People often ask the question I’m asked: "How did you and Aaron get started fishing?” That question is not quickly answered in a few sentences. When I share our story, I always hope it inspires family members to take their kids fishing and grow our sport.
As a native Californian, I grew up a surfer girl (without a board) and spent most of my free time at Santa Monica and Malibu Beach. Some of my part-time jobs while in high school were working part-time at a cafeteria, a department store, and modeling wedding dresses on the sidewalk in Santa Monica. At the restaurant, I picked up (I mean met) my husband, Jerry.
We were married after I graduated high school. Jerry came to California from Chicago on vacation but fell in love with me and the great state of California. He stayed. We had two boys, Brian and Chris, in the early ’60s. Aaron came along in the ’70s. Because our family always preferred being outdoors, we took hiking and camping trips every year. The only fishing we ever did was trout fishing in the Sierras. That was usually just the passed time while Jerry was solo hiking for a day or two. In those days, we didn’t have the fishing equipment needed for backpacking like what is available now!
In the mid-’80s, the boys discovered fishing on Malibu Pier while I enjoyed sunbathing below on the beach. One day after a long afternoon on the beach, I picked up my things and headed for the end of the pier to get the boys. They wouldn’t budge. The bite was on, and nothing I said would get them to stop reeling in the mackerel.
Aaron hooked another one and asked me to reel it in, and I exclaimed, “No!” Despite my protests, he insisted, and after I brought in the fish, I thought that fishing was a lot of fun. We fished that evening until they threw us off the pier. I was officially hooked on the joy of fishing.
From that day forward, the motto has been Keep Fishing Fun. I like to think that’s where the term Holy Mackerel came from because that one fish changed my life. From then on, we fished everything we could find, like golf course ponds, private lakes, rivers, aqueducts, and bank fishing on local lakes. We were so addicted we imagined there were bass in mud puddles! We eventually rented boats on our local lakes to improve our fish-catching odds and not be landlocked.
We fished both freshwater and saltwater locations for years. Many mornings Aaron and I took off for Malibu in the early morning and fished onshore for halibut and corbinas. Sometimes the halibut were all around our feet, and it was a bite every cast. We even bought a two-person rubber boat and went out in the kelp beds in Santa Barbara to catch calico bass. One of the most incredible memories was the late 80’s when Aaron and I took my Toyota Supra, rubber boat tied on top, our Maltese dog Eddie and went car camping for ten days. We fished every river, stream, and lake from one end of the Sierras to the other. We waded, floated, and rock hopped for ten days catching and releasing everything except dinner. I’m sure that trip helped improve our skills.
We had to locate the fish and figure out how to catch them. Our casting and finesse fish-fighting skills vastly improved, along with our patience. Patience played a large part in our early fishing experiences. It’s common to get your lines tangled together by casting over each other, especially when there’s a current. Getting snagged and breaking off is a regular occurrence, and some people can’t handle it.
One early morning in the mid-’80s, we rented a small boat on Lake Casitas. We were getting ready to take off when many fancy bass boats took off, leaving us in their wake! While our boat was still rocking, Aaron looked at me with the rising sun behind him and said, “Mom, that’s what I want to do!” I didn’t realize the magnitude of what he said, but we decided we needed our boat soon after.
We convinced my husband we needed our boat because the rentals were too expensive and dangerous when the winds and waves came up. Besides, the bite would always get good when we had to take the rental back! We promised it could be a cheap boat. Ha! So in ’87, the three of us went to the Fred Hall show in Long Beach, and the first boat I saw was a brand new 18-foot Ranger/Mercury package with a black gel coat, silver flake, and candy apple red pinstripe. I walked around it and ran my hand down the gunnel, and said to my husband, “I want this boat.” He said, “You can’t have it.” A 3-hour battle ensued while we walked around the show.
Aaron silently followed us with his hands, mainly in a prayer position. His prayers were answered when we returned to the dealership and bought the boat! That was almost 30 years ago! Short story: While I was at the Bassmaster Classic in March, I interviewed Bassmaster Elite angler John Crews. John informed me that Rick Hawkins is one of his best friends. Rick sold us our first boat in Long Beach. He went out with us the first day and taught us what we needed to know about towing, launching, and driving the boat! It’s a day Aaron and I will never forget.
One of the first things we did with our new boat was going to a tournament and observing how they work. We also joined a local bass club and fished tournaments for a few years. Aaron was our boat captain, and I always drove the car. He didn’t want or have a driver’s license until he was 18. He had me convinced it was harder to do the boat. Ya sure! Around 1990 we joined a couple of team circuits and began getting trophies and checks most of the time. Soon we were fishing up to three circuits at once and even got Anglers of the Year three times in one year. We won our first boat in the Tri-States on Lake Mead in 1994. By 2000, we had so many trophies and plaques in our home that it looked like a shrine. When Aaron decided to go pro around 1995 with his new boat, I went pro as well and eventually got a new boat of my own. It's still in our family.
From the beginning, we always took care of our boats and equipment, and we took our fishing seriously. We watched all the fishing shows, and many times Aaron would say things like, “I want to be the youngest angler to win the Classic!”
To date, he has fished 17 Bassmaster Classics and holds the record for four-second place finishes, and got a third-place finish this year. Winning the Classic is the one thing he hasn’t achieved yet. He won’t be the youngest when he wins the Classic, and hopefully, he won’t be the oldest!
I’ll give you more details on how we secured sponsorships, handled finances, and shared tackle recommendations in future articles. I also like to share funny, weird, and meaningful stories about the anglers that will help you know them better and what makes them tick. My ultimate goal is to “Keep fishing fun!”