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Jack Lemmon, fishing buddy

3/6/2002

One of my fishing companions — and perhaps the most famous — took his final cast last year. When Jack Lemmon died at age 76, the actor was remembered for his many talents and memorable movies.

And rightly so. On the big screen, Lemmon was always good company. But the same was always true of Lemmon in the back of a fishing boat. He was an avid angler who enjoyed any chance to wet a line.

One summer Sunday in a small lake, not far from his dueling fishing boats scene in 'Grumpy Old Men' with Walter Matthau, Lemmon and his son Christopher joined me for a few hours of fishing for largemouth bass or, in truth, whatever wanted to strike.

Lemmon picked up a fishing rod and began casting a spinnerbait. His son did the same.
The boat got quiet.

I guess I was expecting some kind of Lemmon one-man-show from the back of the boat, or perhaps a lively monologue about what it's really like to be a Hollywood star. A little behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt about Marilyn Monroe or Ann Margaret would be perfect between casts, I figured.

Tell me about those wild parties, Jack?

Oh, he probably would have, if I'd asked. Lemmon was at all times gracious and accommodating, a man who apparently understood his bigger-than-life standing among moviegoers (and fishing partners).

But it quickly became obvious that this movie star in the back of the fishing boat was extremely quiet and rather shy. In front of the camera Lemmon might have been the life of the party, but off-camera he was a likeable introvert.

What Lemmon did like to talk about was fishing. He once owned a fishing boat and plied the waters off the coast of California. Lemmon passed his fondness for fishing to his son, Christopher, who at the time was seeking a stage career in New York.

As we pitched spinnerbaits to unseen bass, Lemmon said he was impressed with Minnesota's wealth of fishing water and surprised at the uncrowded nature of so many lakes.
Who caught the first bass is a fact I no longer can remember. But I do know Lemmon caught his first (and maybe his last) Minnesota bass that afternoon.

If this had been a movie, the climax would have been the moment Lemmon's son hooked into a street-smart muskie. It wasn't a big fish, but, hey, the two Lemmons became so dramatic it could have been Jaws.

Lemmon asked me to take a picture of him, his son and the fish before it was released.

A few months later, some Hollywood publicist called and asked for a copy of that picture. Lemmon wanted it for a book he was writing about his life, the publicist said.

To Hollywood, what mattered about Lemmon was not his best catches, only his screen credits. Too bad. Lemmon might have been old and grumpy on screen, but in a fishing boat he was very likeable and very real.

In January, February and March 2002 the Backroads with Ron & Raven short feature airs Saturdays at 7:55 a.m. ET on ESPN2.