Everyone has fishing experiences that provide lasting memories.
I had one of those last week when I spent six hours in the boat with 12-year-old Max Venchus, his dad Greg and his brother Zac.
Max was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago. We were partnered that day through the efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Make-A-Wish grants wishes of children diagnosed with serious medical conditions, whether it’s arranging a special vacation or matching the child with someone they admire for a day.
Max could have chosen anyone or anything, but he chose to fish with me. That in itself is unbelievably humbling, and it was just as special for me to fish with him and his family.
When I learned that Max had never caught a smallmouth, we arranged to meet me at Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, Mich. The Foundation does things right, providing a limousine to drive the family from the airport to the marina.
When he stepped out of the limo, I knew I was getting a serious angler. He showed up with 10 rods and arms full of tackle!
He didn’t realize I would provide everything, not to mention we would send him home with KVD gear and fishing tackle that I thought he could use.
His family provided me with a special gift as well. His father made me a cutting board with a big, inlayed bass. On the back was a hand-written note from Max thanking me for granting his wish.
I will treasure that board, and it was my honor to take him fishing.
Anyway, I rigged everyone up with drop shot rigs and we headed across the bay. The forecast called for 15 mph winds — tough, but doable on big, open water.
The fish were where I expected and very cooperative. Max’s first bass was a smallmouth that fought him hard and lit up his face. He was blown away by the clear water, how easily he could see the fish and how hard they fought. The boy never quit smiling.
The wind picked up, the bass kept biting and the waves were rolling, but Max insisted we keep fishing.
After a few hours, we headed back to the ramp in 6- to 8-foot waves. None of us had rainsuits, and we were drenched by the time we got to shore.
I told Max he not only experienced smallmouth fishing, but got a roller coaster ride over a Lake Michigan water park as well!
When we got back to the wind-protected marina, we still had time left, so I found some bass, and Max went to work on them immediately. He was catching fish after fish and bubbled with enthusiasm as if each one was his first.
To be honest, the kid reminded me of myself when I was that age. It didn’t matter how big the fish were, he just loved catching them.
His fishing style is a lot like mine, too — he loves to chunk and wind. I really had to get him to slow down with the drop shot and let it do the work for him. He figured it out in the first hour of the day, but I could tell he's antsy and likes to move and cover water just like me.
Max’s dad told me Max loved baseball, but when became ill the doctors didn’t want him playing competitive baseball, so the boy focused on fishing. He fishes every free minute.
His enthusiasm for fishing is off the charts. It’s one of those things you’re either born with or you’re not. The boy is a natural, and it was pleasure to spend the day with him.
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!