Messages of Hope: Valuing Community and Family Support - Major League Fishing
Messages of Hope: Valuing Community and Family Support
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Messages of Hope: Valuing Community and Family Support

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Mark Daniels Jr. with his parents, Mark Daniels Sr. and Sylvia Daniels, in 2015. Photo courtesy of Mark Daniels Jr.
May 10, 2020 • Mark Daniels, Jr. • Angler News

As a child, I was eaten up with bass fishing. I watched it on television and hit up water anywhere and everywhere I could find fish from the bank. I remember driving to the California Delta with my dad at 11 years old, fishing local ponds and doing everything I could to get a rod in my hands. I didn’t realize it then, but I was doing more than wetting a hook. Every cast was steadily whetting my appetite for the sport and feeding the gnawing hunger inside.

My mom and dad worked hard to make sure I had rods, reels and all the equipment I needed, and that was enough to sustain me for a few years.

But my desire lay far beyond the bank.

I’m very fortunate that my parents understood that as well. They recognized and appreciated I wasn’t hanging with the homies, smoking weed, selling drugs or making bad decisions. They said, “You just want to go fishing? Yeah, we’ll support that” and their encouragement truly made all the difference in the world.

I grew up relatively poor, in a world where bass boats and fancy trucks don’t exist.

I grew up relatively poor, in a world where bass boats and fancy trucks don’t exist, and it was hard to get your hands on those things. But in the midst of our struggle, my family saw something in me. A want, a need, a desire.

A passion.

I had only dreamed of ever finding my way off the shore. Slicing through waves and gliding across unknown water, in search of hidden coves and monster bass. When I was 14 years old, in spite of a series of unfortunate circumstances, my parents found a way to make that dream come true. My mom cut corners and squeezed money where there was no money, to make it a reality.

I came home from school one day mid-week to my dad pulling down the street with a brand spanking new, money-green bass boat. I couldn’t believe it! The joy and excitement overwhelmed me and I wanted to go fishing right then! But we had jobs, responsibilities and school, so I impatiently stared at the boat for days, vibrating with excitement and waiting for the weekend like a kid counting the days until Christmas morning.

Looking back, I know there were many other things they could have done with those funds, but they saw the fire in my eyes and the ache in my soul. They believed in me enough to take that money, dripping with their blood, sweat and tears, and buy a bass boat.

Dad and I headed to Clear Lake in 1989. Growing up in the Bay Area, there were a lot of things I could have been getting into but pops always kept me on the water and for that I’m forever grateful.

That first Saturday finally came and I shot out of bed bright and early, racing to get ready and tripping over myself to help load the boat. We fished our hearts out that weekend and every weekend for many years to come.

I was blessed with that shiny boat, but we really still didn’t have any money, especially not for frivolous things like the latest and greatest equipment and tournament entry fees. I joined a bass club and my dad and I became friends with some guys who also enjoyed fishing. They were like uncles I never had, taking me out on their boats and showing me techniques, tips and tricks of the trade.

I started fishing club events and getting my feet wet with tournament fishing in general, including tournament structure, etiquette and how to conduct yourself on a boat. I was mostly fishing out of the back, but I didn’t care. I was in fishing heaven.

At a young age, I learned the ins and outs of the game. Don’t cast ahead of the guy in front of you. Don’t try to beat him to that juicy spot. Do offer him gas money.

I picked up a lot of points by watching those guys. I was new to boating and being on the water, but I quickly learned how to drive and launch a boat, the function of equipment and general boat maintenance. They took me under their wing and treated me like one of their own kids.

The crazy thing is, I thought that was normal. I was just a kid and didn’t know any different because that’s all they ever showed me. Their mentorship is the epitome of what community represents and what our sport encourages. I didn’t realize the impact they had on my life at the time, but in retrospect, that influence has been invaluable.

I won eighty bucks here and there, but even at 14 and 15 years old, I wanted more. This wasn’t what I saw on TV and I dreamed of bigger things, but I still faced the financial hurdles. My dad and I did some research and stumbled onto The Bass Federation, a pro-am style tournament where I could enter as a non-boater.

In 1995, I entered a TBF tournament for less than 100 bucks. My dad felt I was too young to fish alone on our boat; however these tournaments provided the opportunity to advance and the experience of something bigger and better.

