A stormy morning quickly dispelled any hopes I had of going fishing. Deadlines, office clutter and a list of obligations helped the cause. But before the rest of the world overwhelmed me, I figured I’d get caught up on my fishing shows.
Thanks to the wonders of a DVR and a $200 cable bill, I record tons of cool programming. From Larry Dahlberg wrestling Amazonian vampire fish to Lefty Kreh teaching the intricacies of tarpon on a fly, there’s little I won’t watch.
Each season of outdoor programming brings a similar tradition among two popular bass shows. Both Hank Parker, the ultimate Southern gentleman, and Mark Zona, the poster child of modern bass, host their “kids shows," highlighting the importance of introducing youth to fishing. By chance, I viewed them back-to-back.
I’ve always loved Hank. In a day and age when everything seems so focused on trends and instant gratification, Hank Parker still seems to be able to convey a message stressing the importance of slowing everything down. While suburbanites find the need to decompress on the treadmill or in a yoga class, Parker continues to show us all that fishing still reigns as the best way to get away from it all.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with Parker a time or two when he was filming his TV show, as well as participate in a few consumer shows beside him for sponsors. Believe me, he and his crew are some of the most driven, hard-working people in the industry. Yet, at the end of his half-hour show, it’s always as if I’ve escaped for a while.
Hank’s annual Parker family picnic / kids show is epic, again conveying the importance of faith and family above all else, regardless of corporate influence and promotional trends.
Zona’s show, always bringing us the most up-to-date styles in pro bass fishing techniques and superstars, occasionally changes focus and seems to follow in the same footsteps. This season’s annual kids shoot featured Zona’s twin sons, now well accomplished bass anglers (go figure), catching a few for the camera, the whole time still trying to figure out their dad’s bizarre behavior.
I’ve spent some time with the “Z-Train” over the years, often admiring his skill as a fisherman as well as his incredible charisma and ability to instantly make a friend. But without question, his most admirable trait has always been his focus on being a father, something that occasionally gets lost in our world of winning patterns and bass obsession. It’s really nice to take a step back at times and watch that all play out; I doubt he or Parker ever realizes what an important service they’re providing.
Besides helping my psyche on a Wednesday morning, this type of programming is also working toward a goal of the entire fishing industry as a whole: getting more kids outdoors. For years, marketing professionals in the industry were predicting doom and gloom, as both fishing and hunting participation fell, especially among youth. More recently, however, it appears we’re on the uptick.
Marketing and promotions often play an underestimated role in getting kids outdoors. Ask yourself this: Do other forms of entertainment, like Hollywood movies, market to your kids? How about video games?
The point is that all forms of entertainment are trying to get your kids' attention and money (okay, your money). Fishing and hunting are finally seeing the benefits of doing the same. In fact, many state agencies are placing marketing on par with all other duties in governing the outdoors.
A study published by the Take Me Fishing campaign estimates over 3 million youth have been introduced to boating and fishing through their education programs alone. That’s a heck of a number. But we all need to continue to do our part to offer kids a glimpse of how drastically better fishing is than anything else they can do. Once hooked, it’s a magical thing to witness.
Corporate America continues to follow suit to get more youth, and their parents, involved. Plano, one of fishing’s iconic brands, recently started a contest called “Protect Your Passion”, in which parents share photos of their kids via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and are then eligible to win prizes. There’s next-to-nothing to fill out, entry is instant and, knowing Plano, there’s sure to be some great awards.
Thankfully, it appears we may be over the hump of the time when the future looked dim for the fishing industry. While everyone involved needs to continue to work hard to introduce more anglers to the sport, I get the general feeling that America as a whole is starting to realize what a great pastime fishing is for the family. Sure, there will continue to be challenges facing us, like the increasing occurrences of single-parent homes and the difficulties of introduction there, but perhaps we’re making momentum by addressing such obstacles with modern marketing efforts.
I’m not sure where I originally heard the saying, but it still rings true: Catching a fish makes you smile. Whether it’s a 5-year-old catching a bluegill from the banks of a farm pond or a full-grown man in a metal-flake bass rig, we all started for the same reason.
My recent DVR escape reminded me how important it can be to step back and slow down. It occurred to me how I desperately miss a similar escape each week that was called the Fishin’ Hole.
Occasionally, we all still see it and feel it. To be reminded, take a kid fishing.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)