A soft fog drifted over the still green water of East Fork Lake as George and Ruth Ann Rooks slipped their pontoon quietly into the water last Friday morning. Their destination was a cove a few minutes around the bend that has come to be known by the locals as Rooks Hollow.
The ‘Ole Fisherman and his bride of 48 years know every stump and current in Rooks Hollow, and one of their greatest joys is sharing their fishing hole with a pilgrim or two, as George likes to call their fishing guests. Last Friday morning the pilgrim on their pontoon was your faithful columnist.
Most people around the county know George and Ruth Ann, but indulge me a moment to acquaint our other readers with them.
George, retired nearly 20 years now from managing East Fork State Park, has hands like a bear’s paws and puts me to mind of a giant but gentle grizzly. George is known by many through the Ole Fisherman column he writes for that other county paper. His gentle spirit is only surpassed by Ruth Ann’s.
The kind smile that adorns her face never fades because it comes from deep in her soul. Ruth Ann has spent her career raising two fine daughters who now have families of their own, and of course taking good care of the Ole Fisherman. Together, Ruth Ann and George give more of themselves in service to the community than any two people in all of Clermont County.
For George this includes serving on the board of Clermont Senior Services, and for Ruth Ann it includes baking a blackberry jam cake each year for the agency’s Antiques & Collectables fundraising event. The bidding for Ruth Ann’s cake has become the highlight of the event. Last year her blackberry jam cake sold for a whopping $2,000 and I won’t be surprised to see it sell for even more this year (mark your calendar now to join us on Friday, Sept. 7. I’ll have more details in a future column.)
Now, back to the tale of this pilgrim’s fishing experience in Rooks Hollow. As George guided the pontoon into their favorite spot for catching crappie, I thought back to my boyhood days of fishing with a cane pole along the banks of the Clear Fork and Kokosing Rivers in east central Ohio, and wondered if I’d catch any fish this day. George kindly helped me fix the first minnow on my hook and was impressed when I pitched my line in the water like a skilled fisherman. Like riding a bicycle, you never forget.
Within just a minute or two, I was the first to reel in a nice sized crappie. I surmised that George and Ruth Ann always patiently wait to let their pilgrim guest catch the first fish because, having fulfilled this kindness, they went to fishing like I’ve never seen before. Ruth Ann’s minnow would hardly hit the water before the bobber would start to dip and she’d yank and reel in another keeper. George wasn’t far behind in the number he was catching, including the biggest of the day, weighing in at probably a pound or more.
At one point Ruth Ann suggested I drop my line in her spot, and when she took a break a bit later (no doubt exhausted from catching so many fish), George handed her pole to me thinking it might help my luck. It didn’t. After resting a bit Ruth Ann picked up the pole I’d been using and went back to reeling them in while I quietly held her pole and looked on admiringly. Well, in short order we had 19 nice crappie in the cooler, plus one fine bluegill. I lost count but I’m pretty sure I caught two or maybe even three of them myself!
By 10:30 we were back at George and Ruth Ann’s home just outside the park, and Ruth Ann asked if I’d like to stay and have some fresh fish for lunch. You bet!
George has a homemade dry sink set up in the yard for cleaning fish and, not wanting to seem like too much of a mooch, I offered to help. I watched George skillfully filet a few and then I took the knife to give it a try. This part of fishing didn’t come back to me as well as throwing a line in the water so, after massacring one of our catch, I handed the knife back to George to finish the job.
Meanwhile Ruth Ann had already started lunch. We dined on our fresh catch (just roll them in some dry pancake mix and fry in a little oil), along with fried potatoes, fresh tomatoes, beets, sweet pickles, canned peaches and home baked oatmeal cookies, all the product of Ruth Ann’s home canning and cooking. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I don’t suppose my schedule will allow me to go fishing again anytime soon, but this is a memory I won’t soon forget.