Eric loved to hunt. This was well known. His recent tri-fecta of big bucks in a short span of one season was really and truly unbelievable. Surprised yet again, the pictures of the large bucks he sent this year were enough to convince me that his previous season could actually be topped. No short feat for anyone who has seen that season’s racked and mounted trio of whitetail bucks hanging on Eric’s wall.
Eric also loved to fish, particularly for muskies, and he did this well. He learned how to muskie fish the old fashioned way: through trial and error and repetitive time on the water. He always had an open mind to new methods, lure selection, and fish location. The muskies on the Elk River were dialed in on Eric, and Eric was dialed in on the Elk River muskies. More times than not, Eric would put at least one fish in the boat. Anything less, and even though his goal may not have been achieved, he never complained or whined, like several of the other fisherman that I know. He didn’t have to complain. He knew he’d get them next time.
Friends always joked about the Elk River muskies resting easy when Eric was working or away from the water. Yesterday, one of our mutual friends stated that as much as the Elk River muskies must have feared Eric’s presence, the fish must have known that he was much more of a friend to them than an enemy. Eric released all of his fish. He took extra care of them, and as far as I know, never lost one to fishing mortality. In addition, he helped record catches, and in turn presented that information over to the WVDNR fisheries biologists studying population growth, dynamics, and movement. He was provided with a scanning device by the WVDNR, which permitted him to scan the fish’s vital information via a computer chip implanted in the fish. With as many muskies as Eric had caught and recorded, I can only imagine how important that information must have been, and how greatly appreciated it was received.
He rarely ate while we were fishing. Even if it was an all day event, the most I could convince him to eat was two slices of bread, some meat, and a slice of cheese. Crackers as a side snack, and we both carried on one afternoon about how we familiarly knew what “nabs” were, and how they so closely reminded us of our fathers. We’d go without water, until the point of near heat stroke, just to get one more cast in…. We had fished one day in the blaring heat, and Eric didn’t have a hat. Said he didn’t really need one, and didn’t really like to wear one while fishing. Well, I had an extra one in the bag, and by mid-day and near 90 degree heat, you better believe that hat was on his head. Over the course of the next couple of months, Eric began wearing hats again, which was easily noticed in his most recent muskie catches posted on WVAngler.com We joked about it some, and I would write “nice hat” in the comment section on his muskie posts, while he would say something like, “nice shirt” on mine.
I’ve fished with a lot of people over the years, and I can say that Eric was the most thorough and accurate caster I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a boat. Eric showed me the importance of multiple casts and angles. Pitching repetitive casts to the same structure yields mixed results. Adding and playing the angles to that structure can make all the difference in the world between a musky strike and a musky nap. A lot of times it’s the little things that make the difference, and you could see that in Eric’s success as an outdoorsman, as well as an individual.
Eric enjoyed fishing with my golden retreiver Logan Robusto and I. He wanted a dog, but he wanted to wait until the right time. When the time was right, Eric got a puppy. Along comes Jade, his fishing partner and travelling companion, who also happens to be a fairly wiry wiemerimer, not considered to be the easiest of breeds. Sweet as can be, but a handful at times. Eric’s patient and level demeanor really was a great match for Jade. He loved his dog, and I bet Jade is staring at the door right now wondering when Eric is coming home.
I wouldn’t necessarily call Eric shy, but more of a quiet individual who listened intently and took it all in. He was fairly tightlipped about his honey holes, as one should be when it comes to the big toothy, but once you had gained his trust, he was more than open about fishing locations and techniques. He was a stand-up guy.
People you meet come and go, but when I met Eric, and the more time that I spent with him, I knew that I had made a friend for life. I could see us chucking muskie baits and flies on the Elk while we were in our 70’s. Even today, I have a tough time putting how I feel into words. I had the utmost respect for Eric. Heck, even if he was a school custodian, I would have had respect for the guy. That’s how I felt about him. I will deeply miss Eric, and know that his potential was never given the chance to be fully obtained. I know a lot of others will miss him as well. Eric is in a better place now, and I’d like to think that he and my recently deceased golden retriever Logan are planning their next muskie trip right now in the great gig in the sky. RIP my friend.
Craig "millatime" Miller