Recent Rookie Runner-Up Repairs Reputation at Gabby50
The 2019 Recap by Dane Konop
The 2019 Recap by Dane Konop
At the 2019 Gabby Hayes Memorial Fishing Tournament, more than a few Gabby Guys came to camp just to party and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gabby Founders’ first fishing trip to Kettle Creek and the Inspirational Gabby of 1969. A record ten of the 24 guys in camp stayed off the stream.
But Joe Towner Michael Ondovik came to camp determined to repair his fishing reputation. Having never caught a trout, his prospects did not look good.
At the 2016 Gabby tournament, Mike had come in second to a dog for “Rookie of the Year.” Neither he nor Max the Wonder Dog had caught a fish, but Max was the nearly unanimous selection by the assembled Gabby Guys because of his superior social skills.
This year, Mike had the last laugh on his canine competitor, when the once-humbled human’s 12-inch+ rainbow was the largest trout caught in camp. While Mike’s fish was the fifth smallest Gabby winner since trophies were first awarded in 1976, the size of the fish in no way diminished Mike’s accomplishment as only the 18th tournament champion, or his appreciation for the award. In a post-tournament interview, Mike said, “I had a rough 3+ months leading up to this and to catch a fish let alone a Gabby winner is beyond explanation.” Mike said frankly his friends and family were surprised “that me of all people won the award” and “equally impressed with the heritage that is tied to the camp…and trophy.”
His fellow fishermen in Joe Town, who had equally dismal performances in past Gabbys, were clearly ecstatic for Mike’s tourney win, with Julius claiming his fellow Joe Towners had been grooming Mike for just such a victory. Mike said, “I am honored to not only be a part of this amazing group but to have won this award on behalf of Joe Camp (sic). Those guys are not only gentlemen but true friends.”
Nearly all of the Gabby Guys had arrived in camp by Thursday. Everyone from the 2018 tournament returned in 2019, with the addition of Andy and Zach Anderson and Camp Engineer Emeritus Jim Colaianne, who was making an infrequent appearance in camp to celebrate Gabby at 50.
Fishing conditions were favorable on the early, April 13 opening day, with sunny skies and temperatures topping out near 70. The stream flow was low, dropping from just above the April mean at 400 cubic feet per second on Thursday to only 343 cfs on Saturday. The low water did make for easy wading, with only one reported “swimmer,” eventual champion Ondovik, who said he had a few splashdowns in his rush to get off the stream with his would be Gabby winner.
In housekeeping, following a head count, Mike Shanks announced that the cost of the firewood delivered to camp would be paid for by the “Steve ‘Fire Guy ‘ Mueller Memorial Fund, “established by the “Big Mouth Four,” best high school buddies of the late Gabby champion and camp favorite. With seed money from Steve’s friend Bill O’Connell and after expenditures for the campfire wood for 2019, Mike reported that the fund stood at $400. Shanks was named acting administrator of the fund, pending the camp release of his 2019 income tax filing.
Notably, in old business, was the report of the 50th Anniversary Gabby Commemoratives Committee, comprising Julius from Joe Town and Pocono Tribe member Gene Rodriguez. First up, Julius presented the Gabby Guys with his self-designed, “rounded rectangle” anniversary patch, which featured “Gabby Hayes 50th Fishing Tournament 1969-2019” in gold lettering on a green background with fir trees and a red trim. E-Rod, introduced as the ranking member of the committee, presented the Gabby Guys with a memorable, circular commemorative patch featuring a fisherman wading in a winding stream with a camp in the background and “The Gabby Hayes Memorial Trout Fishing Tournament 1969-2019” stitched around the border of the patch. Both commemoratives were a welcome and much appreciated addition to the historic collection of Gabby patches, particularly as they were produced at no cost to the group.
For the most part, the Gabby business meeting followed Founder Dane’s script and past practice, with camp housekeeping and old and new business topped off by the awards ceremony.
Mike reported he was fishing by himself when he caught his rainbow around 1 p.m. in the main stem of Kettle, upstream from camp near two large holes. Using 6-pound test on a 6 ½-foot, long-handled rod more suitable for big water bass fishing, Mike worked a lure through the current, careful to avoid snagging the bottom. He had attached a chunk of night crawler to a yellow and orange Vibrax Classic Blue Fox spinner, which has internal rattles that generate a unique, low-frequency sonic vibration that the manufacturer claims triggers fish to strike. Could this be a trend away from worms and eggs to noisy lures?
