It would seem to suggest the boats were anxious to get about their business. That being, to become pack horses carrying riders and their truck to the fishing grounds off Fairport Harbor.
Maybe my eyes were deceiving me but the one stallion seemingly the most eager to break free of its tethered restraints was “Thumper,” owned by Ron Johnson.
I had traveled to Grand River Marina earlier this summer to collect some charter captain gossip along with tips for the paper’s weekly fishing report.
But none of the captains were around, each having cancelled their charters because of the lake’s unsettled nature. That cost them money, of course, but for Johnson it was also a tax-due bill.
By early summer we all knew that Ron was dying of lung cancer, battling the disease with a heart two sizes too large. It came as no surprise, of course, given that Ron was a seriously heavy chain smoker. Just the thought of him smoking gave us all the willies though I can’t recall anyone ever advising Ron to quit.
Maybe that was our fault and perhaps had we said something sooner Ron still would be around. Maybe, but I doubt it. That was Ron and we gladly accepted his faults along with the treasures he so often rewarded us with.
There was the smile, certainly. It beamed off his face and the laugh lines would crinkle at the corners of his eyes.
There were the jokes at our expense too. Miss a walleye with the net or watch as a steelhead took to the air and toss the Stinger spoon and Ron’s voice would boom from behind, condemning our amateurish efforts.
None of it was for real. He was just kidding in an attempt to integrate us into the vagaries of the hunt for fish. For Ron, there was always another walleye, another trip, another chance at redemption.
No more as the cancer ate away at Ron’s body but could not tame his spirit. No, never, with Ron continuing to pilot his much beloved and well-worn “Thumper.” Even when he was forced to sit in his captain’s chair, one quivering hand holding an oxygen mask while both eyes were fixed to the fish finder, Ron soldiered on.
That was the Ron that we, his friends, are going to remember: Ron, the never-say-quit guy just as much as Ron, the consummate walleye finder and charter captain.
So for a summer season we would tap-dance around the issue, fearful of the gathering twilight and whistling past the thoughts of a future without our Ron Johnson.
And he was ours as much - I guess - as he was his family’s, though I suspect that his daughter Meaghan and son Steve would disagree. For that, I beg their forgiveness.
Even so, Ron still belonged to us. He owed us that for the unbridled respect, fellowship and - yes - even love we held for him.
Ron gave us more than we could ever repay. He taught us anglers in a host of venues. Most of all Ron held court with his on-the-water seminars which really was how we approached his charters.
Without speaking, Ron knew what was needed. He would fiddle with his planerboards, test the drags on the reels and sort through lures in a search for the perfect walleye-catching color.
Seldom did Ron fail in his day job as a charter captain, either. And when he did come in second or third during a tournament almost without fail the winner would gush that he had “beaten Ron Johnson.”
No matter to our Ron, however. There was always another contest, another walleye, another charter. Then the cancer came and we all knew the trailhead in front of Ron was much closer than the one behind.
We indulged Ron while at the same time sucking in air whenever we saw him try to climb a hill just a tad too high.
We knew but we also understood. This was Ron Johnson and he was not going to leave us without setting an example of how to assemble dignity in the face death.
That is why some of his friends would assist Ron on his charters. Still others of us would pray for Ron, a point he appreciated.
All of which was Ron as well, always being the one to give more than he desired to get.
So now the stallions are tucked away in their barns, awaiting the spring day when they again can run the field. Except for Thumper and that makes us sad and angry and frustrated all within the same package. Which probably would disappoint Ron.
I think he’d tell us to move on, mindful to remember the good times but also not to forget his lessons, not the least of which is how to become a better person as much as a better angler.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn