Searching For The One That Got Away

By Jeff Falk • Photos Courtesy of Ed Toyer and Tom Whitmer

For some, fishing is a solitary pursuit. The feeling of being on the open water with fishing rod in hand and thoughts to oneself is almost spiritual in nature.

For others, fishing is a social activity. It can bring people together, enhance relationships or even provide a source of wholesome competition.

For Ed Toyer and Tom Whitmer, it is both.  Fishing is a way to get away from it all and to enjoy the outdoors together.

Through their shared passion, Whitmer and Toyer have fostered a unique relationship – they’ve become fishing buddies. The two middle-aged men live about a mile apart in Paxtang, but having one of the most enjoyable fisheries in the country right in their backyard has been an accelerant for their friendship.

“I would say it’s both a solitary and social activity,” says Whitmer, a computer technician and trainer. “We both have our moments when we need to be alone on the water. It’s just about being one with the water and being out on the water. It’s the escape. I’m at peace. It takes my mind away from everything else. It brings me to Ground Zero. I love being outside. I love nature.”

“When I fish with someone it’s much more enjoyable, and when you fish on the Susquehanna River, it’s much safer,” says Toyer, a psychologist. “Tom and I fish 12 months a year. When we’re out there, there’s a good bit of conversation going on, there’s an exchange of ideas. We’re talking about a bunch of things. If you’re going to spend eight hours in a boat on a river with someone, you better have something to talk about.”

Both Toyer and Whitmer are serious fishermen. They each own boats, and they each compete in regional fishing tournaments.

When they go out together – about three or four times a month, depending upon conditions and the seasons of the year, for the last six years or so –their excursions can last anywhere from five to eight hours. Usually, they fish for small-mouth bass, but they also catch large-mouth bass, muskies, walleyes, catfish and the occasional carp.

Twice, Toyer has been honored as the Central Pennsylvania Bassmaster’s Angler of the Year.

“It’s both an intellectual and physical challenge,” says Toyer. “You have to take into consideration the conditions, the locations and the time of the year. There are literally hundreds of variables. It’s always a challenge. It’s not physically demanding, but there’s a physical component to it. I’m also a competitive person.”

“When we’re out there, we catch up with our lives,” says Whitmer. “The only time we see each other is when we fish. We’re both into music, so we get caught up on concerts, or movies. We’re both very jovial. That’s why we get along so well. We both like to joke.”

Whitmer and Toyer originally met about six years ago through a common acquaintance, Whitmer’s wife, who worked in the same office as Toyer. Though they found that they had a lot in common, it was fishing from which their friendship blossomed.

“Ed is a good fisherman in that he’s steady and very consistent,” says Whitmer. “He has special lures he likes to throw, and he’s very good with where he likes to throw them. But he’s not afraid of new areas. He’s not set in his patterns. He knows what works for him, but he’s not afraid to try new things.”

“I think ‘patient’ is the best way to describe Tom,” says Toyer. “He’s not complacent. We’re competitive against each other. During each trip, we have a competition for who catches the first fish, who catches the most fish, and who catches the biggest fish. You get a point for each one and we keep score. Tom is a very calculating fisherman. He’s very well prepared. When he hits the water, he has an idea of what he wants to do, where he wants to go, and how he wants to do it.”

Toyer and Whitmer do a vast majority of their angling on the Susquehanna River, one of the most picturesque, plentiful and enjoyable venues for their passion anywhere. Rarely aren’t the fish biting on the Mighty Susquehanna, but when they aren’t, the two aren’t above testing their skills at other local waterways or lakes.

“How lucky are we to have that fishery in our backyard?” asks Toyer. “People will drive hundreds of miles to get here, and it’s just a couple of miles away for us. If the river is not fishable, we’ll go to a local lake, or we’ll just look for a change of pace. I prefer fishing in the river, simply because there’s more fish. It’s a better fishery.”

“We are absolutely some of the luckiest people in North America, just to have the quality of fishing that we have here,” adds Whitmer. “You don’t leave fish to find fish. Why drive two hours, when you can drive 15 minutes to have a blast? But when you’re on the river, it’s a dangerous place. You can never relax.”

When novices think of fishing season, they think of spring and the April opening of trout season. But for experts like Whitmer and Toyer, fishing is a year-round pursuit.

“For most people, fishing is a seasonal sport,” says Toyer. “If the water is open, fish will bite. Spring is a great time of the year to fish, because that’s when you catch your biggest fish. Spring is the time of year when you catch the giant fish. In the fall, you can catch big numbers of fish. If I had to pick a season, it would be spring, because we’re super excited about getting out there.”

“I like winter fishing because of the challenge,” says Whitmer. “They’re barely moving, so to catch them at that time is pretty special. Even though it’s cold, it’s better than sitting inside. The spring is my favorite time of the year, because fish are at their largest. You tend to catch a lot more fish in the spring. Fall is a lot like spring, because they’re in feeding mode. They’re much more predictable, and it’s becoming much more comfortable to fish.”

Both Whitmer and Toyer had their love of fishing passed onto them by prior generations at a young age. For them, fishing is a lifetime pursuit, and they could not imagine their existences without it.

“Until I die,” says Whitmer, when asked how long he will continue to fish. “When I was six, my grandfather bought a house on a pond. Every Sunday I’d go there and catch bass and blue gills. My father and grandfather took annual trips to Canada to fish, and every year since 1969, I’ve taken a trip to Canada, because of them. It’s always been a part of me.”

“I’ve always been involved in fishing, since a very young age,” says Toyer. “When I retire, I want to buy a home on a lake, so every morning when I wake up I can walk out of the house and fish. I’ll fish until they tell me it’s not safe to do so, and then I’ll sit on the shore and fish from a chair.”