The annual business meeting and awards ceremony Saturday night started off a little late, following Mike Shanks’ serving to the assembling Gabby Guys his marinated venison chunks seared on the Gabby campfire.
After a call to order by Master-at-Arms Karl Wendel, Founder Dane Konop in his usual master-of-ceremony role welcomed the guys to the 50th anniversary of the “Inspirational Gabby,” the first, pre-tournament fishing trip to Kettle Creek in April 1969 by Founders Pat Annegan, Paul Phillips, Larry Selby, and Konop. Founder Dane began the meeting with a group toast. Cups of Erin Churchill’s grape and blackberry wine, “The Recipe,” were passed man to man in the Gabby circle around the blazing campfire under Colaianneville. As Elder Andy Anderson assisted Founder Dane in the pouring, it was an extraordinary scene of unexpectedly well-coordinated and agile handling by the Gabby Guys, as one by one cups of wine made their way around the circle, with nary a drop spilled. With this group close order drill complete, glasses were raised to “our camp namesake, root-toot-tooting Gabby Hayes as portrayed by the sophisticated George Hayes. Cheers to Gabby Hayes!” The group’s hearty chant of “Gabby, Gabby, Gabby” topped off the toast.
Mike Shanks surprised the Gabby Guys by presenting Fire Guy Darien Bodahl with a new pair of fire gloves with “The Gabby” embossed in gold lettering and a 4-foot-long, custom-made, steel fire poker with “The Gabby” engraved on its oak handle. For aerating the fire, the new Gabby fire stick features a blowhole through the center of its steel shaft, which has a hook on the end for precise log manipulation, making it look a little like a short whaling harpoon.
Eventual Gabby winner Mike Ondovik equally astonished the crowd when he presented the Gabby group with a welded steel sculpture he had created depicting Gabby Camp, with a tent, two rod-bearing fishermen, and a banner reading “Gabby est. 1969.” Founder Dane took possession of the Gabby sculpture to be stored in safekeeping along with the Gabstick.
Founder Dane opened the Awards Ceremony by asking the crowd to acknowledge the three Founders’ Award winners in the crowd: retired Gabzette editor Keith Robinson, GabbyHayes.net webmaster Mark Bedont and Camp Engineer Emeritus Jim Colaianne, then announced that there was a 2019 Founder honoree. He asked the crowd to guess the awardee’s identity by reading the inscription on the 2019 Founders’ Award plaque: “Gabby Founders’ Award presented to Blank for his continuing, long-standing efforts to perpetuate and enhance the Gabby experience through his hospitality to Gabby travelers, his helpfulness in Gabby camp, and his humility as a Gabby Champion.” The answer came immediately and in virtual unison from the Gab Guys: Mike Shanks. Mike humbly accepted the Founders’ Award, which will likely become a shelfmate with his four Gabby tournament trophies.
With the “main event” of the evening, the Gabby Award, up next, Ondovik’s fellow Joe Towners clustered around him like bees around their queen, rubbing their hands in anticipation of a victory. Two Gabby Guys stepped up to the Founder’s call to bring out your contenders: Ondovik and Gabby sophomore Jimmy from the Pocono Tribe. This necessitated a measurement with the Gabstick, which was carefully positioned on a bale of hay that served as a makeshift tabletop.
Revealing his fishing naivete, Jimmy laid out a 9-inch rainbow, which was the typical size of the day’s catch and obviously well short of Ondovik’s 12-inch+ fish. Founder Dane certified the results and officially declared Mike the 2019 Gabby Champion.
Tony Rose, last year’s Gabby winner, broke with tradition (or maybe started a new one) when, in lieu of the usual trophy, he presented Ondovik with a custom-built, graphite trout rod and matched reel, with “Gabby 1969-2019” printed above the rod’s grip.
After a hearty round of congratulations to the 2019 champ from the Gabby Guys who didn’t win, Founder Dane adjourned the meeting at 11:45 p.m., the earliest closing ever.
For the record, 32 fish were caught by 14 fishermen, producing a respectable Gabby Fish Quotient of 2.29.