Outdoor Chenango: Fond Memories
Published: March 27th, 2024
By: Eric Davis

Outdoor Chenango: Fond memories

A month and a half ago, I was a few minutes early to a seminar about R3 and Outreach at the NWTF convention in Nashville when I picked a seat and sat down. As more people started to come in and pick seats, a gentleman in a US Forest Service uniform sat down two seats away.

I looked over, he read my name badge and asked where in New York I lived. I first asked if he knew much about upstate and where things were, before explaining where Chenango County is. Then I followed up with the fact that I grew up in by Watkins Glen and I fished with my grandfather for trout that were stocked in the ponds on the Finger Lakes National Forest, the only national forest in NY, when I was young. It sparked a conversation with him as he was from South Carolina and was familiar with stocking catfish in ponds in the south on national forests and only knew that they would stock trout in northern ponds where trout could survive. We kept talking and I brought up that the NYS Chapter of NWTF has spent a good amount of our Superfund habitat money on projects on the Finger Lakes National Forest since I became a board member in 2016.

As the seminar began, they welcomed the first speaker of the day, the US Forest Service biologist sitting to my left. As he went through his presentation on how NWTF chapters can partner with the Forest Service to hold events, he brought up the conversation we had just had and used me as an example when it came to doing a fishing event. It was unexpected to be used in the presentation as an example, but it got me to reminisce about those times I went fishing with my grandfather at the national forest as well as many other instances.

One vivid memory from fishing at the national forest was the year my cousin Lauren joined us. We walked to the pond from the parking area and got our lines in the water. We were fishing with Powerbait dough on a hook below a bobber. Lauren and I decided we were hungry and started to snack on the Salt and Vinegar chips our grandfather had brought with us. As we sat there munching away, our grandfather asked us, “Hey, where’s your bobbers?” We looked out and realized fish were on both of our lines. So, we quickly put the chips aside and reeled in our fish. We kept fishing and caught our limit of trout. I have a picture of me sitting in my grandpa’s kitchen with a pile of trout on newspaper on the kitchen table.

As for fishing at other places, my grandfather had a boat that he kept parked in our yard because we lived closer to the lake. This made it so that he didn’t have to drive with it trailered to his SUV for as far. So, I would go out on the boat with him almost every Saturday in the summer. Usually we trolled, but one week the guys at the bait shop said lake trout were up shallow and guys were catching them on live sawbellies (alewives). So, my grandfather bought some sawbellies before we hit the lake. My dad was not a fisherman, but he enjoyed driving the boat and he was with us that day.

We headed out and anchored the boat near Hector Falls. My grandfather rigged up a sawbelly on an English double hook on my rod before letting my send it overboard. After a while, I got a bite, and it was a big one! I fought the fish for a few minutes and as it was getting closer to the surface my grandfather told my dad to grab the net. As the fish was only a few feet down, it swam directly under the boat. When it did, my line broke and we all sulked in disappointment at losing the fish.

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My dad turned around and began walking the net to the back of the boat when my grandfather exclaimed, “Mike, come here quick! It’s right here!” My dad whipped around and quickly scooped up an exhausted lake trout from beside the boat. The fish was tired from the fight and was just floating there after the line broke. When we pulled the fish from the net, the sawbelly was hooked perfectly in its mouth with a couple feet of line still attached. That lake trout was my personal best at that point and might still be. When we were done fishing, we stopped at the bait shop to show off my catch. The owner came out to the parking lot with a Polaroid camera, took my picture, and then hung it on the corkboard inside the door with the other recent trophies.

My grandfather passed away in January 2018. While he’s gone, I will always remember those fishing trips we took and how he sparked my love for the outdoors.