I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great fishing friends and mentors who helped me become a better angler. However, the best inspiration for my fishing career was my mother, Cheryl, and she also gave me the best advice regarding it. She was a mother who only fished a handful of times in her life, and who was always sure she was going to fly out of my bass boat anytime I got it over 35 mph. But, boy, did she help guide me.
My mother grew up on the same family farm where I was raised in the upper Midwest, near a small river that fed into the mighty Mississippi. Where I developed a love for hard-fighting smallmouths in the clear rocky sections of the river, in her youth mom delighted in catching anything that she could catch on a cane pole using night crawlers she’d dig with my grandparents. Evidently, grandma passed the hard-core angler genes to me, as – like her daughter – she loved to fish and could watch a bobber for hours in the hopes that something would rise to her bait. My father, Roger, on the other hand, still can’t believe people spend all their time and money to catch fish they just intend to throw back, and his attention span casting a lure rivals that of a 6-year-old.
Mom was a nurse and a matter-of-fact, strong-willed farm girl, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 51 (with brain and liver tumors as well) and given a prognosis of months to live, she didn’t quit. She researched new treatments and fought the cancer aggressively. It went into remission – for a time. Even when cancer returned in 2003 and mom knew there was no chance of a cure, she continued to fight it with all the strength she had before passing away in 2004.
Although I felt her death was very unjust and extremely premature, in hindsight I look back and I’m also very thankful for the time she had and that, in the process of standing up to the cancer, she became my inspiration. While medication helped, mom willed herself onward with a positive attitude and a burning desire to have more time with loved ones. Especially when she knew her condition was terminal and time was short, no day was taken for granted, and no excuses were made for feeling ill or tired.
Her passing in 2004 coincided with my starting a fishing career. Nothing drives home the fact that time is short like the passing of a loved one. It also serves as a great reminder to focus on the important things in life and to allocate the precious resource of our time in this world accordingly.
Nowadays, mom’s memory keeps my mind right anytime I start to spin out in a fishing tournament. We all have those inner dialogues that hold us back and create doubt:
It’s cold and rainy today. I’d rather sleep in than get up first thing and practice.
It’s 10 a.m. and I haven’t had a bite. Oh no, I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
And so it goes. When I think of mom suffering through chemo treatments yet never complaining, fighting and never ever quitting, struggling for extra time, it puts my issues into perspective and makes them seem very trivial in comparison. A quick thought of mom and I realize I need to forget the weather and stop feeling sorry for myself, that I need to be strong and not let up.
Like many things in life, I tend to overthink fishing, especially in tournaments. The best advice is simple: Try hard, stay positive, make the most of your time and give every goal everything you’ve got.
In my mind and my memory, mom is never far away. I can also hear her saying, “Wear clean underwear, wash behind your ears, eat your broccoli and dress in layers because you can always take it off if it warms up.” All sage advice, unless I happen to be wearing lucky underwear, in which case I’m not putting on a new pair until the tourney is over.
Sorry, Mom – still the disobedient child to this day.