The other day I was roaming the aisles at the Gander Mountain store in Niles searching for odds and ends to stuff my tackle bag so the zipper strains to stay closed.
I turned a corner and spied a familiar face. It was Joe Lepley. A big smile crossed his face as we greeted each other.
That's what happens when fishing friends bump into each other. We all like opportunities to yak about our favorite sport.
In the span of 15 minutes standing among the spinnerbaits at Gander Mountain, Lepley and I reported on our summers. He was particularly eloquent about his recent visits to Lake Erie, where he's hooked up with walleyes, steelhead and smallmouth bass.
"We even caught a couple of two-pound smallies on topwaters coming back into Conneaut one evening," he said.
Wistfully, he recalled the days before Lake Milton was drained when he annually caught his best smallmouth bass there. And he told about frustrating trips to West Branch Reservoir when he pulled out all the stops and cast in last-ditch desperation for a bite or two along the rocky dam there.
Any fisherman could relate to his tales.
It occurred to me as I drove back to the office after my shop-and-chat with Lepley that fishing truly is a great equalizer. People of all backgrounds, creeds and colors can find common ground in sharing tales about their days on the water.
Rich and poor, young and old, from every neighborhood in every town across America, anglers share a yearning to get out to the water to hook up with their favorite species.
Lepley is an example. When he's not fishing, he's busy keeping track of engineering at Altronic in Girard. Dressed in shirt and tie that day last week, he used his lunch break to focus for a few minutes on fishing by picking up stuff for his next walleye excursion.
In fact, I bump into lots of people in grocery stores, pizza shops, golf courses and elsewhere who, when they discover my addiction to fishing, inevitably spin their own stories about their memories on the lakes around Youngstown. Seems as though everybody has a favorite tale to tell -- even if it's been years since they last wet a line.
Lake Erie update
The action is slow for most species on the local reservoirs, but reports are that the walleye fishing continues to be productive out in the deep water of Lake Erie's Central Basin.
Nice catches are being made in 70 feet of water 12 miles north of Ashtabula and Conneaut by anglers trolling spoons. They also are hooking up with good numbers of steelhead.
Lake Erie anglers also are picking up walleyes around West Sister and the islands and reef complex over deep water. Most are trolling with crankbaits and worm-and-spinner combos.
Yellow perch fishing also is improving, with limit catches reported off the access areas east of Cleveland. Anglers are going out two to five miles and fishing spreaders with minnows.
The perch are running between seven and 11 inches, according to most reports.
Perch also are being caught in the island region out west.