PDR is Pretty Darn Ready for Fishing Season
Show of hands. How many of you could run a successful business enterprise with your ex-spouse? It is a daunting proposition, but one couple in Horseheads has discovered that they are suited to be business partners more so than the husband-and-wife scenario.
“We’re better friends than spouses,” Penny Kinsman says with a glance over her shoulder at Doug Walborn, her former better half. They are standing in the kitchen of PDR’s Catering, the business that began about the same time as their marriage, but has lasted fifteen years longer. These days they both pitch in to help the other’s commitments. “He’ll work an event with me,” Penny says, “then I’ll help him with the food stand.”
The smell of spicy Italian sausage fills the air while Penny stirs a boiling pot of rigatoni. On a back burner, the red sauce gurgles like a happy baby. The staff has just returned from feeding a benefit event for a former employee facing a serious medical issue. Waiting in the parking lot was a man who had heard from a coworker how good the sausage was at PDR’s. Even though he was unsure if he could get a small order from a caterer, it was his turn to bring dinner home, so it was worth a wait to find out. Doug invited the man inside, Penny fired up her skillet, and the sausage from Leona Meats in Troy, Pennsylvania, did its thing. The spontaneous gathering had the feel of a neighborhood potluck and it wasn’t long before talk turned to “the creek.”
In this context, the creek in question is Catharine Creek, a fifteen-mile-long stream that runs through Chemung and Schuyler counties. Catharine Creek rises atop a ridge in the town of Veteran. It flows south to an area known locally as the Holding Point in Horseheads. It then flows back to the north, mostly alongside Route 14, through the communities of Pine Valley, Millport, Montour Falls, and Watkins Glen.
It is known as the place in the region to fish for trout. Rainbow trout, specifically, but smaller runs of brown trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon take place in the fall. As April 1 looms, anglers from up and down the east coast make their pilgrimage to Catharine Creek. They are looking for fish—and sausage. Doug and his brother Roger, the R in PDR, with help from Penny, the P, have a food stand alongside the creek.
“Nothing fancy,” says Doug, “Hot dogs, hamburgers, chili dogs, cheesesteak, like that.”
“’Cause that’s all he can cook!” Penny stage whispers, with a laugh. Doug ignores the jab. “And the sausage, of course. That’s the favorite.”
Being at the creek for trout season has been a part of Doug’s life since he was thirteen years old. “Back then, there were a few trailers and stands that came every year. Red’s Lunch, Curly Payne, some others. But I’m it now.”
Flipping the sausage and covering the pan, Penny adds, “That was back when the fishermen were shoulder-to-shoulder from Millport to Montour Falls.”
“I must know 200 guys by first name now,” Doug says proudly.
Doug says weather was never a deterrent, even though April Fool’s Day has run the gamut from seventy degrees and bright sun to snow over your feet to flooding rains. One of those seasons brought water through the middle of Doug’s stand as entire trees bobbed by in the creek.
“I looked out the stand that day and there was a dry spot on an elevated knob,” Doug remembers. “And I said, that’s where I’m going next year.”
The family’s devotion to the season at Catharine Creek is strong, evidenced by the fact that Doug has never missed a year—not since 1981. Once he and Penny married and the kids came along, trout season became a family affair.
“One year, I turned my back on our four-year-old and he got into the creek. The guy who owned the bowling alley fished him out, remember?” Doug relates, and Penny stirs and nods.
This creek side, extremely seasonal, luncheonette is as popular as opening day, with visitors from South Carolina telling Doug that they come for the sausage first, the trout second. “If compliments paid the bills,” Doug laughs, “I wouldn’t need to take their money.” The window to collect those compliments is brief. Doug sets up about a week before the season starts and can be found there every day until the middle of April. Over the course of that twenty-one-day period, the anglers snap up 400 pounds of sausage.
Back at PDR’s Catering, Penny is dishing out the to-go order for the lucky guy from the parking lot when she is asked about retirement. “I grew up on a dairy farm,” she says. “I don’t know anything else but working all the time.” When asked about the most recent vacation the family took, the ex-husband and wife have to use a grandchild’s age to calculate. It was four years ago.
Doug’s idea of “retiring” is building a permanent structure on his beloved creek and being there more often.
The takeout dinner is ready, a couple of beers have been emptied and a granddaughter has finagled movie money out of Doug. Penny is planning to see a friend who lost her ailing husband. She will probably cook for the funeral service. As Saturday afternoon slides into evening, the talk of Catharine Creek, record fish, and friends from far away has Doug excited to get out there.
What might seem like backbreaking work to many is just normal life to this former couple. It brings them a sense of purpose and joy. For that, countless fishermen are thankful. Even if the fish don’t bite.
Find PDR’s at 107 Old Ithaca Road, Horseheads, or at (607) 739-1391.