I was hooked. In 1997, at 16, I fished my first tournament at the front of the boat, followed by a game-changing, fifth-place finish in 1999. I remember it vividly and it wasn’t even a win! That finish qualified me as a boater in the divisional tournament in Wyoming, and I came to a shocking realization – not only do I love this sport, but I can do this. I can compete with these guys! I still look at that plaque often, remembering the surge of confidence and self-assurance radiating from the embossed letters.

I was well on my way to achieving my dream, but by 20, it became apparent I needed to take a hard pause from tournament fishing. I was finishing my Environmental Science degree, about to have my first child and needed to focus on my education and family. Welcoming a new baby, juggling responsibilities and laying down my passion were all super challenging, but if my parents taught me anything, it was the importance of family and putting the ones you love first.

I still fished occasionally, but took a break from tournament fishing for more than five years.

Those years brought the joy of my son, and sweet time with my family, but deep in my soul, there was an empty, bass-size hole. I worried if I would be able to pick up where I stopped? If my talent and intuition would suffer due to the time off? Could I afford to continue chasing my dream? The uncertainty was staggering and I was afraid of the answers I might find.

Today’s world is full of insecurity, worry and fear, and I’m certainly no stranger to those feelings.

Today’s world is full of insecurity, worry and fear, and I’m certainly no stranger to those feelings. I’ve felt defeated and overwhelmed too many times to recall over the years, but I was relentless.

In 2006, I borrowed my parents’ boat, the same boat I started with 15 years prior, and returned to tournament fishing.

I watched my breath evaporate that first cool, crisp tournament morning. My hands vibrated as I shot across the glass surface of the water. Was it the tremor of the motor, my nerves or sheer excitement? It was hard to tell, but I embraced it and found the passion for the sport I loved had never left. I rejoined the fishing club and spent every single minute fishing weekend tournaments, working full-time and trying to survive. I could afford to fish TBF tournaments, but had to sit and watch, once again relegated to the bank, as FLW tournaments and others took place, feeling that overwhelming desire raging within.

Six years went by. Six long years working, taking care of my family and fishing every chance I got, all while the gnawing hunger ate me up inside.

But I never gave up.

In 2012, I won the Western Divisional in Colorado and qualified for Nationals, going on to win the TBF National Championship in 2013. That was the biggest win in my career and my opportunity to fish full time. I had a decision to make, then and there: I could either turn down this chance and go back to my job or take this opportunity and make the most of it.

I chose to follow my dream, thanks to my family’s constant and consistent support, and it was the best decision I ever made in my life. I’m often asked if it was worth it and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, this journey was worth it.

But it didn’t come without struggle. I only made it full-time seven years ago, at the age of 32. People often think I’m younger than I am (I got my good genes from my Mama!) but I was a tournament fisherman for over 15 years. A pro angler is a tough career path, but not for those who have true passion. I’m not referring to the guy who just wants to have a fancy boat and truck. I’m talking about that dude who’s out there in a beat-up boat, barely getting to and from tournaments and sleeping in the back of his truck. He’s the one who will make it.

That’s passion. You can’t fight that. You can only combine it with hard work and that’s when success is born. I live with that attitude. I was determined not to give up and was going to fish the Federation tournaments as long as it took and never stop. Thankfully my family supported me 100 percent.

My parents were willing to do whatever they could to give me a fighting chance of chasing my dream. That fight continues for many of us, whether we are pros or Joes, today and every day. Anglers are often viewed in a glamorous light, but being a professional fisherman comes with a huge financial burden, which I honestly only laid down a few years ago. Those same struggles are an obstacle for many people, no matter their profession.

As we stare 2020 in the face, many have lost lives or loved ones. Many more have lost jobs and are wading through a financial crisis, searching for the drive inside themselves to keep going. Don’t let one situation put you in a place where you stop fighting. Families, hold one another up. Communities, band together and take care of each other.

I’m where I am today, in life and in my career, due to my family’s outpouring of support and the fishing community’s camaraderie. I refused to give up and those around me refused to give up on me.

No matter what your situation, don’t lose sight of what is coming and derail yourself or those around you. Through it all, the best thing we can do is stay positive, be there for one another and keep grinding.

I know I will be.