As the sun rises over the serpentine foothills of Appalachia, I try, with much difficulty, to follow my fishing guide in a white Ford truck through a series of country roads. My cellphone hasn't had service for miles, and without him, I'm totally lost. He's leading me to a secluded pond guaranteed to be fertile with largemouth bass. He's been coming to these same ponds and lakes for more than three decades. So if anyone knows a prime fishing hole in this town, he's the man.
We're a few miles from Cumberland, a small village outside of Zanesville that's known for the AEP ReCreation Lands — 60,000 acres of gorgeous, secluded nature that was once used for strip-mining. It's now home to more than 350 fishing lakes and ponds and dozens of breathtaking overlooks.
As we arrive at an abandoned gravel road, I help my guide — who works for fishing, hiking and rock climbing tour company Trek Network — unpack our gear. He pulls two peculiar vessels from the back of his truck — belly boats. The lightweight and easily portable inner tube-like vessel allows the passenger to float and move gently on the water.
With belly boats strapped to our backs and rods and tackle in hand, we hit a muddy trail marked only by the tracks of turkey, deer and other wildlife. As promised, we arrive at a small pond. I ease into a pair of rubber fishing waders, climb into the belly boat and float into the pond while my guide meticulously scopes the water for a spot to fish. He finds a shallow bank flanked by weeds where he believes the bass are spawning, and I discover the belly boat's competitive edge: When my guide finds a good spot, I'm there in seconds without making a splash and able to cast without disturbing the fish.
Hours begin flowing like minutes. The belly boat feels like resting in a floating chair. Equipped with chest waders and fins to keep me dry, I propel myself with choppy, bicycle-like strokes with my legs. The only soundtrack is the chirps, hisses and calls of wildlife filling the air while we reel in our respective catches.
But my guide barely controls his excitement as he reels in a personal record — the two biggest largemouth bass he's ever caught in a day. While not exactly a banner day, even a novice like myself reels in a handful of bass worthy of a photo or two.
If You Go
For first-time visitors to the historic Roscoe Village, participating in one of its Living History Tours is a must. With this year's theme being "Mudlarked in Roscoe," guests scavenge for goods before their canal boat leaves while interacting with costumed interpreters and artisans. 600 N. Whitewoman St., Coshocton, 740-622-7644, roscoevillage.com
With more than 1,000 candies and chocolates, Roscoe Village Sweet and Treats satisfies any sweet tooth. Located in a manufacturing shop built in 1846, it sells a variety of country kitsch favorites such as fudge and saltwater taffy, but also specializes in rare and novelty treats from throughout the country. 435 N. Whitewoman St., Coshocton, 740-623-0262, visitcoshocton.com
The only thing better than experiencing a safari without leaving Ohio is getting to do so from a private yurt. At Cumberland's famed The Wilds animal reservation, adult guests can stay overnight in a well-accommodated yurt with amenities such as Asian-inspired decor, bamboo flooring and an observation deck for spotting the diverse wildlife occupying the grounds. 14000 International Road, Cumberland, 740-638-5030, thewilds.columbuszoo.org