Enjoying a relaxed fishing event

As much as I love to compete on the Bassmaster Elite Series, it is nice to bring it down a few notches and enjoy a more relaxed element of the fishing industry. I got a good dose of this over the Labor Day weekend during the Jason Christie Children’s Fishing Derby, which was part of the Cherokee National Holiday.

This annual event brings together all the Cherokee tribes and visitors from all over to the Cherokee Nation capital in Tahlequah, Okla. There are all kinds of activities from softball and volleyball tournaments, to arts and crafts, a rodeo, an inter-tribal powwow – something for everybody.

We’ve been doing the kids fishing event for several years and although it started out as a tournament, that got to be a little difficult to manage. Instead we’ve made it a fun fishing event where kids get to tug on a few fish and enjoy it all at their own pace. Jimmy Houston comes out and interacts with the kids and adults, and it all seemed to go really well.

Our goal has always been to encourage kids to just get involved in fishing and pursue it at whatever level works for them. Not everyone is going to want to become a professional fisherman; some will, but there’s a lot of grassroots, down-home fishing activity and that’s all that some folks need to be happy.

I think that’s a really nice complement to the world of professional fishing. It makes me feel good to be able to share some of the things I’ve learned through competitive fishing and interact with the folks that follow my career.

We give each kid a Lew’s spinning combo, a t-shirt, a bag and a tackle box along with a lot of drawing prizes. What’s cool is that after every one of these events, I’ll see those t-shirts all over: from boat ramps to the creek bank. The kids really seem to connect with this event and that makes it all worthwhile.

It’s a good feeling to see the event growing every year — and not only in the number of kids that participate, but also, the number of folks who want to help. Lew’s has always provided all the combos each year, no questions asked. Cherokee Nation Businesses provide all the prizes, t-shirts, etc., and some of my other sponsors have expressed an interest in helping.

We gave away about 500 combos for the 12-and-under group, but we also had a lot more kids over that age group participate. A lot of them brought the rod and reel combos they got in previous years, so it was great to see that they’ve stay involved.

On the other end of the spectrum, I heard a lot of parents and grandparents saying that their kid or grandkid caught their first fish at this event. Some kids said that was their first rod and reel; others said they’d never tied on a hook and they asked me to show them how to tie on a hook.

We go through a lot of first-time things at this event. That’s really rewarding to know we can have that kind of impact and maybe plant some seed for lifetime anglers.

For me, the most memorable moment was when this young boy started calling for help because he thought he had hooked a snapping turtle. At first, I couldn’t see his hook, and I didn’t think he actually had a turtle. But when I got closer, I saw he did have a snapping turtle. I didn’t want anything to do with that thing, but I got in unhooked and got away with all my fingers.

My daughter was helping with the event, and she thought that was funny.

Overall, this year’s event went smoothly and that’s how you want them to go. No one got hooked, no one fell in the water — and no one got bitten by a snapping turtle.