Private Water Management and Professional Bass FishingPrivate Water Management and Professional Bass Fishing Private waters provide an abundance of opportunities for all of us—even future professional anglers.
By Reagan Renfroe
With 22-foot bass boats with 250hp motors, electronics that tell you precisely where the fish are, and lures that cost more than your wife's most expensive pair of shoes, the world of professional bass fishing has become a rapidly growing social fanaticism that the founders of the sport probably never imagined. Let's face it, who knew that someday people would broadcast a live video from a cell phone at the BassMaster Classic and watch their favorite angler catch fish from the comfort of their man chair?
Reminisce with me for a moment, all the way back to cane poles and Zebco 33's. Remember the days when we tossed live bait on the end of a straight shank hook while sitting next to granddad, like a scene straight out of the Andy Griffith Show? The best memories of fishing often start on the bank of small, private waters, catching sunfish. And for Alton Jones Jr., it's what he learned on those banks that helped propel him into the driving seat of professional fishing.
Alton Jr. recalls, "My earliest memories of fishing started at a private fishing club in Tyler, Texas. My first bass came from there off a Rebel Pop R with my dad, and I can still remember catching bream on a cane pole off our dock next to the fish feeder." Nearly all of us have memories like that. We remember those moments and the details that consumed it—what it felt like hooking up on that memorable catch, the smell in the air, the calmness of the water, the sun setting over the trees. Professional or amateur, our love for fishing all started somewhere memorable.
For the Jones family, that east Texas fishing club wasn't only a place to learn how to fish, it was a place to learn how fish behave, and to learn techniques of fish management. That club was well known for its attention to the details offish management, with members always on point to improve habitat by building brush piles, adding spawning beds and artificial structure. They managed their food chain and worked hard with their harvest plan. They had, and still have, an excellent philosophy for fish management.
Let's face it; we all want to grow big, healthy fish. We want to create habitats where fish can thrive and private waters that produce some of the best species of Florida Strain Bass or giant Bluegill that you can find on either side of the Mississippi. However, we also like to catch those chunky, healthy fish. And for many of us, the true joy comes from introducing the fun of fishing to others. This is where management and the catching part of fishing connect.
According to Alton Jr., "You got to make it fun for people just getting into fishing. Whether it's a little kid or an adult picking up a rod and reel for the first time, no one wants to go grind for hours and get one bite on their first time out. That's why I've always loved fishing private waters. It provides a platform for people to see the fun of fishing and catching these species. Once they experience the fun in fishing, then they start to look a little deeper and realize how important the management aspect can be. Details like figuring out what fish need to survive and where they hang out, what they like to eat, and how they pattern season to season. There's a correlation between management and catching fish. If you can learn how to properly manage fish, you'll also learn how to catch them."
Alton Jr. attributes an enormous amount of his success to his experience fishing private waters. Growing up, much of his time was spent solo in the evenings on the private lakes of their bass club in their '76 Kingfisher, trying to pattern those lockjaw Largemouth bass in the heat of the summer. "Those were like the proving grounds for me, it was my personal test as a kid growing up after I'd go out with dad on the road, to get out there on my own and find those fish, find where they were hanging out, where the food was, forage, shelter, etc. Dad always tried to pound into my head that catching fish was easy, but finding fish was the hard part. He always said that 99% of the fish live in about 1% of the water, so if you wanted to catch him, you had to find them first."
Those times on private waters also ingrained into him some of the fundamentals of pond management. He knows the best lakes have good food chains. "You can't grow a big fish without food." How right he is.
One of Jones' best memories was tying into a six-pound catfish on an ultralight rig off their boat dock at the club. "I thought it was the biggest fish in the sea at that time. Those are the memories I have that I really believe got me hooked into fishing." Another moment in young Jones memory bank was the opportunity to fish the famed Coon Creek Club south of Athens, Texas. He reeled in more than 80 bass in a single day and set his new personal best record (at that time) with a bass tipping the scales at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. With his sore thumb and rapid heart rate, he knew this moment turned a flicker of a passion into a roaring flame.
Although today's world of professional bass fishing is filled with high-speed boats with expensive fish finders showing you where to cast your next bait, for many professional anglers, it all started somewhere, typically on a pond bank. Private waters provide an abundance of opportunities for all of us—even future professional anglers, so take a kid fishing this year. You never know where the next Alton Jr. will come from, but wouldn't it be cool if he or she grew up fishing your place?
Remember, management is a process, not the end result. We're always learning, always evolving, always trying to learn things we didn't know before. Sure sounds a whole lot like fishing, eh?
Editor's note: I watched Reagan Renfroe grow up in our little town of Whitesboro, Texas. I also watched as his passion for hunting and fishing blossomed. He headed off to college, married the woman of his dreams, and is now pursuing his dreams in the hunting and fishing industry. It was a pleasure to dispatch him to the 2017 BassMaster's Classic to find a story that matches our audience. Sure enough, he did us proud. His interview with Alton Jones Jr. was insightful. Alton Jones Sr. is a famous tournament angler, with 18 BassMaster's Classic appearances, winning it once. He's been in the money 156 times over his career, with career winnings of more than $2.6 million dollars. Alton Jr. qualified and fished the Classic in the same field as his dad. This was the 5th time in Classic history that a father and son competed in the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.
Reprinted with permission from Pond Boss Magazine
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