1979 … It’s early morning, I the frogs croaking, the birds chirping and then the sound of a Zebco 202 Spin cast firing off a Hula Popper. The tent is covered in dew. I lay there in my sleeping bag listening to the sounds that surround our campsite on Folsom Lake in Northern California. I smell mom cooking bacon and hear the familiar voice of my father hooting from a topwater explosion that a Largemouth Bass made after taking the popper from the surface of the water. My eyes now wide open, and my curiosity has pulled me out of my bed and reaching for the tent zipper. As I slowly open the tent, I can hear the sound of that little reel peeling off line. That sound still resonates in my ears to this day. If you have ever fished with one of those reels you still can hear it too. I guarantee that. I watched as my father worked his pistol grip rod with precision and masterfully landed the bass only to be placed on a stringer to finish out his limit of five bass that he had already caught before my waking moments. My life up to this point consisted of memory after memory of gigging frogs, catching amazing fish like bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, stripers, and an occasional rainbow trout. I had no idea the impact it would make on my life.
Fast forward 48 years a bass boat is parked outside. The dual Garmin’s are mounted on the bow, the Helix is on the console. I have down-imagining side imaging, sonar, front view, live view, and perspective view. The technology is cutting edge and is constantly changing. The bow mounted trolling motor has a built-in anchor feature that requires no rope. The reels are specialized along with the rods. The line is a far cry from monofilament and my tackle collection is too big to fit all of it in the boat. I’m “dialed” in on my home lakes. I speak on bass tanks, share my passion at trade shows, guide community visitors, mentor youth and teach bass fishing basics at my local university. I crave the feel of a hookset. I can flip, pitch, skip, drag, shake, dead stick, slow roll, dropshot, wacky rigg, pop, jerk, walk the dog, buzz, burn punch, and twitch with the best of them. I have mastered several techniques and spend my free time learning from YouTube, Fishbrain, MLF, FLW, Bassmaster and my favorite … time on the water. I’ve been on so many bodies of water I can’t list them all. I have fished in 4 national championships and have qualified on numerous state teams. I have acquired friendships through this sport that have been stronger than even my family ties. I have served in combat. I suffer from PTSD and this sport is literally my saving grace – my therapy. I don’t know what it is about the chase, but I love this sport. I love that I don’t have to be athletically gifted or wealthy to compete at a high level. I love that the language used above can be understood by pretty much any bass fisherman on this planet. I love that I can walk up to any body of water with a rod and reel in my hand and without any other reason, make a friend or two. I love that despite my disabilities, I can still feel and be accepted by anyone who shares this passion. There’s something to be said about the magic behind fishing. Anyone who’s ever done it knows exactly what I’m speaking of. It’s something from God. It’s an unspoken connection in humanity that is not broken. It has no colors. It has no boundaries. It’s humanity’s only hope.
4 years ago, I went through some major life changes. As we all do, I found myself very alone at times. I walked that delicate line of life and could only see one solution. Fortunately, my life is lined with rods & reels in the pursuit of the finned species. I loved the fact that I could be alone and not let my mind control my actions in a way that could have been harmful and have lasting effects. Instead, I fished. I fished hard. I fished some more and when the dust settled, I found my new life that would be the banner I have carried ever since. I decided it was time to give back. I decided it was time to return the favor to the God who gave me this passion. I found my true friend in my new love and made her mine. I then began to search for a way to give back. Living in Southern Utah was an absolute answer to my prayers, and I had heard about the monster largemouth bass swimming around in the reservoirs down here but also the ones in the coveted golf course ponds. Luck would have it that I rented a home right next to a course with 3 ponds on it.
