Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 3, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: Elkhart fishing pioneer passes away


GOSHEN — If you’re a river bass angler or enjoy fishing Michiana lakes, you probably gained some of your knowledge from Don Rank.

Even you may not know him, the expertise he has passed along to generations of local anglers has somehow made it into your tackle box.

Sadly, the Michiana fishing legend from Elkhart was laid to rest this week after an extended illness at the age of 71.

The rest of us geezers will remember him as one of the region’s fiercest bass tournament competitors and a guy who just loved fishing.

It didn’t matter whether he was fishing for carp off the bank of the St. Joseph River (as he often did) or was jerking crappies and bluegills out of an ice hole, Don Rank made fishin’ fun.

He also made his mark on the national scene, fishing several national bass tournaments through the 1980s and even qualified for the Bassmaster Classic in 1981.

Many of the things he learned while fishing against the nation’s best anglers were carried back to Michiana. He was truly a pioneer of many of the techniques in use on our lakes today and that so many of us take for granted.

For example, he created “the Rank Rig,” a deadly finesse fishing technique that has caught countless bass on Michiana lakes by local anglers who never met Don Rank.

“All of us old guys learned a lot from him,” said South Bend native Greg Mangus, another great angler who now lives in Fremont, Ind. “I’ll never forget how Don motivated me to learn how to fish a Silver Buddy. I won a lot of money on that bait when other people had little knowledge of it. And it was all because of Don.”

A founding member of the St. Joseph Valley Bassmasters, one of Indiana’s first bass clubs, Rank changed the way people fished the river for bass. He was an incredible jig fisherman and was free with his knowledge of how and where to fish jigs in heavy cover.

“He taught me a lot about fishing jigs in cold water, something most guys never did before Don showed them,” says Tony Olivier of South Bend, Rank’s frequent fishing partner in recent years.

Rank had his rough side, too. He could be a grouchy, stubborn curmudgeon and wasn’t one to bite his tongue when something ruffled his feathers.

“No doubt about it – he could be grouchy,” said Olivier. “But beneath his gruffness was a heckuva good man.”

Rank battled cancer and diabetes the past couple of years but it didn’t keep him off the water.

“We did a lot of fun fishing the past three years and you could tell his illness slowed him down,” said Olivier. “But he still loved to compete and will remain one of the greatest anglers to come out of this region.”

Travel Tender closes

One of Michiana’s favorite, family-owned tackle shops closed its doors last month after serving Goshen and outlying communities for 34 years.

Owner Ernie Borntrager and his wife Laverda decided to call it quits and retire to enjoy a more peaceful lifestyle and travel.

Anyone who has visited the Travel Tender will tell you that the Borntragers kept a good supply of lures and baits pertinent to local fishing and went the extra mile to provide good service.

Sadly, it’s a sign of the times when small independent retailers are going out of business. Borntrager, who turned 72 recently, weathered the storm longer than most and his business and willingness to help sportsmen enjoy their favorite pastime will be missed.

Boat engine class

The South Bend Sail and Power Squadron will offer an “Engine Maintenance” 10-week course beginning March 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Battell Center in Mishawaka.

The course covers those repairs that do-it-yourselfers can perform even though modern engines are largely computerized and can no longer be serviced by untrained mechanics using ordinary tools.

Instructors will teach how to diagnose problems that might be beyond your ability to fix, and how to share information with your mechanic, so the right repairs are performed.

The course also covers basic mechanical systems such as drive systems (propellers), steering systems, and engine controls. Gasoline, diesel and outboard engines are treated independently.

Course fee is $75 that includes textbooks. Pre-register by contacting Anita McCollester, 574-276-2182 or e-mail seo@sbsps.org.

Salmon Seminar

    Captain Carl “Fuzzy Bear” Stopczynski will conduct a salmon fishing seminar at the Michiana Steelheaders meeting Wednesday at the DeAmici Club in Mishawaka.

    The program begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free to the public. Stopczynski will also cover small boat safety and marine electronics tips in his program.

    Stopczynski is one of the top salmon anglers on Lake Michigan and a member of the Garmin International Pro Staff. In addition to being a top competitor on the salmon tournament circuit, he operates Fuzzy Bear Charters.

Tie a fly

    Several area fly tiers will gather at the Elkhart Conservation Club March 23 for the annual Tie-A-Thon to benefit “Reel Recovery,” an organization for cancer-stricken men.

    The Tie-A-Thon’s goal this year is to surpass its previous all-time high of 13,300 flies donated to a fishing related charity.

    Reel Recovery was founded by a group of avid fly-fishers, inspired by their fishing buddy’s on-going battle with brain cancer. The organization provides men with an opportunity to share their stories, learn a new skill, and gain renewed hope as they confront their challenges. For more information, check out reelrecovery.org.

    Anyone can participate and you don’t have to attend the Tie-A-Thon. Simply pick one pattern to tie, buy a box of 100 hooks, the materials and begin tying.

    Fly patterns and sizes that are needed include Adams (14), Elk Hair Caddis (14-16), Dubbing/Hackle Ant (18-20), Griffith Gnat (20-22), Soft Hackle (14 -16), BWO RG Emerger (18-22), Caddis Nymph (16-18), Hare’s Ear (12-14), Pheasant Tail (14-16), Woolly Bugger (10), Mickey Finn (8), Clouser’s Minnow (8).

    The Tie-a-thon will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Attendees should reserve a spot for the event so lunch plans can be made. To learn more, visit sjrvff.com or contact Tim Scott timelscott@gmail.com or 574-538-1936. -30-

(Contact Louie at info@louiestout.com)