Listening to: Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Watching: Burn Notice!
Playing: Left 4 Dead 2
Drinking: Monster Khaos!
Ron Janowsky was my neighbor for 30 years.
He was nearly a decade older, but we had much in common. We both were Western New Yorkers. We both loved sports and the outdoors and especially trout fishing. We both had quirky (some would say odd) senses of humor. We both were enamored of old stuff like antique fishing rods and lures or anything that had some age to it and was made with care. I even was interested in geology a little. Ron taught the subject at Mohawk Valley Community College for many years, and he'd give me short lectures or answer my questions, although most of the talk was about old fossils and boxes of rocks and that kind of thing.
Our values were similar, and we got along very well.
Not all the time. He had some strange ways, and, you know, I don't. I would challenge Ron on some stories he told, which annoyed him greatly, and he often disagreed with my evaluation of this team or that player. He also disapproved of my use of the term "Whatchacallit" when I couldn't remember something, which was often.
I spoke to Ron nearly every day, about everything, but the conversation much of the time was about fishing. He had grown up in Jamestown, on Chautauqua Lake, and had fished there and in the streams all around that area since he was a little kid. I had grown up in Niagara Falls, just downriver from his father's hometown of North Tonawanda, and if I wasn't at 79th Street Playground playing ball, I often was over at the river dreaming of catching a muskie or a big bass and settling for sunfish and rock bass if I was lucky.
Ron and I fished together many times. He was a skillful worm fisherman, employing a method he had read about years ago. He used a fly rod lined with monofilament and tipped with small worm gangs he meticulously tied. He was particular about the small worms he used, and even more so about how he hung them on those gangs. He was deadly with that outfit. He could steer those worms into all kinds of hard-to-reach places, and, boy, would the trout respond. I remember the 24-inch brown he caught on Oriskany Creek near Route 5 one year.
He encouraged me to try his style, and I did a couple of times, but I couldn't do it like he could. Not even close.
One year, we spent an entire day on a section of the Oriskany that was maybe two miles as the crow flies and a heck of lot longer as the creek meandered. He fished his worms while I used nymphs. I could look it up, but I remember distinctly landing 15 trout. Ron stopped counting at 30. They were not monsters, but a few of them were nice fish, 12 to 14 inches. That was terrific, and even more so because it had been a beautiful May day, the water was perfect, and the woods were alive with leeks and trillium and coltsfoot and all kinds of new life.
We fished for bass and walleyes, too, and had some luck with that, but we both also were fly fishermen, and that's mostly what we did. Ron was a pretty good tyer, and I would try to steal flies from him whenever I could. My favorite was the Squirrel Tail nymph, a version of the all-time great Hare's Ear. I learned to tie it myself – it's pretty simple – but I liked Ron's version better, and I have plenty of them still. If I'm going to use a nymph, that's usually the first one I pull out of the box.
Ron also introduced me to bluegills, which he had learned to catch with a fly rod and poppers while he was a graduate student in Texas. We had some fabulous days on Lake Moraine and Cazenovia Lake – 200, 250 fish, so many and so easily caught that it sometimes was boring – and we'd keep a couple of dozen apiece, but only those that stretched at least eight inches. That was his policy. That's when bluegills start to have some worthwhile meat on them. If you've never had a bluegill dinner … well, I'm wishing very hard for one right now.
Ron tied his own poppers, but he also bought them. I heard so much about Sneaky Petes one year I still kind of despise that fly, although it is a very good one.
But, again, trout fishing was a big thing for us. One year, we found Hendricksons (the common name for Ephemerella subvaria mayflies) hatching on a little creek long before the usual date, and we caught I don't know how many trout on dry flies. The last was in a tough spot just below a leaned-over cedar and along a half-sunken log. We took turns casting to it, but it wouldn't budge. It might look at the fly for a few seconds, or it would turn and follow a ways, then fin back to its holding spot. We worked that fish for a long, long time without spooking it – changing flies, changing angles, resting it now and then. Finally, somehow, Ron got it to take. It was a finely colored 14-inch brown, a nice fish for that creek.
It was a pleasant walk of a mile or so back to the truck, and we marveled at what a perfect day it had been and that we hadn't seen another soul along a very pretty piece of water that in a week or so would be a very busy place. We were two very happy guys.
That is a great memory. I have a lot of them, and I'll have to hang on to them, because Ron isn't around anymore. He had been slowing down the last couple of years, turning down invitations to go down to the Delaware or up to the West Canada or even just over to the Sauquoit or Oriskany. He was diagnosed with cancer in January, although the seeds certainly must have been sown long before that. He died April 9, the third friend to go in a little more than two weeks, all before their time.
Ron was a fine angler, a solid guy, a great neighbor, a very good soul. I will miss him dearly.