GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Some things just go together naturally, like sausage and eggs, toast and jelly, and the Gowen family and bass fishing. They've been doing it for more than 30 years now and show no signs of slowing down.
Don Gowen, treasurer and District 2 director of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Federation Nation (ABFN), has been actively involved in the sport since 1973. That's the year he and a handful of fellow Alabama bass anglers formed the Lake Guntersville Bassmasters.
"We didn't know a whole lot about what we were doing in those days, just that we liked to bass fish and wanted to be a part of this new organization we'd heard about called BASS. It turned out well enough: We had about 30 members and held steady for years after that.
"I'm the only original member left now. The others are either dead or say they're too old to fish," he said, leaving little doubt that, at age 66, he has no plans to ever be too old to fish.
Blake Gowen, Don's son and a member of the same club for more than 20 years, has been actively bass fishing and competing in BASS events since the age of 16. He's served the club in every elected and appointed office since then and is considered to be one of the go-to guys in the organization. His real passion is youth fishing.
"We're really proud of him. He started fishing when he was about 4 and hasn't stopped since. I think he's so involved in youth programs because he wants to return some of the good times he's had fishing," speculated his father. "Blake takes it seriously. It's important to him."
Blake is the driving force behind the newest youth club in North Alabama, the North Alabama Junior Bassmasters (NAJB). In a few short months, the NAJB has held several meetings, conducted a few local tournaments on small waters and coordinated bigger tournaments coming up. They've also raised approximately $1,200 to support their club through ticket sales for the ABFN's Toyota truck raffle.
The club was formed in December 2007, and its first member was 9-year-old Mitchell, son of Blake and grandson of Don. He was promptly elected secretary-treasurer and has been actively keeping the minutes and tracking the money for the 15-member organization since then.
"He's done pretty well. We're proud of his responsibility as a club officer, and he's a heck of a good angler, too," said his grandfather, Don. "He can drive a Triton if we put a seat on the bench so he can reach the hotfoot. And he's got a few good fish to his credit. In December, he caught a couple of largemouth heavier than 3 pounds and a solid 3-pound smallie. He did it all by himself."
The success this family has had with fishing and the outdoors is no accident. Each generation was cultivated by Don with an eye toward their future, as well as the future of bass fishing.
"I think the key is not to force kids. Their interest should develop naturally. I always tried to let them go along at their own pace," explained Don. "I never forced my son or grandson to go fishing. I just made it available for them and showed them how much fun it can be.
"Fun is the key. You've got to let them have fun, let them do what they want, when they want. I never interfered with them and their fishing unless it was a matter of safety. It's important they learn some things for themselves.
It's true, some of the things they learned the hard way, but that's the way it is in life. Those are the lessons you don't forget."
He added that he believes BASS and the associated Federation Nation clubs and activities are very important to the sport.
"Without the Junior Bassmaster program and the Junior Bassmaster World Championship, bass fishing would be in serious trouble. They're a big part of what keeps this thing going from one generation to the next. We can't afford to lose it."