Fishing’s back, and there’s more on the line than you think. We talked with professional bass fisherman Tom Redington, who recently signed a partnership with the BSA to help tie fishing to science, technology, engineering, and math. Watch Redington in his element as he discusses how he aims to help Scouting through a new partnership.
IT HAPPENS ALMOST daily now. People come up to Tom Redington at gas stations and restaurants to ask for a picture. But the professional bass fisherman and host of Big Bass Battle (9:30 p.m. ET Fridays on the World Fishing Network; check local listings) says these strangers aren’t really interested in a photo with the TV star. They’ve seen the boat
he’s towing, a $70,000, fully loaded beauty that stands out because it’s covered bow to stern with Boy Scouts of America logos. But the boat and matching jersey are more than eye candy. They represent Tom’s new partnership with the BSA, announced earlier this year. And like any good fisherman, Tom is thinking big. But first, we’ve gotta ask …
SCOUTING: Wait, you actually get paid to fish. Do you have to pinch yourself sometimes?
TOM REDINGTON: Yeah. It’s an absolute dream job for someone who loves to fish. But if you don’t like to fish all day every day out in the cold, rain, heat, it’s brutal.
SCOUTING: How’d you get hooked on fishing?
T.R.: It’s kind of interesting because none of my family fished. None of my friends fished. A friend of the family showed us how to fish—the basics—and I kinda took to it. One day this guy comes wading down and he’s throwing these plastic worms and he hooks into this fish and it’s jumping all over the place. And we say, “What is that, what is that?” He says, “It’s a smallmouth bass.” My brother and I looked at each other, and as soon as we saw that fish jumping and pulling, we said, “Wow!” We were hooked.
SCOUTING: Then what led to fishing as a career?
T.R.: I taught myself through magazines and watching TV shows. It’s one of those things that just clicked. By the time I was in college, I knew that I wanted a fishing career.
I started guiding so I could fish every day, and I took a year off—just experimented in fishing every single day.
SCOUTING: Was there a moment when you realized fishing was your calling?
T.R.: In high school we had to write a thesis in English class. I wrote about seasonal habitats of largemouth bass, or something like that. I got an A on the paper, but my teacher wrote in the comments, “I thought you could have picked a weightier topic.” I still have that paper. At that point I knew that fishing’s all I wanted to do all the time. I wanted to prove her wrong.
SCOUTING: You were never a Scout. Why not?
T.R.: Right. As a kid, I desperately wanted to join the Scouts. We were [busy] farm kids, taking cows and corn to the fair. All my buddies in school were doing the pinewood derby and all that stuff. Actually at age 7 and 8, just seeing the Cub Scout uniform—I thought it was the coolest thing. I really had envy.
SCOUTING: And with this BSA partnership, you get a chance to join after all. What do you hope to accomplish?
T.R.: I think pushing the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] focus is critical. I come from a strong math and science background. Fishing has been perceived in the past as a kind of brainless activity. I try to bring a scientific approach to it. The part I really like is sharing that—not just helping guys catch fish. Hopefully after they fish with me, they understand my passion and the next time they go fishing they can catch more fish and share that with other people.
T.R.: He’s having a blast. It’s great in two respects. As a parent, you’re so busy. You always have activities you want to do with them. The little trips to museums, you know you should do them, you want to do them, but you’re so busy. And if you don’t get it on the calendar, you just don’t do them. What Scouting has done is just put a lot of activities on that calendar.
SCOUTING: Now what if it turns out that Nathan’s not into fishing as much as his dad is?
T.R.: Hopefully, you find common ground. My dad, he has no interest in fishing. He does not like to fish. But he likes spending time with me. He’s fully supported my endeavors in the outdoors. That’s the type of parent I want to be.
SCOUTING: Fishing has been part of Scouting since the very beginning. One of the 57 original merit badges was Angling, which became today’s Fishing merit badge. How has fishing evolved over that time?
T.R.: It’s like the history of the United States in a lot of ways. We thought we had endless natural resources. The pioneers came, cut down all the trees, shot all the buffalo, and all the resources were gone. Fishing was the same way. Sixty years ago or so, we were dumping pollutants into these lakes and rivers. Now they’ve figured out how to take care of the water and make it cleaner. Now we release a lot of the fish instead of just keeping every single one. Hopefully, when my son’s generation is into fishing, it’s even better.
SCOUTING: Has fishing grown in popularity?
T.R.: I think so. Fishing’s a sport you can do from the time you are a little Cub Scout all the way through your life. You can go on a dock with a worm and a bobber and kick back and do it easily. You can go troll deep water and need a full-body harness to wrestle a giant blue marlin. Or you can do a competitive bass tournament, where there’s high stress and you’re up against the clock.
SCOUTING: These days, there are so many things pulling on a boy’s time. How can Scout leaders use fishing to draw people back in and keep them in Scouting?
