Will Elliott was a mentor to many, and the consummate outdoorsman
When New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt called me on Sunday, July 1, my first thought was that I was late for a blog.
“I have bad news. We just lost Will Elliott.”
Will Elliott? How can that be? He was in better shape than me, even though he was 16 years my senior at 78 years of age. It came as a complete shock as I was sitting on my back deck, already in vacation mode after scheduling a week off to spend time with family and friends. I had just spoken to him a week or two prior, planning on attending the New York State Outdoor Writers Association’s fall conference together on Long Island in October.
Will was a mentor and a friend. I always respected his knowledge and insight into the outdoors, having hunted and fished with him for many years. We hunted for deer with crossbows at Camp Opportunity in southeast Ohio, and we fished for salmon and trout on the lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Our more recent angling adventure turned into a blog for this publication – an adventure while attending the 50th Anniversary of NYSOWA at Lake George last October. It should give you some idea what kind of a fisherman he was.
We had scheduled a day to fish Glen Lake for panfish with outdoor legend Jim Zumbo, who’s a native New Yorker. Will and I had fished this body of water a decade earlier in the spring, but this was the fall and an entirely different fishing pattern. Inside of an hour, Elliott had figured out the part of the lake and the depth that we needed to fish to target big slab bluegills. We filled a cooler. Zumbo was impressed and so was I.
Not only did Will enjoy hunting and fishing, he also enjoyed a good chicken wing, another informational tidbit we had in common. While hunting and fishing were high on our priority list, we probably attended more meetings together than anything. State of the Lake meetings for Ontario and Erie, derby and tournament awards ceremonies, fisheries board gatherings and county federation of sportsmen’s/conservation club get togethers – the list seems endless as I reflect back on how many there actually were. No matter what he attended, he collected the important information to share with his readers. He shared his insights into the issues at hand. He made this natural world a better place to be in.
I can remember being with him many a time on Lake Ontario during the summer, trolling for kings and steelies. When he wanted to cool off, he would just dive into the lake and refresh himself. Who do you know who does that? He was a unique individual who dedicated himself to the outdoors. Along the long and winding road that he traveled, he would make new friends and share his world with them on the water or in the woods. He was an ambassador of all things natural and an ardent voice for the hunting, fishing and conservation community.
He wasn’t in it for the accolades. He was a humble person who was truly a steward of our natural resources. He was inducted into the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Southtowns Walleye Association honored him with a Conservationist of the Year Award in 2016 after he stepped down from outdoor writing at the Buffalo News for more than 30 years, a position I try to fill every week in the manner and attention to detail he did for three decades. He was a word wizard who combined knowledge and wit with his excellent command of the English language. Being an English teacher for 33 years will do that to you.
Will Elliott left us much too early. There were many more fish to catch and wildlife to chase. The next one of either for me will be for you, my friend. May you rest in peace.