Fishing helps high school angler cope with grief

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Jace Lindsay and Jaxon Evans (right) from a tournament earlier this year.

Since beginning his tournament fishing career when he was in the seventh-grade, Jaxon Evans had yet to qualify for a Bassmaster National Championship. 

That changed this year when Jaxon and his partner Jace Lindsay claimed the Angler of the Year title in the Deep East Texas B.A.S.S. Nation division, qualifying them for the 2020 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors. It began today. 

“I’m very excited for me and Jace,” Jaxon said. “Practice has been really tough. We’ve run about 25 or 35 miles so far.”

Jace and Jaxon said they are used to fishing lakes with grass and trees in them and have been working to decipher the rocky landscape of Kentucky Lake during the fall drawdown. 

While the excitement of fishing a championship event has set in for Jaxon, he and his father Andy Evans come into the event with heavy hearts. 

On Feb. 21, 2015, Jaxon’s older brother Scott was driving back to college to play a show with his jazz band when he lost control of the car and hit a tree, passing away due to injuries sustained from the car accident.

“I coached football for 31 years and was a head coach at Tatum High School in Texas. It broke my heart so bad I retired from coaching,” Andy said. “My wife Tammie handled it a little better than I did. The immediate thought is you should have taught him and should have done more. You learn to live with it but it never gets better. Jaxon was a sixth-grader and he was broken up, but kids are very resilient. Just in the last six months he’s opened up and talked about how much it affected him. You don’t know how a young child deals with those things.”

“It was really tough on my family. It hurt me pretty bad. The older I get the more it hurts me,” Jaxon added.

About a year after the accident, Andy and Jaxon began fishing team tournaments together. While they had fished in some form or fashion all of Jaxon’s life, the weekly tournaments were a way to cope with the loss of Scott.

“I feel like it was something that kind of saved our lives because it gave us something to look forward to every day and something each month to look forward to,” Andy said. “We started fishing the next year in tournaments. It has given us an opportunity to spend time together, which is the most important thing a parent can do for their child. We would fish most of the Thursday night tournaments and it gave us something to do every week.”

While the pain of losing a brother never goes away, Jaxon said fishing with his dad has also been an important step in the grieving process.

“(Fishing helps) get your mind off of it and helps you try to gradually deal with it,” Jaxon added. “He’s helped me a lot. It’s been good to have him (dad) by my side.”

Jace and Jaxon met when they entered high school together and have been partners for two years, something Andy has said has made a positive impact on Jaxon. 

“We fished freshman and sophomore year together before we fished tournaments together,” Lindsay said. “His dad would drop us off and I got to know him better. He’s become a good friend.”

“I see Jace as a brother now since I lost (Scott),” Jaxon added. “He’s by my side most of the time.”

After losing Scott and retiring from coaching, Andy went on the road as a turf salesman, visiting high schools to evaluate the need for new surfaces on football fields. In each town he visited, if Andy heard about a family that lost a child, he would make an effort to visit that family. 

“The only people who really understand what you go through when you lose a child are other people who have lost a child,” Andy said. “I found some comfort in spending time with people who have lost kids. We didn’t always have to say a whole lot.”

For those going through the same thing he has, Andy said there is one thing that brings him comfort. 

“I’m going to see my son again. He had given his life to the Lord,” Andy said. “Although life is never the same, there is still life to live and we are obligated to do the best we can with what we have. Different people handle grief in a lot of different ways and there’s not a right way to do it or a wrong way to do it. However you deal with it is the right way.”