YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Jack Wollitz has written about 1,700 weekly columns over the past 33 years, sharing updates and observations about local fishing spots and those who frequent them.
In his first book, “The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing,” he drops his line into deeper water.
In 42 short essays, Wollitz shares memories and ruminates on how the time he’s spent on the water has kept him on an even keel.
“The Common Angler” (paperback, 200 pp., $13.99) will be released May 11 by Fayetteville Mafia Press. Preorders for signed copies are available now at the publisher’s website.
Wollitz’ writing career included stints at daily newspapers in Salem, Youngstown and Warren before moving on to the Innis Maggiore public relations firm. Through it all, he has written his column for a local newspaper and continues to do so.
With more time on his hands since he retired in 2018, Wollitz decided it was time to write a book.
The inspiration came to him as he reflected on how he could explain his passion for the sport to those who never have picked up a rod and reel. He had been inadvertently perfecting that skill for three decades.
“Many times people have told me, ‘I have never fished a day in my life but I read your column every week,’ ” he says.
While “The Common Angler” is Wollitz at his best, by no means is it exclusively for fishermen.
Anyone who enjoys good writing – and is drawn to the water – will appreciate its homespun warmth and wisdom, the subtle metaphors and life lessons.
The author examines each topic with a perspective that is both distant and personal.
“I had fun picking the topics and then reflecting on my experiences and a few other people’s experiences,” he says.
Fishing, Wollitz says, lures people for several reasons. It’s an opportunity to get out of the house and get close to nature; it encourages contemplation; and it is a mental and physical exercise. For some, the sport is even competitive.
Wollitz explores these threads, which bind all fishermen.
“It’s not a how-to book,” he says. “It explains the ‘why’ of fishing.”
One of his chief influences as a fisher and a writer is “The Compleat Angler,” first published in 1653 by Englishman Izaak Walton.
“It’s the first real explanation of the art and science of fishing,” Wollitz says. It’s also a meditation on nature and the human condition and how both intertwine while one fishes.
“I like to wonder what Izaak Walton would say today,” Wollitz says.
One aspect of Wollitz’ book that increases its appeal is that the reader can open it to any page, read an essay or two – most are just a few pages – and put it down for later enjoyment.
But many keep reading.
“I’ve been told by anglers and nonanglers that it is thought-provoking and they couldn’t put it down,” Wollitz says. “That’s a testament that maybe I’ve succeeded.”
Wollitz began to fish as a young child, with his father and other family members. He never forgot those days spent on the water and credits them for putting his life on a certain path.
He sees the biggest benefits of the sport as relaxation and accomplishment.
“Many go only for the peace and quiet and don’t care if they catch anything,” he says. “They want to get up close with something other than their TV or the internet. It gives you a reason to get out there. It becomes enchanting and addicting.”
But there is also the mental aspect of fishing. Wollitz attempts to unravel it.
“The circumstances are different every time you’re on the water but you can build on what you’ve learned in the past to make decisions [on how to catch fish on any particular day]. … Ninety percent of the fish live in 10% of the water. So it’s the angler’s job to figure out where that 10% are on the day you go to the lake.”
Many decisions must be made to get a fish to bite on a hook: Which lure to use? What is the behavior of the species being sought? How do weather and water conditions affect the location and behavior of the fish?
Not surprisingly, Wollitz fares well as an angler. But for him, the fun is entirely in the pursuit.
“I do catch a lot. But when I want to eat a fish, I have a chef cook it in a restaurant,” he says. “I’m a catch and release guy.”
Pictured: Jack Wollitz, longtime Mahoning Valley fishing columnist, has written his first book.