T.R.: I’d say two things. One is catching, and the other is just being in the outdoors in general. With my son being young, he only wants to fish for about 30 minutes. So you go swimming, maybe chase around frogs. Wading is an awesome way to get kids involved, because they’re splashing around in the water. It’s not just fishing—hopefully it’s a whole experience.
SCOUTING: And then there’s catching?
T.R.: Yes, catching a fish is the most important part. There’s such a buildup in fishing: Here’s how you tie the knot. Here’s how to cast. Here’s how you get a hook out. Then you go to some stinky pond, where the bite is not that good, and you don’t catch anything. I’d say the biggest thing is try to get somewhere where they are going to catch fish. Get those kids to catch something the first time. Once they do, it ignites the passion.
SCOUTING: What about troops with a wide range of ages? Fishing that’s fun for a 13-year-old might be dull for older Scouts.
T.R.: As you become a better angler, you want to understand the why’s and how’s. So the older kids can try a new line or rod or reel. Maybe try fly-fishing for the first time. There’s always so much changing in fishing you can always mix it up. Keep challenging them.
T.R.: That it’s low-tech—kind of a bubba-type sport. There’s so much research and technology now. It’s like detective work. The best anglers that I know may not have been A-plus students, but they are all perceptive—the Sherlock Holmes-type person.
SCOUTING: Now what if some troop doesn’t have a Tom Redington available? How can they teach these skills?
T.R.: There is so much available online. I wish that when I got into fishing all these online resources were around. We waited for a couple of magazines to come every month or two—that was it. Now there’s so much on YouTube, like knot-tying and all the basics. The other part is, people who like to fish love sharing it with other people, rambling on about it. Like I’m doing today! Find one of us.
SCOUTING: What about gear? How should a unit start building its supply?
T.R.: The best way to get gear is eBay, Craigslist, or something like that. It’s quality stuff at a reasonable price. For my son, I bought a couple of cheap reels at a local tackle store, and they immediately fell apart. So I went on Craigslist and bought some 20-year-old reels that I knew about from when I was a kid, and they work great and hold up.
SCOUTING: OK, let’s say a troop has X number of dollars to start building up fishing supplies. Where should they splurge, and where can they save?
T.R.: I would save it on the rods and spend extra on the reels. The reels have the moving parts. And save on lures and line—they’re going to mess up a bunch of line and lose a lot of lures.
SCOUTING: Can a Scout troop afford to get these fancy gadgets you pros use?
T.R.: It’s like high-definition television and everything else. A couple of years ago it was prohibitively expensive. Now the basic-level fish finders are so good, it’s like playing a video game. You’ll see the fish lying there and you’ll hold your bait above them and all of a sudden you see the line of fish start to come up. They’ll come up and get it.
SCOUTING: We’ve got to ask: Is technology making it too easy to fish?
T.R.: Unfortunately not. It’s almost more frustrating now.
T.R.: Exactly. I equate it to when I was in college. I knew where the best-looking females hung out, but they still wouldn’t give me the time of day. The fish are adaptable. They figure it out pretty quick and move away.
SCOUTING: What about safety out there? We know about wearing PFDs on the water, but what other risks are lurking out there in fishing?
T.R.: People are always worried about getting the hook in stuff. That can happen, but really it’s a lot more mundane. The biggest risk out there is sunburn. Get the sunscreen; put it on before you go. The next risk in fishing is eye-related injuries. So just wear sunglasses.
Bryan Wendell is Scouting magazine’s Senior Editor.
TIPS FROM TOM
- I’d rather fish the wrong bait in the right spot than fish the right bait in the wrong spot. Like real estate, fishing is all about location.
- Fish are more active and see less flaws in your bait on the windy side of the lake. It’s harder to fish in the wind, so windy banks are less pressured, too.
- Isolated cover is key. A single dock or laydown on an entire shoreline is almost guaranteed to hold fish, whereas fish will spread out on a shore with lots of docks or laydowns on it.
- Fish tend to hold in places for a reason. I often catch multiple fish from a small area if I work it over thoroughly, plus I can revisit the same spot at a later time and catch them again.
- Play golf on sunny, calm days. Bass bite best on windy, cloudy, and/or rainy days.
- Fish don’t have eyelids, but contrary to popular belief, they have pupils and don’t shy away from bright sunlight. However, bass often lurk in the shade to conceal their presence from prey.
- Fishermen spend way too much time worrying about color. Minnows and shad don’t change colors hourly and yet fish eat them every day.
- The first and last hour of daylight are regularly the very best fishing times of the day. I frequently catch more fish at those times than I do the entire rest of the day.
- Bass hang out around the thickest cover available. If you’re not getting snagged, you’re probably not fishing in the right areas.
- The cast that you least want to make is the one you need to take. The harder to get your lure in a spot, the more likely it’ll result in a bass.