Minner knows tourism: Fishing legend Minner Fish offers his opinions about how to bring tourism back to area

Thursday, April 23, 2009
A FISHING LEGEND: William "Minner" Fish, 81, is known around the country for his fishing skills. The Linton man says the area must do a few things before it can expect to bring the tourism trade back to the area. (Greene County Daily World/Nick Schneider)

First in a series

William "Minner" Fish is a guy who knows a lot about fishing -- especially fishing in the Greene-Sullivan county area.

The 81-year-old Linton resident has been a fisherman since he was a youngster and he's operated Minner's Bait and Tackle Shop with his wife, Ruby, for more than 51 years.

Fish got his nickname -- which is the slang word for minnow, which is a very small fish -- from his mother because he was the youngster and smallest of three boys in the family.

Most people don't know him by his real name.

"I cash checks with Minner Fish on them. That's the truth."

Minner also has a wealth of knowledge about the local tourist trade.

He's seen it in its heyday about 25 years ago and he has witnessed it back off considerably in recent years.

But Fish and his wife still have faith that the tourists and the fisherman will come back -- but he says some things are going to have to change.

As a first move, Minner believes the 9,000 acre Greene-Sullivan State Forest should be shifted from the DNR Division of Forestry to the Division of Fish and Wildlife for several reasons -- including better pond stocking and management and improved roadways and campground offerings.

"People up north see Forest and they don't a thing about all the lakes. There are over a 100 lakes in it. We are just not getting the word out. Back when I was going to outdoor shows and stuff we was getting the people in. I'm getting too old now. Us old people are done and the young people don't know it," he said.

Minner says flatly that many of the lakes are "fished out."

"I think as many lakes that we've got we could take some of the lakes during spawning season and let our fish spawn and not allow fishing for just two or three weeks. They did this in Minnesota I know and it really helped out up there."

Back in the 1970s and 1980s fishing was very good at all the lakes.

Minner Fish looks over some of his handmade spinner baits. (Greene County Daily World/Nick Schneider)

"I'm 81 years old and have had the bait shop 51 years and I've just seen it how it's went down. There are just not the fish out there. Used too, we'd go fishing at a night and catch 20 -25 bass and turn them loose. You can go out here now and if you catch three or four you are lucky so something has happened," Fish contends.

Minner also believes some infrastructure improvements are needed and dust control needs to a part of the annual maintenance chores.

"We need our roads fixed up better, especially around our campgrounds. You take that one on Reservoir 26. The road where the campers are at is gravel but it belongs to Greene County and Sullivan County and reckon they just fight back and forth. They never fix it," Minner said. "Especially there at the campground it looks like they could do something to keep the dust from 'dusting' people out. I've had people, so many people, come into the bait shop that say 'Hey man I've stopped staying out there they've dusted me out and you can't cook'."

Fish contends the tourist trade still has a chance to be resurrected, but it will take some work and planning.

"The state forest is a good thing and we should take care of it and we should get our kids out there and we should advertise it because it brings people in here and they spend a lot of money in this town."

He continued, "We've got our young kids coming up and our grandkids and they've got to have a place to go fishing. The way the strip mining is going, we need to preserve all of it that we can. It could just be a gold mine if they work at it. They claim at Monroe Reservoir a family comes in and spends $50 a day. The bait shop gets 13 percent of that. They just spend a lot of money. I used to tell them when I worked all of the sport shows that man I'll get you down here and I may not sell you nothing but you've got to buy gas to go home on and you have to eat. You know we're going to make money on you some way or the other if we get you in town."

Back in the heyday before cell phones were popular, Minner recalls that fishermen would frequently come to his bait shop and let him know the general area they would be fishing and he would jot down the information for them just in case family members needed to get in touch with them for emergencies. Minner said there were many times that he would have to grab a flashlight and lantern in the middle of the night and go find them to relay a message about something that was going on back home.

"It's just bad to see this in my life ... the fishing has just went down and used to be there were a lot more people here fishing so that shows you something."

Minner's wife, Ruby, agrees something needs to be done to make the forest area more attractive to tourists -- especially fishermen.

She also would like to see the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division take over the operation.

"They (the lakes) are not stocked like they should be. It's a disgrace that people come down here because there isn't anything out there for them anymore. They are fished out." she said. "It's a beautiful place, but the roads aren't kept up because people don't just come as much any more."

Ruby says she feels a need to be vocal about the matter.

"If we don't get it done, nobody is going to get it done. Minner is known all over the Midwest. We'd like to see if somebody could get this done."

Ruby contends the bait shop business is down in recent years -- directly related to the decreasing number of fishermen who come to fish in the state forest lakes.

"The tourists used to come into Linton and they would stay at your motels and cottages and fill them. They would bring their campers and their tents and stay for a week or two weeks," Ruby said. "They would just come down here and have a blast. Then they would do their shopping in Linton and they would eat at all of the restaurants in Jasonville, Sullivan, Linton and Dugger and just fill these little places up."

