Mom supported, enabled early love of the outdoors

Today is Mentored Youth Fishing Day on 41 lakes around Pennsylvania.

This event was originally scheduled on March 22 for 18 counties in the southeast corner of the state and on April 5 for the rest of the state, which would have been the week before the regular opening day of trout season in each of those regions. But the harsh winter and lingering ice cover on most of the waters prompted the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to reschedule the Mentored Youth Fishing Day.

From 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, only adults witha valid fishing license and trout permit who are accompanied by a youth under 16 years old with mentored youth permit or a voluntary youth fishing license may fish on those waters designated for the Mentored Youth Fishing Day. Here in our area those waters include: Lake Rowena in Cambria County; Cold Stream Dam in Centre County; Janesville Dam and Parker Lake at Parker Dam State Park in Clearfield County; and Whipple Lake at Whipple Dam State Park in Huntingdon County. All the regulations and a list of all the waters in the Mentored Youth Fishing Day program around the state can be found online at Of course, any day is a great day for an experienced angler to become a mentor. Take along a friend or relative of any age on your next outing and introduce them to the grand sport of fishing.

Today is also Mother’s Day. Although I probably wouldn’t call my mother a mentor in the strict sense of the word, she did indeed influence and support my fascination and devotion for the outdoors from an early age. Mom grew up in the country during the depression, when gardening, fishing and hunting weren’t just forms of recreation but rather a means of putting food on the table during those hard times. Soon after they were married, my parents bought a piece of ground in the country where my father would start his own business and my mother could plant a sizable garden. I was the first of a crop of five kids they would raise on that ground, and I have always been thankful to grow up in such a wonderful place.

One of my earliest memories of living there occurred one morning when Mom called me to the kitchen window to see a rabbit nibbling grass in the backyard. I was probably about four years old at the time. While I watched the bunny, she fetched a battered old 20-gauge shotgun from a bedroom closet, sneaked around the side of the house and dispatched the animal cleanly with one shot. I’m sure a lot of little spoiled darlings nowadays would be thoroughly traumatized and require years of therapy from seeing that, but it didn’t bother me in the least.

Mom explained that rabbits were good to eat, and we would be having this one for dinner. She told me she aimed for the animal’s nose so as not to ruin any of the meat, a trick her brother-in-law taught her when she was a girl. She coated the pieces of rabbit with flour and fried them in a big skillet. I can remember how wonderful it smelled while cooking, and it tasted even better. That event produced not only my first taste of wild game but also my first hunting story.

I don’t recall what time of year it was when Mom potted that bunny in the backyard, but it probably wasn’t rabbit season, and I’m sure she didn’t have a hunting license. I only divulge the details of that incident now because it happened more than 55 years ago so I’m certain the statute of limitations has long expired by now. And to the best of my knowledge, that was the one and only critter she every poached in her life.

Mom was also a big help during my early career as a trout fisherman. The two closest trout streams when I was growing up were about four or five miles away. Many evenings during the spring, with a little coaxing and doing some extra chores, I could usually persuade her to drive me to one of them and drop me off to fish until dark. Those frequent trips allowed me to become a decent young fisherman.

Back then both of those streams were stocked, but after the first few weeks of the trout season, I mostly caught smaller wild trout that often weren’t big enough to keep. But when I would get one that measured six inches, the legal limit at the time, I usually kept it just because I could. One night I brought home a single 6-inch brookie, and Mom pointed out that one small fish wasn’t much good for a family of seven.

“You like to catch them so much,” she said, “why don’t you just put them all back and catch them again?” It was a simple yet brilliant assessment, and from that moment on, thanks to my mother, I became a confirmed catch-and-release trout angler, long before catch-and-release became as fashionable as it is today.

Yesterday, my mother turned 89 years old, and today marks her 63rd Mother’s Day as a mother herself. I hope everyone will allow me to indulge a bit of personal sentiment to wish her happy birthday and happy Mother’s Day and thanks for nurturing my love of the outdoors throughout my life.