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Fishing Evolved: DeFoe Reflects on Mom's Impact

Mothers have an immeasurable impact upon virtually every aspect of their children’s lives, and fishing is no exception. If the hand that rocks the cradle also holds a fishing pole, chances are good that the youngster will grow up enjoying the sport as well.

“Dads get a lot of credit for taking their kids fishing, and it’s often the case,” says top professional bass angler Arthur “Ott” DeFoe. “But mom’s encouragement can really cement a person’s love of fishing and give them the confidence to follow their dreams.”

DeFoe should know. His mother, Erieka, shared her love of the outdoors with him at an early age. “She grew up in Maryland, and bass fishing wasn’t a big part of her childhood,” he says. “But her family spent a lot of time on Chesapeake Bay. She always enjoyed being outdoors and took part in family fishing trips when I was young.”

Born in the fishing hotbed of Knoxville, Tenn., in 1985, DeFoe was just 9 years old when he became hooked on bass fishing during a family trip to Florida’s famed Lake Okeechobee. In fact, the young gun was so smitten by the sport, he quickly proclaimed his ultimate goal of becoming a pro bass fisherman.

“My mom was always very supportive of me going fishing,” he recalls. “But when I told her I wanted to be a professional angler, she was cautiously optimistic and said, ‘Just make sure you have a backup plan.’ Now, as a parent myself, I can see where she was coming from.”

DeFoe says he learned many life lessons from his mother that help with raising three young children of his own. “She always supported me 100 percent, and does to this day,” he explains. “But she also taught me the importance of encouraging kids to enjoy activities they’re interested in, without pushing them into something they’re not.”

Toward that end, DeFoe counsels moms across the country to give fishing a fair shake when introducing their children to various sports and pastimes. “Fishing is a wholesome activity that people can enjoy throughout their entire lives, at all different levels from pure relaxation to fun competition and even professional careers,” he explains. “Getting kids hooked on fishing can also help them steer clear of some of the bad habits parents don’t want them involved in.”

Of course, teaching kids to fish can be intimidating if you’ve never wet a line yourself. Thankfully, DeFoe says there are more resources than ever to help mothers foster their children’s interest in fishing, even if the parents have no experience in the sport themselves.

“High school fishing programs are a great example,” he explains. “They’ve really taken off across the country in recent years. High school- and middle school-aged students can join teams and learn more about the sport, fisheries conservation and the environment, all while competing against anglers of their own ages and abilities.”

Indeed, the number of youth-based programs and events continues to grow each season, including a variety of competitions leading from local matchups to state and national championships. Many graduates of the programs continue fishing in college, as a growing number of universities offer fishing programs and even lucrative scholarship opportunities to top anglers.

In retrospect, DeFoe wishes such programs existed back when he was a budding bass fan. “When I got started, there just weren’t many youth events around,” he recalls. “I competed against older, far more experienced anglers; it can help you learn, but if you don’t enjoy some sort kind of success it can also be discouraging, especially for younger anglers.”

DeFoe also encourages moms to tap the resources of state fisheries departments and urban fishing programs that offer opportunities to experience fishing firsthand. “Many fishing tackle retailers are also great places to get started,” he says. “They can offer advice on where to go and what kind of tackle you’ll need to enjoy a successful trip.”

And, while DeFoe makes a living on the deck of a high-powered bass boat loaded with an arsenal of tackle and the latest electronics, he reminds us that fishing can be a far simpler affair.

“It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated,” he says. “As my mom showed me, it really boils down to getting outdoors to enjoy time together while creating memories that will last a lifetime. And ultimately, that’s the greatest reward of all.”

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