Canonsburg bait shop recalled
Looking out of the fogged window, you see the mist rising from the lake, its eerie curves snaking through the twinkling of camp fires, flashlights and lanterns.
A fisherman’s light cast on the water leaves a ripple of color and shapes that disappear as he reaches his favorite spot and rests his legs, poles and gear.
Voices are heard above the noise from engines of dozens of cars, trucks and vans. Groups of men, fathers and sons, friends gather here each year, as do thousands of others on the opening day of trout fishing in Pennsylvania.
Trunk lids pop open, minnow cans clank with a hollow metal tune. Lunch pails are retrieved, fishing poles and tackle boxes are placed on the damp earth.
The cussing starts when fishing lines are tangled and take on a life of their own, intertwined in a family of knots. Soon, the snap of a penknife can be heard.
No matter what the weather, people are lined up, elbow to elbow around the lake, drinking the beverage of choice.
My parents, Jim and Virginia Adkins, ran the bait and refreshment stand at Canonsburg Lake from 1965 to 1972. With the early-morning start a few hours away, the stand was full of activity. Much work had to be done. The worms were packed in Styrofoam containers, and Dad always insisted on 13 to a container, whether red worms or night crawlers. Minnows swam in their temporary home – a white porcelain tub equipped with an aerator to keep them alive until they were placed on the tip of a hook by their tails. Two thousand minnows swam huddled together until the cloth net scooped them up and deposited them in their next home – a minnow bucket.
Memories of the shop are clear. Hooks of all sizes, bobbers of all shapes, sinkers of different weights and lures of all colors line the pegboard. Oars lean against a far wall, soon to be rented with the popular john boat. The smell of worms, minnows and rain mix with the aroma of fresh coffee.
The mist slowly rises, pushed now by the wind, as customers cluster at the refreshment window. The cord is drawn, the wooden window rises and the welcome smell of coffee floats toward the guests. It is 4 a.m.
Old fishing tales are told by the more experienced. By day’s end, only one will win the contest for biggest fish.
Candy bars, potato chips pretzels chewing gum and aspirin fill the shelves. The overhead sign buzzes. Pop containers chug liquid through clear hoses to nozzles. The coffee maker gurgles and spits like a small volcano. Oil sizzles on the grill as chopped onions are spread across it, their flavor sucked up through the vent waft out to those waiting to drop their lines in the water. A smell of fresh bread comes from the bun warmer.
I recall those days, over the seven years that my family ran the bait stand, when customers would gather at the windows and Mom prepared the grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. My sister, Joyce, took money from customers, while another sister, Rose, operated the pop machine. My sister, Nancy, and I wrapped the sandwiches and french fries, fixed and poured coffee. Mom had a system and it worked well. Everyone was waited on and went away happy.
Dad and my brother, Jim, along with four or five of his friends, took care of the bait stand and the front of the seating area, cleaning up and directing traffic into parking spaces. The rush at our counters continued for hours as everyone waited to cast and catch their first fish.
We were all anxious, tired and grateful once the rush started, and it slowed only at 8 a.m., when the signal was made to cast lines.
Mom, her face flushed, would blow the loose hair from her face while wiping her hands on a towel. In that lull, she would load the grill again with hot dogs and onions and order us to restock everything.
Dad would sit down at the picnic table to finish his coffee and smoke a Lucky Strike, while Jim and his friends picked up after the customers and wiped down the counters.
As an 11-year-old, exhausted from the first five hours of my first job, I remember looking in awe over the lake, the fishermen silhouetted as the sun peeked through the clouds and the lingering mist.
This was the opening day of trout season at Canonsburg Lake.