Lee Woldenberg of Perrysburg, right, and his son, Matt, carry float tubes in the secluded strip mine lakes of southeastern Ohio. They fished for bass with guide Corneilus Harris of Zanesville. HOCKING HILLS ADVENTURE TREK
RENROCK, Ohio — Lee Woldenberg felt it was time to get moving on some of the items on that bucket list.
The Perrysburg man has enjoyed a lifelong love of fishing, and he wanted to find the ideal platform to share his affinity and passion for the experience with his adult son, Matt, who lives on the west coast. The secluded strip mine lakes of southeastern Ohio seemed like an optimal site for Lee to properly introduce Matt to that unique blend of challenge and charm that angling has provided Lee with for many decades.
“I just wanted to take my son fishing,” Lee said following their memorable one-day adventure last week. “I love fishing, and I love fishing in unfished waters. I love fishing in areas without a bunch of houses and without jet skis going by every few minutes. This seemed like it fit that description.”
Lee had grown up on Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, rushing home from school each day so he could spend the evening fishing for bass. With his father, he also had fished throughout the Badger State and in the vast Rainy Lake complex that straddles the U.S.-Canada border near International Falls. Lee and his wife have fly-fished the legendary Yellowstone and Madison rivers in Montana, the Kenai in Alaska, and even traveled to Chile and Argentina on angling adventures.
His outing with Matt would be right here in Ohio, but Lee had long ago learned the value of advice from an expert when sampling unfamiliar waters, so the pair hooked up with guide Corneilus Harris of Zanesville.
“We all know how to fish the area where we grew up,” Lee said, “but when you go somewhere different, you need a good guide.”
Harris has devoted an inordinate amount of time to exploring and studying the 350-some lakes and ponds that freckle the map of the AEP ReCreation Lands, a 60,000-acre expanse of rugged, reclaimed strip-mine territory that once served up freight cars heaped with coal, but now offers as close to a wilderness hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting experience as Ohio can muster.
The Woldenbergs and Harris would fish a couple secluded lakes in the only manner that was practical — in belly boats or float tubes. It is best described as fishing in a comfortable chair while immersed in the fish’s environment, and quietly self-propelled using the best mechanism we could appropriate from ducks — flippers.
They hiked in with their gear, and the 32-year-old Matt, a University of Toledo grad who had fished very little prior to this outing, got baptized into bass fishing with one-on-one direction from Harris. A former college football player who started fishing the strip mine lakes with his father at age 10, Harris likely holds the best cache of knowledge about the nuances and subtleties of pursuing the robust population of largemouth in these canyon-like lakes.
So the trio slipped away from society for about four hours, left the cell phones and the rest of the sensory saturation bombing behind, settled into their float tubes, and seduced more than a few bass from these pristine waters. The first bass of Matt’s life came from a lake with no name, and at a place where there is no noise other than the glee club of birds and the breeze massaging its way through the forest that pushes up to the water’s edge.
“I would describe it as nature at her best — pure relaxation,” Lee said about the setting for this father-son highlight reel entry. “The isolation is similar to what you find in Canada, and it made for a wonderful day of fishing.”
The forecast had been fairly gloomy, but the weather turned out ideal. The group fished until dark, portaged their float tubes to a couple different lakes, and finding cooperative largemouth in both places. Lee said the setting was plenty pleasing on its own, and the fish were a bonus.
“That’s one of the reasons why we go fishing, to experience places like that,” Lee said. “And those used to be strip mines — I would never have known that’s what I was fishing in.”
He was sold on the unique approach as well.
“Float tube fishing gives you a real sense of freedom, and it allows you to explore and experience things in ways you just can’t in a boat,” he said. “Those are very stable, easily maneuverable, and perfect for those lakes where shore fishing just isn’t an option. I think it also might be easier to catch fish there at the water level.”
Lee said the bottom line on this fishing trip — the father-son experience — is it was a keeper.
“It’s a beautiful place; Corneilus has a great personality and is a natural at this. And in that setting, you’re going to win, no matter what,” he said. “It was perfect, and we’ll do this again. It was just a great day for my son and I to be together.”
He might want to just leave that one on the bucket list a while longer. It’s a good reason to go back.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.