I began visiting the ponds by my house and of course after dark. I remember vividly one night in April. I walked down to the pond on the course and saw these two headlamps glowing red in the night sky. They were on the edge of the pond, so the light was also reflecting on the water. I sat and watched as these two young men sling their bait casters like little KVDs. working hollow bodied frogs across the surface of the pond. I never even lifted my rod once that night because I felt like the whole universe stopped for me. I knew that I had a knack for working with children. It was a gift that God gave me years ago. I knew I could communicate with them unlike no other and I felt like I was supposed to be there that night. I walked over and sat down by one of the course lights just going through my tackle kit and these two young men started heading my way. I warned them early that “I was more addicted to fishing than they were and that any secrets they learn from me will be a bonus to their game.” They both laughed, we introduced ourselves and we went our separate ways. The very next evening, I found myself standing on the edge of that same pond alone. I caught about a 3+ on a frog and began to make my way around the edge as I heard noise from the road. Here come the two young men from the night before and they asked me how many I had caught. I gave them my report and one of them challenged me to the “biggest bass trade”. Whoever caught the biggest bass would have to trade that lure to the one who caught the smallest. It was on! After a good 45 minutes, I bagged several bass over 3lbs on a frog and the one young man who was no more than 12 bagged a 6lb monster. He was literally standing like 30 feet away from me when he caught it. It was an amazing thing to watch him light up like a headlamp and his body language sang that old familiar tune. It was pure joy! It was so great!
I asked the young men if they had a high school team or a club that they were in for fishing. To my surprise, the answer was no. I couldn’t help but ask how many anglers their age fished for bass. They didn’t really have an answer but after jumping around the courses over the next two months I found there to be numerous young anglers. I knew right then and there that I was going to start a community bass fishing league. I was going to welcome young anglers from 12 to 17 to the league and hold one tournament a month. Along with the event, I was going to hold one meeting a month where we talked about bass fishing basics and tournament tactics. Once I pitched this idea to my sweet wife, she loved it! That was all the support I needed. So, through the ever-popular social media, I announced the first meeting and within a quick month, I had 27 parents and their young anglers show up at my doorstep. Despite the small meeting location, the anglers were glued to my every word and before the night was over, I had registered all 27 anglers for the inaugural season of Redrock Bass. How cool is that?
I had some hurdles to jump through with permits, insurance, and trophies but after a series of prayers, a bit of faith, it all came together. From February to November, we fished our guts out. These young anglers were making new friends with their new teammates, learning bass fishing tactics from an old fisherman and spending time on the water with carefully chosen boat captains. I watched as my vision of a youth league started to grow. Companies stepped up and team parents with businesses stepped up. We gave away three sets of trophies for each event along with a big fish trophy and my version of a “traveling trophy” which is a big hit amongst the anglers. After the first couple of events, we went out and found a company to take my design and print us jerseys. This was something that the anglers had to purchase out of their own pockets and this in turn put “skin in the game” for them. I watched as these young beginning anglers went from never catching a bass to catching hundreds of bass. I watched as friendships were formed that showed no signs of stigma, color barriers, financial barriers and it was a beautiful thing. You see, these young anglers are literally our future. They follow our leads. They need mentors outside of the home to go hand-in-hand with their parents’ goals for them. I developed Redrock Bass not to replace the parents but to be another voice for the movement to create good humans. We have a responsibility to teach them to turn off the TV, to put down the game consoles and build their identity by human interaction, service, teamwork, respect for others and integrity. We do that through this thing called angling. We do that through our actions as adults. That is what God wants us to do. That is the right thing to do.
Check three. After the first year, the word got out that a youth bass fishing league was an option for our families and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. We are now staring at 47 young anglers with no signs of stopping. We have young men and women this second year and after our first event, the 1st place team was a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy. She caught three of the five fish and let me tell you, there is no removing the smile off her face or her parent’s faces. That is the biggest weapon we have these days. Our passions for wholesome activities that enrich our young generations. It is our duty as seasoned anglers to give back to the community. Give back to God. I promise this … God makes a way for success when he sees your heart and sees that you are genuinely interested in each young angler. I know them all. I make it a point to know them all. I love their parents. I know them too. I am going to give back to my community until the day I graduate from this life. It’s not too late for you to do the same. Find a way to make a difference in our future through your passion for angling. Teach them all the things you could have done better. Lead them by example. Afterall, they are Humanity’s Only Hope.