The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
When Ohio State goes on the road to play at places such as Northwestern and Illinois, and a sizable portion of the stadium is awash in scarlet and gray, they like to refer to that display of the depth and breadth of OSU’s support as evidence of “The Buckeye Nation.”
Well, that term is no longer adequate. A collection of fans from the remote reaches of Saskatchewan have made it Buckeyes International.
A group of fishing guides left the airport in Saskatoon last Thursday, headed for “The Horseshoe.” They flew more than 1,400 miles to Toronto, spent the night there, and then pulled out their passports on Friday morning, cleared U.S. Customs, and drove the 300-plus miles to Ohio’s capital city.
They had never been to Columbus, had never seen a college football game, and had no idea what this tailgating phenomenon was all about. But they were long distance and exchange rate Buckeyes fans, based on the friendships they developed with fishermen from Toledo, including Don Mewhort, the father of Ohio State captain and offensive tackle Jack Mewhort.
“People come to our lodge to go fishing, but you build friendships that go way beyond that,” said Greg Sproat, who manages the fishing lodge on Selwyn Lake, a 45-mile long stretch of pristine water that straddles the line separating Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.
“Jack’s never been to our lodge, but through our relationship with Don and the other guys, we were very aware of him,” Sproat said. “It’s our intention to get Jack up there next summer, when he has a little break from football, and maybe more time to go fishing.”
Accessible only by float plane, Selwyn’s season is short — from mid-June through August. It was zero degrees Celsius at Selwyn Lake on Saturday, with falling temperatures and snow flurries in the forecast. Selwyn Lake’s trophy northern pike and monster lake trout are what attracted the Toledo-based fishing party a number of years ago, and the group has been going back to the remote but comfortable outpost in the Canadian wilderness each summer.
“When we’re up there, you’re spending long days out on the lake with these guides, so you talk a lot,” Don Mewhort said. “When they found out my son was playing for Ohio State, they started following him and the Buckeyes. Then last year they mentioned that they’d like to come see a game.”
So Saturday morning, about six hours before kickoff, the group of Canadian fishing guides and their friends were tailgating along Woody Hayes Drive, just across the street from Ohio Stadium. Once inside, they saw the band’s signature entrance, “Script Ohio,” and all of the pomp and circumstance that is part of a game day at Ohio State. And there was also the Buckeyes’ come-from-behind 34-24 Big Ten win over Iowa.
“It was pretty impressive, seeing all of the things associated with the game, and on that kind of scale,” Sproat said. “It is amazing the number of people that were there, and how involved they are. Plus, we got to see a great game and meet Jack afterward.”
When they were surrounded by the 105,000 on hand for the game, it was evident the Canadian fishing guides were a long way from Moose Jaw or Swift Current back in Saskatchewan.
“I think they were blown away by the spectacle of it all,” said Toledo businessman Tom Schlachter, who is part of the collection of fishermen that visits Selwyn Lake and who also attended the Iowa game with the group.
“I think almost all of them ended up buying some Buckeyes gear while they were here.”
Sproat said the group of fishing guides and their traveling companions also got a tour of Columbus and planned to take in a Blue Jackets NHL hockey game on Sunday night before starting the long trip home.
“I think you initially go someplace for the fishing,” Sproat said, “but you go back for the relationships that go way beyond that. We’ve had a great friendship with this group of guys, so this is something we really wanted to do.”
“It means a lot that they came all that way,” Don Mewhort said, “and I think it was a real eye-opening experience for them, and probably a lot more than they expected. But that’s the neat thing about fishing and experiences in the outdoors – you learn a lot about the people you are with, and you always find common ground.”
The annual fishing trips to Selwyn are just four days long, but Schlachter said that in that small amount of time, lasting friendships are forged, and those transcend the geographical distance and the 51 weeks that pass between visits.
“It’s the same thing, wherever I have been on fishing or hunting trips,” he said. “Those who share the experience with you — you become friends with them. It’s really a unique kind of bonding.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.