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Casting with Greatness: Don Daughenbaugh Reflects

Nestled along a wooded country road a long fly cast from the Loyalsock Creek, the home is a reflection of the man who lives there. Built by his own hands, the rustic interior with its mountain stone and wooden beams provide a Norman Rockwell type portrait of the outdoor lifestyle that has provided the occupant a lifetime of memories from the isolated grandeur of the Grand Tetons to the seclusion of Camp David and beyond.

Now accompanied by his faithful companion, his dog Buff, and surrounded by photographs of past adventures former South Williamsport High School science teacher Don Daughenbaugh smiled as he cleared off a chair as a former student met with his former teacher for the first time in decades.

“It’s good to see you,” he said as we shook hands. “You’ll have to excuse the clutter,” he chuckled. “I’m putting the finishing touches on the book, and as you can see I’ve got things all over the place, but I’m getting close.”

Oh, yes, the book. That’s what the visit was all about and from the conversation that ensued, the 12-chapter, illustrated manuscript is a project he has been diligently working on since last December that reflects his love of fishing and the life’s adventures it has provided.

“I got tangled up with the dog leash and broke my leg last year and while recovering a few folks suggested to me that this would be a good time for me to write a book,” Daughenbaugh reflected. “I have all these stories to tell, (and pointing to the walls of the home) and the photos and since I wasn’t able to get around much with the broken leg, I decided to give it a try.”

Entitled Great People, Great Rivers Daughenbaugh’s work in progress provides an insight as to how his life progressed from a young boy growing up on what he described as ‘a family farm without much money’ to a personal fishing guide for some of the nation’s best-known personalities.

Raised in Millerstown, PA along the Juniata River, he was one of six kids, four sisters, and one brother. His dad bought a farm out in the country about 25 miles north of Harrisburg.

“We lived off the farm. As a youngster, our family didn’t have much, and I literally grew up with a fishing rod in one hand and a rifle in the other. We ate what we were able to provide for ourselves. It wasn’t so much having a love for fishing and hunting, but rather a necessity for me to do so. As time went on, I got pretty good at catching fish, and my enjoyment grew from there.”

Following high school, Daughenbaugh attended East Stroudsburg for college. He arrived in South Williamsport in 1952 as head football coach where he coached for three seasons and taught science at the high school.

“It was when I came to South Williamsport that I really got interested in fishing. I met Don Shobert, who was what I’d describe as a fishing nut. He was a teacher at the high school, and we became very close friends. He and I fished together for about ten years. The more I fished with him, the more intrigued I became with being out with nature. That experience cemented the things I would go on to do the rest of my life.”

During his teaching career at South Williamsport Daughenbaugh spent the summers working at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Admitting that he took the job more as an opportunity to fish than for any other reason, he developed a reputation as an outstanding fisherman.

“When some of the more famous people would be coming into the park to fish, I was the one they hired to take them fishing. I did that for over twenty years while I was working summers there. I didn’t go out and solicit those opportunities. It was just something that came my way as I developed a reputation as a pretty good fisherman.”

As the years passed, Daughenbaugh shared fishing trips with the likes of Dick Cheney, former Vice President; Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board for two U.S. Presidents; John Warner, a five-term U.S. Senator from Virginia and former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and John Heintz, former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

“As I would be guiding people over the years, I was often asked the question as to who was the best fisherman, I was careful never to compare folks as that would be a no-no. But going back over the people I’ve fished with I think Dick Cheney was the most avid. He became very wrapped up with fishing in the 1980s and became somewhat of a fanatic about it. He loves to fish, and he would often come out to fish with me and unwind.”

But his most famous fishing companion was the 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter, who just celebrated his 95th birthday on October 1.

“At the Grand Tetons, they had assigned me to be a Park Ranger in a sector of the Park that only had three Rangers assigned. The Head Ranger called me one day and said he wanted me to be prepared to fish with the President because he is coming in. I kind of blew that off as it didn’t seem like something I would ever be involved with,” Daughenbach chuckled.

“Two days later I got a call from my boss, and he said the President would like to fish with you. When I asked when this would take place, he simply said now. I met with the President and laid out some options as to where we might fish. In describing one location, I told him that Amy (Carter’s daughter) would catch fish there. That was good enough for him.

“We took the Presidential helicopter to a fishing location in a remote area of Yellowstone Park and spent a wonderful day. That began a friendship that developed with the President that goes on to this day. He has even written a forward that will be part of my book.

“One day, when I was teaching biology at South Williamsport, the telephone in my room rang. It was the Secret Service calling me from Camp David. He told me that President Carter would like me to come down for three days to fish. I had to take off a day of school, but I told him I could do it.

“I went to Camp David and spent the first day fishing with the President. As we were riding back to the Camp in the Presidential limousine, accompanied by two secret service agents, the President asked me where my wife (Mary Jane) was. When I told him that I didn’t think she was invited. He looked at me and told me he didn’t go anywhere without his wife (Rosalynn) and wanted Mary Jane to join us. The President then called Camp David and told them to call my wife and make arrangements for her to come down and be with us.

“When she got the call, Mary Jane told them that she couldn’t do it because she didn’t have a car and her hair wasn’t done! The caller told her to rent a car and get down there, which she went ahead and did.

“As time went on, Rosalynn called me and said that the President wanted a pair of fishing hip boots like mine. I told her that would be no problem and got a pair and sent them to her. That turned out to be the President’s birthday gift that year.

“We began to fish quite a bit together. He would come up in the helicopter, and we would fish. He took a liking to me and I always felt he treated me like one of his sons. During our conversations, I always referred to him as President Carter. At one point, Rosalynn said, “Don’t call him President Carter. You know him well. You call him Jimmy. You are like one of the family.

“On one of our fishing trips, he said to me, “Don, what can I do for you?”

“I told him I would like to go down to Plains, Georgia, hunt some quail and see what Plains is like. The President said it was a done deal and he made arrangements for me to visit Plains over a Christmas break. It provided a very interesting experience.

“The President had to return to Washington, D.C. and he put us up in his mother’s house. I wasn’t there for more than a half-hour when there was a knock on the door. An aide brought us a bowl of beef stew for supper and asked us if there was anything he could do for us. Mary Jane responded that she would like to have some pecans. About an hour later he returned with a 100-pound bag of pecans, asking is that enough?

“As we talked he told me that they had put in a pond and stocked it with trout so President Carter’s mother, Lillian could fish. She liked to fish but hadn’t caught any fish from the pond and thought they were lying to her about there being any fish in the pond. I was asked if I could convince Lillian that there were fish in the pond.

“I took Miss Lillian along, and she watched as I cast my line into the water. A short time later, I caught a 22-inch rainbow trout and held it up to show her. She was sitting on a small bank and became so excited she slipped on the bank and fell into the pond. I was concerned. She was 88 years old. But we got her out of the pond, and she was wet but fine.

“Lillian grabbed the fish, climbed the bank, and with the fish still flopping; she put in into the refrigerator. She turned to Mary Jane and said, ‘I’m really going to like that guy!’”

I guess you could call this a ‘fish story’ but it’s one that really happened providing Don Daughenbaugh with many fish tales that he will be sharing with others with the release of his book Great People, Great Rivers.

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