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Jim Evans boldy lived with love of life

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MORRISTOWN - In 1954 Theresa Ann McCormick agreed reluctantly to go out on a double date with Donald J. “Jim” Evans, freshly discharged from the US Navy.

She didn’t like him very much and remembers telling her friends that “nothing he said made any sense.”

But he sure liked her.

Later that year, Theresa McCormick and a group of young nurses left Ogdensburg to work in Florida. One day as they were walking toward the nurses residence she spots Jim Evans walking down the road.

He spent the next four days pursuing her while sleeping in his car.

When her response wasn’t promising he jumped his car and headed West.

Like a character in Jack Kerouac’s classic American Novel “On the Road”, Evans set out to find a place in the expanse of America. He found work on a construction crew in Oregon.

But it wasn’t home so he called Theresa McCormick from Oregon and said “I want to come home and marry you.”

She agreed and in 1957 they were married at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg and quickly settled on a large tract of land in Morristown.

“We bought the land from Eddie Mourick for $1500 even though we didn’t have $1500,” remembers Theresa (McCormick) Evans.

“That is the way Jim was. He would get an idea and never said a word about financial things. He left that to me to figure out.”

Some of his ideas worked better than others.

He established the Evans House Diner adjacent to the family home and the business included a gas pump. He came up with an idea to sell gas 24 hours a day. One hour into the first night shift a frantic employee, Steve Spillman, calls Evans with the news that the place was robbed.

Evans raced out of his house, confronted the robbers in their car and got the money back.

But that was the end of a 24-hour gas station at the Evans House.

But one idea became one the defining points of Jim Evans life. A marvelous life which ended on April 20 when passed away at 83 years old but forever young and spontaneous. He became a fishing guide in era when the St. Lawrence River was a landmark venue for trophy Muskellunge.

An era where Evans established a friendly upriver vs downriver rivalry with guide Al Russell who owned the “Blue Top Motel” in Red Mills.

“When dad discovered that he could make money guiding fishermen that was it. He was a fishing guide for life,” said Ned Evans who landed a 48-pound, 12 ounce Muskie in 1990 to surpass the biggest Muskie ever landed on by a Jim Evans client - a 46-pound, eight-ounce river tiger landed by Chuck Gambino of New York City.

Renown as one of the world’s experts on night fishing, Jim Evans introduced clients to “Muskie Fever” and helped them deal with the heart-pounding and nerve-wracking anticipation and the numbing frustration.

His success as a guide led to the establishment of the Evans House bait and tackle shop and the construction of efficiency apartments for fishermen and construction workers.

Evans’ daughter Mary Ann Evans, who mirrors his free-spirited entrepreneurial pursuits and love of music and dancing; now operates “Mare’s Waves” pottery business and school on the site. But remnants of the Evans House tackle shop remains in prominent display.

“The muskellunge has been called the fish of 1000 casts and 100 hours” writes longtime guide Capt. Mike Seymour in his recently published book “The Smart Guide to Freshwater Fishing.”

But some anglers can hook a Muskie on their first pass or cast.

Jerry Cheapettea documented that in his video “Muskies and Men” which included Evans as one of the world’s premier “Muskie Hunters”.

“In my first two hours of fishing with Jim Evans I landed two large muskies. But I spent a whole week there and never got another bite. It can happen that way”.

Evans’ association with the “Muskie Mystique” began as a young boy in Massena where he grew up to become a member of championship football team which is enshrined the schools’ Sports Hall of Fame.

At age 11 he bought 25-cent lure, pushed a wooden boat into the water at the head of the Long Sault Rapids and hooked a muskie on his second cast.

A muskie stretching 56 inches (estimated at 45 pounds) which was landed only after Evans jumped into the water and managed to wrestle the behemoth to shore after a downriver ride.

“From that day on I decided that I was gonna be a muskie fisherman,” said Evans in a collection of Internet Fishing Stories published on northcountryfolklore.org.

A fisherman and guide who had no mysterious secrets.

“Dad used one lure most of the time. A red and white Swim Whizz and I remember painting them when I was a kid,” said Ned Evans.

“He fished the sandbar in Ogdensburg for many years but later moved to American Island.”

In an article written by Mike Cloonan in “The Journal” in the 1980s Jim Evans spoke of his secret to success as a guide.

“Fishing for Muskies can make for a long night. My job is tell stories and keep the clients entertained as they wait for that strike.”

More often than not a maurading Muskie interrupted his stories and created a new story.”

He never lost his love for telling those stories even in his final days when disease sapped his strength.

And he never lost his love for trolling on the St. Lawrence River.

“I was the youngest child in our family and never got to go fishing with dad a lot. But I with him the last time he went fishing. He took a friend and I out trolling for Muskies,” said his daughter Mary Ann Evans.

“The boat started going around in circles but we let him go for a while before we took the wheel. He was just happy to be out there trolling.”

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