Ruby said there are even many local people who don't know a thing about this place.

"You know we got people over in Bloomfield that don't know we have more than 120 fishing lakes in the State Forest," she said.

George Xenakis says he moved to Linton in 1986 from Chicago -- primarily for the good fishing and affordable cost of living.

He's also noticed a change.

"The fishing was better then. But it was like everyplace else, you had more places to fish. Now a lot of it is privatized but you still got a lot of good place to fish. Don't get me wrong and Bill (Fish) would agree with me a lot of it has been privatized and developed, but what are you going to do? That's just life. We still have the forest (lakes)."

View 11 comments
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • I know I do not hunt or fish as much since Peabody started their no trespass policy because its hard to have a quality hunting or fishing trip in the state forest. The state should work at getting some of this land leased or bought to preserve it for future generations, not just some out of town investor.

    -- Posted by localyokal on Thu, Apr 23, 2009, at 2:42 PM
  • *

    This is something we should have fixed years ago. The way things are now with money, taxes, and general grumpiness of people, it will be very hard to change.

    -- Posted by per moenia urbis on Thu, Apr 23, 2009, at 4:49 PM
  • I like the idea about stopping fishing for a couple weeks during the spawn. Fish are very vunerable during this time. It is possible for a majority of the breeding population of fish to be caught out of a lake during this period. A few years of that in a row and the population takes a serious hit.

    -- Posted by Vote4NewCouncil on Thu, Apr 23, 2009, at 9:40 PM
  • I agree that it shouldn't be a State Forest anymore. Being a Fish & Wildlife area would bring in a lot more people. Actually, I'd like to see it be a county type thing, like Bogg's Lake or Sullivan Lake, for example. Can you imagine how much money it would make?? A LOT. And it would bring in more jobs.

    I go camping 2-3 weekends out of the month, but go out of the county to do it. Camping at the state forest is a joke, and I'm not paying $26/night (or more??) to camp at Shakamak. I'd definitly go to the State Forest here if the camping was up to par.

    -- Posted by Me2 on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 7:01 AM
  • Minner's got it right! The State, Linton, and the surrounding area should listen to what he has said. Tourism can bring a lot of money into an area...and did at one time. Beyond that, however, it is something we need to be sharing, showing and doing with our children, grandchildren, family and friends.

    God Bless you Minner & Ruby for speaking out.

    Dave & Barb Waggoner

    Orlando, Florida

    -- Posted by dwagrgone on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 7:49 AM
  • Minner's got it right! The State, Linton, and the surrounding area should listen to what he has said. Tourism can bring a lot of money into an area...and did at one time. Beyond that, however, it is something we need to be sharing, showing and doing with our children, grandchildren, family and friends.

    God Bless you Minner & Ruby for speaking out.

    Dave & Barb Waggoner

    Orlando, Florida

    -- Posted by dwagrgone on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 7:49 AM
  • I agree wholeheartedly with minner and ruby about the lakes and suspending fishing for a few weeks. I have first hand seen the devastation caused by overfishing. It ruins a lake to the point all you catch are little fish, and few of those. The larger fish have to compete for what little food available that many of the larger fish perish. Let get on board and solve this problem with some stocking and suspended fishing. If Greene co. can become a place know for big bass, crappie, and blue-gill, we will be able to establish a better tourist trade, and be known for the place to go for big angler fishing.

    -- Posted by dennisb1953 on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 8:18 AM
  • Good Story... this is the exact input we need to push the tourism in this county.

    -- Posted by downtownalleycat on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 8:54 AM
  • Way to go Minner! Excellent idea. Real people having good ideas without being paid to come up with them or being on a committee. No they won't listen. But they should. Beauty is free and in front of us, except for the fine you pay when you trespass to mushroom hunt on abandoned mine land.

    -- Posted by abi1 on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 10:33 AM
  • I agree with the article and certainly a Fish and Wildlife area should be the designation. Thats what it is. Coupled with the Goosepond there shouldn't be any reason tourism couldn't be exploited and should be. A little marketing has to be done, not much but some. I've even considered it myself to market the area. The biggest obstacle I see is people need places to stay. Yes the area has motels and are just fine for a night or so, no lack of good food anywhere and shopping is abundant as well. I really believe though the folks who tend to have disposable funds tend to stay in more upscale hotels. It's a very tough sell to get someone to come down and spend money in the local area when they have to commute back and forth from Terre Haute or Bloomington every day to enjoy our area. Just a thought.

    -- Posted by globemstr3 on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 12:30 PM
  • We have been gone from Linton for 38 years but still remember the good times we had as a family fishing from the lakes and walking on the "gob pile" in the evening looking for wildlife or just enjoying the quietness. This was a good article by Minner and enjoyed seeing his picture.

    Carthal and Janice (Hasler) Hawks/South Carolina

    -- Posted by remnant on Fri, Apr 24, 2009, at 2:56 PM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: