy northern pike soon joined the action. Jim hooked up with a bass that ate his white fluke after revealing itself by crashing on baitfish on the surface.

Between the flurries, Jim and I compared notes about our local reservoirs and some of our favorite experiences. He particularly enjoyed an early spring fly-fishing trip on Presque Isle Bay off Erie, Pa., for pre-spawn smallmouth bass. He likened the sight-fishing experience to casting for bonefish. He also enjoys trolling for steelhead around Lake Erie harbors in the fall.

He spoke proudly about son Jim Jr., who has inherited his love of fishing. It’s not unusual for Jim Jr. to take off from home in Columbus to drive to Elk Creek in Pennsylvania and spend the day fly-casting for the spectacular steelhead migrating up from Lake Erie, then pack up and head home in time to sleep in his own bed back home.

A few more bass interrupted our conversation, but we always returned to the topic of our fishing roots.

We both were fortunate to have fathers who helped us become interested. We both had pivotal opportunities during our college years to reconnect with fishing after straying from the sport a bit during our teen years. And we both found the kind of fulfillment on the water and reward for effort that only an angler can understand.

It’s not that either of us needed reassurance, but it was good to know we share a deep appreciation for any and all opportunities to test our skills on the water.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing, was released May 11. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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