The hills around the small town of Coudersport, PA, boast thriving populations of white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys and ruffed grouse; cold streams filled with trout tumble down every hollow. There are few days in a year when there isn’t something to pursue afield with rod, rifle or shotgun. It’s hardly surprising that such an environment would have produced one of the finest and most influential forces in outdoor writing, L. James Bashline.
Jim Bashline was a contemporary of my parents. My dad, who went to high school with Bashline, still tells fond — and entertaining — stories of Bashline’s early days as a deputy game protector. By the time I was old enough to eagerly leaf through Dad’s back issues of Field & Stream, Bashline was already a towering presence in the pages of that magazine and many others. I’d seize on his byline and devour the words, penned in an intelligent, easygoing tone that stressed the importance of conservation and the value of fun and companionship in the outdoors. I appreciated the words even more knowing they were written by a man from my hometown.
When I decided to pursue outdoor writing as a career, there was no question who I needed to talk to. The day I visited him at his home office in Spruce Creek, PA, remains a jumble of impressions rather than specifics. His office seemed like nirvana, filled with his beautiful wildlife carvings, exquisitely tied flies and fine shotguns. He counseled that outdoor writing wasn’t all fishing and hunting. I would have to work hard. A journalism degree would be a good start. I should get involved with Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association (POWA) and OWAA. I left Spruce Creek knowing without a doubt what I wanted to do with my life.
When I heard, in 1995, that Bashline had died, I realized with dismay that I had never dropped him a note to let him know how much our brief meeting had influenced me. A tremendous gathering of his friends convened in Spruce Creek to share reminiscences, where I began to get an inkling that I was only one of a vast number of people Bashline influenced through his writings and his personality.
Bashline achieved a level of success that few writers, outdoor or otherwise, ever will. He began his career writing articles for Pennsylvania Angler and a column for the Olean (NY) Times-Herald. He soon joined POWA, where he met George Harrison, who was then editor of Pennsylvania Game News. Harrison hired Bashline as associate editor for the magazine, and he later took over as editor. From there, Bashline went on to become managing editor of Field & Stream. After a two-year stint in New York City, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he continued to work for the magazine as a field editor.
Bashline worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Bulletin, and wrote columns for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Centre Daily Times. He was founding editor of The Flyfisher. He wrote five books and edited three, including the prize-winning anthology America’s Great Outdoors, a study of outdoor journalism and sporting art from 1776 to 1976, for OWAA. During his free-lance career, he hosted several television shows, was president of POWA and was an OWAA board member.
If you’d asked Bashline, he would have told you that his best work was not exemplified in his writing awards, although they were legion. He was most proud of the tangible conservation successes his writings helped accomplish. Chief among these was the installation of a fish ladder in the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. A series of Bashline’s articles in Philadelphia newspapers in the late 1970s kick-started the project, which allows American shad to make their traditional spring spawning runs up a river that had been blocked for decades.
Bashline’s true success was highlighted in many ways: in his ability to spend his life doing what he loved; in the strength of his marriage to Sylvia and the love of his two daughters; in the vast numbers of his friends; in the real difference he made in support of fish and wildlife habitat in his home state; and in how many people he touched.
Jim Bashline’s influence will be around for a very long time.
Diana Rupp, a Pennsylvania native now living in Los Angeles, is the editorial director of EMAP Petersen’s Northwoods Group magazines — Pennsylvania Sportsman, New York Sportsman and Michigan Hunting & Fishing — and author of Pennsylvania: A Guide To Backcountry Travel & Adventure.