Full-fish experience right here in Valley

Big-bellied bass and leg-long northern pike are the stuff of anglers' dreams, and many of us willingly reach deep into our credit-card accounts to make them come to reality.
We can travel to Canada's North Woods, Florida's sprawling Okeechobee and the massive Texas reservoirs for fast fishing action. Or, as a few local anglers know, we can experience similar adventures right here in Mahoning County.
Two recent drizzly Saturday mornings proved that point to me -- quite conclusively, I might add.
The first Saturday was at Pine Lake, the nearly 100-year-old, stump-pocked lake off Ohio 7 in Beaver Township. Fishing pal Steve Zarbaugh and I found an abundance of big largemouths more than eager to eat our topwater lures waddled over the surface vegetation and soft plastics pitched into shoreline cover.
Two weeks later, we spent another Saturday morning in blustery conditions plucking pot-belly bass and 3-foot-long northerns from Evans Lake off Ohio 164 in Springfield Township. Tandem-bladed spinnerbaits and shallow-running chartreuse crankbaits were the fishes' choice.
A sign of success
Both days resulted in shredded thumbs, a sure sign that the bass were numerous and big enough to scrape grooves in our fingers as they twisted in our grips. Three-pounders were common, 4-pounders fine bonuses and the occasional 5-pounders served as exclamation points.
We laughed at the absolute craziness of our success. Each bite was bigger and better than the previous one. I even capped off my day with a 4-pounder on my last cast.
It was as though we'd bid farewell to our families and traveled off to the Big O, or Champlain, or Rayburn, or anyplace except Northeast Ohio.
But instead, we packed in all that action in two morning trips, barely 10 minutes from our houses. And we were back home in time for lunch, with a can't-wait eagerness for the next opportunity to get out on the lakes.
Pine and Evans have long histories among local anglers; our parents and grandparents fished them hard and lugged home stringers heavy with bass, crappies and pike. That was back in the days when they were open to public access for daily permit holders. In recent years, the lakes have seen little angling pressure.
But their owner, Aqua Ohio, decided earlier this year to make them accessible again on a limited basis.
Buying a permit
Anglers can buy an annual permit that allows access to Pine and Evans, as well as Hamilton Lake in Struthers. The permit costs 500. Information on obtaining permits is available by calling Aqua's Struthers office, (330) 755-7914.
So go ahead and treat yourself to the opportunity to fish the fishiest places in the Mahoning Valley in 2007. Or, with Christmas just around the corner, maybe Santa will consider leaving a permit under the tree for the angler in your house.
With a permit like that, it's like owning an exclusive lunker license to one of America's most exotic fisheries -- but without paying for long-distance travel and lakeside lodging, and burning family vacation time.
Some words of warning: Take lots of lures to the Aqua lakes and never throw your priceless, can't-be-replaced lure, because it's almost a certainty that a toothy critter will steal it.

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