Rules for Growing up smallmouth

Contrary to the opinions of many, I believe that great smallmouth anglers are made, not born.

Stephen Headrick

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

Contrary to the opinions of many, I believe that great smallmouth anglers are made, not born. Yes, there are some guys, like Kevin VanDam, who are born near great brown bass waters and into families where smallmouth fishing is a birth rite, but they are still made into great anglers. They do not come out of the delivery room with a hair jig and spinning rod in hand, ready to chase the mighty smallie.

All of us — every one — needed help in getting started with our smallmouth fishing. It's time to pass that along. In an era with 500 television channels, millions of distracting Web sites, thousand of interactive video games and who knows how many other diversions from the world of bass fishing, we need to do something to pass it along.

I take this stuff very seriously. I have several children — most of them grown now, but also a very young daughter. All of them have been fishing many times. Not all of them love it the way I do, but they appreciate and understand the sport and what it means to me and others like me.

We need more people who appreciate and respect our sport... even if it's not their sport. The key is getting them early and bringing the sport to them.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about the Guru's 5 Rules of "Growing Up Smallmouth."

Rule 1: It's got to be fun

Just because you and I might like crawling a jig through some rocks in 40 feet of water doesn't mean a young person or novice can do it. Start them off right with bass that are easier to catch. That usually means springtime fishing with a jerkbait, crankbait or spinnerbait. It might mean float-and-fly fishing this winter; there's nothing like watching that float disappear! But it needs to offer some action and be fun.

Rule 2: It's got to be simple

You know the old joke about how you eat and elephant, right? One bite at a time. Well, fishing's an elephant if you're new to it. There's lots to grasp, and it can be intimidating. We need to keep it simple for new anglers, and that means one rod and reel, one lure and just a few stops on a fishing trip. Add the other layers later.

Rule 3: Teach, teach, teach

We tend not to like the things we have a hard time understanding. When you've got a new angler on the water, be sure to offer some meaningful instruction. Don't just say, "Cast over there." Tell them why to cast over there. Tell them about the bass' lifecycle and what they eat. Don't say "Hop the lure up and down." Tell them to move it slowly and to try to imitate a crawfish. A little bit of explanation goes a long way and helps to take the mystery out of things.

Rule 4: It's not all about catching

Most new anglers measure fishing success by numbers — how many and how big — but that's a poor way to get started. There's a lot more to fishing than just catching fish. It's an experience and a lifestyle. If they get off on the wrong foot and think that fishing is just about catching, they'll give it up after a few tough days. Rejoice in the good times. Celebrate the big catches. But always embrace the experience and know there's more to it than catching.

Rule 5: R-e-s-p-e-c-t

One of the biggest things we need to teach new anglers is respect for the resource and the opportunity we have on the water. A smallmouth is a living, breathing creature with as much right to be here as you or me. Treat them with respect, but not reverence. It's OK to eat a few, too, just make sure your pupil understands that we keep only what we're going to eat and release the rest so they can be caught again another day.

If you can do these things, we might just have another angler tomorrow.

Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at