Across the country, there are countless programs dedicated to educating and involving America’s youth in the sport of bass fishing. Some are for juniors; others target high schoolers and college level students. And there’s no doubt that these initiatives improve recruitment.
Nowadays, a kid can even get a college scholarship for competitive fishing. So not only are they learning how to catch more bass, they’re gaining an academic advantage as well.
It’s a win-win for all.
Recently, I got the opportunity to meet two men integrally involved in these programs — both of whom are avid bass fishermen with backgrounds in law enforcement.
Serving South Carolina
I first met Edward Walker, a retired South Carolina Highway Patrolman. He served 28 years in law enforcement and, since his retirement, spends much of his time working with young athletes in his area — including anglers.
We met by happenstance. “Big Ed” as he’s better known, stopped by the Mercury Marine booth during the Classic Expo in Knoxville, Tenn. After striking up a conversation, I learned he was from Columbia, S.C. — host city to our (then) upcoming Elite Series event on Lake Murray.
Realizing his proximity to the venue, I asked if he knew of any rental properties on or near the lake — somewhere my touring partner Cliff Prince and I could stay for the week. In a completely unexpected show of generosity, he invited us to stay with him and his wife, Sharon, at their lakeside home — just a few coves down from the official takeoff site at Dreher Island State Park.
It was almost too good to be true. Before accepting, I insisted he confirm it with his wife, to be sure she was good with the arrangements. A few days later, we got the go ahead. When Cliff and I arrived for the tournament, the Walkers had everything set up for us and our rigs.
As the days passed, Cliff and I learned how easy Big Ed and Sharon were to be around. It was as if we had been friends for years.
Among the many conversations we shared, one centered on Big Ed’s involvement in youth sports — documenting them through the lens of his high-powered camera. Included was youth tournament bass fishing, which he volunteers considerable time and resources.
For Big Ed, it’s a way to give back and hopefully direct kids to a safe and healthy outdoor lifestyle. In his words, “Kids need guidance, even if it’s not sports related … like in the old days, when neighbors would help with their upbringing.”
Not long after my time with the Walkers, I met Eric Patterson — a retired sheriff’s deputy from Calhoun County, Alabama. He visited the Power-Pole booth during the expo at the recent Lay Lake B.A.S.S. Elite event.
Like Big Ed, he too dedicates much of his time working with area youth, largely through the B.A.S.S. Nation High School program. Serving as the School Resource Officer for nearly nine years at Alexandria High School, in Alexandria, Ala., that is when he became involved with their fishing team.
The school is situated in close proximity to lakes Logan Martin, Neely Henry, Guntersville and Lay, which is where most of the team’s tournaments are contested. Eric says they provide the perfect practice field for developing the skills of young aspiring anglers.
But for Eric, improving their fishing skills is only part of the process. It’s also about developing character … teaching them right from wrong. He says, “If I can put a kid in the back of my bass boat, rather than the back of a patrol car, then I feel like I’m doing some good.”
Those words resonated with me. In fact, they were the impetus for writing this piece. How great it is that these guys devote so much of their time and energy to helping young people — some of whom might otherwise end up on the wrong side of the law.
Eric Patterson and Big Ed Walker aren’t alone in this mission. There are countless volunteers across the country doing this and more. Many of them come from a background in law enforcement, as well. And they do it for the simple reason that they’re passionate about the sport and sharing that passion with young people.
If you’re a B.A.S.S. Nation volunteer — at any level — thank you for your service. What you’re doing is more than just commendable; it’s helping to shape our society. And in this day and age, the country needs all the help it can get.