Throughout a 20-plus year career in fishing, I’ve worn a lot of hats. Sure, the fishing part is always the most fun, but other aspects of the business are often surprisingly rewarding. As I look back at those duties that provided the most satisfaction – truly, the energy that put a spring in my step – they frequently had one thing in common.
Recently, I again had the opportunity to speak with a group of teenagers when I volunteered to give a flipping seminar to the Volusia County Teen Sport Fishing Association here in central Florida. First off, I should state that one major goal of this direction is to stay involved in the fishing community as an outreach program headed by Plano, the tackle box people. I’ve worked with Plano longer than any other company in my career, and for reasons just like this. The company finds it important to stay out front and it often does so with grassroots programming, which is incredibly important in fishing.
Tackle Pro, my local tackle shop here in town, brought the kids in as part of their monthly meeting. Supporting both the retailer and the teen group, I came in and gave a chat, showed off the latest and greatest from Plano and gave away some gear. Everybody wins, and it allowed me to keep a handle on what America’s fishing youth is up to; some insight into what they’re thinking, and how we’re doing as an industry.
To back up, although I’ve always been a proponent of taking kids fishing and catering to any group of youths interested in the outdoors, I never thought we’d be where we are today. Never. At the beginning of the scholastic bass fishing movement – we’re talking high school and college here – under my breath, I assumed this new aspect of the sport would never get off the ground. I admit I was dead wrong.
Thanks to industry pioneers and visionaries – most notably Jerry McKinnis, whom we sadly recently lost – this division of organized angling is now the fastest growing sector in our sport. An equal thanks goes out to each and every parent, uncle, family friend or coach who took the time and the initiative to recognize this as a viable option for our youth and supported it.
You see, in our bass fishing subculture, we often take that for granted; this notion that fishing, as a sport, is real. But the rest of America doesn’t. To America, football, baseball and – God forgive me – soccer are the big sports for youngsters. For a kid to stand up in, say, a suburb of Chicago and declare bass fishing as his calling still raises a few eyebrows. But thanks to the adults who’ve stood with that kid, the shock is subsiding.
Now I should clarify that I don’t have children, but that doesn’t matter. Because I still think like one, and I still remember when I was the only kid in my junior high school who gave a hoot about fishing, or knew the name of any pro fisherman besides Bill Dance. And it sucked.
But my dad, and his dad, and all my uncles and grandparents, fished. And they took me, beginning at an early age, and it instilled in me a passion for the pursuit, for the unknown, and for adventure. And, I believe, it was that passion that kept me from making choices that could have jeopardized my future, or even my life; choices that are, sadly, far more serious for today’s young people.
But to get back on subject, last week I saw a familiar look in the eyes of my audience. It was one of wonder; a belief that anything is possible. Because it is.
In fishing, the outcome is never the same. Nor is the playing field or conditions, or even the participants. There’s no way to win the game, bowl a 300, hit a home run or a hole-in-one. Because even the best day can always be outdone.
Once a person realizes this and gets that fever, it opens up a realm of possibilities that often restore a childlike mentality in us all. Sure, I realize that such feelings may wane in time, or with real-world responsibilities, but they shouldn’t wane prematurely for our youth.
Ask yourself this: Knowing what we know as adults, don’t you feel that kids should be kids for as long as possible? Fishing can help do that.
I’ve always felt it’s important to support a kid in any choices he or she makes based on their own passion. Sports bring that front and center in our society, but it could be anything. Because, you see, if we ask the secrets of the most successful adults in their fields – whether they be football stars or fashion icons – they frequently have a common story.
Their passion was acknowledged and accepted, often even nurtured, as a child. The same can be said for a number of today’s most successful bass pros. And when asked, many share a story just like mine, or like those kids in class last week.
So what did I learn? Teen anglers are still driven by many of the things that once drove us all. New lure colors. Sight fishing. Unmapped lakes with no launch ramps.
They’re not overly concerned with new depthfinder technology or the divisions of the pro tournament trails. Those are old-people issues, and a kid’s fishing doesn’t have time for that.
It’s too important.
(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.)