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Sitting down to a game of catch

For some, this fair-weather ritual beats others, hook, line and sinker.

After three hours of quiet, Ron Turner's line finally bends. He reels and pulls, reels and pulls, and at the end dangles a silver catfish, a four-pounder, the first catch of the day.

A fellow fisherman takes a picture of Turner with his prize. Then Turner tosses his catch back to freedom, back into the Schuylkill.

"I don't eat anything out of these waters," he says, shaking his head. "I come out here to relax. It's just you and the water."

While many people celebrate the first holiday weekend of the summer season by heading to the Jersey Shore or other popular spots, Turner, 38, fishes the waters off Kelly Drive with his friends Rob Roberson, 38, and Nate Wright, 47.

All are from the city's Northwest, and all work in the animal-research department of the University of Pennsylvania.

On this warm Saturday of blue skies and big puffy clouds, the men cast their lines around 8 a.m. and plan to stay until the sun fades away.

It's their tradition, handed down from fathers to sons.

"It's a game of chance," says Turner, who began fishing at age 9 and likes to do so several times a week.

"Once they start biting, it's up to you to catch them," he says.

The men sit in a row of three chairs. Behind them is a steady stream of cyclists, joggers, walkers and in-line skaters, even a woman on horseback, enjoying the beautiful weather.

Wright has brought two coolers stuffed with hoagies, juices, fruit, chips and cookies.

With their lines in the water, the men talk about their children, sports, work, and their catches, both past and present. Mostly they say nothing at all.

"I just love it 'cause it's peaceful," Wright says.

But for all the relaxation, there's friendly competition, among friends and fish.

"Right now, it's the guys, one, and the fish, zero," Turner says. "So we're winning right now."

To increase their chances, the men use four types of bait: worms, chicken livers, corn kernels, and Wright's special brand of cornmeal, to which he adds vanilla and cinnamon.

Wright is also a veteran fisherman. When he started fishing on the Schuylkill at age 11, he used only a worm, a hook, string and a stick.

To date, his biggest catch is a 22-pound carp that took 15 minutes to bring in. Carps are by far his favorite catch.

"They give you a big fight," he says. "You have to let them tire themselves out, and pull them in a little at a time."

Asked about his smallest catch, Wright laughs. "He's still in my wallet," he says. "He was so little, I left him on the hook to catch another."

Then he offers some fish logic.

"Fish are smart," he says. "Some are smarter than others. Some are hungrier than others. Some are inquisitive. Some say the heck with that. They're just like us."

Some hooked fish play dead, he says.

"The fish, they're not trying to get caught."

Soon Roberson's line grows taut. He's the newbie, having fished for only two weeks. To date, the only thing he has caught, he says, is good conversation.

Turner helps him reel it in, holding the catch in the air.

"He caught a tree fish," Turner says with a wide grin, holding up the tree branch tangled in Roberson's line.

"That's what we do," he continues. "Nothing gets away."