A steady, hard rain pelted us early on as we readied the boat for a day. The punishing downpour let up considerably as we launched at Fairport Harbor. It was the typical start of a walleye kind of day on the deep waters several miles north of the harbor.
We dug out tackle and set up rods for trolling, as we motored toward the off-shore schools of fish, leaving the rain behind only to chisel through a fog-like haze. Lake Erie’s waves, which can at times be punishing, barely gave a splash as we bumped our way to 68 feet of water.
It was Saturday, June 20, 1987. That’s right, 32 years ago. But like flipping a light switch, that day suddenly seemed like yesterday.
I know those and other details of the day because it was the first page I flipped to recently when I discovered a long-forgotten log book. The tattered pocket size note pad had been hidden for decades in a box full of memories; it was a treasure found while fighting boredom by actually doing some spring cleaning, something I normally plan to do next spring.
So who cares about a day of fishing so many years ago? I do. I don’t care so much about the fact that there were three of us aboard or that we fished from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. or that we kept 12 walleyes ranging from 6 pounds to 8 pounds, or that we were trolling deep diving crank baits and blue spoons.
Why that faded page in my fishing log so jogged my memory is simply a name, one of three names listed at the bottom. The three included me, my close buddy Paul Fedorchak and Paul Liikala, a fellow outdoor writer who was later to become a good friend.
Liikala died last summer after a very brief and ugly struggle with brain cancer. He’s still in my phone, he’s still with me in thought, and his absence haunts me to this day.
Remembering a friend
Seeing Liikala’s name in that old log book, on the first page that fell open by chance, gave me the courage to talk about him. I wanted to share his story since that midsummer day months ago when he surrendered to the cancer. Maybe next week I thought and then the next, until weeks became months, and I still couldn’t bring myself to say it or write it. A really good friend is hard to let go.
Liikala and I met at my first annual meeting after joining the outdoor writers of Ohio. Over the years, we tended to seek each other out to share the expense of a room, discuss our similar leadership roles in the organization or compare notes and writing successes.
Liikala was a career educator, and so was I. That alone gave us fodder for nonstop chatter, countless stories and personal philosophies. Adding writing, raising families and part-time jobs to the mix meant that we never came even close to running out of things to talk about.
Liikala was an accomplished character. Armed with a well-oiled gift of gab, he took on a weekly radio show and speaking gigs, all while collecting a huge and faithful congregation of friends.
A skilled jokester, Liikala, a master of sarcasm, could trade jabs and laughs with anyone who cared to partake. That list included everyone who knew him.
Liikala was a highly respected communicator known locally as well as nationally, publishing magazine features in some of the most recognized regional and national publications.
We had just completed plans to share a spring fishing trip to fish the Niagara River mouth for lake trout when Liikala called to tell me that he needed to have some medical issues looked in to and would not be able to make the trip.
That was in March. There was hardly anything resembling a good day after that.
My very best memories of Liikala were of our regular spring and summer trips to troll the Lake Erie shoreline near Eastlake or Fairport. He had a well-earned and detailed memory of the underwater structure from Avon to Conneaut, and he could predict a likely bite better than any electronic sonar unit.
Every outing was special. If we fished from his boat, it was a jab time. He called her a kind name with the color yellow in it, a tint she may have worn a few decades ago.
I called the poor thing the Yellow Submarine. Tired, dented and filled with enough tackle, coolers, junk and stuff actually needed, that old gal was Liikala’s pride and joy, a pride and joy that I suspect matched his collection of friends.
Indeed, Paul Liikala clearly represented a life well-lived.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!