by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Unbelievable. The real Jesse Owens? The most successful athlete at the 1936 Summer Olympics? Well, no, but to hear Ed Mort tell his fishing story, you would think it was the real Jesse Owens that was born 100 years ago.
A few days ago, Mort and I crossed paths at Johnston's Restaurant in Ransomville, and it seems we always talk fishing stories or I get hunting stories from him. He is an avid hunter and outdoorsman who enjoys what he does, and mostly, I can see the thrill on his face when he talks about taking his children (grown up now), nephews, neighborhood kids and, one time with Jesse Owens, fishing.
Mort and his friend, Roy Barr, are both retired now, but a whole lot of fishing days were spent together with these two guys through the years. In more recent years, Mort began taking his outdated VHS video camera with him to record some of these trips. He's aware of the new modern digital movie cameras but said he is so used to the big old camera that he has to support on his shoulder to use, holding his hands up and tapping his shoulder to show me where it would sit. The outfit is so outdated; there aren't many VHS players around anymore, or the old TVs to show them on for that matter.
"But I have one!" he says. "And the video I have with Jesse catching fish that day, I play it at least once a year to remember that trip." Mort loves to watch it and the antics of his fishing partner, Barr, but in particular, Jesse.
Mort was also wishing he knew someone that could convert his VHS to a CD so he could make copies and share it. Do any readers here know how to do that? Any suggestions email me and let me know.
Mort met Jesse only a few days before he took him fishing for the first time, when Jesse walked into Rite Aid in Ransomville. Mort said he had seen him around town before and Jesse appeared to be always in a cantankerous mood. But this one day he got into a short conversation with him, and in that conversation he asked Jesse if he liked fishing. That caught Jesse's attention and his eyes lit up like the rising sun as he said, "I love fishin' Boss, but I haven't fished in years." Mort said, "How about going fishing with me?" Jesse was excited, and said he doesn't have any hooks or poles, or anything. "Don't worry 'bout nothin' " Mort told him. "I have everything."
They made plans for the next day to go fishing and Barr joined them. Mort and Barr picked up Jesse at his residence, which was the Heritage Manor in Ransomville, an assisted living facility, and off they went to a pond that held crappies, largemouth bass and northern pike. Soon after getting set up and tossing the live bait out, the action started and Jesse was catching bass. He was used to catching crappies all his life and never hooked into bass like these.
A funny thing, when I asked Mort where this pond was he answered, "Oh, I have a lot of ponds and creeks around that I fish in." Then I asked, "Well, where's this one?"
Ha! Good friend he is, the question was being avoided, he just wasn't going to tell me for fear I'll tell others. He was right; I would have told my all Sentinel readers and posted it on my outdoors web site!
The highlight of this fishing trip came when Jesse caught some nice 3- and 4-pound largemouth bass, a northern pike, and some crappies. The crappies were caught after the bass were caught and Jesse, realizing those bass were his prizes, tossed the smaller crappies back to the pond. When Mort, holding the camera, asked Jesse, "What do you think about those bass?" the old guy went into the happy "fish shuffle," a shuffle with moves that only a teenager could do, never an 80-year-old, but he did it, I saw it on the video, dust kicking out from under his feet that looked like smoke! I don't know many people that love fish and fishing so much as Jesse, but if you ever saw an 80 year old man catch a bass, fall in love with it, then give it a big smooch on the lips, and then turn around and say with big eyes, "this one is going into the skillet!" Now there is one happy man.
Barr was the bait master for the day. He put Jesse's bait on the hook, tossed his line out, took his fish off the hook, and one time Barr dropped a big bass putting it in the fish bucket, and it almost ended back in the pond. The day was saved: Jesse jumped out of his chair, and moved the fish bucket further back from the edge of the water so Barr couldn't let that happen again.
Apparently, Jesse was originally from the Deep South, because he kept calling Mort "Boss" or "Sir." Everything was, "OK Boss," "Yes Sir," "No Boss," like Rochester always said on the Jack Benny show many years ago.
Mort replied, "Jess, you don't need to call me 'Boss,' just call me 'Ed.' " Jesse replied, "OK, Boss."
When they finished for the day, Jesse said he wasn't used to fishing with those 'new' rod and reel things, commenting, "I always fished with one of those long poles and a string tied to the end." Mort responded, "I have a brand new one of those in my garage, let me get it for you." He gave it to him and his eyes lit up like those two antelopes with night vision goggles that we see in the Geico commercials on TV. It was a new two-piece, 12-foot bamboo cane pole, complete with the rigging.
Mort commented, "I can always picture that pole still sitting in the corner of his room at the Manor, he was pretty proud of it."
One thing here, at the end of my story, Mort deserves a big salute for taking the time to take an elderly person fishing, plus all the lessons taught by him to all the kids he took the time to teach through the years, giving them real, hands-on experience. He's my kind of hero. Remember; "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life."
Jesse Owens passed away at age 81.
Suggestions, comments, email me: [email protected] or tell the Sentinel. Visit www.OutdoorsNiagara.com to get the latest fishing reports. Take a kid fishing and an elder too, like Ed Mort did. Thanks.