article by Dan Chason
I believe that we are molded from a young age by the people that we encounter through life. I have been very fortunate. During my life, I have met some very special men who have molded me, inspired me and helped me in many ways. One such man came into my life unexpected. I had no idea how much this man would influence my thought process on life, wives, children and business. It all started in 1998 in the strangest of places.
I was working the KNOE Boating and Outdoor Show in the Monroe Civic Center. During my demonstration on the “hawg trough,” the giant aquarium where fishing lures are demonstrated, I could not help but notice the elderly man with white hair, a pressed shirt and red suspenders, watching my every move. This was the second time I had noticed him as he stood in almost the same spot with almost the same attire during the show last year. I remembered him because he looked like Colonel Sanders without the beard. When I stepped down from the demonstration, the elderly man walked up, stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Ray Niswanger. Mr. Ray, as he became to me was the owner of Consolidated Truck Parts in Monroe. “Son, I’ve been watching you. Now you pitch that jig pretty good.“In fact,” he said with a grin, “almost as good as I do.” After a long visit about fishing, family and business, Mr. Ray extended an invitation for me to come to his camp on Toledo Bend and fish. I returned the invitation and asked him to join me on a trip to Lake Fork for a good jig fishing trip. Not only did he accept the invitation, he offered to chauffeur my crew and me in his motor home on my next trip to Lake Fork. Not a bad deal at all.
Prior to our scheduled Lake Fork trip, I stopped by to visit with Mr. Ray from time to time at his shop. Little did I know what kind of billiards hustler that I had stumbled upon. I guess the custom pool table and stick right outside of his office should have been an indicator. Mr. Ray shot a mean game of pool and really loved to rub it in when he won. He was the same fierce competitor at fishing, as I would find out later.
When we arrived for the Fork trip outside of his business, Mr. Ray came outside donning a black chauffeur’s hat, shined shoes and the signature red suspenders. “Now Caason (the altered name he gave me), do you think this old man can get you there and back in this old raggedy thing? “as he had a good belly laugh standing next to what I can only call a palace on wheels. “Now, Mama (pet name for his wife) said that I better take it kinda slow, so we won’t be going over ninety.” He continued to laugh as we loaded up. On the way, he showed me where he stopped to let his prize dogs get a rest stop, and the years he spent on the road driving a truck. He then got kind of quiet as he talked about being a “Fighting Seabee.” Mr. Ray had seen his wars, succeeded in business and was a man that was truly rewarded for his hard work. He was deeply religious and would tell you in a heartbeat what he was thinking. He displayed how a man should love his wife and how to be a good father. And the man could flat fish.
At my favorite jig hole, I finally slowed my champion boat down enough to have a laugh at Mr. Ray’s expense. He had told me once in conversation that speed was for land and he didn’t like to go fast on the water. I intentionally “aired it out” and ran up that lake just as fast as she would run. As we stopped, Mr. Ray looked over at me, with a stern look on his face, flattened out his now tassled hair and said, “Son, I ain’t lived this many years to go see my maker and try to explain why I got in a rocket to go across a lake. Now on the trip back you can slow this thang down just a smidgeon on my part, or you can sleep in the parking lot tonight.” I slowed down on the way back.
Mr. Ray liked certain reels, rods, depth finders and his Ranger boat. He was very meticulous about his gear but was always asking questions and trying to learn new fishing secrets. The one thing I picked at him about later was his collection, and I mean collection of purple, black and blue jigs with a red trailer. If the man had one, he had a hundred. No other color or styles and he had one tackle bag (a Walmart sack) that was slap full of the same jigs. When the fish were biting, he threw a jig. When I was catching them on top water, he threw a jig. When we were shallow or deep –you got it– he threw a jig. But he caught fish. Big fish. The prize? A signed one dollar bill with my signature. He won a dollar at Lake Fork (twice) and a dollar at Toledo Bend (twice). I never won a single dollar from Mr. Ray. This “bet” carries on to this day in my boat in memory of Mr. Ray.
One thing that Mr. Ray was proud of was his ranch in West Texas. You have to remember, Mr. Ray had a unique southern drawl. So you have to pronounce it with a long “A”. Raaanch. I finally went there on his invitation, and that is where both of our lives changed. I will never forget the trip or how tragically it ended. Mr. Ray suffered a stroke and never made it back home.
I was fortunate to spend the last days of Mr. Ray’s life with him. I miss him and thank him and “Mama” for the kindnesses shown to me. You know, I bet right now Mr. Ray is sitting in a Ranger boat in the crystal sea of heaven. And I bet he is throwing a jig.