Get Hooked on Fishing at Greenville EXPO

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Turner Calhoun hauled a nice one out of the Catfish Pond.
David A. Brown
Turner Calhoun hauled a nice one out of the Catfish Pond.

A trip to a kid’s fishing pond with a group of 8- and 9-year-olds shares many resemblances to a bass tournament among adults.

You’ve got the impatient guy jumping up and down saying, “Let’s go fish! Let’s go fish!” as soon as he sees the water. Once on the water you’ve got the quiet experienced one catching all the fish with everyone else exclaiming, “How are you doing that!”

Of course there’s at least one who does it Michael Iaconelli style on the hook-up with a voice-cracking scream “I CAUGHT A FISH, I CAUGHT A FISH!” Then you’ve got the first-timer with the irresistible itch to feel a bite, eyeballing every other person’s bent rod, getting impatient, casting too often, constantly crowding in to where they’re catchin’ ‘em, and finally gaining a smile of relief with a fish on the hook.

Editor's note: See more photos.

Creating the smiles and building desire to be outdoors is what the B.A.S.S. Hooked On Fishing program presented by Shakespeare and Toyota is all about. Organizers expect to treat 1,000 or more kids a day at the venue, located on the lawn outside the TD Convention Center, where the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors EXPO presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods is underway.

Last year B.A.S.S. held just one Hooked-On event, during the Classic at Houston. This year the program will reach many thousands more with six held at venues from Greenville to Texas to New York City. Three will correspond with tournament events and three are independent events designed to reach kids in neighborhoods where fishing often is a distant dream, or even a foreign concept.

Friday, a group of seven third-graders from Anderson, who attend Mrs. Gloria Morris’ class at St. Joseph Catholic School, were among the first to get hooked this year. Although they live in a community right on the shores of Lake Hartwell, site of this year’s Bassmaster Classic competition, they were diverse in their outdoors experience with some who had fished several times, some never before.

Organizers said success of these events hinges on supportive sponsors, community engagement and the generosity of volunteers. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dove into the event at Greenville and provided the pond, as well as wildlife and fishing displays it uses around the state in it’s own program that operates very much along the same lines as Hooked on Fishing.

The resources department had education displays at the past two Classics held at Greenville in 2008 and 2015, but this year the full kids venue is a step up.

“This is a stronger outreach presence for us than we’ve had in the past,” said Sarah Chabaane, the department’s Aquatic Education Program coordinator.

The DNR's display of reptiles with live alligators and snakes docile enough for children to hold was a step up as well.

That’s the tent where the kids rushed in with their hands out and the teacher and parents backed up. Mrs. Morris gave a quick, polite “thank you, no” as 9-year-old Carter Mappin held out a quite docile 6-month-old alligator for her teacher to hold.

"We wanted to add something that made it a more diverse outdoors experience for them," she said.

Chabaane said the department’s catfish pond comes to the B.A.S.S. event with some special history. The structure is now 15 years old.

“It’s all about giving people that first chance to feel what it’s like to have a fish on their line,” she said. “We’ve had several generations now who have caught their first fish in that pond.”

A splash of fun added to the venue again this year is the Super Retriever Series competition. Nothing could have excited a group of 4-foot-tall kids peering over the top of a 4-foot deep pool, than watching a yellow Labrador named Denali run and jump 8 feet in the air from a platform 2 feet above the water to grab a bumper and come down with a giant splash.

Kevin Nguyen smiled, adjusted the black frames around his eyes, moved closer and gripped the edge of the pool. “It splashed my glasses and I don’t even care,” he said with a wide grin.

The climax for their visit came at the fishing pond, of course.

At the big oval pool filled with dark water and bubbling hoses at the center, the kids took their shots at the catfish.

That’s where Aiden Dietrich dropped the jump in his gait and became remarkably focused on the red-and-white bobber he plopped in the water. It’s where the quiet but antsy new angler Gregory Marrero finally smiled as he caught his first fish ever. It’s where Claire Jackson’s voice hit inhumane decibel heights with her first hook-up, and Maggie George just kept pulling them in, four in 15 minutes, with a calm demeanor and broad smile.

Of course a reporter zeroed in to quiz the expert, George, a soft-spoken and obviously patient angler.

“What do you think you did that helped you catch so many more fish?” she was asked. “Are you just naturally pretty good at fishing?”

Quietly, she offered a brief reply over her shoulder as she walked on with her classmates. “I fish with my Grandpa,” she said.