A powerful force is stirring among us. A force for good. A force that stands for the strength of families and the majesty of the outdoors. A force that shuns the violent imagery so prevalent in our society in favor of peaceful landscapes and tranquil waterways. Fueling this force is a groundswell of diehard teens and preteens who would rather be casting a line in the hope of landing a 10-pounds bass than glued to the set in the hope of catching the latest music video or Hollywood scandal.
Such well-grounded youths like Zach Morrison of Hampstead, N.C., and educators like Dave Perron of Peoria, Ill., offer hope that fishing as we know it will survive and prosper. They offer hope that our beloved sport has legs. That it won't surrender its reputation. The next generation will have fishing memories, and our lakes and rivers will be safeguarded but not placed under glass.
Morrison, 16, competes in the BFL's Piedmont Division, where he doesn't just appear as a teenage novelty. This kid wins.
Casting as a co-angler, Morrison secured first at the Neuse River event with a five-bass, 8-pound 13-ounce limit. That afternoon Morrison strolled home with a $2,050 check in his back pocket, and months later, quite wisely, he "still has most of the winnings." Morrison did, though, drop a couple of hundred bucks into his Isuzu Trooper. A guy's got to have a working ride, you know.
Morrison says he took to fishing at age 12, biking and hiking to local ponds in pursuit of bass. Over time, his after-school hobby evolved into a passion, and that zeal prompted Morrison to lobby his dad to reacquaint with bass fishing and ultimately procure a bass boat. Kenneth Morrison - Zach's old man and a competent basser in his own right - also fishes in the Piedmont Division.
Admirably, young Morrison pays for his tournament entry fees, too. He oysters along North Carolina's whitewashed beaches for wages but thinks he'll need to supplement that income to fish the full tournament schedule.
Dreams of fishing professionally have continually wafted through Morrison's mind. His rock stars are Bill Dance, Kevin VanDam, and Davy Hite. And when you consider Morrison's tender age, accomplishments, and motivated personality, there's no reason he can't play in that band.
In the advancement of fishing, there are both mentors and apprentices. Educator Dave Perron is undoubtedly a mentor. Just last year, from his post in the physical education department at Peoria Christian School in Peoria, Ill., Perron taught a three-week course titled "Lifetime PE."
"The objective of the course was to teach students ways to stay active when they're over 70," Perron said with a titter. Evidently, his goals were serious, but the subject matter somewhat jocular.
In addition to golf and tennis, Perron's course covered fishing. Students learned about the three fundamental types of gear - fly, spinning, and bait-casting - as well as lure types and a range of presentations.
Perron embraced a hands-on approach, too, as students cast lures at targets in the school's gymnasium. The class also embarked on three fishing field trips to private ponds. One student hooked the biggest bass of his life on a sanctioned field trip.
Twenty-two kids participated in the elective but credited course, roughly half boys and half girls; half of those had never fished. Perron, who also fishes in the BFL, said that most participants indicated they'd continue fishing recreationally, too.
A chorus of those fledgling fishing voices can also be heard in Chula Vista, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. Here, where coastal and freshwater ecosystems meet, 15 high school students in the Sweetwater District officially lettered in the sport of fishing. And to tout the accomplishment, they proudly wear a bass emblem on their varsity jackets.
The teenage fishing revolution isn't reserved for bucketmouths, either. Brandon Henexson, 17, lives for walleyes. The Denver, Colo., high school student takes the species so seriously that he stalks them as a co-angler on the Walleye Tour.
Last season, Henexson battled in three events, including the RCL Championship on the Mississippi River in Red Wing, Minn. He wound up in 13th position for the tournament, leading the field after day one with a five-fish clutch that weighed 24 pounds, 2 ounces.
Henexson's competitive fishing career began at the tender age of 9, jigging as a partner to his dad - Kenny Henexson - in local contests sponsored by the Colorado Walleye Association. Significant impressions were also made on Henexson during family vacations to Canada, where walleyes always seem just a little bit easier and plentiful. His most memorable catch was a 7 1/2-pounder he caught at age 12.
Back home in Colorado, Henexson shares his enthusiasm for walleyes with several schoolmates. They make frequent trips to Nebraska's Lake McConaughey and Wyoming's Glendo Reservoir, two storied walleye fisheries.
The sharing doesn't end at the boat landing, either. Henexson volunteers his time and knowledge to an outdoor education program that teaches impressionable grade schoolers everything from fishing skills to properly using a compass.
Henexson's crystal ball reveals more competitive walleye fishing, too. His calendar includes only one RCL Tour event due to school-related conflicts like graduation. But next year, he anticipates turning pro and fishing the complete circuit. Between now and then, when not bouncing in the waves, he plans to bank a few hours with his dad's electrical outfit to offset imminent entry fees.
Henexson wasn't the only teen bumping elbows with the big boys. Eighteen-year-old Stephen Anderson of London, Ky., fished the full FLW Tour schedule last year. He deposited a $3,500 check from a 27th-place finish on Old Hickory Lake.
Anderson has also performed remarkably in the BFL's Mountain Division. A few years ago, he was 19th in overall points and followed that with a ninth-place finish at the Lake Gaston Regional.
There are sibling tandems, too. Brothers Richard "R.J." Bennett and Michael Bennett of Grass Valley, Calif., often dominated the BFL's Western Division.
Nineteen-year-old R.J., the elder Bennett, has angled in the BFL for several years. In divisional point standings, R.J. ended up fifth his first year, 13th the next year, and 32nd the year after. That's incredible for a kid who hadn't even seen his twenties. But it gets even better. R.J. grabbed 27th place at the All-American and was runner-up at the Lake Shasta Regional. More? In tournament play, his biggest fish is a monstrous 10-pound, 12-ounce bass from the California Delta. And from the finance department, R.J. has already brought home nearly $12,000 in earnings.
Remember when Venus Williams was the only Williams? Then came her younger sister Serena, and now there are two Williamses to be concerned about. The Bennetts are much the same. Younger brother Michael is out there beating the bass, too. Continuously sliding up the charts, Michael ended the BFL season in 21st place his first year; he earned the eighth place the next year and second place the following year. He also made marks at the Lake Shasta Regional - fourth place - and the Lake Havasu Regional - 22nd place.
Another youngster worth watching is 17-year-old Chris Miller. The Neoga, Ill., bass fanatic fished the entire Illini Division schedule as a co-angler, capping off the season with a second-place finish on the Ohio River in June.
Miller is the grandson of legendary basser Mary Satterfield-Benge. She broke ground for women in competitive fishing and has inspired Miller since childhood. Miller was five years old when he first stepped in the boat with her and caught a 7-pounder on Lake Shelbyville that year. He was hooked for life.
He plans to fish the entire plate of Illini Division events soon. His long-term aspirations are to fish professionally, with the full support of his mom, dad, grandpa, and grandma.
Miller looks up to such anglers as Shaw Grigsby, Bill Dance, and his grandma. He also shares his time on the water with his two brothers and "just about anyone who wants to go fishing."
With guys like Miller, Henexson, the Bennetts, and others like them serving as fishing ambassadors, promoting sportsmanship and conservationism, and influencing their peers to fish, our sport's future is bright.