(Greene County Daily World/Nick Schneider)
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.
(Greene County Daily World/Nick Schneider) [Order this photo]
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)."